After finishing a marathon, many runners strive to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Boston is the crème de la crème of the 26.2 mile race – and the proverbial holy-grail for the seasoned marathon runner. If you’re training to qualify for the Boston Marathon, or if it’s on your lifetime to-do list, here are some tips, a training plan, and some other miscellaneous guidance that I hope helps you attain your goal.
Prior to pursuing a Boston-qualifier, I would highly recommend running a marathon just to complete it. You’ll learn an awful lot about the training, the race, and you’ll likely leave with a mental list of things you would do differently in your next marathon. While I hope my experiences help you out, everyone’s different and everyone will have different variations of the same mental and physical challenges that we all face.
To qualify for the Boston Marathon, you must run a certain time based on your age and gender. If you are not certain what time you have to run, see the Boston Marathon Qualifying Times page, to look up what time you’ll need. You can qualify for the Boston Marathon up to 18 months prior to the race, which is usually the second or third Monday in April. Also, please note that the age that ‘matters’ is that age that you’ll be on the Boston Marathon Race day.
It took me three tries to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and with each race I took away another lesson-learned. While I know that many qualify on their first try and don’t need the following advice…here’s my top lessons-learned for those that it may help:
- Start Slow!!!:
This is always easier said than done. For the last marathon, I decided to stay with one of the pace runners in the marathon to ensure that I didn’t go out too fast. This worked out and was likely the biggest contributor to a successful race. My legs wanted to go faster, but I knew that I’d need everything I could muster to get through the hardest part of the race which for me is miles 20-25 (the last mile is all heart!). So try to find some way to keep yourself slightly slower or right on your goal pace for the first half of the marathon – it’ll pay dividends in the second half of the race.
- Mental Games:
A marathon is a long time to stay focused and keep a positive attitude. To qualify for the Boston Marathon, I had to mix-up my mental strategy a bit. Instead of focusing on the mile splits and doing constant mental-math, I decided to break the race up into larger, more manageable chunks. Thus, I made it a point NOT to keep looking at my watch, as that usually takes more mental energy than it’s worth. I wanted to stay on marathon goal pace until Mile 22 and then I was going to give it whatever I had left…one mile at a time. Mentally, this shortened the race for me quite a bit. It didn’t erase the pain, fatigue and overall exhaustion in the last few miles…but it got me close enough to the finish line where I could tough it out. You may want to line up some similar mental tricks or sayings to get you through the last few crucial miles…think of it as your “override” switch for the mind’s likely bombardment of pain messages in the end. At the end of the race, muscle cramps and extreme fatigue are almost inevitable. Often underestimated, a positive mental strategy can really help pull you through in the end!
- Course & Weather:
There are a lot of uncontrollable factors which will impact your attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Choosing the right marathon and timing, could give you a slight edge. Obviously a flat course will give you some added time over a hilly course. A bigger factor (for me) is the temperature. I’d prefer to start the race in the 40s and hope that it remains in the 40s for the whole race (Fahrenheit). One of my unsuccessful attempts to qualify for the Boston Marathon was a spring race that started in the 50s and finished in the low 60s…this definitely had an impact. Wind is also a factor and one that’s hard to predict. Most marathons will post their average race conditions from previous years. Go with the statistics and hope for the best. It’s nice to have the weather on your side.
- The Little Things:
Have you ever seen a professional baseball player go through their superstitious routine, because it worked for them in the past? While I get a kick out the silly antics and tar-covered helmets & hats, there’s some merit in going with what has worked for you in the past. A few small things that helped me qualify for the Boston Marathon was carrying a water bottle with an easy-to-fill lid. The added weight was compensated by being able to sip the water at my own leisure, vice pouring it all over my face and drinking less than ½ the cup. I also decided to go with a lighter pair of training shoes…only a few ounces lighter…but it has to have some benefit over thousands of steps! Another thing that may have helped was that I took a few ibuprofen pills along with me and I gulped them down with some water during the later stages of the race. Placebo affect? Who knows…but it helped. See the Marathon Training Tips page for some more pointers.
- Start Slow!!!:
Trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon is a terrific goal and I wish you the best of luck in attaining it. Below was my training plan to run a 3:10 marathon. It’s low mileage compared to other marathon training plans, but it worked for me. I would love to run 50-60 miles per week, but life’s other priorities have had me trim back a bit on mileage. So for those busy-folks out there: You can do it!
26-Week Marathon Training Plan
|8||4||5||4||0 / XT||4||0||11|
|9||4||5||4||0 / XT||4||0||6|
|10||4||5||5||0 / XT||4||0||13|
|11||4||5||5||0 / XT||4||0||7|
|12||4||5||5||0 / XT||4||0||15|
|13||4||5||5||0 / XT||4||0||8|
|14||4||5||5||0 / XT||4||0||17|
|15||4||5||5||0 / XT||4||0||4×1-mile|
|16||4||5||5||0 / XT||4||0||19|
|17||5||6||5||0 / XT||5||0||6×1-mile|
|18||5||6||5||0 / XT||5||0||21|
|19||5||6||5||0 / XT||5||0||8×1-mile|
|20||5||6||4||0 / XT||5||0||24|
|21||5||6||5||0 / XT||5||0||12|
|22||5||6||5||0 / XT||5||0||10×1-mile|
|23||5||6||4||0 / XT||5||0||27|
|24||5||6||4||0 / XT||5||0||12×1-mile|
|25||4||6||5||0 / XT||4||0||13|
|Long Slow Distance: 1-2 minutes slower than marathon goal pace (MGP)|
|Mile Intervals: 20-40 seconds faster than MGP|
|Tempo Runs: Middle miles at MGP (Ex. 2m warm-up + 2m MGP + 2m cool-down)|
|Rest or Cross-Train (XT): Bike, Elliptical, Rowing (non-running cardiovascular exercise)|
|Rest – let your muscles heal|
|Comfortable pace (45-75 seconds slower than MGP)|
The training plan above should be used as a guide to help you qualify for the Boston Marathon. If there are days when you feel tired or lethargic, take a rest day. My training plans have typically been lighter on weekly mileage than many other plans that I’ve seen. This one has worked for me, but others may find that they need to run more miles to prepare for the race. Others may find that they need more speed work. There is NO one-size-fits-all training plan, so please listen to your body and consult your physician before you start a marathon training program.
Best of luck to you in your running! It’s a great goal and one that’s a lot of fun pursuing. Happy Running!