The Run up to Boston – “The Badge of Courage Series”
Got plans to run Boston this spring? Join us mid-packer veterans in a series of traditional races that will get you ready.
Posted Sunday, 25 November, 2007
So you qualified to run Boston? Or you found some nice charity to give you a number? However you did it, you got your ticket punched, and you pulled the sword from the stone; now you have to train for it. I’m going to share my spring race calendar/training ritual with you.
Why run these races? Why not trudge alone in the slush or on the treadmill? The primary reason is that you can bond with a whole crew of long-distance running misfits like yourself, but there are practical and tactical reasons too.
These races were specifically designed by the old-timers to fall appropriately on the training plan to help you in your quest. There’s no substitute for a long road race for specificity. You get to practice your pacing (or lack of) skills, your fluid and nutrition and your race tactics. There are water tables and support stations so you don’t have to stash bottles, etc. You give money to a local club and they are your support crew for the day.
There really is no substitute for the rational lessons these races will teach you about your conditioning. Most of these races are far more difficult in terms of topography and weather than Boston. They will beat you up and leave you humble, which is exactly how you want to approach the marathon – with respect. They will also give you confidence. When you graduate out the other end of this series you will know what you are capable of.
Here’s what you already know, or will soon find out; life’s a journey, not a destination. The same is true for that little-‘ol 26.2 trot in Hopkinton next spring. It’s an event, but if you do it right it is part of a holistic progression of events that emerges as a whole. It’s a 5 month journey salted with emotional water stops peopled with crazy running characters. Get on the bus. It’s about to leave.
If you’re from around here - (New England) – training can be a challenge. Not all of us look forward to crawling out of a warm bed and into the teeth of a winter gale for a 3 hour long run. The rest of the populace hunkers down for6 months of slush and sunlight deprivation, but we’ve got to train!
I’ve been indoctrinated into a series of mid-to-long races that lead up to Boston in harmony with the training. I’ll probably get hissed and booed by the old-timers and locals for revealing these secrets, but what the hell! You’ll find me out there – give me a shout when you pass.
Like swallows to Capistrano veteran New Englanders flock to the same old races as they get ready for the marathon. Each of us has his or her personal traditions. You can build yours. Here are mine. I’ve been lucky enough to run 9 Boston’s, this year will be my tenth, but what I really look forward to is getting out in the depths of winter for these great races.
Warning: Running Geek Alert! Be forewarned that starting from scratch on January 1st is probably not enough time to get ready for a Patriot’s Day marathon. You want to have a 25-30 mile weekly base, preferably with a 10-12 mile long run and some sort of pace workout once a week.
First stop – the Atlantic Ocean!
I typically kick off my campaign with an event worthy of a Dionysian (or Bacchanalian) rite. The Hangover Classic 10k. What do I like about this race? It’s a nice little flat 10k along the beach road in Salisbury with an alcohol abuse theme, but bottom line: you get to swim in the Atlantic Ocean on January 1st!
What could be a more fitting test to whether or not you’re committed to 5 months of slogging around in the cold? The way I figure it, if I can survive the Hangover Classic ocean plunge, I’m ready to take on the harsh training coming up. Likewise, if one of these years my poor old heart stops while I’m struggling in the Atlantic surf, then I’ll know I’m done! RESGISTER NOW!
I heard this was a hilly course?
Next up is the wonderfully challenging Derry Boston Prep 16 miler. This race is typically the 3rd week in January. (This year – Jan. 27th) I have run it in an ice storm, a couple snow storms and -3 degree F. It’s a cult classic. The course has a series of difficult hilly sections that will test those who have not been training honestly.
You might question why anyone would want to run this difficult course with a history of catastrophic weather events. Let me remind you that you are a long distance runner living in New England. By definition you’re a little off your rocker. Why not give in and take it all the way?
Seriously there is a reason the race is called the “Boston Prep”. This race is timed on the calendar to send you a message. With Boston 3 months away, you should be able to comfortably navigate a 16 mile course. If you can’t, then it’s time to get your money back on that Boston hotel room or get serious about your training.
This race has knocked me out twice. Both times I was nursing injuries and hoping to train through. The Derry 16 Miler curtly informed me that I was kidding myself. And that, my friends, is exactly what I needed. REGISTER NOW!
Coming into February your mileage is starting to get up there and the Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler is what you need to test your ability at this distance. This year the race will be held on February 16th. Since it is an island, you will need to take the Ferry across. This is a small race with a great homey feel and an awesome course.
Besides the occasional challenge of mid-winter gales, snow storms and below zero temperatures, you will be lovingly caressed by a boisterous sea breeze as you make your way down the coast and back up the bike trail. The scenery is fantastic. The people are the best. Believe it or not, there is a large and active running community on the island. After all the rich people leave for warmer climes the “Islanders” come out to run.
Perhaps as important, this race allows you to test yourself at race pace for 20 miles. The course is relatively flat and is a great opportunity to test your pacing strategies. More often than not I discover that I only have 17 or so in me. That’s what I need to know. I can screw up my pacing here, suffer for it and move on. It’s a practice race for the big event and it’s timed perfectly.
Then we peak – Pick 2 or 3...
In March there are a number of great local testers with good traditions. The weather is getting better and you should be too! Depending on the year, some of these races will overlap and you’ll have to make a choice.
Early in March you can drive west to take on the venerable Stu’s 30k course. This is a fairly difficult course with rolling hills and a long uphill finish. Like Derry, Stu’s will give you a good idea of where your conditioning is at. This is where all those CMS people live. It’s a well run race and a good challenge at just the right time on the calendar. If you can run your target pace at Stu’s, you should have no problem running it at Boston. And, yes, Stu will be there!
On March 16 there is another anonymous 30k known as the “Run to the Beach”. This is a race with no race numbers, no results, no awards and no entry fee. However, it does have water stops and the infamous Winner’s Circle Pub at the finish line. The course is a nice Boston analog. There are some killer hills in the middle and a long downhill to the finish. I ran it for the first time last year and really liked it. You can’t beat the price!
Also at this time you have one last chance to qualify at the Hyannis Marathon or use its ½ Marathon as a tune up. It’s a decent race with a great tradition, but I found that most of the runners are in the ½ nowadays. I qualified there one year (barely!) and it was pretty lonely in those last 13.1 miles. Nevertheless, depending on where you in your schedule the ½ marathon here may mesh perfectly with one of your short weeks and you can use it as a race pace tune up.REGISTER NOW!
Speaking of alcohol abuse, let’s not forget the plethora of local St. Patrick’s Day races that are run mid-March. If you’re looking for a good tempo workout, you can move your workout calendar around to run hard at one of these. There is nothing that attracts a good crowd of colorful New England runners like a pub race! Come on…you can be that person in the race with the shamrock painted on your belly.
The pros head to the New Bedford ½ Marathon for fish sandwiches and speed work. If you want to rub elbows with the crème de la crème of Boston racing, you’ll find them tuning up at New Bedford. This is a tactically interesting seaside course that will allow you to practice running at race pace downhill, uphill and will particularly test your drafting skills with a famous late-race head wind. It’s got a little bit of everything and is a top-notch organization. This year marks the 31st running of this classic.
Last long run!
As a last long run before your taper try out the Eastern States 20 Miler. I’ve always liked this race. You start in Kittery Maine, run the entire length of the New Hampshire coast line and finish in Massachusetts. It’s fairly flat and a good low-hassle 20 mile run to top off your marathon tank. There’s just something cool about the bragging rights you get from running across 3 states in one day.
Wrapping it up!
Assuming you’ve survived this grueling race schedule, think about what you’ve accomplished. You’ve got a hard, hilly 16 miler, a couple difficult 30k’s, a couple 20 milers at pace and maybe some faster tune ups. That’s plenty of running for a marathon. You’re ready! And the great news is that you really didn’t have to train that much alone. You spent all this time out chatting with the local runnerati collecting tee-shirts and medals.
One last tip. If you’re one of those people who insist on racing at Boston, remember that the weather is random in New England and all your training can get negated when you toe the line in Hopkinton. Out of my ten races I would say that only two have been great racing weather. Two or three have been too hot and the rest have been passable. What some of my buddies do is to sign up for a marathon two or three weeks after Boston, like Vermont. This way, when the weather is bad in Boston you can treat it as a training run and save yourself for another battle.
I hope you’ll join me for the Badge of Courage Series this spring. Most of these races will sell out early so pay attention. I’ll see you out there. I’ll be the guy chipping ice off the Gatorade on Telegraph Hill in Derry! This year I have to worry about running Mt. Washington too, but that’s another story…