We posed your question to 1968 Boston Marathon winner, 17-time Boston finisher, Runner’s World Editor-at-Large, and all-around running legend Amby Burfoot. Here’s what he had to say:
Burfoot: Boston is a very difficult race to PR at, but the possibility is definitely there for the obvious reasons: it’s point to point, it has a downhill profile, and it can have a tailwind.
The problem is that Boston has a narrow opening for setting a PR, and it has a huge window for setting a PW [personal worst], or a really, really bad race. Because if you don’t pace it right—if you go out too fast like everyone does on Boston’s downhill course because of the adrenaline—you go out too fast thinking you’re going to build up some time and you trash your quads on the downhills. Then when you need those muscles going up Heartbreak Hill—and even more going down Heartbreak—you’ve got nothing left. (Heartbreak Hill is a 4.5-percent grade climb that lasts about one-third of a mile and starts just after mile 20 of the Boston Marathon.)
Cardiovascularly, you may be doing fine. You simply won’t have the muscle fiber in your legs to run the last five miles, and you see a very surprising number of people walk at the end of Boston for this reason.
So the key is to not go out as fast as you think you should. I would say go out a little bit faster than pace because you might want to take advantage of the downhill. But you really only want to be a minute or so ahead of your pace at the halfway point. If you hit it right and you don’t overcook things in the first half, then you can keep running strongly, and actually run very well on the hills coming into the finish at Boston.
Fitness Coach: After you won, did you want to go back to try to run really fast?
Burfoot: I certainly went back in subsequent years and tried to run well again. You have to remember, we didn’t have clocks on the course and things like that. In the early years, we literally didn’t know what our pace was. But I never had another really good race at Boston. I went back two or three times when I thought I was perhaps in as good a shape as the day I won, and should have run a 2:15 or something like that, and it just never ever happened. Mostly, I didn’t have anything left in my legs the last four miles. You have to have some magic to have a good race at Boston.
Burfoot is running his nineteenth Boston Marathon in 2013. "I’m running on Monday with a distinct plan not to finish fast," he says, "But just to get to the finish line."
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