For me, and I would imagine many others as well, the road to the 124th Boston Marathon has been a rollercoaster both physically and emotionally. Having last run the iconic race 15 years ago in 2005, I was both excited and nostalgic to take another trip from Hopkinton to Boston alongside thousands of runners, and hundreds of thousands of cheering fans. I wanted to set a challenging goal for myself, so I even connected with a coach to make sure I trained correctly and maximized my preparation. And then, COVID. Despite rumors that the race would be canceled, I continued to train (just in case). Following the decision to postpone, I continued to train (just in case – September seemed a long time away and who knew what else might happen?). And so, on April 19 I ran my first ever virtual marathon.
I learned a lot from that experience, as well as from talking to fellow runners and friends who are training for the Virtual Boston Marathon, and hope that this will be helpful as you prepare for your own run this September!
One thing that’s been very different for many of us has been training through the hot summer months. Heat and humidity have a strong effect on perceived effort so that it can feel like every run is a long run! Cumulative fatigue is a real thing too, especially since most of us have been training since last December. Amanda Harrow, who will be running the Virtual Boston Marathon as her first marathon ever, says “Training during the Summer months has definitely been a different experience for me from when I was originally training back in the Fall/Winter. Everything is different, from the time of day you run to what you have to bring with you during your runs etc. Right now I am focusing on keeping up with healthy nutrition, hydration, and being consistent with cross-training and stretching.”
The best thing to do at this point is to listen to your body, don’t stress about sticking to every mile of your training plan, and stay healthy! Try to do the remainder of your training on your actual route as much as possible. It will give you the chance to familiarize yourself with it, and to make changes to it if you discover anything not optimal about it (a busy intersection, a random hill, not enough shade, etc). Which brings me to the next point…
Designing Your Route
The B.A.A. “urges all participants to follow local and state guidelines pertaining to physical distancing and the coronavirus pandemic within your community. The Boston Marathon route will not be closed to vehicular traffic nor will support personnel be stationed along the way.” So taking that under advisement, here are some suggestions for designing your route.
A loop course is a good choice because it’s easy to manage things like water and bathroom access, and it gives your friends and family an easy way to see you (and cheer!) multiple times. Short loops (3 to 5 miles) are great if you don’t want to go too far from your home base, but could also get a little repetitive, especially toward the end of your run when you need motivation the most. Another idea is to set up a “Figure 8” loop so that you can run past your base frequently but still have more varied terrain. In my previous virtual marathon, I set up a 13.1 mile loop that I ran twice… and it was a little toooo long, with not enough contact with my home base. So considering that, a 5-8 mile loop might be ideal for many people. Sam Steere, an experienced runner who’s running for ABC in Wellesley, says, “Instead of running from Hopkinton to Boston, I’m planning to run a 5.25 mile loop five times through my neighborhood. The key to this route is that I will pass my house 4 times during my run so that I can eat and hydrate. Additionally, as the average temperature in Boston is between 70-75 degrees in early September, I’m planning to start my run at 5:30am in an attempt to complete it before it gets too hot. My recent training runs in 90+ degree heat and high humidity have made it painfully clear to me why the Boston Marathon is normally held in mid-April!”
If loops aren’t your thing, a point-to-point route is the way to go. The benefits are that you have more variety of terrain and scenery, and it will feel more “real”. On the other hand, you’ll definitely need more preparation, especially in terms of planning your nutrition and hydration. One option is to wear a running backpack which can hold water, gels or chews, a phone, car keys, etc. Another option is to have a friend follow you by bike or car to carry your supplies.
A third idea is to do a trail route. If you love the serenity of being out in nature, a trail course could work well. It also has the benefit of not having to worry about road traffic, intersections, or crowds. If you plan a trail route, be sure to provide friends/family a map of your route and have a plan for alerting your support crew should anything unexpected happen.
A virtual marathon is no different from any other in the sense that preparing and practicing a solid nutrition and hydration plan is vital. During your remaining runs, test the type of gel, chew, or sports drink that you plan to use. Pay close attention to hydration and electrolyte intake – for many of us it may be the warmest weather marathon we’ve ever run. Balanced electrolyte fluids such as Nuun are very helpful, and you can also supplement with salt tablets if you find that you are experiencing muscle cramps as you do your longer runs through the remainder of your training.
Given the likelihood of warm temperatures, you may be planning to run before dawn or at night. Visibility is very important! Be sure to wear reflective apparel and/or LED lights, especially if you are running on an open road. If you have a cyclist riding with you, be sure they are visible as well. And remember to practice safe social distancing and wear a mask if needed.
My experience with virtual marathoning made me realize how incredibly important the cheering crowds and camaraderie of other runners are to the marathon experience. While it isn’t possible to recreate that dynamic environment in a virtual marathon, there’s still a lot that you can do to find all the motivation you need to go 26.2. In addition to encouraging your family and friends to support you at key spots along your route, you can share your progress virtually through apps such as Strava Beacon, Garmin Connect, or MapMyRun. If you’re running in memory or honor of a loved one, carry a photo with you or have one at your home base to help channel that love and energy into your run.
You can also make your route more fun! The BAA has promised a “Boston Marathon Virtual Experience tool kit” with a variety of goodies so that you can create mile markers and cheer cards, as well as printing out your personal bib number. In addition, consider creating posters for landmarks such as the Town Line signs and the Citgo Sign and place them along your route at the appropriate spots. Recruit a “Wellesley College Cheer Squad” to give you a shout out at Mile 13. If you like to run with music, set up a killer playlist. I have to say, hearing “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash as I hit mile 24 did a lot to help me through those last few miles in April. And don’t forget the importance of planning an epic finish line – this is your chance to break the tape at the Boston Marathon! As Amanda Harrow puts it, “All of the progress I have made so far is what’s keeping me going. I realized that if I am able to run 26.2 miles solo in a virtual environment it will be something incredible and unique to carry with me for all future races and training.”
So from all of us at Marathon Sports, good luck to all of you! Whether it’s your first marathon or your 30th, your accomplishment is amazing. Despite all of the obstacles, you are a Boston Marathon finisher in a year like no other.
Author: Susan M.