Boston Marathon Preparation and Race Report

This morning I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time, it was such an incredible and fun experience! There were 30k participants and 1 million spectators cheering along the course, there was so much positive energy!

I ran an 11 minute PR in a time of 2:44:15. Here is a little post about it.  The first part is about my marathon preparation, the second part dives into the race specifics.

Race bib Boston Marathon

PREPARATION

There are a lot of different advanced marathon training programs out there. Many of these programs include aerobic runs + 3 to 4 times a week intervals, hill repeats and speed-work, every week.

I approached my marathon preparation different than this. I’m a huge fan of Heart Rate Monitor training with lots of aerobic (low heart rate) miles, inspired by Dr. Phil Maffetone. I approached this marathon by training mostly (94% of my total running time) at a lower heart rate (138-148 bpm or sometimes lower).  Occasionally I added intervals or speed-work at higher heart rate (6% total running time). I choose this 138-148 bpm HR zone by using  the 180 formula and by doing a blood lactate test. For the intervals I’d run 8 x 800’s, mostly on the track, occasionally on hills since Boston is hilly. A few times times I added some speed-work to simulated running on tired legs, by running a 20 miler and increasing the pace to marathon pace or faster the last 5 miles.

Here is a breakdown of my weekly miles:

Week of Total miles Total time Anaerobic runs Anaerobic miles Anaerobic time
Jan 5 – 11 54.9 6h 38 min 1 3 17 minutes
Jan 12 – 18 57.6 7h 46 min 2 9.5 42 minutes
Jan 19 – 25 66 8h 7 min 2 9 54 minutes
jan 26 – Feb 1 50.5 6h 20 min 2 8.5 72 minutes
Feb 2 – 8 43.8 5h 59 min 0 0 0
Feb 9 – 15 67.3 8h 40 min 0 0 0
Feb 16 – 22 75.2 9h 21 min 0 0 0
Feb 23 – Mar 1 64.1 9h 3 min 1 4.2 25 minutes
Mar 2 – 8 81.5 12h 0 min 14 miles 2 82 minutes
Mar 9 – 15 52.5 6h 55 min 0 0 0
Mar 16 – 22 80.5 10h 0 min 1 5 31 minutes
Mar 23 – 29 81.6 11h 20 min 1 8 50 minutes
Mar 30 – Apr 5 30.2 4h 10 min 1 2.5 17 minutes
Apri 6 – 12 37.4 6h 0 min 2 8 52 minutes
Apr 13 – 19 16.9 2h 31 min 0 0 0
Total 860 114h 50 min 13 59.7 7h 22 min

A lot of people train at a heart rate and pace that’s much too high and fast for them, this causes a lot of stress on their body along with higher chances of injuries which slows down improvements. Although there is something to be said about getting familiar with a fast pace and race pace, you don’t need to kill yourself with a bunch of intervals, hill repeats and speed-work to become a faster runner. In my opinion slowing down your pace on most of your runs will make your runs more enjoyable and injury free, then over time you’ll become a faster runner.

A few other things I did:

Weekly miles

From my previous running experience, I knew that 75 – 80 miles per week was the maximum amount of miles that my body could handle. I didn’t want to spend more time away from work and family. Also, more than 80 miles per week would cut into my sleep, so it would have minimal return for me with an increased injury risk.

Double runs and 2 hour runs max

A few months ago I started running doubles and really liked it, because it is much less taxing on your body than running higher miles at once. A few times a week I’d run 5 miles in the morning and 11 miles at night. The short morning runs kickstart your metabolism and give you alertness during the day. The evening runs felt easier because my legs and body were already feeling warmed up.

When I trained for my 100 mile run from Long Beach to San Diego, I ran many long training runs of 3, 5 or even 7+ hours. For these ultra training runs it was more important to have time on my feet than speed. I aimed to run the Boston marathon under 3 hours, my goal was sub 2:45. After interviewing Phil Maffetone, he advised to keep your longest marathon training runs at 2 to 2 1/2 hours max. Running longer than this significantly increases your chances of injuries, with minimal improvements. My longest training run was 20 miles in 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Trail running in the Santa Monica Mountains

Walking barefoot

Since I started getting into running 2 years ago, I’ve been injury free, however I’ve experienced tight ankles and calves. I took a step back and realized that the muscles, ligaments and tendons in my feet and ankles were underdeveloped, even though I run 8 – 12 hours a week. Having strong feet and ankles is part of a strong foundation.

For the past 2 months I decided to walk around barefoot as much as possible. I work from home, so most of my days I’m not wearing shoes or socks, until I go running or leave the house. After just a few weeks I started feeling a positive difference. It helped reengage the weak muscles and improved mobility, stability and strength in my feet and ankles.

Rest and recovery

It might sound backwards, but we get more of our training benefits from the recovery phase than from actually training. If we don’t get that recovery, we aren’t going to allow our body to naturally progress. Even in peak running weeks of 80 miles per week, I’d still take 1 day a week off from running. If I’d feel very tired or not motived to run, I’d take 1 or 2 days off. It’s amazing to feel completely recharged again after a short break and after getting enough sleep.

Nutrition

I haven’t changed much nutrition wise these past months. I’ve continued to avoid eating processed food and refined sugars, with occasional exceptions for things like sushi, ramen, pizza and beer! 🙂 I blend a lot of veggies in my Vitamix blender for daily veggie shakes.

Vitamix Blender to make epic vegetable shakes

MAF tests results + Blood Lactate Test results

Every month I track my running progress with a MAF test, you warm up 2 miles, then run 5 miles at your Max Aerobic Heart Rate (for me 148 bpm) and check your mile lap time:

Date 5 miles average pace at max aerobic HR
5/13/13 8:21 min / mile
8/20/13 7:21 min / mile
4/27/14 6:54 min / mile
1/30/15 6:31 min / mile
3/19/15 6:17 min / mile
4/3/15 6:12 min / mile

During my taper I took a Blood Lactate Test for running and it confirmed the heart rate zone I wanted to target during my marathon, in particular the 157-162 zone:

LT (Lactate Threshold) 151 – 156 bpm 8.5 – 8.9 mph
AC (Advanced Conditioning) 157 – 162 bpm 9.0 – 9.6 mph
SST (Steady State Threshold) 163 – 165 bpm 9.7 – 9.8 mph

BLOOD LACTATE TEST FOR RUNNING

Once I go over 162 bpm (even just a few beats) I’ve noticed that my breathing gets heavier and I’m not able to maintain this HR and pace for a longer period of time.

My strategy going into the Boston Marathon

My last 2 races I started too fast and suffered a lot at the end, this was in both my 100 miler and my 1/2 marathon in Amsterdam. For race day, the temperatures were going to be mid forties with a 12mph headwind at the start that picked up to a 21 mph wind at the finish, with high changes of rain. That’s 26.2 miles running against hard wind, definitely tough race conditions.

Here is the race strategy for the Boston marathon I wrote down beforehand:

My plan is to hold back the first 1/2 of the race at 6:15-6:20 min / miles and not go over 156-159HR. I’ll still run the downhills pretty fast because my HR should be pretty low downhill. Then mile 13 – 21 I’ll not go over 160 HR (occasionally up to 165HR on the hills), this will hopefully leave me with enough energy left to finish the last 5 miles strong, with a HR in the 160-170 zone.

RACE RECAP

I qualified for the Boston marathon with a 2:55:05 and was in wave 1, corral 3, the start time was 10am. Here is how it all went down:

I prepared for a crowded start, this was indeed the case, not much I could do about this.

  • Mile 1 = 6:21 min / miles (warm up + people in the way, didn’t want to lose energy on zigzagging)
  • Mile 2 – 13 = had to hold myself back here, averaged about 6:10 min / mile. I ran on effort, not letting my HR go over 160 to keep energy in the tank for later. There was a lot of headwind, so I tried to stick to a pack of runners and never ran on my own in the open. This made a huge difference of 20-30 seconds / mile effort-wise.
  • Mile 13.1 = I ran the first 1/2 marathon in 1:20:59 and was feeling great.
  • Mile 13 – 16 = So many people in the crowd, this helped keep the stoke levels high!
  • Mile 16 = The Boston Hills, this is where the hard work started. I knew there were 4 hills in the next 5 miles, at mile 16, 17.5, 19 and 20. I slowed down the pace up the hills but not more than needed, my Heart Rate monitor was very helpful here so I wouldn’t go over 165 beats per minute. Although my pace slowed down to 6:47 min / mile at mile 21 (Heart Break Hill), it was ok because I had energy left to go fast the following miles.
  • Mile 22 – 25 I had energy left to pick up the pace to around 6:00 – 6:10. My legs started to feel so heavy and I started running out of energy.
  • Mile 25 – finish. My heart rate started to rise to 170+ and I knew I was in the red zone. Early on in mile 25 I started to see stars and bonking was near. I gave it one last push to cross the finish line and my legs pretty much gave out for a few seconds. A medic gave me an arm and walked with me for a bit. I checked my watch and it showed 2:44:15, I was so hyped!

Finish of Boston Marathon

Medal Boston Marathon

Plans moving forward

Back to the trails!! I haven’t run many trails lately and definitely missed that a lot. Running fast on road is a lot of fun, but nothing beats a sunrise run with friends on a remote steep trail like the Santa Monica mountains, San Gabriel mountains or El Morro. In June I’m running up and down Mt Whitney with a few friends.

I’m also going to finish writing my first e-book “how to run a sub 3 hour marathon”.

Learn much more about RUNNING FASTER WITH LESS EFFORT! Many exciting articles in the works, be the first to hear about new posts, giveaways and exclusive content.  

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Related Posts:
• Running a sub 3 hour marathon with a Go Pro
• How I trained to run a sub 3 hour marathon
• How I trained for my first 100 mile run from Long Beach to San Diego

Blood lactate test for running

A few days ago I had my second Blood Lactate Test with Gareth Thomas at TRIO sports science testing facility in Los Angeles. On Monday April 20, 2015 I’ll be running the Boston Marathon so to prepare for this I’ve been running a lot of miles these past few months.

The reason I took this Blood Lactate test was to get a scientific reading of my blood lactate levels at different Heart Rates. Lactate is constantly produced by the body. In rest and with light exercise, you only produce a small amount of lactate. During a blood lactate test for running, blood lactate samples are taken at gradually increasing intensities while running on a treadmill. As exercise intensity increases, your lactate production increases and reaches levels that are reflective of a loss of aerobic efficiency. In general, low levels of lactate are the sign of an efficient aerobic system.

Here are my test results from my test on 4/10/2015:

 Zone Heart-rate Speed (mph)
AERO (Aerobic) 139 – 150 bpm < 8.4 mph
LT (Lactate Threshold) 151 – 156 bpm 8.5 – 8.9 mph
AC (Advanced Conditioning) 157 – 162 bpm 9.0 – 9.6 mph
SST (Steady State Threshold) 163 – 165 bpm 9.7 – 9.8 mph
VO2 max development 166 bpm+ 9.9 mph +

* Soon after 9.8 mph (6.07 min mile) I start to lose aerobic efficiency shown by lactate rising more rapidly and going above 4 mmol.

Here are my test results from my test on 11/26/2013:

  Zone Heart-rate Speed (mph)
AERO (Aerobic) 135 – 149 bpm < 8.0 mph
LT (Lactate Threshold) 150 – 158 bpm 8.1 – 8.5 mph
AC (Advanced Conditioning) 159 – 168 bpm 8.6 – 9.2 mph
SST (Steady State Threshold) 169 – 172 bpm 9.3 – 9.5 mph
VO2 max development 173 bpm+ 9.6 mph +

* Soon after 9.3 mph (6.25 min mile) I start to lose aerobic efficiency, with lactate rising more rapidly and going above 4 mmol.

Blood Lactate Test for Running

The data from my MAF tests and from my 1 LT test show some big differences:

  • On my LT test on 4/10/15 I hit 148 HR at a 8.3 mile / hour = 7.13 min / mile pace.
  • On my MAF test on 4/3/15 on a track, at 148HR I ran 6:12 min / mile average for 5 miles.

I noticed that during the LT test my Heart Rate would elevate much faster at slower pace than running outside on a track. A few possible reasons, I never run on a treadmill so it’s harder to get into a flow than running outside. My MAF test was at 53 fahrenheit early in the morning, vs 68 fahrenheit inside at 11am during the LT test. Also, my GPS watch might be slightly off on distance which might show faster pace than the treadmill pace.

For the Boston marathon I’ll be wearing my Garmin Heart Rate monitor. In training runs I’ve noticed that once my HR goes over 162 for a while (from Advanced Conditioning to Steady State Threshold), my breathing switches from 1 breath every 4 steps to 1 breath every 2 steps. Once this switch happens, I’m using a lot more energy and this is something I want to avoid until the last stages of the race.

I think a Blood lactate test is a great way to track your progress and to develop your own training plan from there with the input from the testing / training facility. If you’re located in Southern California, I can highly recommend Gareth at Trio or you can try to find a sports science laboratory near you.