Marathon 101: Advice for first-time runners

Runners moved along the marathon course in Hopkinton.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Runners moved along the marathon course in Hopkinton.

So, you’re running the Boston Marathon for the first time. You have trained, studied the course, hopefully sought the counsel of those who have run before. But how familiar are you with the grueling, 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to Copley Square? We asked two marathon veterans -- Jack Fultz, winner of the 1976 race, and Michael McGrane, an eight-time competitor, to offer some keys to a successful race.

1. Resist the temptation to start fast. It is easy to do -- your adrenaline is flowing, and the first several miles are downhill. But hold back. If you don’t, you will almost inevitably fail later.

“It’s the single biggest mistake runners of the Boston Marathon make,” Fultz says. “If you don’t feel like you’re going too slow, you’re going too fast.”


2. Yes, it will be immensely frustrating to watch scores of runners pass you early in the course, especially the ones who look drunk, obese, asleep, or otherwise ill-suited for rigorous cardiovascular activity. But let them pass you, veteran runners say. If you conserve your energy, you will be the one cruising later on while your compatriots are passed out by the Gatorade station. “You should run your own race,” McGrane says.

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“You should not get caught up with anyone around you, especially if you think you should be beating them based on the way they look.”

3. Do not let any person or any map tell you that Wellesley is the half-way point. Forget the mileage -- it is nowhere near the mid-point physically or mentally, veterans say. This can be especially hard to remember as you bask in the screams from the Wellesley College students. Enjoy the lively atmosphere and maybe even high-five a few spectators, veterans say, but do not pick up your pace. Do not run like you are almost there.

“Energy-wise, it’s only about a third of the way to the finish line,” Fultz says.

4. Everyone knows that Heartbreak Hill in Newton is a killer, but fixating on it alone misses the larger picture. First of all, Heartbreak is one of several hills in Newton; some runners say the hills preceding it are where you will know how well you have trained. Second, you may find that the hardest thing about Heartbreak isn’t the uphill portion but the downhill afterwards. Just when you think you’re home free, don’t be surprised if your quad muscles feel like they’re being stabbed with sharp pencils.


“Once you make it on top of Heartbreak Hill, a lot of people think, ‘OK, I’ve made it. I’ve really made it,’” Fultz says. “That’s not necessarily so.”

5. Just as you are dying for any indication of the finish line, the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square -- the one-mile-to-go marker -- appears like a beacon. But veteran runners say not to pray to this false god too soon, because it is visible for several miles as you run toward downtown on Beacon Street.

“You can see it for a little too long,” McGrane says. Fultz adds, “It’s like running on a treadmill. You’re running, but it feels like you’re not getting anywhere.”