Lessons we can all learn from Boston Marathon 2018

Yesterday’s Boston Marathon was amazing to watch, largely because I don’t think anyone saw the ending coming! The conditions were awful, the pace for the women’s race was slow, and the podium finishers were not what you would have expected at the halfway point. It was such an exciting race, and there are definitely lessons that any runner can learn from the way it played out.

(Yes, my Brighton Marathon recap is coming soon – this was just too important not to blog about!)

Whatever the weather

Boston yesterday threw the most miserable weather conditions at its participants. It was -1°C, pouring with rain and with significant winds. Most of the elite field never took off their jackets, which is a rare occurrence. You could see people in the mass start running still wearing their plastic ponchos which they must have been huddling under during the long wait for the race to start.

(The Boston Globe/David L. Ryan)

But you cannot control these things, bad weather happens. Sometimes there is a freak heatwave, and other times you get a freezing deluge – the race will still go on. There’s no point in complaining, you just have to assess the conditions and make the most of what you’ve been given. The race plan you’ve made will probably have to be adjusted, particularly on a hot day when pushing too hard will only risk doing harm to your body. If it’s cold, you’ll probably have to pack a few extra layers and be prepared to carry them later should conditions improve. Race day can be a bit of a game against the weather.

It’s also important to train through any and all conditions, and not cancel a run or move it indoors just because it’s raining. (Or at least, not every time). Every time you complete a run in tough conditions you gain extra confidence should you face a similar situation on race day. When I ran EcoTrail de Paris, I wasn’t expecting it to snow after halfway. However, because I’d been able to train throughout the winter in conditions much worse than that, it was something that I could handle in the moment.

Run your own race

For a major marathon, the winning women’s marathon time of 2:39:53 was remarkably slow. Despite Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia breaking away before halfway and running for a long stretch on her own, Linden kept bearing down and eventually overtook her for the win, while Daska DNF’d.

(Getty Images/Scott Eisen)

That’s exciting, but what’s more interesting is the story behind second place female, Sarah Sellers. If you google that name now, you’ll come up with a whole lot of articles titled ‘Who is Sarah Sellers?’, because coming into the race she was an unknown. Boston was only her second marathon, and although she had an elite start place, she was certainly not expecting to place. Her goal was simply to run a US Olympic Qualifying time of sub-2:45, which she did in 2:44:04. She didn’t even realise that she had come second, to her all that mattered was that she had succeeded in her mission for the day.

Running a well-paced, thought-out race can be difficult to do, but is the mark of an excellent marathoner. To me, it shows a lot more if you can execute on a plan, as opposed to going hard for the first 20miles and then blowing up. I find this mostly happens because you get caught up in the atmosphere of all the people running with you, and think ‘oh, but I feel good, it doesn’t matter if I’m going a little fast’. Sticking to a race-plan is the most effective way of achieving your goal, and if you can achieve that, you’re likely to perform much better than many other people in the race.

Experience matters

Then men’s race was won in 2:15:53 by Yuki Kawauchi, who is one of my absolute heroes due to his dedication and consistency in the sport. Unlike most Japanese elite marathoners, Yuki works a full-time job and fits his training around that schedule. He eschews traditional wisdom and races a marathon a month, and currently holds the world record for the most marathons run under 2:20. And how many is that? Well, Boston will have been number 79. WHAT. That’s just ridiculous.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Kawauchi is by no means the fastest marathoner in the world, but his experience in the sport is what gave him the upper edge at Boston. He has run his sub-2:20s in all manner of conditions, and so nothing could phase him come race-day. He described it later as “for me, it is the best conditions possible”, which is clearly the case since it allowed him to take the win. However it’s more than that: his knowledge of how that pace feels in his legs will have let him lock-in early on and keep going even when the men’s field around him was chopping and changing (Geoffrey Kirui opened a significant gap but then faltered with a few miles left to run to ultimately take second).

It just goes to show that drawing on a wealth of marathon experience can be a significant help. There are so many lessons to be learned over 42.2km that it takes time and races to understand how to approach the event and how you will perform on the day. Personally I only became comfortable after ~10 marathons, and even then I’ve still had races which haven’t gone to plan. These things take time, keep coming back and keep working and the breakthroughs will come.

(Featured image: AFP/Getty Images/Ryan McBride)

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