The Boston Marathon, and What It Takes to Get There

Today, as you probably know, is Boston Marathon day.

My medal from 2011, and the only one that will remain when I downsize my medal collection soon.

One year ago, I ran it. It was amazing.

Two years ago, I was eligible to run, but I didn’t because my son was born just two days before the race.

(The silver lining is that a few weeks prior, I said I was going to skip his birth to run the race, in an April Fool’s joke that resulted in the loss of many friends and readers but was nonetheless an instant classic.)

And just two and a half years ago, I qualified.

Qualifying for Boston had been my goal since I signed up to run my very first marathon back in 2002, and brazenly wrote down “3:10:00” — the time I would need in order to qualify — as my projected finish time.

Pretty good estimate … I was only off by an hour and 43 minutes. I should have known something was up when I lined up in the starting corral, just behind the elites, and surrounded by serious athletes with crazy calf muscles who were obviously in a different league than I was.

Anyway, I know how inspired I used to feel on Patriots’ Day when I would see all the coverage of the marathon and envision myself one day running it, even when I wasn’t yet close to being fast enough. So I figured I’d post a few links and tips today, just in case you’re in the same boat I was.

Where to start if you want to qualify for Boston

Qualifying for Boston: How I Did It — I wrote this post just a few days after I qualified in October 2009. Reading it again now, I still believe that all the advice is valid; it’s a good snapshot of the things I was focusing on in my training when I was at my very fastest.

But I also now see that this post was a little short-sighted. It focused on what I had done in the past few months, not over those seven years, which is the far more remarkable part of my story.

So what if you’re not yet close?

Looking back at the whole thing, with the perspective that comes from being a few years removed from it, I can boil the long-term, big-picture approach down to three main points.

1. Stop getting injured.

Easier said than done, I know.

But of the 100-plus minutes I took off my marathon time to qualify for Boston, learning to train injury-free was responsible for about an hour and 10 minutes. Only the final half hour (yeah I know, “only” :)) came from advanced training, of which only the final 10 minutes was due to what I’d consider “intense” training.

For me, eliminating injuries came as the result of just a few, simple techniques:

  • Learning to run at a rate of 180 steps per minute
  • Foam rolling
  • Slowing way down on my easy runs, and always giving myself an easy day in between hard workouts

2. Get your head in the right place.

Mainly, I mean learning to become comfortable a massive goal that sometimes feels impossible, and convincing yourself (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that you can will achieve it.

It’s a tricky thing to really convince yourself that you’re capable of something this tough when you’ve got no references to back it up. I learned to do it just by reading examples of how others had done it. (That, and I’m an unapologetic Tony Robbins fanboy.)

My hope is that I can be one such example for you.

Check out “You Have to Believe,” a letter I found which I had written as part of a grad-school application, in which I talked about how certain I was that I would qualify for Boston one day.

What’s cool, reading it now, is that I realize how far I still had to go — at the time, I was still 40 minutes away from qualifying! But it’s a good example of how being naive and not fully understanding how hard something is can play to your advantage if it helps you to believe you can do it.

Two other posts I wrote about the head game that I think are worth reading:

3. Just keep running.

Day to day, you don’t notice big changes in your fitness level.

But take two identical people and add an extra 200 calories a day to one person’s diet, keeping the other’s diet exactly the same. After a month or two the difference will scarcely be noticeable.

But how different will these two people look (and feel) in five years?

With running, it’s the same. I don’t mean in terms of calories burned, but instead the way that your body learns how to efficiently and effectively run.

It doesn’t seem like there’s a big difference between getting out for an easy 20-minute jog one day and just deciding to stay put on the couch. And it’s true, that one day doesn’t matter.

But when you multiply that decision three hundred times over the course of a year, you better believe it makes a difference.

With each step, your brain learns just a little bit better how best to recruit muscle fibers to push you forward. If you run just 20 miles per week (less than 3 per day), and each step you take is a yard long, that’s 35,200 steps of experience per week.

1,830,400 steps of experience per year.

This is why people who have run a marathon or half before can pick up, relatively easily, and run another one, even if they’re not in great shape. Their bodies have learned to run.

Viewed this way, and considering that as you gain fitness you can increase mileage to much more than 20 miles per week, it’s not all that shocking that I could get so much faster given seven whole years to do it.

You become a better runner, automatically, if you get out there and run. Sure, the types of workouts you choose and the intensity you can sustain matter a lot.

But they don’t matter nearly as much, in terms of change over time, as just getting out there to run.

Day after day, week after week.

Heads up: Run Your BQ is taking new members next week!

A few months ago, my friend Jason and I launched Run Your BQ, a comprehensive program aimed at helping our members qualify for Boston.

In the three days we were open, we had about 200 runners sign up to be a part of our inaugural group. Since then, we’ve helped a lot of people experience big results (including a few who have already qualified for Boston).

Here’s what one of our members, Karen, recently said about her experience with Run Your BQ:

Lo and behold!! Faster times, faster recovery, longer mileage…no injury (crossing my fingers)…a complete turnaround. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ I used to do my long runs with an 11:30/mi pace—now down to 10:40-11:05/mi even for my 20 milers. Slowly but surely!!

I particularly love that the Strength and Core workouts are running-specific and can be done at home. With all my days spent running, I’ve given up my gym membership. Jason, you saved me $135/month so thanks! I was really just using it these days for the treadmill (which I hated). I’d rather run in rain and snow than get on the TM. I live in Chicago and we’re blessed with a beautiful lakefront path—there’s nothing like being outside.

Your program has already helped me *immensely*. I love it that I can post a question and get support from my fellow RYBQ-ers plus get expert advice from you [Jason] and Matt. Thank you!!

And here’s what Vincent had to say:

I just wanted to thank you. I’ve been a loyal reader of no meat athlete for a while and signed up for Run Your BQ right at the beginning of the trial period in February. The site is awesome and I learned a ton from all the resources you have up there. You’re doing really great work.

Don’t know if it was the good zen of signing up for the site, but just a few days afterwards, I ran a 3:02 at the Austin marathon. I’d hit a wall in two previous attempts at a BQ around the 20 mile mark, and ended up running a 3:09 in those races. I really attribute a lot of that turnaround to the nutrition information and form recommendations on your site (I’m now eating vegan 4 days a week and vegetarian the rest of the time). I’m also running 70 miles a week now no problem and again I think that’s attributable in large part to your advice.

Sign up to be notified when we re-open

If you’d like to be notified when we re-open to new members sometime next week (again for just a few days), click here and enter your email address to sign up.

Jason and I will also be sending out special free reports we wrote about Boston-qualifying to anyone who signs up to this list — 22 pages of info to help you get to Boston. So if you missed those last time, join the list and we’ll send them to you as well.

Enjoy Boston Marathon day, and hope you’re as inspired as I always am by the race!



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  1. I did not jump this opportunity the first time it was offered and have been regretting it ever since. Looking forward to the second chance – I promise I won’t pass it up ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Hey Matt!

    Great timing! I am actually doing a Boston Marathon project for a marketing class I am taking and your experience and tips is super-useful ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. this is a really good post Matt! thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ i will be sharing it with my husband as well.

  4. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Be glad you didn’t run Boston yesterday- mid 80’s. Ouch! Congrats to anyone who made the attempt yesterday.

  5. I find this so inspiring. I’m about 57 mins off from BQing on my second marathon attempt, and I haven’t been able to hold the required pace for even a 5K. It’s nice to know that there might be hope for me, yet!

  6. It’s funny for me to look back at my marathon training now. I was constantly injured, but I was too caught up in the moment to sit back and realize step 1, “stop getting injured.” Your articles are almost convincing me to give it another go! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Nicole Schile says:

    Similar boat, didn’t train for my first. Ran the Des Moines in 2005, finished after walking 6 miles in 4:45’ish. Caught the bug and kept working at it, in between had a daughter. Qualified in KC right before having my second daughter, but couldn’t actually go to the race since my daughter was under one and still feeding. Been training like crazy for Tri’s and distance hoping I can qualify again…

    Big takeaway, it’s a journey to enjoy every moment. I want both of my girls to also grow up loving running ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I’m also trying to get my BQ this year, so thank you for the helpful hints!!

  9. Matt- I have received the invite to join Run your BQ by Friday for a lifetime membership fee. One question I have is regarding the training program. For the last couple of years I have been following the 3 plus 2 training program with max weekly mileage of about 54 miles. This is based on the FIRST ‘Run Less, Run Faster’ program. Will that conflict with the training programs offered by RYBQ?


    • Hi Bhasker! No, it won’t conflict, but obviously the RYBQ plans aren’t exactly like those in Run Less, Run Faster. I’m a big fan of Run Less, Run Faster, although I found that the “run less” part didn’t work so well for me and I got better results when I kept doing a few (very) easy runs each week between workouts. While the RYBQ plans aren’t 3+2, we’re more than willing to work with you to adapt them to something that works for you. Hope to see you inside RYBQ!

  10. I ran Boston in 2007, and finished with a qualifying time to return the next year, but sadly pyroformis syndrome had other plans, and it was the last full marathon I’ve run. As a result, I took up yoga in addition to cycling and running,and while I am a shadow of my former running self, I credit yoga as the reason I can still keep running decently at all. I now teach power vinyasa yoga, and always tell my runner students about the foam roller! I also urge all endurance runners to take up yoga–BEFORE the injury sets in. I recognize it is difficult to take on yet another piece of training, let alone doing an activity so seemingly opposite of running–but I swear by it, both for healthy legs, and faster times.

  11. I am so inspired by your Boston qualifying story. I have been vegetarian (near vegan aside from my pizza every other week) and it’s because of my diet that I started running. I have only run one marathon and my time was WAY off a qualifying time, but I feel like I have it in me somewhere to do it. Hearing that someone else was
    Relentless in their pursuit and finally got there gives me hope. I love your website and can’t wait to order my meat free athlete tee!

  12. My plan had been to BQ this fall. After yesterday’s events I am more determined than ever. I will qualify this year. Thanks for the tips. I subscribed so please keep them coming.

  13. Troy Pearson says:

    I will make the BM Lord willing. Last year I was at 365 lbs I’m now at 255 on a McDonalds dollar menu diet. I have just changed my diet to a healthy one. I done care if I cone in dead last as long as I finish it. This is the first sight I found talking about qualifying for it.
    How do I find information and times needed to qualify ?

    49 years of age
    255 lbs only for now!!


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