Qualifying for Boston: How I Did It
From 4:53:41 to 3:09:59
Running fast has never come easily to me. When I qualified for the Boston Marathon two weeks ago with a time of 3:09:59, it was the culmination of six marathons and seven years of trying. And a far cry from the arduous four hours and 53 minutes that it took me to cross the finish line in my first marathon.
While there are plenty of great coaches how there who can help you get faster, the fact that I had to work so hard to get to Boston puts me in a unique position — I went from being a guy who couldn’t run one 7:15 minute mile to a guy who just ran 26.2 of them.
So I thought I’d share with you what I consider to be the most important things I did along the way, in case you can’t get that vision of yourself crossing the line in Boston to stay out of your head, either.
How I Qualified for the Boston Marathon
- Increase foot turnover to 180 steps per minute. Though awkward at first, this forces you to land lighter with each step, like you would if you were running barefoot. “Running on eggshells” is a great mental image. I believe that this alone stopped me from getting the shin stress fractures that plagued my training for my first three years of running. Find a running song with about that tempo and align your steps with it.
- Do three running workouts and two to three easy runs per week. One long run, one tempo run, and one track workout, plus two or three very slow recovery runs. I followed the plan from the book Run Less, Run Faster, but I replaced the cross-training with easy runs.
- Clean up your diet. I’ve always considered myself a healthy eater. But when I made the decision to become vegetarian, everything changed. I dropped about five pounds without losing any strength, and from then on I felt like a clean-burning machine.
- Spend some time strength-training and foam rolling. When I started doing core-strengthening exercises (from Core Performance Endurance) and foam rolling once or twice per week, nagging injuries became a thing of the past. No more missing workouts because I needed a break.
- Do long runs at near marathon pace. In the past, I always did my long runs at one to two minutes slower than marathon pace. Come race day, I had no idea what I was capable of, and had spent almost no time training at the required 7:15 pace. This time, my long runs increased in intensity until I did the final 20-miler at only 15 seconds slower than marathon pace, and it made a huge difference in my confidence.
- Pick a flat course, and train on flat trails. Choosing a fast race makes a big difference. I qualified at the Wineglass Marathon, which has a few small hills but a small net drop in altitude (200 ft). And if you’re not going to race on hills, you don’t need to do much hill training. Do it from time to time, but for the most part, save your body from the wear and tear of hills if you won’t need it on the big day.
- Do a few trial runs with the stuff you’ll use on race day. Whether it’s your pre-race meal, your during-race fuel (I decided against caffeine supplements), or what you’ll wear, experiment during your long runs leading up to the race. But save your final long run for a race-day rehearsal, just to be sure nothing can go wrong. Well, as sure as you can be.
- Convince yourself that it will happen. In the days before the race, I was unsure of whether I’d be able to qualify. But in the years before the race, I told myself over and over that one day I would do it, until I became sure of it. I don’t mean just positive thinking, I mean changing your gut-level association to what you’re capable of. See this letter I wrote for an example.
So there you have it. Follow these tips, and you’re sure to be running the streets of Boston on Patriots’ Day.
Ok, there’s just one more thing you have to do.
Work your ass off.
This post is part of 10-part series on qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and part of another designed to teach you how to run long and strong. Go check out the rest!
i think the last tip is my favorite and perhaps the most true 🙂
can you tell me a little more about the foot turnover and how to measure/figure it out? i don’t know if qualifying for boston is in my future, but i am pretty sure i will do a marathon again one day, and obviously want to improve my time!!!!
.-= Holly´s last blog ..Home Sweet Pancakes =-.
Since the day I found your blog back in May, I just knew you would do it. It has been fun and interesting following your journey. You are such a nice guy and so modest, but with 3:09:59, you are certainly in a position to give running advice!
Hi Matt – This summer I followed the Run Less, Run Faster plan and shaved 31 minutes off my PR and qualified for Boston. I was religious about sticking to the plan and biked for my cross-training. I highly recommend the plan for any level of runner – I’ve only been running 3 years and started off at a 10+ minute pace on my first half-marathon then ran 8:30’s to qualify for Boston – something I never thought I’d see happen.
I have a question about the foot turnover advice. How do you measure that? Do you literally just set your watch for 1 minute and count your steps?
That is great advice. I think that it shows that anyone can train to be whatever they want to be.
Great post. I also use the “Run Less, Run Faster” program, and in my 3rd marathon took off 24 minutes to qualify for Boston. You will love running Boston. It is great! Congratulations on 7 years of hard work!
That’s some great advice. And honestly sometimes it’s really nice to hear advice from someone who had to “work to get fast”. Then you can’t be like, well I could never do that, that guy is naturally fast. I’d love to one day be able to run an under 4 hour marathon.
I too am curious about the foot turnover thing. How do you measure that? Just count how many times your foot hit the ground in a minute or something?
.-= Bronwyn´s last blog ..Challenge: week 1 =-.
You have that measure with one of the new gps watches, they measure your strides per minute
Great advice. I think everyone can take something away from your tips. I think working your butt off is a great one! 🙂 You make running seem so easy… hopefully I can get there.
.-= pure2raw twins´s last blog ..Trying new things =-.
Thanks for sharing! I can’t wait to follow your journey to Boston!! You really worked hard for the BQ.
Great post – and on that I needed to read right now. I’m on a quest for a BQ, and your story gives me some hope that I’ll eventually get there!
.-= Peter Larson´s last blog ..Sherpa John and The Run Across New Hampshire =-.
For those wondering how to measure your stride rate…keep an eye on your watch and/or set a timer for 30 or 60 seconds. Count every time your right foot or your left foot hits the ground (ignore the other foot.)
Multiply your count by 2. If you timed yourself for 60 seconds, that’s your stride rate. If you timed yourself for 30 seconds, multiply it by 2 again to get your stride rate.
So, ideally, your right foot should hit 90 times in 60 seconds.
This should be true no matter how hard or how fast you are running, by the way…slower running doesn’t mean a slower stride rate.
(My stride rate tends to be around 182-183 strides per minute the few times I’ve actually counted.)
.-= Blaine Moore´s last blog ..100 Year Old Ruth Frith Sets New Shot Put World Record =-.
Great advice! Thanks.
.-= Angie´s last blog ..Random Laziness =-.
Love that last gem of advice, because when it boils down to it, there is no answer. It’s hard work! And yours paid off. Thanks for the tips and congratulations again.
.-= That Pink Girl´s last blog ..It Just Keeps Getting Better! =-.
Great post, thank you for sharing (and congrats on your BQ!) I am currently a 4:37 marathoner and need to get to a 3:40. I know I’m capable of 8:20 miles (heck, I run 22:00 5k’s!) but I’m intimidated to put 26.2 of them together!! Thanks for the tips!
Great advice!!! I went from a 4+ hour marathon down to running sub 3:30’s and agree with many of your tips. It is a lot of hard work though, but once I made the changes and built my “i can run faster” confidence I have consistently BQ’d the last few years. Congrats!!!!
love this post 🙂
i love your incredible progress. i know many, many people will find it very motivating to know that it is possible!
minor detail, work your ass off. other than that, no biggie right? 😉
Just incredible; yesterday I handed out water at a marathon and, while I was amazed by all of them, I was specifically surprised by the >4 pace groups. Incredible to know that you went from 4:53 to 3:09. WOW! Your blog is so honest and straightforward, it’s a joy to read about your running and life journey!
.-= CinnamonQuill´s last blog ..Boeuf Bourguignon, sans boeuf =-.
Congrats on qualifying!! That is so great! I think that you definitely qualify as someone to give good advice. You are truly inspiring!
.-= Melissa´s last blog ..Double Digits =-.
I have to tell you, this is precisely what I needed to hear. I’m a lot like you running-wise — I have never considered myself fast — though I’m older and likely bigger at 6’2″ and 190. My first marathon was 4:30, second was 4:08. I want to believe that qualifying for Boston is possible, but it’s hard knowing I have to knock another 48 minutes off that time. You’ve given me considerable hope. Keep it up!
I followed most of these tips and sure enough qualified for Boston at my very first marathon! I wanted to prove that as a vegan I could BQ and feel great. 🙂 I am now training for my second marathon (which is in 6 weeks). It’s a trail marathon so I guess this is my chance to really prove myself.
I greatly appreciate your blog. It has evolved so much and it looks fantastic these days. 🙂
I’m so glad you posted these! Thanks so much!
Good luck on your run =D I’m sure you’ll do great!
I want Boston SOOO BADDD and with the recent change of time I feel like it will never happen!! But this post was really inspiring and hopeful!
There is a lot of great advice in this post – your trials and errors of experience show here. A great way to work on your cadence is to buy a metronome. I put mine on “2/3 speed” so it beeps once for every 3 steps, and it will really help you work on your running cadence. 90 is not easy to accomplish quickly, so build up. 90 is still too fast for me, but I can do 86-88 regularly, and it does feel nice and light.
totally agree with the diet advice – i ran 3-4 years ago and ended up quitting due to chronic injury. now i eat a pretty strict vegan diet, and i am down to ideal weight and have way more energy/recovery from runs.
I appreciate your dogged determination – it is inspiring. I have perhaps more ‘genetic potential’ than many (ran sub 20min 5k on first try, for example), but the same advice applies nonetheless, to keep working hard towards the goal, and move the goal forward as you realize it.
The actual running advice is excellent too – i like your approach to the “run less run faster” plan. Not an easy plan for beginners, so again, build up to it.
I will definitely check out the core exercises and foam rolling too. thanks bro!
I have been a middle of the pack runner for years, just plodding along, wondering why I couldn’t get any faster. Finally I read about the FIRST plan in Runner’s World and tried the Run Less, Run Faster method for a half marathon. I shaved 15 minutes off with a half-effort. Then I used it for my first marathon (never thought I would run one) and had a really respectable time for a first marathon. Your tips are so true, and your blog is as inspiring as it is entertaining! Thanks!
I’m so glad this post is still up. I’m out scanning the web for inspiration on bq-ing, so this was perfect.
Thanks for the inspiration. I’ve been running for 31 years, since high school. My one and only marathon was in 1990, when I was working on my dissertation; running seemed the perfect antidote to writing all day. Trained with a 3:15 marathoner, went out too fast, crashed, burned and hobbled the last eight miles. Always ran, but life got in the way of making another attempt at this distance. Until about two years ago, had been pretty fast, but fell off serious training as my husband commuted between states, I held down the fort, and we finally moved. Writing full-time again…and looking at Boston, my holy running grail. Not sure it’s possible to push my times back down in a few short months -am training on all hills(almost no flats here) – hoping to be prepped for my hilly marathon(considered a lousy qualifier, another story). Thanks again, will focus on quality (duh) – and p.s. I’m a meatless athlete, too!
How long (how many years, how many marathons inbetween) did it take you to qualify for Boston? I ran my first marathon, painfully injured with an all-but-torn IT band after mile 4, in about 6 hours (I did my last training 20 miler in under 4 hours though, which makes me think I am fully capable, if un-injured, of a 5 hour marathon right now).
I would love to qualify for Boston – and I always thought that it would never, ever happen, but you make it seem possible.
I am a 2:49 marathoner, and although I agree with many of your tips, there are several that are questionable. Increasing cadence, consistency/working your ass off, cleaning up your diet, and doing ancillary exercises/strength routines are all important. I don’t agree with doing 3 workouts a week and think it’s a prime way for many non-elite or advanced runners to get burned out and get injured.
Long runs and one good workout a week (you don’t need to do a tempo type and speed or intervals each week!) along with consistent, easy runs will dramatically drop one’s time. Also, long runs are not meant to be run at marathon pace–those runs are important but should be used sparingly as a type of workout. Keep easy days easy, and hit the hard days hard. Hill training can also be a HUGE tool, even if you are not racing a hilly course. Hills build strength and endurance, and how can that NOT be helpful on any type of course?
Make sure your fuel properly not before/during the race, but also make sure your practice your fueling throughout your training. Find what works for you and feed the beast!
Good luck to anyone looking to improve. Finding a coach that can take the guess work out of training can also be a huge asset!!
Do you suggest tempo or speed to be alternated on one day each week?im struggling with injury & like your thinking
How can we get the BQ report? The link is not working.
Now that I’m looking closely at your advice about dropping times, the intensity of the week overall feels like a recipe for injury to me. You are suggesting 3 intense workouts: race pace long runs, tempo AND a track workout? That’s surely a very high percentage of ‘quality’/fast running in relation to a runner’s overall volume of running. I love that it worked for you but I’m pretty sure if I took up this advice I’d be injured in no time.
It’s pretty different from most advice I’ve seen out there.
I have picked up the Run Less Run Faster book and am considering this training along with Run Your BQ. I only run 1/2 or full marathons so as the book suggested as a test I ran 5k at 28minutes. The book says not to do the marathon training at goal pace- run at current pace. At best I can only run 9.5 to 9.3 minute miles but must do 8.34 p/mi to qualify for Boston. If it says not to run goal pace then how is someone supposed to get faster? It also worries me that it’s not going to be enough mileage. Tips?
Leave a Reply