Saturday, January 13, 2018

Boston Marathon Week 4 of 18: There's "hills" & then there's HILLLZZ.

Oof, running a bit behind getting this one up. Progress, not perfection, right?

As I've started actually-for-real training for this race & occasionally chatting with other runners about it, people keep bringing up the course. Like "Have you ever run the course?" "Have you ever been out there on those hills?" "It's a really tricky course, you know." "OMG those HILLZ. Watch out for those HILLZ, man!"

And I'm like, "Okay? I train in San Francisco?" I mean. No disrespect to the Bostonians out there, but I did live in Boston for three months and, dudes, we have different definitions of what hills are.

That's not a hill; this is a hill.
If I run from the condo where we're staying, I have to go down and then back up three
of these bad boys about a third of a mile each way, all of which are 10-20% grade.

But no, I haven't been out on the course ever, actually, (I basically wasn't running at all during the time I lived in Boston & knew nothing about the marathon except that it existed) so I decided to look it up. Also because I am a numbers geek I even put it all into a table to see the average grade by mile.


Now, of course, that is average grade per mile, and there are clearly steeper and less-steep sections within any given mile, as you can see on the elevation profile:

But to me, at least, the variation doesn't look all that crazy.

So my question, for anyone who has both run the Boston course and also done a reasonable amount of not-flat running in SF, is what exactly are we talking about here hill-wise? Is there a stretch in SF that you'd compare to the early downhill Boston miles or the bigger uphills at the end? People are all like, "BE SURE TO TRAIN YOUR QUADS!" and I would just like to know if I need to make a special effort to seek out steeper/longer hills than I run pretty much every day of my life or if this is mostly people who train on flats saying this and I'll be just fine doing what I'm doing.

~*~*~ Boston Marathon: Week 4 of 18 ~*~*~

Grand Total: 48 miles
    * 23.6 easy
    * 4.4 speed
    * 4 HM pace
    * 16 long

Monday 1/1: Rest

Tuesday 1/2: 3.1 warm up, 4 x 1600m @ 8K pace / 1:30 jog, 2.5 cool down = 10 total.

    These started out easy but got hard fast. I think I might not have waited long enough to do the run after eating because after the 3rd one I started feeling sick to my stomach & never quite recovered. 7:01, 7:03, 7:02, 7:06.

Wednesday 1/3: Rest. I had kinda-sorta told myself, "On Jan. 3, I will be back in the gym at 6:30am!" Except in my hierarchy of training activities, sleep trumps strength work, and I was desperately, desperately in need of some extra sleep.

Thursday 1/4: 6 easy. Man, I felt like complete ass on Thursday. Complete. ASS.

Friday 1/5: 3 warm up, 3 x 2K @ HM pace / 1:15 jog, 3 cool down = 10 total. (Again, extra sleep was warranted more than strength work.)

    I finished that terrible 6 miler on Thursday with some worse-than-usual pain in my left heel (that of the perpetual plantar fasciitis) and painful shin splints in that leg like I hadn't felt in years, not really sure why. I spent a bunch of time on Thursday rolling out my stupid calf with the lacrosse ball (Hot tip: Shin splints? Plantar fasciitis? Insanely tight calf muscles could be the culprit) and it felt better, but definitely far from 100% when I got up Friday morning. So, I was more than a little nervous about this workout & not totally sure I wouldn't have to quit a mile into the warm-up.

    I still had a bit of discomfort when running slow, but it was MUCH improved from the day before, and the fast miles actually felt pretty easy. This past year tempo/threshold runs (ie stuff mostly between 7:15-7:50ish) have been the hardest paces for me to hit consistently and often felt even harder than speed workouts, but the last couple of times I've done HM pace intervals it's been like, "OK, cool, this isn't bad at all," even running in Spokane with all the hills and the cold.

Saturday 1/6: 6 easy.

    Still having some discomfort in the medial-tibial area, but relieved to find that 1) I felt good on this run as long as I kept up a slightly-faster-than-normal pace (my normal 10:00-10:30 pace seeming to be what aggravates it), and 2) keeping up a 9:30-9:45 pace at a low heart rate (136 bpm) seemed weirdly easy???? In fact, distance-per-beat-wise, this was the most efficient run I've ever recorded in three years of collecting data. Yay??

Sunday 1/7: 16 long

    Gray, chilly, & mostly fine, except for the lingering medial-tibial discomfort. It seemed the worst after stopping at a traffic light and then starting back up again or going downhill, and least worst (ie, 90% pain-free) after a few minutes of running. This stuff hasn't plagued me in years so I'm a little bummed that it's rearing its ugly head now.

    800+ ft vertical this time, including a steep climb up from Ocean Beach to the Cliff House.

    Also when I say chilly, I mean like 50F. Just to be clear.


Boston Marathon Week 1 of 18: On your mark, Get set...

Boston Marathon Week 2 of 18: speed, snow, & vertical

Boston Marathon Week 3 of 18: Foiled By Weather & Travel

Boston Marathon Week 5 of 18: Not the greatest of weeks...


  1. Totally agree with you about the hills.

    When I first moved to New York and ran in Central Park for the first time, people warned me about the crazy Harlem Hills in the park. I girded myself for the hills. It wasn't until I was halfway down the other side of the park that I realized I had passed the hills a while ago and never noticed. :)

    1. I've definitely heard people say this about the Newton hills. I suspect it may be a similar thing. :)

  2. So I haven't run the start of the Boston course, but I have run the Heartbreak Hill bit a bunch of times. I imagine it's a pain in the ass by virtue of its location late in the race. Otherwise, it's not a huge deal. One thing you could do is end your long run with a hill of similar size, or throw one in at the point where you tend to get mentally burned out on a long run?

    Mm, and speaking of is ALWAYS unpredictable. The three years I've lived here and spectated, it was raining and 40s one year, dry and 60s one year, and in the 70s the third. So, uh, be prepared for anything...

    1. Heh, it's funny, my long runs are by necessity so full of hills that I'm just sort of used to it. I suspect some of them are comparable size, but it would be neat to know for sure.

      Yep, that's definitely the sense I've gotten about the weather. Fingers crossed for a mild day!!

  3. I should write a more coherent post for you, having run Boston 2x and other hilly courses (and living here). Boston Marathon hills aren't "bring you to your knees and see god" hard, but their placement is pretty tough, especially if you blazed the first part of the course. It's a strategic course for sure, or rather, it'll behoove you to. E strategic :) more to come!

    1. Yes please! I'd love to hear your thoughts (especially if you have any comparisons to Golden Gate Park as that's where I do a lot of my longer runs). :)

    2. Ok! I'll ask my friend, Erin, as well. She lives in SF right off the park and ran Boston 2x as well :)

  4. (replying only to see new comments, provided I can get this comment system to work for me...)

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  6. I live and train in completely flat New Orleans, and the Boston course posed no real problems. I wasn't aware that I'd run up "heartbreak hill" until I saw signs at the top. But, I was also taking it easy that year, not really racing, because it was over 90 degrees, so it could have just felt easy because my pace was slower than usual.

    1. It's so funny how people are split--they're either in the "OMG HILLZZZ SO SCARY BE SURE TO TRAIN QUADS" or they're like, "Uhhh that was Heartbreak Hill? K..."

  7. I've run Boston twice and both times I got to the "Top of Heartbreak Hill" sign and was like, "What? That's it?" Unless you're training in pancake flat midwesterner land, you're gonna be fine. I did find the course to be a little jarring when I made the turn by the fire station (mile 17 or 18?) when the noticeable downhill suddenly ran out. I found I welcomed the uphills at that point just to change it up a little.

    1. I'm definitely hearing that from a lot of veterans and it's quite reassuring! It's so funny to me how polarizing the hills/"hills" seem to be...