A firsthand Boston Marathon survival guide

by Beacon Staff • April 11, 2007

Yet every year, tens of thousands of runners take on the challenge and complete the Boston Marathon.

This Monday, I plan on joining those lunatics.

As a rookie marathon runner, I'm both nervous and excited.,A 26.2-mile run from Hopkinton to Boston is no walk in the park. Some say it's downright crazy.

Yet every year, tens of thousands of runners take on the challenge and complete the Boston Marathon.

This Monday, I plan on joining those lunatics.

As a rookie marathon runner, I'm both nervous and excited. I watched Boston last year and was so captivated by the event's energy that I decided to run it. With nearly half a million cheering spectators lining the course, I figure I can't go wrong.

When my mom qualified for this year's 111th Boston Marathon, I knew there was no turning back. If she ran, I ran, and so we committed.

Although she'll have a number and I won't as an unregistered "bandit" runner, we both want to cross that finish line in Copley Square. Now the pressure is on, and I need all the advice I can get before the big day.

Seeking a running expert, I discovered John Furey, head coach of Emerson's cross-country team and seven-time Boston Marathon veteran. Furey, now 45, said he ran his fastest marathon in 1983 with a time of 2:23:50. The course record for the Boston Marathon is 2:07:14, which was set last year by Robert Cheruiyot from Kenya. Although Furey is an experienced elite competitor, he said he trains with a mixture of running types.

Both young and old, registered and unofficial runners meet for Furey's Saturday marathon training group at 1 Beacon St., where he works as Fitcorp's senior health/fitness specialist. Furey said he has been conditioning marathon runners for 15 years, and his group of 200 begins training specifically for Boston in early December.

"It's such a challenging course that there's so much to prepare for," he said. The group ran hills and long distances, but he said now they scale back their workouts.

The week before the race, he recommended stopping weight-training and cutting workouts in half.

"Friday and Saturday you might jog two or three miles easy then load up on carbos that weekend," he said.

With only days left, Furey stressed the importance of rest. "It's a point where it doesn't make sense to do too much," he said, adding that being a little undertrained is better than being overtrained.

"You really want to know mentally, 'Alright, I'm ready for this,'" he said.

Since extra rest and eating can lead to restlessness, Furey recommended putting energy toward stretching and mentally focusing on the race. "Go to the [John Hancock Sports and Fitness] Expo and walk around and get the feel of it," he said about weekend-long marathon event at the Hynes Convention Center which is free and open to the public.

The night before the race, Furey recommended a traditional runner's meal. "I would go with the pasta dinner, some veggies, Italian bread, and a little bit of water mixed with Gatorade," he said.

Furey said eating the next morning is critical. "Stick with what's worked for you for longer runs," he said. "You need cereal, a banana, toast, something."

The rest of the day is history.

"You just hope the day clicks for you," he said.

Furey said to resist the temptation to speed up at the beginning. Since the adrenaline will be pumping and the first half of the race is downhill, the first 11 or 12 miles should feel good.

Around mile 17, the hills start and reach their height at mile 20. He said this is a tough mile marker even in a flat marathon.

"Just lean into the hill, use your arms and if you have to, walk a little bit," he said.

The upside of the infamous Heartbreak Hill is that it is the last major climb and is one of the biggest cheering points.

"The crowd's awesome," Furey said, adding that the Boston College area is phenomenal to run through.

Two-time Boston Marathon runner Taylor Brennan, a senior broadcast journalism major, said the energetic atmosphere fuels the runners every inch of the way.

"The crowd just wants you to do so good," he said. "You can't help but be distracted no matter how focused you are."

Brennan will be running his third marathon this year and said he has caught the running bug.

"At the end of the race, it's like you've been hit by a truck. You can't believe what you put yourself through, and you say never again," he said. "But then you think, 'What was that I did again? Oh yeah, the toughest race in the world.'"

Also going for her third Boston Marathon is Katelyn Benton, a Berklee senior and Emerson cross-country runner. She described a similar bug that brings her back to the race. "I think it's an addictive thing. Most runners agree or know what I'm saying," she said. "The energy is so high, and it's really cool to know you're a part of it."

Unlike Brennan, who always runs bandit, Benton receives a number every year from the Boston Police Runner's Club. Registered runners have the advantage of getting a bus ride from Boston to Hopkinton, taking off at the 10:30 a.m. start, and officially being timed.

Those who did not qualify or get a number from a charity group must start behind the pack of at least 20,000 racers. Once the gun goes off, some 10,000 bandit runners wait around a half hour to get to the starting line.

Among those bandits will be Nicole Silva, a sophomore communication disorder major, who will be running her first marathon. Like Benton, Silva is an Emerson cross-country athlete and participates in Furey's marathon-training program.

She said was nervous about running without a number because some qualified runners look down on bandits. "My coach [Furey] really assured me that, 'Nicole, just get to the start, race your race and you'll do fine,'" she said.

Furey said not to worry about anyone who speaks unkindly about bandit runners. He said thousands of numbers are given out every year by charities, and not every registered racer qualified with a fast time in another marathon.

"The bandits are a pretty big part of that race," Furey said, adding that this marathon is the only one in the world that restricts people from registering with strict qualifying standards.

On race day, neither Brennan, Benton or Silva will be wearing headphones. Brennan said not to bring music because the noise from the crowd is enough.

"Once you turn onto Boylston Street, you can't even imagine. It's thunderously loud," he said. "And once you finish, you can't hear anything because you hurt so bad, but it doesn't matter."

Benton has a few rituals to keep her going.

"I train with a candy of some sort. This year it's gummy worms. I try to eat a gummy worm every mile," she said. "If I can stretch it out and wait a little longer, I do."

This way, she knows she can go longer and have more gummies left at the end.

But Benton will have more than candy on

her mind.

"I make a list of people to run for so I can dedicate each mile to someone different," she said.

Benton writes the names under her wristband and thinks about someone different every mile of the race.

"It's pretty cool to call them up the night before and tell them, 'You're my mile 24,'" she said.

Silva will also look to loved ones to get her through.

"I'll be running with my cell phone on me to call my family," she said. She hopes the sound of their voices and the crowd's energy will help her finish.

"Even when you're at your worst moment, [the crowd] will be cheering for you," she said. "They're probably drunk, but still."

As for me, family motivation will be huge. My mom and my cousin, a 21-year old athletically perfect specimen, will both be running their third marathons.

I'm sure they will finish strong, so I've got to pull through. My mom will be carried by her endurance, my cousin by her speed, and I by my chutzpah following them.