How do I train to qualify for the Boston Marathon?
To qualify for the Boston marathon is a good goal that helps many runners stay motivated in their training. With a proper marathon training program, most healthy individuals with a modest disposition towards distance running should be able to do so. A man under 35 years old is required to run 3:10 or faster. A woman of the same age group has to meet the 3:40 standard. See Boston Marathon Qualifying Time Chart for a full list of standards.
Most healthy individuals have sufficient natural speed to hit a Boston qualifying time. It is very possible that you have enough. Check Boston Marathon Qualifying Time Chart to get an idea. The problem usually is the lack endurance. The good news is that endurance grows with training much faster than speed, and the training program to develop endurance is no rocket science. The catch is in the execution. The reason relatively few people qualify for Boston is that relatively few have the discipline, determination, and opportunity to execute the plan. Sometimes there is not much you can do about the opportunity, but you can choose to have the discipline and determination. I hope you will make that choice today.
Start where you are. Suppose you are like my neighbor who jogs 5 miles 3 times a week. Next week try doing the same thing 4 times. Give yourself a couple of weeks to get used to it. Then move it up to 5 times. Then to 6. Then start adding a mile to your daily runs until you are running 10 miles a day 6 days a week. Make sure to give yourself enough time to adjust to each increase. Watch out for injuries. Do not increase the volume of training if you repeatedly experience tension or pain in the muscles or joints (do not confuse this with simple natural laziness which reaches out for excuses not to run like a starving man reaches out for food).
Running 10 miles a day 6 days a week is likely to break you down overtime unless you establish a proper recovery regimen. Stay away from harmful substances such as alcohol and tobacco. Stay away from caffeine. Get rid of fast food, unnatural sweets and soda pop. Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains. Eat meat in moderation. Prefer poultry and fish to red meat. Get plenty of sleep. Learn to go to bed early and get up early. Learn to deal with stressful situations without getting upset. Also learn how to avoid creating them. In other words, pretend you are a heart patient. Imagine we have raised the standard of health to the point where we consider not being able to qualify for Boston a pathological case of underdeveloped heart.
Once you got used to running 10 miles 6 times a week, add a long run once a week. Start with 12 miles, and keep increasing its length until it becomes 20. Again, remember the principle of gradual adaptation. Do not increase the length faster than you can handle it. Pay particular attention to your body signals at this point to avoid injury.
A straight 20 mile run once a week overtime may be too much for you. I found out it is for me. My best marathon is 2:24:47, I have broken 2:30 twice within a two week period, and I probably could run three marathons with a week in between in under 2:40. I can definitely do 20 mile runs every week. But I discovered that it is not good for me to do more than three or four such runs every week in a row. I get better results if I race a 5 or a 10 K, or go shorter and faster every two weeks or so. Pay attention to your body signals, and determine the ideal frequency of those runs.
Once you can go 20 miles with a reasonable degree of comfort, it is time to check your speed. Can you run your Boston qualifying pace for a 5 K? How about 10 K? How about a half-marathon? Can you go further at that pace? Race often to find out. I expect that most runners will at least be able to run a half-marathon at the Boston qualifier pace once they are running 10 miles a day 5 days a week with one long run on the sixth. Now the challenge is to extend that pace to the marathon.
At the point, you just need to be patient. Keep training, and maintain a strict recovery routine that will allow your body to assimilate your training. Chances are your body has experienced some degree of abuse in the past, perhaps years of it. You may need a few years to recover and heal. You may also need more experience in running a marathon. Keep racing in marathons, as well as shorter races to gain more experience and wait for that glorious qualifier day to come.
At Fast Running Blog we have a community of experienced and not so experienced runners. We share our training with everybody, and help each other get better as we comment on each others training. We have had a few success stories. Zac improved from 3:52 to 3:15 in about 6 months, and made the qualifier. Clyde went from 2:58 to 2:36 in a year. We have a lot of people that are either trying to qualify for Boston, or that have qualified already. You are more than welcome to join.
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