How to Hack Your Virtual Boston Marathon

600 600 Patrick McCrann
So, you were going to do the Boston Marathon. Well you sort of are, just virtually! You’re probably not as excited about that “opportunity.” With the right approach you can use this opportunity to turn this challenge into something positive for this season.
Endurance Nation helps athletes around the world deal with challenges like this. We are a community of endurance athletes, like you, only we live across the globe.
Missed races, changing schedules, and disruptions often derail a huge block of training. And that’s what we want you to focus on. This change is a chance for you to build race-specific fitness and put a finishing touch on a very long season. Both elements are critical for your long-term development as a runner.
Your top priority event gone, replaced with an online alternative that fails to meet your level of expectations. Do it wrong, and you could miss out on a full season of growth.
❓What are the short-term challenges?
First the biggest challenge is processing the change. What are the rules? Will I be able to run again? Will ever qualify again for the Boston Marathon?
All of this information is available on the website here, or you can email [email protected] with your specific questions.
Essentially everyone gets a refund for this year as well as the chance to do a “virtual” marathon experience. This is a multifaceted event. In addition to a 26.2 mile run to be completed within six hours and recorded digitally on your end, you can attend live online panels.
The next short-term challenge is your level of commitment.
The dedication required to train consistently and effectively requires a great deal of mental focus and energy. Losing your big race for the year could potentially wipe out any reason you have to continue training towards your original goal.
So How to Modify Your Training?
The third short-term challenge is making modifications to your training…again. With the timeline remaining the same, the challenges are somewhat minimal.
There are considerations relative to selecting a course and racing in your neighborhood (versus Boston) that require you to plan.

🧠 What is your Virtual Marathon Personality?


Run to be Done?

Are you just someone who wants to finish? Are you just looking to put a check in the box and say that you did it? If so then this is your category.
You are less concerned about performance than having the fitness required to meet the six-hour finish deadline. Do it and you can move on to the rest of your year.

Run to Prove Something?

Are you out to show the world – or at least your training partners – that you still have juice in the tank? Do you want to prove that despite these changes you still can do something personally impressive with your run performance? If so, this is your category.
You remain committed and serious but you are not going to crush yourself for a particular time. You will likely stay on track with your training. But you aren’t likely to go above and beyond what has become a less than exceptional year.

Run to Represent?

This category is for athletes who remain committed. Even though your 2020 virtual Boston Marathon will not qualify you for a future event, you are going to run one. You are committed to being your personal best on the stake even though circumstances have conspired against you.
In fact, you might be considering this change a net positive because it allows you to eliminate unnecessary travel that might have disrupted your paper in your quest for a personal marathon best.

👍 Time to Make a Choice

Now that we have established the different types of virtual marathon personalities, where do you follow the spectrum?
It’s really important that you have an honest and candid conversation with yourself relative to your goals. This is the best way to create a path forward for you that matches your desired outcomes. Mapping the training to your personal perspective is an important first step in crafting a protocol that will keep you on track.
A disconnect between your goals and your daily workout is the fastest path forward to injury and burn out.

🛏 Start with the End in Mind – The Taper

Even though were talking about a virtual marathon, it’s still a marathon.
It’s important that you make sure that you are fit enough to achieve your goals and rested enough to survive the challenge.
A standard marathon tapers lasts about three weeks / 21 days. While the first week is only a slight decline in work (25%), the second should be approximately 50% of your typical running workload. The last week is all logistics and staying sharp and loose with shorter runs.
The best macro way to structure your taper is to allow your performance goals to dictate the amount of rest that you need. Like the “run personality” conversation above, a higher level of performance requires more rest and preparation.
Be very specific about what you are going to do in the three weeks leading up to your virtual marathon.
  • What days will you run?
  • What these with you not run?
  • What will you do on the non-run days to maximize your performance on race day?
  • Are there nutritional changes you need to make?
  • Are there any specific things you want to do from a recovery perspective or stretching perspective that will allow you to stay sharp?
Plan out the last three weeks into the virtual marathon very clearly. Leave nothing to chance. It’s easy to lose sight of this because were not participating in a real event. But the demands of running 26.2 all too real, whether you do it in Hopkinton or in your neighborhood.

🎤 Expect the Debate about the Race

Continuing training with a virtual race on the horizon is a perfect opportunity for doubt to creep in. Your mind is going to push back when things get tough. You need to be ready for this mental challenge by having a clear answer as to your desired outcomes. Keep them front and center at all times through the training cycle. Without it, you could easily succumb to whatever your daily mood might be.


💤 Remember to Recover

Let’s not forget sleep and nutrition are critical to peak performance.
By removing the challenges associated with travel, you have an opportunity to maximize your recovery before the event.
Let’s face it, traveling this fall during the time of Covid-19 would have been extremely stressful. Now athletes get to stay safe, and can take advantage of the situation to make sure that their taper is perfect.
At a minimum, we recommend that you aim for approximately eight hours of sleep per night on average. A nutrition goal should be focused on recovery replacing the calories burned during each training session. Fuel each training sessions and make sure to stay hydrated during and after your workouts.
During the taper, focus on replacing critical calories and nutrients. This will help you avoid overeating as our exercise load diminishes (and our appetite doesn’t) heading into the race.


♦♦ Choosing Your Course Difficulty

Before we dive in, it’s important to remember that safety is paramount. You need to pick a course for you where not only feel safe but that you can run safely as well. For example, you want to avoid running in the dark or on the side of the freeway.
Some additional throughs:
  • Pick a course with places to stop if required.
  • You should always be able to contact someone in case of some kind of emergency.
  • You should always be visible to others running and have the fluid and calories you need to be successful.

🏔 Choosing the Terrain

Depending on the run personalities you chose above, you have several different terrain options. This assumes of course that where you live has different types of terrain, and that may not be the case.
If you’re just looking to finish the event…picking a super flat course is the way to go. This will allow you to get maximum return for your running energy. The miles will be faster, putting you closer to the finish with each step. There are some challenges to running a flat course in terms of fatigue and discomfort. Then again, 26.2 miles is hard for everyone.
You fall in the middle category…it’s possible you choose more of a rolling course. Rolling means climbs that range from 2% to 4% done intermittently across the run. This should be a nice counterbalance between flat running and rolling hill running. Just enough time to use different muscle groups and change your form. You can shorten your stride and lengthen it according to the terrain.
The most hard-core runners out there…will of course go all in. They will do their best to replicate the elevation and challenges associated with Boston in their neighborhood. Days filled with elevation charts and Google Earth to create a course that is adequately challenging.
Which option should you choose? At the end of the day 26.2 miles is a marathon and none of them are easy. You should take the course that’s most appealing to you.
If you are you looking to go fast, go flat. If you are looking to have fun, go rolling or perhaps include some off-road terrain on your marathon adventure. If you’re that hard-core person then go for it. Pick that challenging hill in your neighborhood. Earn the respect of your friends and training partners by spending the majority of your day going up and down that beast.

🗺 Building a Designer Course

Design of your course is also really important. There are several different options that you can choose from to make your marathon the event.
The first option is the point-to-point design. Similar to the actual Boston Marathon course, you will start in one place and finish in another. No, I don’t mean starting next door and then finishing at your own house.
This is a favorite tactic for unmotivated runners. Take what you need and get dropped off 26.2 miles from the house. All you have to do is run home! There are logistical considerations, but the chance to run on new areas and do something unique is often too strong to avoid.
A simpler version of that is an out and back design. Whether it’s 13.1 miles out and then back, or two loops of a 6.55-mile course out then back, the net result is the same.
This course will account for changing winds and weather conditions — you will travel in both directions.
Also, it will give you the opportunity to structure easier support because you will pass places several times. At the same time, it will also keep you closer to home as that may be an important consideration for you.
The third and final option is doing a loop. Rather then just going out-and-back, this design has you doing complete circles. My personal favorite? A three loop course which is just long enough to be structured, but not so long that I’m too far away from support options or the random pitstop requirements! This set up allows you to also offset the weather considerations. Bonus that you can “reverse the course” if you are looking for some variety.

🍽 Critical Nutrition Planning

One of the biggest challenges associated with a virtual marathon, or any virtual event, is self-supporting with regards to nutrition and calories.
While you may not use every single aid station on race day, simply having them available to you is helpful and comforting. If you drink frequently at aid stations, carrying enough fluids for the full marathon can be quite a challenge. Knowing your performance goals ahead of time will help you determine the course to select.
First and foremost you want to fuel your goal. If you’re just getting it done, you can avoid worry about critical nutrition or working in caffeine and other nutritional items. You’re just looking for calories to keep you rolling. This is just another long run.
If you’re looking to compete at a high level, then your nutrition needs to match those demands. From well-targeted pre-race breakfast to a gel right before the start and during the run itself…everything needs to be just right.
Know exactly what you can carry. This is something you can start working on immediately. If you don’t already run with a hydration belt and or similar fueling system, now’s the time to invest in one. Odds are you’ll be using it in future events anyway, and you might as will be training with it now.
Many runners prefer hydration belts that displace fluid into several bottles around the waist vs carrying a large backpack. But everyone has their own preference and you should find the one that works best for you. Make sure that you can also carry nutrition as well. Pockets in your clothing or pockets on your belt / backpack can all work.
Finally, what is your emergency go to nutrition item? There is always a time on race day when things get really tough. Many athletes like to have their special nutritional item ready for this occasion. It could be a gel with caffeine. It could be jelly beans. It could be something to drink.
Whatever it is, make sure you plan even for this dire scenario with your virtual events. We don’t want to end up in a situation where your performance declines because you didn’t account for things getting difficult.

🏁 Race Day Considerations

You will have a one week window to complete your six-hour virtual Boston Marathon. Leading up to that week, your job will be to monitor the weather and pick the best possible date for the conditions as well as your schedule.
You should take advantage of the flexibility in this virtual event. For some people, running earlier in the morning is better. For others later in the day is just right. Some people will want to wait to the weekend so their families can organize aid stations and a virutal finish.
Pay close attention to the weather as that might trump logistics.
Remember your pre-race breakfast. This means getting up earlier and making sure you consume food early enough to process it before you start the run. If you wait to the last minute to slam some oatmeal like any other long-run day, you will be disappointed by your performance.
Finally, don’t forget the dynamic warm-up. Most runners do a fair amount of walking and stretching before the Boston Marathon. Since you’re only starting at home now, it’s possible you could be very sedentary before you actually start the run. Take the time to do a dynamic warm-up making sure that your core and critical run muscles are awake and ready for the challenge of your 26.2-mile adventure.

⏱ What is Your Pacing Plan?

Even though this is a virtual marathon, we still need some kind of a plan. The best way to hit your desired outcome for the day is having a plan to get you there.
The most expedient way to make sure you follow that plan is to break the plan into specific pace targets that you can follow. This will allow you to know on a mile-by-mile basis whether or not you are on track.
Here’s some pacing plan options.
First we have “steady Eddie” also known as the metronome. Steady Eddie just likes to run a particular pace and follow that all the way through. While we don’t know how effective Eddie will be at that pace later in the day, it makes scheduling and fueling and timing very easy.
The second option is the “fly and die” option. These are the athletes who want to give it their best and are hell-bent on doing everything it takes to be successful. After a slight warm-up they will hit that 1st mile like it’s the local 5K.
They’re going to run that pace until they can’t run that pace any more. And then maybe one more mile for good measure. This is a more aggressive strategy and brings consequences with it. But in a virtual marathon you have nothing to lose. This could be a chance for you to see what you’re capable of running!
The third option is the “negative split” pace plan. This approach to running involves a more measured start. This allows your body to warm up. Then you move into a steady pacing performance, finishing with your fastest miles towards the end.
At least that’s the plan on paper — sometimes those “faster miles” aren’t waiting for you. It is mentally challenging to start off conservatively with an eye towards the end of the race. Done properly, this pace can offset those huge losses in time that improper pacing can cause.

👆What is Your One Thing?

Stolen from Endurance Nation’s Four Keys of Race Execution, your one thing is the fourth and final key. At some point in your virtual marathon you will hit the wall. Even though the wall is “virtual” it still gonna hurt and challenge you.
There are elements of a real-world marathon that make countering the wall much easier. Spectators cheering you on. Fellow runners next you showing you how to get it done. Visual milestones that are motivating, like the top of Heartbreak Hill. But when you’re running around your local neighborhood, none of the things exist.
You must have this difficult conversation with yourself before you start running. This way when things get tough, you have answers for the reasons your body is giving you to stop.
Your race day self should respect your training self. If you have been motivated to run as a lifelong goal hold onto that feeling. If you’re running for a charity or for a greater cause, have that front and center. Whatever that thing may be write it down and burn it into your brain for those final miles of the marathon.

🎉 Celebrating Your Accomplishment

Running 26.2 miles any where on any day is legitimate. While we all know marathoners who run a race almost every single weekend, it’s important to celebrate what you’ve achieved.
Not only because of what you’ve accomplished in this workout, but because you need to put the finishing touches on the season. In other words, this is just as much a physical thing as it is an emotional and mental one.
Here are some ideas on how you can celebrate.
Post to your Instagram account with a pre-and post run image collage. Let’s see your before-and-after pictures and get a sense of what the experiences like for you. If a picture tells 1,000 words, this combined collage will give you 2,000 descriptive terms that captures your experience.
Update your Strava run with a catchy title and some good notes. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stop all on the way to take pictures, although you may choose to do that. Instead you can use your GPS device — which is going to certify your performance to the BAA — to announce your achievement to your friends.
Call it what you want, just make sure that you put Boston Marathon in the name so everyone knows what they are looking at. Add your notes for the performance and where things worked and didn’t work for you because we can also use this as a learning opportunity.

👣 What are the Next Steps?

Just like any race it’s important that your process and move on from the event. Forward progress begins as soon as you hit that finish line.
The first step is simply triaging and making sure that you are healthy with minimal damage. Anything from blisters or sore muscles are normal, but we do want to make sure in the first few days that nothing is lingering. Do your best to stay off your feet do active recovery like swimming or cycling as an alternative to running.
Rest is also a critical important recovery component. Fill your time with other activities they keep you loose but will not overstress you. Enjoy the time to spend with others. Go pick up that book you been wanting to read or binge on that TV show. At the very least are looking for one solid week of recovery if not two.
Remember, when you finish the marathon that is when you are at your weakest point. Recovering from the biggest work on year is in fact makes you stronger. Don’t miss out on this opportunity.
Take the time to investigate your performance. Take a look back and see what worked and what didn’t. Other any important lessons learned here that could benefit you moving forward? Did you try something new that work? Are you surprised your performance in a particular part of the run or in a particular part of the course? Dive into the data and see if there’s lessons learned that we can use to make you a better runner moving forward.
Finally, create a plan for moving forward. Why a plan, you ask? Well first of all, you are a type A athlete and you don’t do anything without a plan. Having a plan can help ensure that you don’t overdo your early training.
Even with a virtual race you will still experience that long run bias that will make doing runs shorter than an hour feel like a joke. Even if those runs are really formative to moving forward. Having a plan that keeps you on track will allow you to stay healthy and keep you away from those self-destructive tendencies that lurk right around the corner.
If you have questions about creating and structuring your own virtual marathon or a training plan or race plan to make you successful, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on our official Endurance Nation Facebook page. Best of luck and a virtual high five for you!

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