NOTE: On March 30, Gulfwinds member Andy Roberts wrote to the GWIND list the following:

So my injuries seem to be far enough behind me that I am going to be able to go to Boston after all and now of course the nerves set in a little.

I know there are probably about 100 of you out there who have run Boston so if you could provide a little information about the hills of Boston It would be greatly appreciated.

In particular does the steepness get you or the length. Are the steep hills really steep compared to anything around here or is it just that it is a marathon and any hill is hard 16-21 miles into a marathon.

Over the next day or so, he got the following replies:

Rex Cleveland:

From what people have told me over the years (I never ran it), Heartbreak Hill is no big deal. The problem seems to be that the early miles are gently downhill and most people go way too fast there, thus setting themselves up for a heartbreak in any case, with the later uphills unfairly taking all the blame. Also, many people, having recently met the qualification standard in a time that was a personal best, are not yet recovered sufficiently to have a great run, which often contributes to slower times at Boston.

Bill Hendey:

It has been a long time since I ran Boston. It was 1987 and I was a coltish 48 years old. But I can tell you that the hills were not at all a factor. Even the legendary “Heart-break Hill,” near the end was no problem, maybe because I had always heard so much about it that it could not possibly live up to expectations. I ran it in 2:53-something, and I wasn’t very well trained at all for a marathon at the time. But I had previously run maybe 35 marathons by then, so I knew what to expect. Anyway, it was Boston! I was just so thrilled to finally be running the Boston Marathon that I’m sure I was at least a little giddy with the sheer joy of it all. And then there were people lining both sides of the entire course. It was like running through a human tunnel. I loved it! I swore that I would do it again. I never have. I’ve run Chicago and Los Angeles and New Orleans and lots of other marathons, including Tallahassee in 1990 or 1991, when I was living there. But there is nothing like Boston–and if this is your first Boston, the mystique itself will carry you through. Don’t worry about it; savor it!

Fred Deckert:

As transplanted northerners who at least back in the 80’s were used to hills, both Marg and I did not find Heartbreak to be that difficult. As a matter of fact, when Marg first ran it she asked a lady on the side of the road how much further to Heartbreak hill and the lady said, “Honey, you’re on it!” It’s not often mentioned but he first 2 or 3 miles are actually downhill, I believe the course is lower at the finish than the start. So, quit worrying!

Jack McDermott:

Andy et al. You’ve got it all wrong. The Boston-Mini in Boston, Georgia is hilly. The Boston Marathon in Massachusetts is totally flat! Easy Peezy … Well …. I have to offer another opinion. It is a deceptively tough course, and I have never run up to expectation at that race. The three years I have done it: 3:12, 2:58 & 3:20 —- and the 2:58 is only my ninth fastest marathon. Firstly … it starts at Noon. Which — if you are used to racing in the morning is a problem because it screws up your eating schedule. Also — you have to catch a bus in the Boston Common around 9 am — bus 45 minutes out there, wait in a tent, etc. Sometimes I feel worn out before the race even starts. Secondly … the weather is a crap-shoot. In the 108 years of its running — 3 times it has been above 95 degrees, and 3 times it has snowed. The first year I ran — the fog was so heavy in Hopkinton the helicopters weren’t allowed to take off, and they didn’t have full television coverage until the men were around the half-way point. Watch the weather reports. Thirdly … the hills. The uphills (heartbreak etc.) are nothing exceptional — or at least not terribly steep — they are a little long — and do come at a difficult time in the race — miles 16-21 are where some people traditionally hit the wall. But it is the down-hill that kills you. If you “catch air” on the downhill, like I do, it just rips your quads. My favorite quote was from Kim Merrit woman’s winner in 1976 (?) who called it “Thigh-Smash.” It was the race that Greta Weitz was leading by over a minute in 1982, and just quit, and walked off the course around mile 21. She never came back. Olympian Kenny Moore admitted that the Boston Marathon is the only race that ever made him cry. It is tough, especially if you are trying to do well. I’ve made it through the first 13 miles of downhill, and the uphill fine — but when it turns back to downhill at mile 21 — my muscles just ache and I’ve never done much in the last 5 miles. With that being said — absolutely wonderful experience — tons of history, press, international runners, fanfare, giant expo etc. Perhaps the most unique thing to me — something David Yon said when comparing the New York City (which I’ve never done) to Boston —- in Boston — the crowd doesn’t just spectate, they cheer. Not only that — if you dare walk in the last two miles, the crowd will get on you a bit. Last year, I wrote my name on my leg so people would call out my name — when I was walk-jogging around mile 23 on —- people in the crowd would actually yell, “Hey Jack — why you walking! Get going!” — I felt like a leftfielder in Fenway who committed an err. The first time I’ve ever been heckled in a race. The only marathon that I can possibly compare Boston to is the Chicago Marathon (I tell people if you can’t qualify for Boston try Chicago) — the crowds are huge, lots of people/support, international runners, etc. But Chicago is a very urban marathon while Boston is actually a very rural marathon. The best advice anyone ever gave me about Boston —- bring a blanket. Because you will be sitting around for 3 hours on cold grass in Hopkinton if you don’t. Good luck — may the force be with you.

Gordon Cherr:

Having some familiarity with this course and running it several times, and training on it for 4 years (but that was during the later years of the last millennia), I can tell you that Boston is an easy course. It is a net downhill course. The first 8 miles are very easy. Hence, you will feel too good and want to go faster than you should. If you do, you will pay for it later in the Heartbreak Hills, which is really a series of 3-4 smaller hills between miles 18-21. They aren’t tough per se, but where they are placed has made the stuff of legends. Because if you go out too fast for your condition, being tempted by the first easy 8 miles and the ease by which you will have reached the screaming masses at Wellesley College around mile 13, you will pay a drastic price to the piper in the Hills. So, to run Boston smart, do not even take a deep breath until you pass mile 15. It is easy to say, it is hard to not be swept up by the masses. Take heart in that you will be passing throngs of runners in the Hills and all the way to the finish line too, if you run smart. If not, you’ll be wondering who put that Baby Grande piano on your back by the time you reach Boston College and Cleveland Circle…

David Yon:

I agree with Jack on Boston being deceptively tough. Boston has never been easy for me and if you look at the winning times you won’t find many world records on that course. With one exception, I feel I have always run a little slower than I was in shape to run. That time we had a 40 mile an hour tale wind the whole way. (Ok, maybe not 40.) As for the hills I have run those hills a couple of times and I think some years they are much steeper than others. If you are trying to race this course, I believe they are very tough, certainly as significant as any hill in any race here in town. They are not sky scrapers, but you will lose time running that section of the race almost for sure. Many of the great runners have used them to separate from the pack and go on to win. On a bad day I have had them crush me like a bug (like last year). In a good year, I can run them well, but I will still lose critical time. Maybe part of my problem is their location in the race, maybe it is because there is a whole series of hills. Even if any one hill is not that bad, they start around 16 miles and climb, with some drops, to 21. I can’t tell you exactly where “heart break” is, but that is not because I don’t know there is a hill there it is because it is one of 5 hills. (The name didn’t come from the size of the hill in any event.) If you can get it, Nike used to do a pace chart specifically for Boston that gave runners per mile projections based on the terrain. Looking at the splits for the hills would give you a good idea. My first Tallahassee and my first Boston rank among my best running experiences. I hope however you find the hills you get to enjoy a sense of what the race is all about and have a great time.

Jeff Bryan:

I’ve never run Boston and probably never will until they tear up the pavement and throw down some rocks. However as a Red Sox fan, my only advice is to not wear anything with a Yankees’ logo on it. The distance is hard enough without that extra burden.

Hobson Fulmer:

Andy, you will do fine. To add to Jack’s advice about a blanket, you can bring an inflatable raft or folding chair to Hopkinton to sit/lie on, the wait seems forever, especially if you are not comfortable. You will feel better at the start. I make them kick me out of the athlete’s village instead of going at first call, you may end up in the back of your corral, but you wont have to stand around as long.

Gary Griffin:

Andy, I’m really glad that your 20 miler last weekend went so well that your confidence has returned. You’re going to do extremely well. I truly believe that the injury and the time off will really be a blessing to you. You’ll arrive at Hopkinton well-rested and you’ll be thankful that you had those days of no running. My advice, based on two Bostons is this: (and it is based on the thoughts of Gordon Cherr): “Don’t let yourself breathe hard until you’re two miles past Wellesley”. Wellesley, alone, will get you breathing hard. (Ask Jane Johnson!) Be patient. At mile 15, as Ray Hanlon likes to say, “Run like you stole it”. Your bicycle endurance training will serve you like never before. You are in for the treat of your life ….. until you run Comrades, that is! Run long. Run strong. Same goes for the rest of you. Jerry. Warren. Bill. Patriot’s Day in Boston is a gift. Seize the day!

Jerry McDaniel:

Andy, having spent more time on the Boston course during a single race than anyone who responded to you, I feel eminently more qualified to give you advice than these inexperienced newbys. Actually, I would pay particular attention to Jack and David’s advice – they are dead on. You can’t go wrong. As referenced in Jack’s notice, I believe Greta Waitz was on world record pace when she walked off the course after conquering the Heartbreak Hills. That fact alone says it all. I was walking, and my quads were killing me. Nobody gave me the business, like they did Jack toward the end because I looked so pathethic. See you there – come on cold weather!!!!!!

Jane Johnson:
I have run Boston four times and each time it was like a completely different race, depending on the weather, my training and how I paced myself in the early miles.

The worst experience I had (physically) was the first time I ran because I went out way too fast and by the time I got past mile 21, I had absolutely nothing left and my quads felt shredded. Getting through those last downhill miles was amazingly difficult. However, that same year, I bought a really cool map of the course with an inset displaying the varying elevations (hills) all along the course. I am amazed at how much that map has helped me in subsequent Boston experiences.

Each year that I have run Boston since purchasing that map, I have actually studied it before the race (yes, I know that officially qualifies me as a nerd extraordinaire) – but I do think it helps. I developed a new reverence for the steepness of the hill at mile 21 – as well as the sharpness of the descent in the first miles (which is one of the reasons it’s so easy to go out too fast on that course.) THere is also another significant elevation drop between mile 15 – 16, which you can count on as a recovery mile, because you will need it to get over the series of hills between miles 16 and 21.

An elevation map is certainly no substitute for training, but I definitely found psychological comfort in having a “visual” idea of what was in store for me on the course.

As far as the hills are compared to those here in Tallahassee, I think training on the trails around Lake Overstreet and Lake Jackson provides more than adequate preparation for the hills of Boston.

It is a wonderful race and the crowd support is great – especially when you need it the most. I’ll never forget the one loud Bostonian (with a beer gut and Boston Red Sox t-shirt) who yelled at a runner next to me who was walking up Heartbreak Hill, “Quit walking! You didn’t come all the way here to walk up a hill!” I felt so sorry for the exhausted runner, but it was so funny, it took my mind off my own discomfort at the time.

Here’s to a great race for you!

Andy Roberts:

Well thanks for all of the input. I would hate to do the math but I think the input given comes from runners who combined have run about 150 marathons it is nice to have that wealth of information at my/our disposal. I feel I am almost lucky coming into Boston slightly undertrained. I hope to be able to run a sane pace and enjoy the show from the stage. Knowing I am not going to run a PR takes a whole lot of the self imposed pressure away and I hope it is as fun as it sounds.