My Boston Marathon: Plan the Run, Run the Plan

We love BostonA few years ago a seasoned marathoner and training partner of mine said these words to me: “Plan the run, run the plan.” We were discussing marathons and how so many people (including me) go out too hard and blow up. Phil’s philosophy was simple: if you have a reachable plan, and you follow that plan, you will run well.

Easier said than done. In every marathon, the adrenaline and people around me would get to me, I’d go out too hard for the first 5 miles and pay for it in the last 5. After discussing the Boston Marathon course at length with my coach, and reading this article, particularly the discussion on conserving energy during the initial downhill miles, I created my race plan as follows:

Miles 0 – 10: 8:30s

Miles 11 – 21: 8:20s

Miles 21 – 26.2: 8:00 or better

This would get me close to my goal of 3:40 without blowing up or reinjuring my calf. I realized I’d have to put up with a lot of people passing me in the first 10 miles, but was confident I’d be passing them back in the last 5.

And that’s exactly what happened. I started out conservatively for the first 10 miles: 8:36, 8:27, 8:27, 8:28, 8:33, 8:32, 8:28, 8:48 (pit stop), 8:20, 8:29

My mantra was “run the plan.” I didn’t think about much else those first few miles. Well, actually, I thought plenty about how I needed to pee but didn’t want to stop to wait for a porta potty. I finally found an open one at mile 8. It cost me a few seconds but was worth it.

“Run the plan” became even more important when I had to pick up the pace at mile 11, which was right around the time my hip flexors started to complain. “Kinda early to be hurting,” I thought, but I didn’t let it get to me, and I didn’t allow myself to think about running 16 miles in pain. I just focused on the plan. Pain in a marathon is inevitable. You have to prepare for it. Granted, I didn’t expect to be dealing with it this early on, but the game plan didn’t change because of it. In a way, it may have been good that the pain started early because I could stop wondering when it would start to hurt. I did not slow down. I focused on the fact that people were tracking me. I didn’t want to let my coach down, and, most of all, I didn’t want to let myself down. I had a little phrase – “DNF” – which stood for Do Not Fail.

Miles 11 – 21: 8:19, 8:21, 8:18, 8:18, 8:23, 8:19, 8:31 (start of the hills), 8:27, 8:19, 8:31, 8:49 (heartbreak hill)

boston elevation 560x345

There are three hills from miles 17 – 21, although it felt like there were twelve. But the crowds were with me on every one of them. My friends and family tracking me were with me. And thousands of other runners were with me. Early on in the hills one of my sister’s friends from college, Laura, found me. We both knew the other was running, and she knew what I’d be wearing, but it was still incredible that she found me! We exchanged a few words. I distinctly remember her asking me how I felt and I answered, “Great, really good.” Yes, that was a total lie. But I felt that actually voicing my pain would make it worse. Instead, I buried it deep down inside me as Laura and I passed back and forth on the hills. I found myself looking for her, which was a good distraction.

Finally, the hills were over and it was just the downhill stretch to the finish. I felt confident that I could pick up the pace, and I did. Mile 22 was an 8:07. What I hadn’t factored in was the difficulty I’d have in getting around people while maintaining this pace. A lot of people were walking. A lot of people were slowing. And I was trying to speed up. Just getting around all the bodies was hard. And of course I wanted to keep running the tangents, which I’d been working on the whole way.

Miles 22 – 26.2: 8:07, 8:16, 8:26, 8:13, 8:11, 7:30

I was really thirsty, too, so I wanted to get water at every mile. But the Gatorade always came first, so I’d have to skirt along near the tables and dart in when it switched to water, so as not to miss it. I think I shoved a few people out of the way to get to the water…

So the last 5 miles didn’t exactly go according to plan, but not for lack of trying. I believe that I left 100% out there on that course in Boston. I negative split, going through 13.1 in 1:52:20 and finishing in 3:44.

Finally, I ran the plan. Thanks, Phil.

If you would like to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, please donate to The One Fund, set up by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino. 

Boston One Fund



  1. It is so much more fun to run negative splits, and to save energy. It’s a buzz like none other. Well done. And nice mantra.
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  2. Woohoo! Nice work on the negative split, especially at a race like Boston! My goal was to ease into the race. I didn’t think I’d negative split it but I definitely wanted to be consistent. The Newton hills took a bit more out of me than I had imagined they would, Heartbreak especially. I looked at my km pace through there and saw a 5:30 when I was consistently running between 4:37-4:40’s before I hit the hills. I’ll be ready for them next year that’s for sure!
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  3. Nice job!! I totally agree about running the plan. My problem is that sometimes my goal is a bit aggressive. If that is the case, your plan is likely to fall apart in the end (as mine did).

    Congratulations on a GREAT Boston finish. You can’t complain about a negative split!!
    Lisa (Mom to Marathon) recently posted..Into the LightMy Profile

    • Alison Gittelman says:

      Thanks, Lisa. Yes, that’s true about the aggressive plan. In my case it helped to have a coach keeping me from trying to go for a faster time!

  4. Great race, Alison! I love that phrase, too… plan the run, run the plan. You stuck pretty close to the plan. I was just talking to my friend today who also ran Boston, and she was hurting early on too from all the downhill. Maybe I’ll see you there next year?
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    • Alison Gittelman says:

      I definitely plan to be there next year and hope I’ll see you there, Laura! Yes, I think those early downhill sections can hurt as much as the later hills. Something to train for next year, methinks!

  5. Laura Maile says:

    It was great to see you…a perfect spot to get a little boost and distraction.

    Congrats on a great run and solid execution of your plan. This was the first marathon I didn’t make a smart “start slow” reachable plan and didn’t read my race well AT ALL…I finished 4 minutes behind you..not complaining but I feel frustrated that I didn’t do a good job at planning my race and racing my plan..which is my usual mantra…

    Oh well..there is always next year..hopefully see you on the hills !


    • Alison Gittelman says:

      Hi Laura! Well, Boston is so darn hard anyway. I did a really bad job executing my plan last time and ran a 3:58, so that was in the back of my mind too! Hope to see you again next year!

  6. Great run, Alison! So glad you were able to stick to the plan and run it the way you needed to that day.

    Like I said to Lisa, I’m glad you guys can still look back on the race itself and have positive thoughts. I’m glad the bombers can’t take that away from you.
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  7. Great job and mantra to follow! I need to work on going out conservatively to attack later. Congrats on running the plan!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..Marathon Monday Week 11My Profile

  8. so amazing how well you stuck with the plan. great race!
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  9. WOot for running the PLAN! So much easier said than done! I just loved reading your report and reliving my own Boston experiences thru you (although I sure didn’t negative split–ha!) So many great memories! Congrats!
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  10. You made great work of a difficult course. Congrats! I need this mantra for my next half.
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  11. Way to ROCK your plan! I feel I made huge pacing mistakes in this race. Correction: I DID make huge mistakes. I was so scared of trashing my quads that I went out very, very slowly, then ended up dehydrating and couldn’t do anything after Newton with the trashed quads I ended up getting anyway. Can’t wait to get back for another shot. Saving your post for the future, as that was my goal time, too! Thanks for posting this!
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    • Alison Gittelman says:

      Cindy, I’m so sorry that happened to you! I’ll admit, my first Boston was a disaster. Trashed quads and legs like a folding table from mile 17 on. It’s a learning experience for sure. Next year I plan to train more on a course resembling Boston. I definitely did not run enough roller-coasters! Hope to see you there next year and I hope my post helps you.

  12. Your post is a great reminder to have a plan and to stick with it – something I hope to do at my next marathon. Congrats on a great finishing time!
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