Taking the “grueling” out of the Boston Marathon

By M.E. Malone

Standing along the route of Boston’s infamous marathon, it’s impossible not to admire the thousands of runners — the glow of accomplishment on their faces, their fit bodies meeting the mental and physical challenge of climbing Heartbreak Hill. After all, how many of us would voluntarily sign up to run 26.2 miles? And find the time for all that training during a snowy Boston winter?

According to Don Megerle, coach of the Tufts Marathon Team, it really doesn’t have to be all that complicated. “I’m not one of those guys that subscribes to some general rule of thumb that you have to run this many miles on this exact schedule,” Megerle says. “I’m on the low end of preparation.”

This is the Tufts team’s tenth marathon and Megerle’s tenth year coaching the group of 100 runners. Unlike the elite athletes who qualify to run the marathon each year, the group representing Tufts is a mix of long-time runners and students who are neophytes to distance running.

Members of the 2012 Tufts marathon team.Source: Tufts University

Members of the 2012 Tufts marathon team.
Source: Tufts University

Starting in the fall, the team had twice-weekly morning training runs: Wednesdays at 7 and Sundays at 8. Megerle says he has special admiration for student runners, including Friedman first years Kalyn Weber and Meg Keegan, who have to wedge their training between class schedules, breaks, and exams. “Compared to people who go to the office everyday on the same schedule, it’s just a lot harder to do this as a student,” he thinks. “It really takes them out of what they are doing.”

 

Megerle, who was the swim coach at Tufts for 33 years, exudes enthusiasm for his team and  loves helping the runners set their own goals. What about his personal goal? “To watch every one of them run across the finish line with a smile on their face.” And he’s had a lot of opportunities to witness his runners’ accomplishments. More than 99 percent of Tufts team members cross the line on Boylston Street each year. On marathon day, he’ll wait for each runner along the route at Mile 9 in Natick and, when the last of the Tufts team has passed, he’ll hop in the car and make his way to the finish line to congratulate each runner.

When asked about how hard runners should push their training in the weeks just before the marathon, Megerle is clear. “Resting is more important than training,” he believes. A marathon may take between 3.5 and 7.5 hours to finish, so starting slow and pacing are important.

So is nutrition.

“I’m still not sure that carbo-loading is the solution,” Megerle says, when talking about storied pre-marathon fuel-ups. His eating advice: try not to change your diet too much; avoid carbonated beverages, bacon, home fries and other heavy foods in the days before the marathon; keep it bland in the hours before the race; and eat something you like along the way. His personal favorite is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but he’s also okay with chocolate chip cookies and Gummi Bears. Of course, hydration is also key. He recommends both water and Gatorade on marathon day.

And for recovery after the run? “Chocolate milk,” he says with conviction.

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Where to watch the marathonThis is the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. If you’re new to the city, this is an experience you don’t want to miss. Sure, you can turn on the TV and watch at home, but…well…don’t. If you are at any of these spots, you won’t miss the elite runners sailing by, but the crowds may be daunting if you don’t get a spot early.

  • Heartbreak Hill, along Commonwealth Avenue in Newton at Mile 21. If you have a bike, that’s a great way to get there. Otherwise, use the MBTA “B” or “Boston College” green line.
  • Cleveland Circle, at the intersection of Chestnut Hill Avenue and Beacon Street, Mile 22. Here, the runners are regaining momentum after Heartbreak Hill and the crowd excitement starts to pick up. MBTA “C” or “Cleveland Circle” green line.
  • Kenmore Square. The runners enter from Beacon Street and are nearly on the home stretch. A Red Sox game at Fenway Park is played at 11 a.m., so the crowds really thicken when the game has ended.
  • Boylston Street/Finish Line. It can be tough to find a square inch of standing room when the elite runners are pounding their way to the finish, but by all means grab a spot if you can. My favorite place is along Hereford Street, just before the turn onto Boylston.

 M.E. Malone is a first year MS/MPH student who has little desire to run more than 26.2 yards (much less 26.2 miles) at a time, but loves cheering the runners along on Marathon Monday.

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