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How to Qualify for Boston Marathon (My 11 Minute PR)

Hi and good morning! I’m so excited to talk about how to qualify for the Boston Maraton today (or at least how I did, back in 2017). Many of the tips I’m sharing worked well for ME, and perhaps, not all will apply to you.

But in general, I think a combination of rest, nutrition and proper training will help you qualify for Boston Marathon. 

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Thank you all for your comments and encouragement on my Ogden Marathon recap post. I’m happy to share a little bit more about my training cycle for those of you who have asked.

For the past story, I ran my first marathon last November (Savannah Rock ‘n Roll Marathon Recap)  in 3:41.57. Nearly 6 months later, I ran my second marathon in 3:31.05.

That’s a pretty substantial difference – and I think I took some key things away from my first marathon that I was able to put to use for my second.

Training to Qualify for Boston Marathon 

Now I’m going to review some of the differences between my first and second marathons, to touch on my training to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Firstly, I think it’s a totally different mindset doing your first versus subsequent marathons.

Girl with hands on hips after completing a sweaty run

I certainly had a little more confidence going into my second training cycle, and didn’t stress out as much about missing a run here or there, or shortening a long run.

But, here are some of the things I focused on that I think made a big difference, in no particular order.

Do You Have to Qualify For the Boston Marathon?

Unless you’re running in or for a charity, yes you do! How do you qualify for the Boston Marathon?

You run a fast qualifying time, at an approved marathon distance race!

That’s what I’m discussing throughout this post. But one last question. 

What Are Qualifying Times for the Boston Marathon?

They change, year to year. Which is frustrating and tricky!

I googled how to qualify for Boston Marathon 2017 when I was running my marathon in Ogden. Because, since I wanted to run in 2018, I had to qualify in 2017. 

For my women’s age group division (Age 18-34), the qualifying time in 2017 was 3:35:00. But, you usually have to beat that time by a few minutes to be considered because so many people are applying!

There is also a specific timeline for which you ran/run your qualifying time (generally, two years) to be able to apply for and get selected for the Boston Marathon. 

bottom half of runners in a road race

Join a Running Group

Though I only did this a handful of times (like fueling 20 miles), I really feel that it has so many benefits.

Aside from socialization (running alone sometimes can be isolating), group runs were pivotal for how to improve running marathon speed (and half marathon speed), and certainly helped my confidence and pace.

Plus, you learn things from other runners, and learn more about yourself.

half marathon runners holding medals after completing Tobacco Road Half Marathon

Add Core Work

I did make an effort to do more core work in this training cycle. I tried to include some exercises 4-5 days a week. And not even long or intense exercises. My favorite core workouts are 4-6 minutes long.

I actually hate core work so if it’s long, I know I won’t do it. Short and sweet is effective for me!

Eat at Any Sign of Hunger

It’s no wonder I later went on to write a Hunger Ebook.

The week before the marathon, I was eating like a madwoman. And it wasn’t an increased appetite from increased running or calorie expenditure.

I obviously had my lightest taper week, and only ran 2-3 days that week. But, preparing my body for what it was about to experience was paramount – I wouldn’t let my body feel any sign of hunger.

I nourished hunger, even if it meant 3 breakfasts like I had 2 days before the race.

If you need encouragement or understanding of why hunger is important to listen to, read this post.

stacked breakfast sandwich with sausage, tomato, spinach and cream cheese

Don’t forget about FAT 

Eating more requires eating more of ALL foods – typically fats and carbohydrates. 

Not only do they help with inflammation in the body (hello, running causes inflammation in our cells and muscles), they are another macronutrient our body will draw from when it runs out of fuel and glycogen (carbohydrates).

Plus, it tastes pretty good too!

oatmeal in white bowl topped with frozen berries, peanut butter and yogurt

Allow Ample Recovery Time

I took two days off a week, completely, and included one day of cross training where I’d do hot yoga, cycling or elliptical.

It was too much stress on my body to do more than 4-5 days of running per week, as I discussed in this flexible marathon training plan

Each person is different but there’s no magic number of days you HAVE to run per week. Time on your feet is very important too, so engaging in other exercise counts.

family bikeride

Here are some of my tips for forming your marathon recovery plan

And, foam rolling, epsom salts and the running stick should be your best friend!

Recovery food is important too!

Boston Marathon, Marathon Training, Race Recap

Find a Supportive Community

A running group is great!

Obviously, you are making sacrifices in your training cycle. You want to have people in your life who understand these sacrifices (they don’t necessarily have to be runners).

pregnancy workout inside

You shouldn’t feel bad about the time you are committing to reach your goal, so people who understand that are paramount. Surround yourself with those people who lift you up!

Be Consistent with Speed Work 

I did longer and harder tempos/speed work than my first time around. I still don’t think I did enough speed work, I guess that’s one thing we can always self-critique as runners.

But I did do some longer workouts (like this 60 minute speed interval workout and this cruise reps workout).

The pyramid workout for speed remains my favorite. 

I also found it helpful to do some speed work that mirrored the course, which was mostly downhill.

While most people practice hill repeats UP a hill, I practiced some downhill running repeats so I could practice keeping my arms relaxed and leaning forward.

Boston Marathon, Marathon Training, Race Recap, Speedwork

Relax the Week of the Race

I know that the marathon taper can be difficult, particularly mentally, but it’s so important to allow your body rest and load up those glycogen stores.

People have different views on tapering, but I think I ran 8-10 miles the week of the marathon.

To compare, most of my weekly training had me between 30-40 miles per week. The final week, I did all of my runs at a 9-9:30 pace.

hanging out with a busy toddler

My goal marathon pace was 7:50-8:05ish per mile.

I didn’t taper as much in my first marathon, and I think I was a little more active the week of. Clearly, the extra rest served me well.

Have A Race Day Nutrition Plan

Make sure you’ve practice your race day nutrition plan several times! What you’re going to take, how much, how you’re going to take it (powder vs liquid vs gel vs real food), how you’re going to hold it, etc. 

So so important!

holding dried fruit on a trail

Stay Hydrated Every Day

Obviously, hydration is always a big one. I’m a pretty good water drinker and probably drink about 11-12 cups a day, plus the water I get through food.

But the week of the marathon, I drank sooo much water that I was peeing multiple times throughout the night.

I actually had a hard time adjusting to altitude and no matter how much water I drank, my pee was very concentrated, so I knew I had to do better.

pink water bottle with trees in backround

If you’re not hydrated, your cells aren’t getting the nutrients they need and you’ll have a hard time feeling good.

Here are more tips on staying hydrated when running in hot weather

Stay with a Pace Group on Race Day

I settled in with the 3:35 pace group and stayed with them for the first 7-8 miles.

That helped me figure out what pace I wanted to maintain and helped me realize I felt good doing that.

The pace groups are great if you’re aiming for consistency in your running.

Boston Marathon, Marathon Training, Race Recap, Speedwork

Choose the Right Course

Research what the best marathons to run to qualify for Boston are. Choose one of those! Beliee me – choosing the easiest marathon to qualify for Boston WILL make a difference, and why not use it? 🙂

There is a strategy in which course you choose for your overall time. 

I would tell everyone to pick a down hill course if you’re trying to qualify for Boston!

Although too much down hill can be killer on your quads and require a lot of energy, a net downhill course definitely helps, or at least, helped me. 

The last 4-5 miles were all downhill, so I was still maintaining the same pace with less effort, and it really helped.

Boston Marathon, Marathon Training, Race Recap, Speedwork

Obviously, nutrition plays a big part too. I’m a big proponent of workout recovery foods, and nutrient timing, one thing I work with all of my running clients on.

I’ve spoke about my race day nutrition plan before, but I’m a big proponent of UCAN, Huma gels and Honeystinger chews (taste like candy) and rely on them the most.

Ucan fueling
Click here to order

Most importantly, I think remaining calm and being prepared can bring you a long way.

And realize what you are capable of is probably more than you think.

If you do the work, eat well, rest well and hydrate well, your body will thank you.

How I Qualified for the Boston Marathon

My mental mindset also really helped. I would strongly recommend reading Let Your Mind Run for a great read on mental toughness!

Other Training Posts:

Boston Marathon, Marathon Training, Race Recap

What’s your favorite way to recover?

If you’ve qualified for Boston, what’s your top tip?

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