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Learnings from the Boston Marathon 2019 by Bill Callahan

By May 2, 2019May 20th, 2023One Comment
runner standing at finish line boston marathon

The 123rd annual Boston Marathon took place on April 15, 2019. A few months ago Bill Callahan shared his marathon journey with us on The Extramilest Show. He had improved from a 3:40 to 2:53 marathon with more training volume, low HR training and more racing experience. We received a lot of positive feedback on his podcast. He just ran the Boston Marathon and PR-ed again! He was kind enough to share his learnings from this last training cycle with us. Enjoy!

By Bill Callahan: Another Boston Marathon is in the books!! It was another eventful journey throughout training and on race day and here are a few of my thoughts.

Boston Marathon Training

Based on my Berlin Marathon experience in September, coupled with a few marathons prior, I have figured out my formula for running a sub 3 marathon. This includes training mileage, nutrition, and race day strategy. As I got into December, I took my marathon experiences to come up with a plan for Boston. In 2018, there was wind, sleet and rain that slowed all of us down during the race. Even with that, I came in at 3:01. I was confident that even in horrible conditions, with a few more miles and some race tweaks, I could go sub 3.

My plan was to go through December just running base miles and go through January until April running 6-7 days a week, with Wednesday speed work, Saturday marathon pace miles and MAF miles and under the rest of the time. There would also be two races that I would run – a half marathon at the end of February (to gauge how my fitness was) and a 10k 8 days before Boston (not at full speed but more for a final race preparation rehearsal). 

Training in central New York can be difficult during the winter. Several days are filled with cold and snow, so it can be hard to run all of our miles outside. If conditions were poor outside, I would run on my treadmill in the basement. I welcomed the heat in the basement at times because Boston can be hot, so it may come in useful at race day (which it did!). I was able to run all of the miles intended, except for a few days when I fell ill and took some days off. This year I got into Boston with just over 900 miles logged and did my peak week at just over 80 miles at three weeks out. I reduced to 60, 42, and 29 until race day.

Race Week Preparation for the Boston Marathon

About ten days out, the B.A.A. was preparing us for similar conditions to 2018. There was a call for rain, wind and 30 degree F temperatures. With that news, I packed accordingly. I had several layers of warm gear to wear, old shoes to wear to the village, a painters suit to keep out rain (can purchase at a paint store for 10 bucks and is well worth it), ponchos, a tarp to sit on, hand warmers, etc. It really looked like I was going camping! I thought of it as better be over prepared versus under! I used my 2018 experience to know what worked and didn’t to my advantage! Also, I made sure to prep extra food for the village. I learned from last year that being too cold early depleted my glycogen fast so if it was going to be cold again, I needed more fuel.

Based on the ever changing weather, I also mentally prepared to slow down and let my ultimate time be there but be ok if I was a little slower. To me, having a few different times to hit makes me more relaxed. Going sub 3 was my ceiling. Going 2:48-2:50 on a great weather day was my floor. With the weather reports, I knew 2:50-53 was a good zone to be in (Floris can back me on this as this was my prediction!)

I left for Boston on Saturday morning and when I got there, the weather had changed for race day. It was now expected to be raining with thunderstorms and warm temperatures (well for me!) in the 60s. A big change from the few days before! Going around town on Sunday, it was in the 60s, but not too bad, as it wasn’t uncomfortable. I thought this could be ok, because they were also now predicting a South to Southwest wind, which a Southwest wind would produce a tail wind!! I prepped my stuff and went to bed around 9pm. 

Boston Marathon Race Day

I woke up  at 4:30am and immediately got into my race morning routine. I ate, got dressed and watched the weather. The newscasters already at the start stated what I was nervous about A humidity! It was at 100%! I never run well with that. I left the hotel to catch the 6am buses, which was located about a half of a mile away, around 5:45. As I stepped outside it hit me pretty hard. It wasn’t raining so I jogged to the busses. I was sweating!!

I took most of my stuff off on the bus and we drove to Hopkinton. By the time we actually left and got there, I was on the bus well over an hour. It poured most of the way! I was hoping the rain would let up. I tried not to think about it and ate some more and relaxed. When I got to the village I immediately set up an area. I was pretty popular with the tarp and ponchos and made some quick friends! As we waited, I eventually got into my race gear and the rain stopped! It was now cloudy, in the upper 50s  and the humidity dropped a little.

I was in Wave 1, Coral 3 and they let us leave the village at 9:15. I was able to jog to the start area and find a small area to run some more and stretch out. 20 mins before the start and settled in. We took off at 10:02 and it took me around a minute or so to get to the start line. I knew once I crossed the line that based on how warm it was getting, I would need to race smart, hit the water early and often and rely on my HR to get me to Boston.

I started getting water at mile 2 and hit every mile except for one in the low 20s. Normally I don’t pour water on my head that early, but I already needed it. I was in a crowded section, so I was getting hot, even with the wind coming at us around 10-12 mph. So much for that predicted tailwind! I didn’t really get a lot of space until around mile 10-12. I checked my HR after the first few miles and all was good – high 140s to 150. At mile 4 (and every 4 after) I took a gel and then changed my salt pills up to mile 5 (and every 5 after) because of the conditions.

I hadn’t run outdoors in a temperature that high since October, so I wanted to be cautious. I’m glad I did! I just ran comfortable and got to the halfway point within a few seconds of where I wanted to be. Overall I felt ok, except for my feet. At around mile 8, I started getting heel pain on both feet. I am a loyal Nike runner and had been running the original 4%s for my last few marathons and several races.

I switched to the 4% Flyknits and had trained in them, but was a little nervous I didn’t feel as locked in as the originals. They definitely got me in Boston because my feet were moving and now hurt. I tried to distract myself from it. It was now focus on me and running, the heat or my feet. My brain was in overdrive! I was also looking around and I seem to be passing a lot of people. The crowd was definitely helping me! There were many more people out versus last year to cheer us on. It helped and got me back into focus! 

Now we were getting to the Newton Hills. You know they’re there. You train for them. Then you go after them but they fight back! I flipped my watch to HR only mode and took them on as long as my HR didn’t go over 158-60. I kept it right there and passed a bunch of people, but as I came down after Heart Break Hill, my quads were sore!!

It was now heart over mind, over legs and over my nagging heels, which also now had some toe pain. My guess is my feet weren’t  locked in so the up and downs slid my feet back and forth irritating both sides. Add on one other surprise – the sun came out (and I actually got a sun burn!)!! So now we were out in the sun and the temps were easily in the upper 60s. Needless to say, runners were hanging on.

My pace slowed but very few came by me. I did what I always do for the last 10k – I looked at my arm! I had my names there and I thought about what they did for me leading up to the race. My wife, boys, etc. lead me to Boylston! At around mile 22, I knew my sub 2:50 was gone but a new PR was in sight, so I looked for every ounce of energy I had left. I dug in after that famous left turn and let it go. I crossed the line with a new PR of 2:52:13!!!

boston marathon - bill callahan
Such a great feeling to cross that finish line with a new PR!

What I learned from this Boston Marathon Training Cycle

I have an amazing support system! My wife, boys, family, friends, running crews – all of them are awesome and helped me so much to get to the start line! They made training and traveling easier and I couldn’t have done it with out them!

Experience helped! Knowing the Boston course, how to plan, how to adapt, how to pace from other marathons made me a more efficient runner during the race, even when the weather wasn’t great and physical issues started to happen. I didn’t panic and let experience take over!

HR training works!  My average heart rate for the race was 150. I didn’t get into the 160s until the very end, so I had enough every to get to the finish without stopping like so many others did. 

Boston is a tough course! I’ve run four world major marathons – Boston, NYC, Chicago and Berlin. Boston is easily the hardest! The constant up and downs do a number on your legs. Even with the weather, if I had a flat course, I would’ve easily went another 3-4 minutes faster.

My cardio is ahead of my leg strength. For having a low HR, I feel like I need to be faster. My legs started to feel a little sore half way through the race and then really sore after the miles of the Newton Hills. I need to train this summer with more hill and strength work. I’m again running the NYC marathon in the fall, so I want to be able to handle the bridges, 1st Ave and Central Park better than where I’m at now. 

Check my shoes! I need to work with these Flyknits to make sure I’ve got them right. They feel so much more comfortable than the originals so I want to keep using them!!

Overall, Boston training and the race was an amazing experience! I was happy to PR, not just because it was a lower number, but also because of a bigger donation to my Cancer Foundation for my Dad’s memory. To me, that’s the most important thing and my main motivator for trying to be better!! Thank you all and Boston for an experience I will never forget!


You can find me, Floris Gierman here:



One Comment

  • Thank you for sharing your race experiences, Bill and thank you Floris for promoting these race reports. They are all valuable insights and help to broaden the knowledge of the Extramilest community.
    Bill, I personally wish you much success in your training and racing and hope you’ll be able to put together such detailed and great post about your race day.

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