The secrets to . . .

Running downhill successfully

By John Powers
Globe Staff / April 15, 2011

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While it’s true that Boston has the hilliest course of the five World Marathon Majors, the arrow generally points downward, with the elevation dwindling from 475 feet above sea level at the start to 16 feet at the finish. The secret to success here is not so much in the ascending as in the descending. “I tried to attack on the downhills,’’ says four-time champion Bill Rodgers. “I used them like crazy.’’

The trick is to keep enough in reserve to be able to maximize the downslopes, all of which occur in the second half of the race. That means not being seduced into dashing down into Ashland after the gun is fired. “Start off at a very easy, relaxed pace and wait until after 3 miles to go into a racing pace,’’ says BAA Running Club coach Michael Pieroni.

The first significant hill appears coming down out of Wellesley Hills into Newton Lower Falls, where the elevation drops more than 110 feet in a mile. It’s quickly followed by the Route 128 overpass, which essentially is the first Newton hill. That’s the first of several gear changes that ultimately can turn quadriceps to stone.

“You’ve got to control yourself on the hills,’’ says Bill Squires, the former Greater Boston Track Club coach who had his runners work the hills routinely during practice.

“Go steady on the ups and then push it on the downs,’’ says Rodgers. “Use the gravity and take advantage of it — but don’t go too hard.’’


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