The Boston Marathon, where miles still hold whispers of legendary duels.
"The Boston Marathon is, in my opinion, the king of kings when it comes to running," says Dick Beardsley, who finished second to Alberto Salazar in the 1982 edition of the race, famously known as "The Duel In The Sun." "I don't think there is a runner out there that wouldn't love to say that they ran in the Boston Marathon. Even people that have never run a step in their life know about the Boston Marathon."
There are legends of Boston and then there are gods; the 1982 finish between Beardsley and Salazar put them on Mount Olympus. In a word, that race represents guts. The inward battle to push beyond what your body says it's capable of is something runners seem instinctively drawn to because the mental piece of our sport is the intangible; unlike miles or workouts, it can't quite be explained; it is mysterious.
Boston presents the test of personal wills as any marathon would; however, one can't escape that Boston's 26.2 miles are just different.
"I remember when I graduated from high school in 1975 I'd been running for about a year and a half," says Beardsley. "My mom and dad, for my graduation, gave me an envelope with a note inside that said, 'This is good for round trip airfare to the Boston Marathon, maybe someday you will want to run it. Love, Mom and Dad.' I didn't even know my folks had ever heard of Boston, and at that point in my short running career I'd never thought once about running a marathon, let alone Boston! To have that race against Alberto on any course would have been memorable, but to have it happen in Boston makes it even more so."
It is from this vantage point that Beardsley shares his top tips for racing the world's oldest annual marathon.
1. Rehearse the downhills
"In the 80-plus marathons I've run over the years, I've never been more beat up after a marathon then I was at Boston in 1982," says Beardsley. There is the famed Heartbreak Hill, but a common oversight for runners is neglecting to consider the downhills.
"Everyone talks about those four miles of hills from 17-21 and they get scared by it. They for sure are something you want to be ready for, but I would be way more concerned and scared about the downhills than the uphills."
Beardsley's advice is to be sure to include downhill running, just as runners are mindful of uphill repeats. "Most runners, when they train for a hilly course like Boston, they run hard up the hills and then jog down, and repeat a certain amount of times,” he said. "If I can stress more than anything else, get your body used to the pounding it will take and practice running downhill at a good effort."
2. Avoid barn-burning
Going out too fast in any race is unwise; for Boston, that holds especially true. "Many folks get 'sucked' into running faster than they should because of the [downhills] and then it will come back to bite you big-time later in the race," Beardsley says.
As you incorporate downhill running into your training, get a sense of what the efforts of different paces feel like on the decline. Factor this into your race-pace plan; a downhill mile may read faster but the effort is still there and downhill running is uniquely taxing.
3. Focus on your effort
"A very key part of Boston is when you get to the uphills, run the same effort you would if you were on the flats," says Beardsley. "Remember, though: Effort and pace are two entirely different things. If you go by effort up the hills, you will save yourself a bit so you can have your legs left for those last 5 miles or so."
When running uphill, retain the same effort, shorten your stride, and run hard all the way through; don't ease-up short and lose all that momentum.
Boston is similar to all other marathons in that before stepping to the starting line be sure to have a solid race day nutrition plan. "Make sure you're taking both water and a sports drink at every aid station from the get-go," Beardsley says. "Even if it's a cool day and you don't think you need the fluids right away, take them anyway."
Then and now
"I'm still a huge fan of it, but I'm so old school," Beardsley says. "I was disappointed that they moved up the traditional noon starting time to earlier in the morning. I love the fact that they bring in top athletes from around the world, pay good appearance fees, have decent prize money, and they treat the elites like they deserve to be treated -- just like any other sports professionals."
Beardsley himself has retained that mental determination and ability to inspire on and off the marathon course.
"I had a terrible farm accident on my Minnesota farm back in 1989 and got all torn-up and had numerous surgeries," Beardsley says. "After that, I was in a bad car accident, fell off a cliff, and more. I had many, many surgeries to put me back together."
After overcoming a pain medication addiction, Beardsley has been sober for more than 16 years. He still runs, is a motivational speaker and, along with his wife, Jill, founded the Dick Beardsley Foundation.