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The secrets to . . .

Getting off to a good start

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / April 15, 2011

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Imagine several thousand people running through an opening 39 feet wide. OK, if you’ve seen the start of a Boston Marathon, you don’t have to imagine it. The race that begins on rural Hopkinton roads was never intended for such a stampede.

This year, with the addition of a third wave, swells of roughly 9,000 runners, instead of the 13,500 in recent years, will squeeze down Main Street/Route 135. Still, space will be tight for the first quarter-mile or so.

According to race director Dave McGillivray, the starting corrals are built so each runner has 3 square feet of space, with 1,000 runners per corral. The narrowest corral is 25 feet wide, so there’s something of a reverse funnel heading to the starting line. That’s the main reason you don’t see pushing and stumbling at the start. Still, a few tips can make surviving the start a little easier.

PREPARE FOR THE BIG SQUEEZE: The Boston Marathon start is among the narrowest for major marathons. Then there’s the little-known fact that the road narrows to 22 feet about a quarter-mile into the race. Add the momentum of runners heading downhill — almost a 150-foot decline in the first 1,000 yards — and it’s a jostling mess of adrenaline-fueled bodies. Now that you know what to expect, you’re a step ahead. The fewer surprises on race day, the better.

GO WITH THE FLOW: Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated — it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Why waste energy fighting the crowds early on? Runners who weave their way through early traffic probably regret the decision around Mile 20, if not sooner. A slow start shouldn’t be cause for concern, especially in the Boston Marathon. It might even work to your advantage. Since the course includes several significant drops in elevation leading up Mile 4, it can be hard to hold back. Starting out too fast is the greatest threat to a good marathon time. If a crowd helps you exercise restraint amid all the excitement, even for just the first mile or so, it may save your body for a strong finish.

MAKE A DASH FOR THE SIDELINES: If you’re feeling a little claustrophobic or can’t contain the urge to weave past other runners, head to the far sides of the road. It may give you a little more room to maneuver. A few quick strides off the pavement can help you duck around a slower runner without wasting much energy.

SHIRA SPRINGER

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