Race Report – Boston Marathon 2024 – Peter Sweeny

"What a blast! Running Boston marathon in an Irish strip was a phenomenal experience, the support from go to whoa was incredible. I ran with one local runner for a bit and they said they were just feeding off my support. It really was a great day to be Irish!"


I started my marathon training 13 weeks out, my first week was 100kms, mainly low heart rate running but due to the heat and humidity in Sydney it felt hard. I feel I run well off what for me is higher volume and I was keen to build on this. Alas day one of training week number two, I tripped while stepping off a curb and did a good number on my knee. Initially I thought it would merely result in a reshuffle of that week's training, but as the week progressed it became clear that it was more significant. Flexing my knee beyond 90 degrees, running and riding were all painful and put the brakes on training in a big way. I was still doing my strength training and slowly started to do more cycling. I tried to ease back to running but my volume was curtailed and downhill running was the most uncomfortable, this was a concern as I had hoped to do some solid downhill conditioning for the Boston course. After 3 weeks of limited progress I was on the cusp of pulling the pin on this year’s race and aiming to qualify again for next year.

Although running was very limited I did find uphill running was the least uncomfortable and so I pivoted to running incline sessions on the treadmill. I was doing run/ walk sessions with an incline of 5-10% and built up to 2.5 hours. I also started trying to replicate my tempo sessions on the treadmill but perceived exertion was much greater than my HR suggested. After 3 weeks of treadmill running, bike and strength training I started to transition back to running and then had four weeks to train before tapering.

The next few weeks went exceptionally well and I don’t think I’ve ever felt my fitness come back so quickly. I felt all the incline work on the treadmill had paid dividends. Week by week my long run felt better and better, my pace in the tempo runs picked up and I was running at faster than goal marathon pace without my HR getting out of control. I was ticking most of the boxes but was feeling very fatigued and this resulted in me missing my mid week long run for three weeks in a row but erring on the side of caution seemed to pay off each time. At the time my sleep quality was poor and this was likely a factor. 

I had considered shortening my taper but decided that my fatigue levels were such that I really needed to freshen up. I also thought that despite the training being quite compromised I could still taper like a champion! In the last few weeks I also started to do more research into the race, the course and nutrition. Maurten are a sponsor and there are three nutrition stations on the course. In my qualifying race I was taking a gel every 5kms (a little over 20mins) but had been using the pure nutrition gels. I switched to Maurten in training and found the taste and consistency a little challenging but they worked well from a fueling point of view. I did find it more challenging getting them down at race pace but that improved when I took my time getting them in instead of trying to slam them back. 

After all that, race day really couldn’t have come soon enough, not many runners love tapering and I certainly found it a curious brew. I’m quite content to take it easy but after a couple of weeks it becomes a bit much. My last few weeks of training had been fantastic. I felt fit, had avoided illness, my sleep quality improved and I was well rested. Although feeling good, I feared the loss of conditioning might bite me in the arse in the last 10kms.

Once my training was complete I reckoned my goal race pace would be about 4.10 min/km (2.55.49 marathon) but found in training I was holding myself back and thought 4.05 (2.52.18) might be achievable but to anyone who asked I told them sub 3 was the goal. I really wasn’t sure if the compromised training would result in a blown gasket in the last 10kms.

The Race

The course is a net downhill with most of the descending in the first half, there are a series of hills in the second half which aren’t huge but come at a point in the race where the dreaded wall is looming so they take on greater significance. One of my friends shared a meme before the start, “in the first half don’t be an idiot, in the second half don’t be a wimp”. Sure enough I went out at a reasonable clip, it felt under control, heart rate was pretty low but because of the gradient my quads took a fierce beating. By half way my legs were letting their displeasure known and I feared I had made a mess of the race, I really didn’t think I’d be able to sustain the effort. I did take some solace from the fact that this is marathon racing and it is meant to be hard! 

I had watched lots of YouTube videos in the lead up, gleaning some useful tips from those that had run the race in the past. One of the best bits of data that came up was the pace variation for elite runners. They ran 4% up or down from their average pace, measured per mile or kilometre, A range of 8% either way is considered good and if it goes badly then it blows out to 40%. Working off the goal pace of 4.10 per kilometre, that meant if I tried to mimic the big boys, I wouldn’t run faster than 4min flat or slower than 4.20. Excluding my fastest (steep downhill start) and slowest kilometres (heartbreak hill), the rest fell between 3.58 and 4.17, good enough for me. The most important thing for me is that it helped keep things in check in the first half, normally I monitor heart rate or perceived exertion to manage my effort but with all the downhill they are less reliable and given the state of my legs I was happy not to have gone out harder.

In the second half I focused on keeping myself together, working with other runners and breaking down the race.  I had family at 16 miles and then 18 miles supporting the race. My first goal was to keep it rolling that far and avoid embarrassing myself! From there it was two miles to the top of the infamous heartbreak hill and then it was a fast 6miles or 10kms to the finish. Getting past the hills seemed like a double edged sword, great to pick up speed running downhill but it was more painful than climbing where I felt I could offload my quads a touch. The heat was also picking up, something training in Sydney had me as well conditioned as anyone. It did make for a very tough for day for those who trained in cooler climates. 

As I fatigued I tried to focus on form, keeping my head up when I felt it dropping and trying to smile when I found myself grimacing! At times I would swing to the side, give some high fives and feed off the energy in the crowd. At other times get to the middle of the road and try lock onto the pace of another runner. There always seemed to be someone to run with, I remember trying to keep one particular runner in sight and thought I’d do well to keep that going for as long as possible but around the twenty mile mark he blew up and I didn’t see him again. After that a couple of times runners would come through looking super strong, but not many of them sustained their pace. It was pretty tricky in the conditions to measure your effort so that wasn’t a surprise. The last runner I worked off came through from a start wave behind me and only passed me in the last 5kms, she opened decent of a gap and I lost sight of her in the increasing mass of bodies but ended up crossing the line more or less with her.

As the race progressed every step was increasingly painful, my quads wanted nothing to do with me but my hamstrings were feeling fine, as happy as a clam and fresh as a daisy! I reassured myself that at least I could pick my feet up, add a gentle forward lean and hey presto I was still running! As I hit the last 5km there were more and more runners from the previous wave walking or even stopping due to cramp.  I had to do more ducking and weaving in this section than I did at the start. I was concerned that at any moment I might join the not so exclusive cramping club, but was relieved to make the famous right onto Hereford, left onto Boylston and finally have the finish line in sight. It was quite brutal but so, so special. I thought in that moment that surge of noise and energy must be what it feels like to play sport in front of a full stadium, something I could only imagine. 

To get to the start is a ride in a school bus to Hopkinton, such an iconic way to travel and quite a way to highlight the marathon distance by driving for nearly an hour to get to the start. Along the course there is pretty much support the whole way and, in my Irish kit, I feel like I got the full high fidelity experience. The cheer, “go Ireland”  rang out repeatedly, sometimes from old ladies, sometimes young kids. A pump of the fist, a wave or a high five and the volume would go up and the energy amped up. The volunteers were amazing and tried to take time to chat to as many as I could after the finish and let them know how proud they should be of Boston and this great event. 

The numbers

I finished in 2.53.14, the first half was 1.26.29, the second 1.26.45, pretty close to even splits considering the nature of the course. I finished 23rd out of 1,936 runners in my age category. 

I stuck to my plan of gels every 5kms up to 35kms, I didn’t think there was any point grabbing one at 40kms. I only drank water, there is a special high salt Gatorade on course but I thought that might be a little risky given I hadn’t tried it before.

Talking to more seasoned marathon runners, Boston is the most often the one that is mentioned as the most special, my experience was so positive it feels like it would be hard to beat.