Qualifying for the Boston Marathon –Interview with Chris Russell

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Chris Russell has qualified for the Boston Marathon 16 times.  He is the creator of the Run Run Live podcast and author of Marathon BQ – How to Qualify for the Boston Marathon in 14 Weeks. 

With the Boston Marathon approaching we thought it would be appropriate to bring you an episode about how to run a BQ time. Here’s what Chris had to say.

Tips on Qualifying for Boston

Chris’s theory is very straightforward. If you know what speed you need to run in order to qualify, that determines the focus of your training.

Boston Qualifying Standards (4/6/15)
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BQ Breakdown

Here’s a few tips gleaned from our conversation with Chris. If you want to go deeper I recommend listening to the interview and getting his book.

Remember, the tips here assume that you are healthy and young enough to handle the intensity of this type of training and have a really strong running base and good mechanics.

  1. Take it up! An increase in your training volume from 30 miles a week to 50 miles a week has an exponential payoff. If you want to drop your time in a marathon -find a way to get more miles in
  2. Hit the track! You can use the track as a testing ground to determine what your BQ pace feels like.
  3. Commit to three solid workouts a week (in addition to easy runs and cross-training). You must do a speed workout, a tempo workout, and long run.
  4. Speed 1600s at the track are a must!. This might be the magic bullet in Chris’s plan. When he was qualifying for a 3:10 marathon he relied on 1600s (four times around the track at your BQ pace). He calls the track that “dark place” that you must force yourself to visit in your quest to run a BQ. Learn to relax into discomfort and focus on your mechanics. The track is a test tube where you can correlate pace, effort, and mechanics.
  5. Three week waves. The 14 weeks follow a sequence of easy, medium, hard, easy medium, hard.

Consideration for Older Runners

Chris did his grueling Marathon BQ plan when he was in his 30s and needed to run a 3:10 marathon. For older runners he cautions:

  1. Don’t run every day
  2. Watch your form
  3. Try to run on easier surfaces like trails rather than concrete
  4. Work in cross-training
  5. Run by effort level measured by heart rate. Use effort based training rather than pace based training.

The Commitment Necessary to Train for a BQ

There’s no getting around it. Training for a BQ will be tough and it will require you to be selfish with your time. Chris says you just need to realize that things will be out of balance while you’re attempting to do this. Be sure to communicate this to your family.

The reason why more people don’t attempt a BQ is because they have limited themselves in their thinking. This may be due to our built-in negativity bias from our ancestral past. Our primitive ancestors assumed the worst (a tiger is hiding in the bushes not a bunny) and lived to pass their survival based genes down to us.


The biggest impediment for someone qualifying for Boston is not their legs, it’s their mind. -Chris Russell

Also Mentioned in this Episode

Angie’s interview on the Run Run Live podcast about pregnancy and marathon training

Turn your race shirts into a quilt

Boston Marathon photo credit: Peter Farlow; Creative Commons

4 Responses to Qualifying for the Boston Marathon –Interview with Chris Russell

  1. Miriam B. April 6, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    Thanks for an amazing episode! I just bought Chris’s book and am so excited to read it. I signed up for a Boston-qualifying marathon this September and have been floundering in terms of trying to find a good training plan. I am about 30 minutes away from my goal-time. I think this book will be just what I need.

    • Angie Spencer April 7, 2015 at 8:01 am #

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Miriam! All the best as you train for your BQ this fall. You’ve got this.

  2. Cheryl Boyd May 23, 2016 at 7:55 pm #

    I am 58 yrs old, female, and has run 9 marathons. Should I run up to 50 miles a week? My best marathon time was 4:23. Please give tips for older runners.

    • Angie Spencer May 24, 2016 at 8:33 am #

      Hi Cheryl. That’s a great question. As an older runner you definitely need to approach mileage increases more cautiously. But as long as you do it very gradually and listen to your body along the way you should be able to increase your mileage some. However whether you get to 50 miles per week really depends on what mileage you started from and other variables. Some things to keep in mind as you look to BQ are to consider running every other day to give your body a break from high impact workouts. Using low impact cross training like yoga, swimming, cycling, strength and core training can make you a stronger overall athlete and decrease your chance of injury. It can also be very helpful to train by heart rate on easy days to make sure that you’re allowing proper recovery time. If you do start to increase your weekly mileage remember that every 3 weeks it’s important to take a step back week so that adaptations can occur. Focusing on good nutrition is also vital to getting the most out of your running. All the best!

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