Ryan Carrara (second from left) is honored with colleagues Jason Barnes, Carl Hartford and Andrew Pitts at J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Night at Boston’s Fenway Park in 2014 after Raytheon won the men’s team title earlier that year.

The Boston J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge has always held a special spot on my racing calendar since starting my professional career at Raytheon.

After competing competitively in college, the Corporate Challenge has been a reason to continue training, socialize with colleagues outside of the office on runs and at races, and meet friends from all over the world.  The 3.5-mile distance hits the sweet spot right in the middle of the balance between speed and strength.  The goal is always the same: Qualify for the J.P. Morgan Corporate Championship whether held nearby in New York City or far away in Johannesburg, South Africa.

After competing on the Boston race course 18 times, here is my primer on how to have a successful race at the June 21 J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Championship.

Boston is a fast course built for a personal best time right in the heart of the historic Back Bay, with supporters all along the route up and down Commonwealth Avenue (Comm Ave).  The course is pancake flat with only two elevation changes down and up under Massachusetts Avenue (Mass Ave).  It appears easy, but there are some tricks, both mental and tactical, to get some free seconds out on the course and be driving at finish.  Ahead you will find the strategies that have served me well in performing in this competitive race every year.

The course divides up into five separate sections.  The division simplifies it into pieces each with their own strategy.  The start of the race on Charles Street is wide open and racers in the Championship will have plenty of room to choose a spot on the line.  The Comm Ave gambit is best executed by giving up a few feet of apex in the first two turns to avoid the compression of the pack and also yields the best line of attack into the first right-hand corner.

After the starting horn, the race immediately takes a 90-degree left approximately 50 meters after the start onto Beacon Street and then another 90-degree left after 100 meters onto Arlington Street followed by a 90-degree right after 200 meters into the long Comm Ave straight away.   One is wise to line up 12-15 shoulder lengths from left side of the starting line allowing a smooth first two left-hand corners which sets up a perfect angle to the tangent onto Comm Ave.

Once on Comm Ave, relax, breathe, find that easy speed you get with the adrenaline of competing in big race, but do not push. Not yet.  Smooth and steady through the mile.  This is a great place to find the pack you will be running with for most of the race and settle into your race rhythm.  This is also the ideal spot to take note of the wind.  If it is out of the west, you will be straight into it, so tuck in and let the pack break the wind for you.  Most likely on a June night after 7:00 it will be really calm, but we are in New England, so you don’t know for sure until you are actually racing the race.  This smooth level section will take you right to the first disturbance in elevation as you dip under Mass Ave.

The third section of the race goes from Mass Ave, around the transportation station near the half-way point in Kenmore Square, then back to the Mass Ave underpass.  A lot can be decided in this section.  The uphill out from underneath Mass Ave. is a great spot to fracture the pack if you are feeling good.  The legs are used to flat and steady and the small hill can be a shock to those not prepared for it or those who have gone out too fast for their fitness.  Drive this hill then carry the momentum to the 90-degree turn at Kenmore Square around the median divider.  The key to this turn is to stay in the middle lane approaching the turnaround, hit the apex and then exit drifting to the middle lane holding momentum as you head east back to the Public Garden.  Hugging the inside trying to turn sharp just bogs down your pace and forces an unnecessary surge of energy to get back to tempo.  If you want a gap check and think of it, this is an ideal spot to start counting in your head.  As you glance to your left, double the time when you see a mark or rival, and that is your gap.  Now hold it!  The 90-degree turn, if taken well, is a spot to gain some ground as others lose time trying to hug the tight turn.  Now it is all drive back to the Mass Ave underpass.  Same drill as outbound; carry the momentum down the hill and power up and out keep the pace strong.  Once you are up and out, it is flat and fast all the way to the finish.

Before you can cross that finish line, you have two more segments to complete, including the fourth and most difficult of the course.  The long, straight stretch all the way to the Public Garden can seem infinite and is right at the spot in the race where your legs are trying to convince your mind that it isn’t worth it.  It also corresponds with the smallest crowd support on the course.  Two mental tricks can help this section turn from a grind into a place grabbing success.  One is to keep thinking one mile to go is all that remains, just a mile, drive it all the way.  Another tip is to split the straight away up into two block segments marked off by the stop lights.  Look two stop lights ahead, keep focused on that light until you get there, then look at the light two blocks up again, rinse and repeat, until you are ready for the final dash to the finish.

Right on Arlington Street, left on Boylston Street, left onto Charles Street – the mirror image of the start – is all that is left to the tape.  Don’t start your kick at the first two turns. A little pressure on the accelerator is good, but save the burst for the final straight.  Use the two turns to get mentally prepared to drive hard going into the last left as the crowd builds and the line comes into view.  The line is in sight and it is tempting to unwind right there off of Boylston Street, but a staged kick to the finish works best on this home stretch.  Third gear to the parking garage entrance, shift into fourth gear until the parking garage exit, then double clutch into fifth gear all the way through the line!

Exhilarated, exhausted and satisfied, you just crushed the Boston J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Course.  Grab a drink and a snack, watch the awards celebration and hang out trading stories of your Championship with fellow competitors.  I hope you enjoy racing this course as much as I have over the years and you have a wonderful Championship stay in Boston.