Running the Harvard Stadium Stairs

by Dean
(Somerville, MA, USA)

Harvard Stadium (a view of the field)

Harvard Stadium (a view of the field)

Will Running the Harvard Stadium Stairs Help Me in Running Marathons?

I've had a bunch of friends invite me to go run the stairs at Harvard Stadium with them, but I'm not sure I can do it. I heard that it is a really tough workout, and I don't want to embarrass myself. Help!

Editor Suggestion Regarding Running the Harvard Stadium Stairs

Hi Dean, thanks so much for visiting our site, and for your question! We love questions because we're hopeful that our answers will help you and lots of our other readers. :)

First, I'm super-excited that you're considering a Harvard Stadium workout. It is a great challenge, and we've definitely got some ideas on how to approach it, especially where it'll be your first time going.

Before we give you some tips for running Harvard's steps, here's a bit about the stadium.

The stadium has an interesting history. Aside from it's being used by students, staff, running and fitness enthusiasts like us, it has also been home to many of Harvard's sporting events, host to games and matches of the Boston Breakers and Boston Cannons, and was even host to a Bob Marley concert at one point!

The stadium has 37 sections of large, concrete steps, which are the seats for spectators of the events held there. Those are the steps which make many Harvard Stadium workouts as challenging as they are. Of note: there are also traditional stairs in between each of the sections, so you will have options whenever you are there for a workout.

10 Tips for Running the Harvard Stadium Stairs

1) Bring Water

No matter the season, you'll want to be appropriately hydrated for the challenge that you'll be facing. We've completed the Harvard Stadium stair workout during the heat of Summer, as well as during the frigid, Boston Winters. (If you're there during Winter, you may want to bring coffee, as well as your water!). The Stadium is exposed to the elements, including the direct sunlight (I was actually there today, and even though the Summer temps are beginning to transition, ever so slowly, to Fall temps, the sun, heat, and humidity can be unforgiving. Don't underestimate that part of it!

2) Bring Sunscreen

This one is less workout and/or fitness-related, and more just a suggestion so that you aren't dealing with both muscle soreness AND the discomfort of a sunburn! Have that SPF handy!

3) "Run Your Own Race"

This is advice that you might usually hear from other runners as you're preparing for a more traditional running event. It means that you should stick to your plan, what's realistic for you based on your experience and skill level, versus getting caught up in what the people around you are doing. Boston is home to many high-level athletes, and it is not uncommon to see many of them getting their workouts in at the stadium. Guess what...a lot of them look like "regular" people. It's taken many of them years, decades even, to have acquired the level of fitness that they have. There's no need to try to match that. Stick to your plan, your pace, and your comfort level, and you'll look forward to coming back, and to experiencing good progress over time.

4) Be Flexible in Your Path to Success

The ranges of motion required, with steps as large as those at Harvard Stadium, coupled with the total number of repetitions required to finish a section, let alone the whole Stadium, aren't what many of us are accustomed to during a typical day. With that, you may head into your first workout with a goal of completing a round of the stadium using only the big steps. That doesn't always work. We've seen lots of people tire of the big steps 5 sections in, 10 sections in, halfway through, and just about everything in-between. If and when that happens to you, don't force it. Forcing it usually results in poor form or dysfunctional movement patterns. And, those usually lead to injury, either acute or chronic. It is very similar to running long distances that you aren't used to. At some point your form would break down there, as well. And, when that happens, if you continue, you're just teaching your body how to move improperly. Be mindful of this, and switch to the smaller steps when needed. You'll thank yourself for this flexibility later on.

5) Bring a Dozen Friends

It doesn't have to be a dozen. It can be any number. But, it is always helpful to have some friends there with you, especially if they're willing to move at similar pace throughout the workout. You'll benefit from encouragement and accountability. And, the more constant discussion will distract you from the "suffering." If you're not there with some friends there are usually lots of others who will say hello, and who will distribute some much needed high fives at just the right moments.

6) Stretch & Warm-up

If you've ever been at the starting area of a 5k, 10k, marathon, or any other race, you've seen other runners stretching, running, doing strange calisthenics, and a ton of other things that fit their preferred, pre-race routine. No matter your level of experience, you'll want to get your body prepared before you really dive into the workout. Many of our clients work from specific static stretches, foam rolling, dynamic flexibility, and dynamic movement before they actually move to the meat and potatoes of the workout.

7) Mix It Up

In running workouts, we don't do the exact same workout every single day. We have targeted paces, heart rates, recovery periods, distances, times, etc. And, even though you may not plan to run the stairs daily, you'll want a few different workout options for your repeat visits.

Here are a few options:
  • Up the big stairs, down the big stairs

  • Up the big stairs, down the small stairs

  • Up the small stairs, down the small stairs

  • Up the small stairs, down the big stairs

  • Up any stairs, down any stairs, recover to a specific heart-rate

  • Up any stairs, down any stairs, short strength circuit, recover to a specific heart-rate

8) Be Sure to Recover

The stresses of running the Harvard Stadium stairs can be good for you, but we've seen many overly ambitious athletes attempt to complete their stair workouts too many days in a row, or times per week, without allowing for the rest and recovery that your body needs. Make it an aim to be smart and logical about your training, so that you'll be able to enjoy your workouts for the long term.

9) Double-check Schedules

This one is often overlooked. It isn't so much of a fitness-related tip, as it is a running calendar type suggestion. It may have only happened to us once over the last 10 years, but I remember showing up to the stadium, expecting to get in a great workout, only to find that the stadium was being used for a planned, exclusive event. We found something else that ended up being a fantastic workout, but we now know to check online to see what might be going on beforehand.

10) Stay Consistent & Progress When You're Ready

Learn to crawl before you walk, and to walk before you run. And, when you've done that, and you're ready for the next step, we've loved mixing in GORUCK's rucksacks with rucking plates. Most often, when we're doing our rucking training, you'll find us with a GR1 and a 30lb. rucking plate. Just thinking of it is making my legs shake!

So, Will Running the Harvard Stadium Stairs Improve Your Running?

As with anything, what works in a specific way for one person won't likely yield the exact same result for another. However, when you adjust training variables for your specific level, experience, needs, and goals, and follow the appropriate plan consistently, workouts like the Harvard Stadium stairs often result in improved strength and durability for runners, with carryover to their performance (and even enjoyment) when they are training or racing in their running-related activities.

Readers, Runners, and Harvard Stadium enthusiasts: What are your best suggestions for running the Harvard Stadium stairs? What are your best tips for Harvard Stadium beginners? Let us know in the comments below!

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