When I look around at my running friends I would hardly be the person I’d point to and say “There’s your expert on the Boston Marathon”. I am privileged to count as friends people that have run Boston dozens of times. All of them can and will provide intricate details of the course, and are very helpful with race day strategies. You can also find countless on-line guides to actually running the race. But many Boston veterans have forgotten what it’s like to be a rookie there and the things a rookie might want or need to know. So in random order, here are some of the things I wish I knew last year going into my first Boston.
If you can afford it stay in town. I have a lot of running friends for whom Boston is old hat, and has become just another race in their season. Travel, lodging, and meals are done for as little money as possible and the sole focus is getting from the start to the finish and getting out of town. Hey, if that’s your thing I’m not knocking it. But if this is a new event for you, you should really enjoy the atmosphere of Boston on race weekend. I had a positively miserable race last year running-wise but I was continuously amazed by the spirit and excitement of the city and all of it’s people for the entire weekend. In other towns, “race weekend” is an inconvenience and hassle but in Boston everyone is excited for the Marathon. Perhaps a bit of this is still a sense of recovery from the bombings, but everywhere I went, people thanked me for coming, asked me how my race was, asked if I’d be coming back. It was as if I was lifted up on a pedestal just for running from Hopkinton to Boyleston street.
Leave your car home. You won’t need it. It will be expensive to park. You can get everywhere on the T or on foot. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with the T. Once you figure it out it’s pretty simple but not immediately obvious. The locals are happy we are there and will be glad to take the time to help you with tickets and point you to the right platform.
Go to Mike’s Pastry shop. It’s in the North End. Just look for the crowd when you get there. And yes: It’s that good and the line goes fast.
You can see the whole course at the expo. I assume they do this every year, but last year there was a theatre setup in the middle of the expo where they stream a loop of the course. It is very good. I watched it twice and felt like I was familiar with the course.
The expo is HUGE. Get your packet. Go checkout out the big poster with all the names and find yours, maybe hit a couple specific vendors and the video (above). You can also buy your jacket there. (If I’d have mail-ordered mine I would have gotten the wrong size). They have lots of other apparel too, all mostly overpriced as you can imagine. But focus on race day and don’t expend all your energy at the expo. You can see all that stuff on-line or elsewhere.
Prepare to walk a lot race morning . . before you ever get to the start. Depending on where your hotel is, or where you park, or what T stop you get off you have to do a lot of walking. Last year our hotel had a shuttle to take us to Boston Commons where you get on the school buses out to Hopkinton. First, they could only get so close. There are dozens of buses and they had a lot of the city streets choked. It was then necessary to walk the rest of the way to Boston Commons, several blocks more to bag drop. (Just past the finish). Then several blocks back across Boston Commons to the buses. Once there, we waited in line for a bit to get on a bus. The bus ride to Hopkinton isn’t particularly short (closer to 4o minutes than the advertised 20). Once there, there is yet more walking to the athlete’s village. From the athlete’s village it is a few more blocks around to the start. I didn’t have my Garmin on for all this but I’d assume 2-3 miles of walking before hearing the word “Go”.
The MBTA has the most useful information for getting to and from the start and finish here.
The BAA map and directions are also helpful though missing some detail.
Things to know about the Athlete’s Village.
- There are 2-3 sections of the Athlete’s Village. Don’t necessarily stop at the first one.
- They have a lot of porta potties. A lot. Still, lines form the closer to the start you get. Just give yourself enough time for that last minute pit stop.
- There are a whole bunch more porta potties on the way to the corrals. I didn’t use these so don’t know what the wait time is. But if you want to use them be ready to leave as soon as your wave is called. They are in a big lot off to the left as you get nearer the start.
- Aside from porta potties, the other thing they have a lot of is runners. Unless you’ve arranged to meet friends somewhere specific, don’t expend a lot of energy walking around trying to find people. It is nearly impossible. Find a comfy spot, spread your blanket out, sit/lay down and chill.
- You can get breakfast there. They have everything. Bagels, bananas and other fruit, Clif products, coffee, water, orange juice. This is helpful since you probably won’t start your race until mid-morning at a time you’d ordinarily be done your long run. Again, seek out the more distant breakfast and drink areas. They will be less busy especially early.
- There are tents but if it were raining no way in hell would everyone be able to fit under the tents. Be prepared if the weather is iffy. Maybe a big cheap golf umbrella or poncho, or cheap plastic rain gear you can leave behind.
- There are roving photographers. Chances are you can get your best pre-race photo ever here. Take the time to get the photo the way you want. The photographer isn’t in a hurry. If you want to take off your warm-up stuff to get your photo in racing attire, do it. They won’t mind.
- Goodwill is your friend. We all know about throw away shirts for racing, but depending on what time you get to the Athlete’s Village, you could be there a while. Go to Goodwill and buy some warm, comfortable stuff to wear while you wait, and ideally an old blanket. Don’t worry. It won’t go to waste. They have people everywhere on your way to the start to collect these things and re-donate them. Last year I had a really nice fleece jacket that I paid something like $1.80 for. I almost hated to get rid of it.
Heartbreak hill isn’t that big of a deal. Hopefully you haven’t hit race day never having done any hills. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of this hill 20 miles in to the course. Honestly, it isn’t all that bad. Just focus on good running form and be patient. But then if you haven’t run any hills in training perhaps now is a good time to panic.
The Citgo sign is a long way from the finish. Everybody talks about the damned Citgo sign and how it means you are almost at the finish. BULLSHIT. You can see that thing for miles. It’s no different than somebody yelling “You’re almost there!” when you aren’t.
The finish is crazy. For a runner it’s awesome. It is downright deafening. For your family or friends it’s gotta be nuts. I would not have any spectators in my circle try to watch from the finish and it has nothing to do with 2013. I think they’d have to get there at 5:00 in the morning to even get near where they could see. If they want to see you go by I think I’d send them out near Coolidge Corner. There was still a lot of people out that way but open space right along the course to easily see and cheer. They’d still have time to walk back and meet you by the time you get done, go through the finish chute, get your post-race food and clothes, etc. The hot tip here would be for them to be on the South side which is the same side as the family meeting area.
It’s a long way to bag pick-up. Once you cross the line your journey is not done. There is a long procession through medals, water, blanket, food, photography, and down the road to bag drop/pick-up. I don’t remember if there was any sort of changing tent. I just put on a dry shirt across from where I picked up my bag and then went off to find my wife. I think I had a towel and dry shorts in my bag but was cramping up too badly to try to change under a towel.
Family meeting areas. Perhaps this was spelled out somewhere but if it was I missed it. The family meeting area is divided up alphabetically. If you knew this, it would be fairly easy to find your family there. Also, AT&T provides booths with plenty of cell phones to call your family or friends. (See map for locations). Of course, they have to be listening or looking for your call. Also, there were a ton of vendors giving out lots of free food samples on Stuart street of the meeting area. Most of this was better than the food in the official food bag.
Make sure you family is paying attention to their phone! It’s noisy, and crowded. They aren’t going to hear it ring. Trust me. ‘Nuff said.
The T is free. Yes they DO let you and your family on to the T for free after the race. You hear this rumored but the BAA’s official vague statement is that race participants are responsible for the legal use of public transportation. But reality is, they will let you on with your race medal. It’s a couple blocks to the Back Bay station from the family meeting area.
Go to Sam Adams and on to Doyles. Sam Adams is fun. They give you a brewery tour. (Yawn.) But then have a pretty fun tasting and give runners a commemorative glass. This is one of many special privileges your bib garners around town post-race. That is all well and good, but be sure to time your visit so you can go to Doyle’s for lunch. Doyle’s is an Irish Pub not far from Sam Adams. They offer a free trolley ride to and from the brewery. Honestly, that trolley ride was the absolute non-running highlight of our visit to Boston. The driver was the most fun guy I’ve ever met and we were all sorry when the ride was over. Apparently, he also offers a Boston tour that makes it’s first stop at a local liquor retailer. I need to look into this this year. Oh and Doyle’s definitely had good food. The trolley ride was icing on the cake.
There are many other things to do around the city after the race. Walking around town makes a nice recovery day.
Please feel free to review my posts from last year. You can choose to ignore my whining about my poor performance in the actual race but I’ll include the links here just the same. I hope these tips are helpful and you have a tremendously fun experience at your first Boston Marathon!