Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Running The Boston Marathon? Here Are Some Tips and Things To Do

You've done it! You've qualified for the Boston Marathon, and now your trip to the iconic race is just a few weeks away. So, what to do on your visit to the great city of Boston on this iconic weekend? I've been to this race a few times, both with and without family, and thought I would share a few tips to navigate the weekend so you can make the most of it. Just be sure to have earned it!!!

Pre-Race Weekend Tips:

  • Get to know the "T" (MBTA). Getting around Boston is pretty easy thanks to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA, aka, the "T"), a beautifully run subway system in Boston. You ride free on race day with your race bib, but I usually start the weekend by loading up a card to get around town. It's a really fast way to avoid crowds, duck under weather, and meet locals.  Definitely use to get to the Expo, Fenway, or spectate along the course. But generally you can't go wrong getting anywhere by ducking into a "T" stop.
  • Find some clothes to toss. Starting in 2014, there are no drop bags at the start of the race, so be prepared to have some clothing you are willing to donate to charity near the start line. Clean out that running drawer of unused swag, or if you don't have room to pack it, visit a Boston Goodwill or second hand store to grab a warm hoodie and sweat pants. You won't be the only one thinking this, so best to get it out of the way when you arrive. And wear that gear right up until you get to your start corral! I also find that bringing a lawn clipping-strength trash bag is always a good idea, and can quickly be made into a heat-trapping, rain protecting poncho. 
  • Plan some fun stuff. Particularly if you have kids, plan a few fun things for the weekend. One of my favorites is a Red Sox game at Fenway (your hotel concierge can help with tickets) where they always do a great job catering to the runners. History buffs will enjoy walking the Freedom Trail, although runners should be careful not to spend the whole day on their feet. If you have kids, check out the Boston Public Gardens to ride in the swan boats and visit the "Make Way for Ducklings" statues (be sure to read that book a few dozen times first!)., and get pancakes at The Paramount nearby. If your family and friends want to run, take them to the Kids Relay, register for the 5k Run on Saturday, or be sure to spectate at the Invitational Mile on Saturday.
  • Check out the Expo, but don't hang out too long. The Pre Race Boston Expo is frickin' HUGE. It could take a few hours to get through, so don't plan on hitting everything. But do check out the list of speakers and events, and come see the former winners and top elites when they speak on the panel. If it's your first Boston, allow yourself to go a little nuts with the swag, and get some for every friend or family member who came with you or was essential in getting you to the start line. Don't be shy to get a selfie or an autograph on a poster or swag - it's a nice personal touch, and may be your winter motivation someday when you are staring at a wall on your treadmill. I still have a signed poster from 9x NYC Marathon winner and world record holder Grete Weitz saying "good luck in your next 100!", and it helps me get through those last few intervals. Best day is Saturday morning, when you can get your number and then watch the High School and Elite athletes run the Invitational Mile. It might be the only day you get a size Medium Boston Marathon shirt, for the record. 
  • Hit the North End for some carb loading. The North End is the casual Italian district of Boston, with plenty of great carb-heavy restaurants. You'll find it full of runners from around the world all weekend, particularly in line at Modern Pastry or Mike's Pastry, which will both rock your world with insane Italian pastries the size of your head. Well worth any wait. 
  • Skip the pre-race pasta feed. There are lots of great places to eat in Boston, and one of the many local pubs will have a better mix of locals and runners and will be far more memorable than lines for pasta on paper plates. I always worry that the pre-race pasta feed is a petri dish of viruses from around the world paired with a mass-made meal...probably not the best place to hang out before race day!
  • Drink some beer. One or two beers isn't going to ruin your race, but it will get you elbow to elbow with the friendly folks of Boston, certainly one of the most welcome communities in the USA. Many Bostonians can tell you about 20- and 30-year memories of the Marathon, so buy a pint and open your ears. I still have long-lasting friendships that started at the Beantown Pub. Cocktail fans will enjoy shooting pool at the Carrie Nation speakeasy. 
  • Point your friends to the AT&T text updates. It's super easy for your friends to follow along with text updates (see your packet on how to do this), so be sure to send them your race number and post on your social feeds how to track you. Best of all, by the time you finish and get to your hotel, your social feeds will be full of congrats!

Race Day Tips:

  • Set your alarm, get on the right bus. The buses that leave from the Boston Commons are a model of efficiency, so be sure to do your part by showing up at the right time. Yes, it might mean you hang out at the Athlete's Village for a few hours, but those who come early will get the best seats under the tents. The bus ride can take 45-60 minutes, so be sure to hit the bathroom before hand, and bring some snacks. Then introduce yourself to everyone around you - you'll be surprised at the stories! I once met this crazy guy who had run the London Marathon the day before, but hadn't heard about ultra running...he went on to win the Leadville 100m twice and set the record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in the following three years. 
  • Write your name on your arms. Even if you aren't "that kind of runner", I highly suggest you find a big black marker and write your name on your arm and legs in the largest font you can. Everyone else will, so unless you want to hear "Go, Kevin!" for the next three hours, best to give them another choice. And Bostonians will give it their all! It's amazing how much it helps. 
  • Every bib number is awesome. Boston ranks their bib numbers based on qualifying time, so it is tempting to feel your number is not as worthy when you see #415. But go ahead and ask #415 and share your story, and I bet they will be just as impressed with your number #22,106. Honestly, who worked harder to get to the start? Don't hold back, because I guarantee your story is just as impressive. Ask everyone where they qualified and what it took, and I promise you the stories will come out like crazy, and you will likely add a few bucket list races to your list in the process. 
  • Get to your corral early. Most first-timers don't realize that the start of the race is actually 0.7 miles from the Athlete Corral, and the start has three dozen port-o-potties with no lines. Begin your journey to the start line a few minutes before they call your corral, and you'll be in good shape. 
  • Drink at aid stations on the left. At roughly every mile marker, you'll have an aid station on the right, followed by an aid station on the left 100 yards later. EVERYONE rushes to the right, so avoid the pandemonium and wait a bit to take the less traveled aid station on the left. There's also a delicious caffeine-spiked Gu gel waiting at mile 21 as well. 
  • Get a kiss/hug at the Scream Tunnel (Mile 12). You'll know the moment you hit the Wellesley campus when the screaming of college girls can be heard for miles. Don't be shy, lean in and get a hug or kiss, tag as many high fives as you can, and let the power of youthful exuberance push you to a negative split. Have that camera ready for the selfie and GO FOR IT! It will give you a great energy boost for the second half. 
  • Get a beer at Heartbreak Hill (Mile 21). If you're running for fun, be sure to find the beer aid station at the base of Heartbreak Hill run by the local Hash House Harriers. You grab a cup of beer, and they grab the rest and join you...super fun!
  • Hit the post-race massage. You'll have to ask at the finish where the post-race massage is, but it's a nice little secret that most runners don't take advantage of that is typically stashed a few blocks from the finish. The line is usually short, and a 15-minute easy massage will cut a few days off your recovery. 
  • Finish, get warm, and head to the hotel. You'll want to savor the finish area, but honestly it is best to just get back to your hotel, clean up, and take a little rest while you watch the highlights on TV. Head back into town with the finisher medal around your neck, and reap the perks at every restaurant, pub, and club. I haven't paid for a drink in nearly a decade on race day. Find me at scottdunlap [at] yahoo [dot] com, and I will let you know where I am!
Hopefully that helps you set up an epic weekend. I look forward to seeing you in Boston!

- SD


  1. Awesome stuff Scott, thanks so much for putting this together! Looking forward to my first Boston (and my first Boston 2 Big Sur), so I'll be memorizing this post before our plane lands at Logan. And speaking of Boston, your readers may be interested to check out a Q&A we just published on with Tom Grilk, Executive Director of the B.A.A.:

    Best of luck on Marathon Monday, I'll be keeping an eye out for you in Boston (bib #12539) and at Big Sur!

    1. Good stuff, Mike! I'll keep an eye out for you at both races. I'm #731 - grab me if you see me!

    2. Nice triple-digit bib, Scott... I'll look for you up front with the fast kids! ;)

  2. Scott, you're the reason I'm running Boston. I've run for many years, even done a few marathons, but it was your enthusiasm about Boston that got me convinced I needed to try and qualify for it. I failed to do so at Paris two years ago, but made it at Manchester (UK) last year with a time that also qualifies me for London next year. I would love to say hello in person in Boston in a week and a bit from now, maybe even buy you a beer afterwards. Also, if you ever decide to run London, let me know and I'll show you around!

    1. I'd love that! Send me an email when you are in Boston (scottdunlap [at] yahoo [dot] com) and we'll share a brew.

    2. Brilliant! Thank you. I'm ben [at] lspace [dot] org, for information.

    3. Excellent! I'm ben [at] lspace [dot] org if you feel like getting in touch back. My hotel's just around the corner from the Beantown Pub, so it's likely we'll be there once we've recovered!

  3. Great tips Scott (particularly the left aid station and getting to the starting corals early tips). I loved Boston the one time I ran. Grew up in Brookline and used to cheer people on at Washington Square! Have a great race!

    Charles Z.

    1. It's all about the port-o-potties with no line. Thanks CZ!

  4. Nice post..good tips! I wrote one of these on the Boston Marathon once... ha! I think I had planned on putting a bunch of my blog comments into a more detailed Boston post but that never happened. I'd definitely agree on the part about drink some beer... but Boston, oh Boston... the beer scene is disappointing if you are from the west coast and love hoppy IPAs. :) I am starting to get sad not to be back this year. I might have to get off my trails and run a marathon so I can requalify!

  5. Always look forward to you Boston post. I am not running this year but will be in town for the festivities. I am doing the Midnight Bike Ride from Hopkinton to Boston and back. Want to give it a shot!! You won't have to sit on the bus!! I'll send you a note when I am around and maybe we can have a beer. Good luck in the race and the weather looks dry and maybe a little warm at the end.

  6. This is a great list!! Very spot on! Especially about getting to your corral early! At my first Boston, I ducked into mine about 1 min before the start and that is only because I ran from Athlete Village to the start!


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