The Boston Marathon is revered by locals and long-distance runners from around the world.
Schools, as well as many offices, are closed on Marathon Monday—which is always held on Patriots Day, a state holiday. Hundreds of thousands of people flood the streets to support some 30,000 runners making the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to Boylston Street.
The historic and iconic race (Boston is the world’s oldest marathon) is often considered one of the more difficult courses. That’s why, if it’s your first Boston rodeo, it pays to be prepared.
Even though you’ve done all your training (no last-minute runs will improve your fitness at this point), you can adopt some marathon strategies and avoid rookie mistakes so you attack the race like a professional.
Here, Boston Marathon experts share their insight on what all beginners should know in order to run their best marathon.
Arriving in Boston
Even though the Boston Marathon is on a Monday, it’s best to arrive in town Thursday or Friday to take advantage of the weekend’s events. The John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo(considered one of the best in the country) hosts seminars from elite runners and Boston Marathon legends throughout the weekend and curates the latest and greatest in running gear from more than 200 companies, including Adidas, Brooks, and Asics. Just note you don’t want to wear any new gear—apparel or shoes—come race day.
The expo is also where you’ll pick up your bib. The location changes each year; but for 2018, the expo is at the Seaport World Trade Center at 200 Seaport Boulevard.
You can drop by Friday, April 13, 2018 (11a.m. to 6p.m.), Saturday, April 14 (9a.m. to 7p.m.), or Sunday, April 15 (9a.m. to 6p.m.). Make sure you’ve got photo ID and your bib pick-up card. There’s no bib pick-up on race day.
The Days Before the Race
Your training is complete, the start line is practically in sight, now what?
“The day or two before the marathon, participants should do their best to stay off their feet and relax,” says Michael McGrane, the Boston Athletic Association’s run club coach. For the record, he’s run Boston 17 times. “Working out some sore muscles and staying loose with light foam rolling and stretching is a good idea, but avoid anything intense that may cause muscle soreness or dehydration.” Staying well-hydrated (drinking lots of water, avoiding alcohol, eating light, produce-packed meals) can also help you feel mentally and physically ready to go, he notes.
If you want to run, a two- to three-mile shake out jog Saturday or Sunday followed by a light stretch can also be beneficial, says Ian Nurse, team chiropractor for the John Hancock Invited Elite Runners of the Boston Marathon and owner of Wellness in Motion Boston.
Getting to Hopkinton
“The best way for an official participant in the race to get to Hopkinton is to take our official buses from Charles Street to Hopkinton High School,” says Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray. The buses leave starting at 6:15a.m. up until 9:55a.m.
If you want to drive, you can park in the lots on South Street or at Hopkinton State Park.
And if you’re getting dropped off, it should be at South Street where you can take the shuttle buses to the Athletes’ Village (at Hopkinton High/Middle School), he says.
What to Expect the Morning of Race Day
Prep yourself for a long morning at Athletes’ Village. Buses get runners to Hopkinton a few hours before the start of the race, so it’s smart to pack layers as it might be chilly in the a.m.
“Remember, everything you bring out to Hopkinton either has to come with you along the run or gets left at the start,” Nurse says. There’s no gear check at the starting line, so bring some throwaway clothes while waiting to enter your assigned corral.
“Any discarded clothing is donated to a local charity, so it’s a good opportunity to bring some warm clothes and feel good about tossing them on race day,” McGrane says.
Also, consider bringing a big, black trash bag, Nurse adds. “It blocks the wind, keeps you warm, and is great to sit on in Athletes’ Village where the ground tends to be damp.”
Be Prepared for a Later Start Time
Athletes’ Village has light refreshments (water, Gatorade, Clif products, apples, bananas, and bagels) but it’s best to bring your own pre-race nutrition that you’re used to, McGrane says.
“Due to the late start of the race, you definitely have time for a normal breakfast early before getting on the bus, then bring a smaller meal (200 to 300 calories) to eat while in Athletes’ Village,” Nurse says. “A bagel, banana, or energy bar are great options.” (Just remember, nothing new on race day.)
How to Approach the Hills
You might know Boston for its hills (most notably Heartbreak Hill). But those who’ve run the course many times know it’s going downhill that can throw runners off—not the uphills.
“The first 4 to 5 miles of Boston are mostly downhill and as such may draw you out faster than you should be running this early in the race,” McGillivray says. That’s why it’s best to take the start slow.
Don’t weave around other runners at the beginning either. “It can be a waste of energy and result in adding distance to the 26.2 miles,” McGrane says.
His suggestion: Be patient in the first 10K and stay with the runners in your assigned corral. “As the road widens and paces change during the race, runners who reserved their energy in the first half of the marathon tend to run stronger in the Newton Hills and often finish better.”
That said, don’t freak out at the Newton Hills.
“Heartbreak Hill isn’t all that steep, but it comes at a point in the race when running over an anthill might be too much to ask,” says Jacqueline Hansen, Boston’s 1973 champion. “It can be a heartbreaker, but not if you pace yourself wisely.”
While a negative split (running faster in the second half of the marathon) is rare in Boston, it can lead to a strong finish.
Enjoy an Amazing Crowd
From the Scream Tunnel in Wellesley to the packs of people throughout the Newton Hills, Boston’s marathon crowd is part of what makes the race so special. And while taking in the crowd certainly makes 26.2 feel better, be careful not to get so excited you end up running faster than you should, says McGillivray. It’ll just cause you to crash later in the race.
Anticipate Unpredictable Weather
Some Marathon Mondays it’s rainy and cold; others it’s hot and sunny. You never know what you’re going to get in April in New England.
“I’ve learned to accept the weather on marathon day and adjust my goal time based on experience,” says McGrane.
If it’s 70 degrees, for example? He backs off his goal pace by 15 to 30 seconds a mile and focuses on simply having fun. As he puts it: “There’s always another Boston next April.”