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The Ultimate Boston Marathon Overview, Part 1: The Weekend

15 April

The Boston Marathon by Christopher S. Penn via Flickr

Author’s Note: This is the first of three posts looking into the Boston Marathon. As a caveat, while I run Marathon Nation [link], I have run Boston four times, with the first two times hitting 3:12:xx when aiming for a sub-3:10 finish. In 2011, thanks to more fitness and this execution plan (and a great tailwind!), I managed a 3:01. In 2013, I ran a 3:06:xx.

Note: After the tragic bombings in 2013, there have been MANY changes for security purposes and logistics related to the race. Please refer directly to the official BAA website for the final word on all things related to the race. See you in Hopkinton!

The Boston Marathon is the holy grail for many marathon runners. The unique qualification system and stringent timing standards mean that only a small percentage of the marathoning population is eligible to participate. Unless you are a charity runner, your only option is to spend years getting fitter and faster…and then having the perfect race to qualify.

Once you are in, however, there is no one true path to having a great day. The Boston Marathon is also distinguished by its course: a point-to-point affair with significant hills that start at mile 17, culminating in the infamous Heartbreak Hill. Are you excited yet? Let’s dig in!

The Boston Marathon Build Up

A few registration glitches, particularly around under-estimating the number of folks who would want to participate in 2011, led to a system crash and many qualified folks not getting into the race.

Then in 2012, registration was adjusted to allow over 30,000 runners to toe the line in three distinct waves, a new approach to ease the congestion on the starting line. With the overall competitive level of the field tempered by the participation of a significant number of charity runners, event organizer face the unique challenge of moving a very disparate number of runners across the course in a short period of time.

Now in the 2014th running of the Boston Marathon on the anniversary of the 2013 bombing, one of the largest fields ever assembled will be running — including many who were unable to finish in 2013.  

The BAA has already adjusted it’s qualification standards for 2014. You can learn more about them here. In addition, eligible folks will have the change to register on a sliding-time scale based on their actual qualifying time. In other words, faster folks will be able to register sooner than their counterparts who just made the cut off. Learn more here.

Race Weekend Logistics

You have to know where you are staying and where to go. Your best bet for all your transportation and logistical guidance is the official marathon website here: For a daily breakdown of activities, you can view this simple set of planning pages here. If it’s personal planning and checklists you need, don’t forget to download our Race Planner worksheet to make the most of your pre-race planning…it really helps!

Race Expo

The Boston Expo is one of the biggest in the running world; even if you aren’t participating and need to pick up your bib number, it’s worth stopping by to rub shoulders with the elite and check out the latest and greatest products on the market. Details are below, but the main info page is here, you can get directions to the center here.

Spectator Information

The Boston Marathon is renown for its spectators. Having run three times, I can personally attest to the fact that almost every single mile of the entire course is full of cheering fans. The city loves the race, and support for the event is facilitated by a City holiday (Patriot’s Day) and a midday Yankees / Red Sox game in Fenway. In addition to the standard text message tracking, they have provided a course map as a download (here).

If your family is looking to catch a glimpse of you out on the the course and at the finish line, there are minimal options aside from renting a motorcycle and breaking a few laws. The best way is to take the D-Line out to the Woodland T stop (map here). That will put them on the course about mile 16 and after seeing you they can take the T into the finish. Alternatively they can try to pull the same feat using the C line via Cleveland Circle, but timing could be an issue as the distance is so short.

If your family and friends have a car and are doing the one-stop viewing, have them consider Wellesley Center. Just past the infamous female fanatics of the university of the same name, this little town center has restaurants, shops and ample sidewalk space for setting up and cheering.

Important Note: Make sure you have set up your end-of-day logistics as soon as possible in order to avoid any issues around getting home, etc. There are alphabetical signs on the street to facilitate pick up (remember to choose last name or first name with your fans!) as as ample downtown hotels and similar landmarks. Whatever your plan, make sure everyone is on the same page before race morning!

Race Information

There’s a ton of information on the web about Boston, but here are a few of the best links you can use to get ready.

I’ll be back next time with How Race Your Best Possible Boston.

In the meantime, download our Marathon Pace Generator Tool and more. Prepare for your best race–with your own paces!

Yes, I Want My Pace Generator!


Here’s a video of the Boston Marathon course taken in February of 2008. If you can ignore the cars, you’ll get a solid sense of how the race plays out!

>> Boston Race Course Video on YouTube here.

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