boston marathon guide

Join – or watch – the legion of runners at the Boston Marathon. (Photo: Getty Images)


Run, Boston, Run! The Ultimate Guide to the Boston Marathon

Established in 1897, the Boston Marathon is the longest-running (see what we did there?) annual marathon in the world. It’s also one of the best-known road races on the international calendar. Elite marathoners and everyday athletes from around the globe consider running Boston the experience of a lifetime.

Still, a large part of what makes the Boston Marathon so special is the unmatched enthusiasm of its spectators. The event coincides with a statewide holiday, Patriots’ Day — celebrated on the third Monday in April — and most locals choose to spend their day off enjoying the traditional morning Red Sox game and lining the race course to cheer on runners.

If you find yourself “shipping up to Boston” for Marathon Monday, here’s everything you need to know.

Start by Getting the Lay of the Land

The Boston Marathon racecourse winds 26.2 miles from the commuter suburb of Hopkinton into the heart of downtown Boston, near Copley Square.

Along the route, runners get a boost from Wellesley College students’ famous “Scream Tunnel” and must conquer the challenging Heartbreak Hill in Newton. As soon as they make a right on Hereford Street, then left on Boylston Street, runners know they’re in the home stretch!

boston marathon guide
Racers whizz through the “scream tunnel.” (Photo: Getty Images)

Runners and spectators should definitely plan a pre-race visit to Boylston Street to soak up the atmosphere and see the finish line, located alongside the Boston Public Library. Runners often say that seeing it before race day is incredibly motivating.

Visit the Expo and Fan Fest

Runners, as well as the general public, are welcome to attend the Boston Marathon Expo, held at the John B. Hynes Convention Center from Friday through Sunday prior to race day. This is where runners can pick up their official numbers, as well as stock up on official swag.

Coinciding with the Expo, the newest addition to the Marathon weekend calendar is Fan Fest. During Expo hours, head to Copley Square near the finish line and enjoy live music and special guest speakers like Boston Marathon Champion Meb Keflezighi.

Where to Eat Before the Big Day

Most runners know that energy from carbohydrates fuels their performance, but proper carb-loading is about more than hitting up an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. In the days leading up to the race, runners strive for a balanced diet that incorporates high-carb foods like white rice, potatoes and bread.

Pasta lovers should head to Boston’s historically Italian North End, where spots like Bricco and Trattoria il Panino serve up some of the finest plates in town. For something a little lighter in the lead-up to the race, visit Dig Inn or Life Alive for nutritious, hearty bowls and sandwiches.

It’s Marathon Monday, So Rise and Shine!

boston marathon guide
At the starting line. (Photo: Getty Images)

When race day finally arrives, you’ll want to set an early alarm. Official buses from the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) pick up runners from Boston Common between 6:00 and 7:30 a.m., bringing them to the athletic village near the starting line in Hopkinton.

Even spectators will rise early to claim the best spots along the racecourse. Know that the Men’s and Women’s Wheelchair Divisions are the first to start, just after 9:00 a.m.

The Best Places to Watch the Boston Marathon

Spectators are a major part of the Boston Marathon experience, and the event draws as many as 100,000 people or more. If you know someone running, you can keep track of their progress (or keep tabs on your favorite celebs) using the official B.A.A. mobile app.

boston marathon guide
Crowds gather on Hereford Street. (Photo: Getty Images)

Some of the best places to watch the Boston Marathon include Framingham, Natick Town Green, and the Newton Hills, where a series of challenging elevations means runners need all the encouragement they can get. Of course, the home stretch on Boylston Street is perhaps the most exciting spot of all.

For more of a street-party vibe, head to Kenmore Square and the area around Fenway Park. Since 1960, the Boston Red Sox have hosted the only morning game on the Major League Baseball schedule on Marathon Monday, starting at 11:05 a.m.

Post-Race, Opt to Imbibe or Unwind

The infectious energy of Marathon Monday lingers long after the final runner crosses the finish line. If you can, spend an extra day or two in town after the race.

There’s a vibrant food and drink scene in Boston to explore, including live jazz brunch at The Beehive in the South End, freshly shucked oysters at Seaport hot spot Row 34, and a mouthwatering menu with creative cocktails at the stylish supper club Yvonne’s.

After the weekend’s excitement, booking an appointment at a Boston spa is just what the doctor ordered. Visit the Bliss Spa at W Boston for a relaxing body treatment or a massage, perfect for soothing those aching muscles post race.