by Staff Account April 11, 2019 9 min read

By Doug Kells & Samantha Johnson

This article has been prepared by two very experienced Boston Marathoners who also happen to be BlackToe Race Team Athletes and Mentors.  The advice provided has proven helpful  to our runners and we wanted to make it available to the wider community.  We have used images provided by the BAA with thanks!!

Race Week

Throwaway Clothes: You will be outside for quite a while (hours) before the race in uncertain, but hopefully cold, weather conditions. Fashion goes out the window. Before you leave, make a trip to a second-hand store or go through your closet for old clothes that you are comfortable throwing away. You want warm shirts, pants, hat and gloves that you can wear and then easily remove and throw away before the race. It’s okay to look homeless; you won’t be the only one. Clothes gathered at the start line will be donated to charity. Aside from the stuff that you personally carry during your race, you will never see anything that you bring to the start ever again. Hence, the throwaways.

In the event of rain, it will be good to have garbage bags that can keep you dry. You will be outside and there are only some areas covered by tents. Plastic bags over your shoes may be a good idea, especially if it rains or rained in the days before the race.

Race Expo

Bib Pickup: New this year! You received an email with a pdf needed for race pickup. Make sure that this file is downloaded to your device so you have quick access in case you can’t get on the interwebs while at the expo. You will also need government-issued identification to get your bib. Either a driver’s license or your passport will do, but they won’t let you pick up without some identification.

You will get one long-sleeved shirt with art of your race package. It will be in another room after you get your bib. At this point, they will also give you a bit plastic bag that you can use for shopping.  You will also use that bag for bag check on race day.

Shopping: The Expo is back at the Hynes Convention Center on Boylston. You will be able to walk there from the hotel and see the finish line on the way there and back. The race expo is quite busy, with a lot of people and a lot of vendors.  While it is not essential to be there Friday afternoon, this will be the least busy time.  Being organized here is important. Although they have plenty of stock for some items, like the official Boston jackets, other items sell out early, like the coffee cups and some sizes of some clothing items. If you have your heart set on a coffee cup, you may want to get someone that will be there early to get them for you. While it isn’t essential that you get there early, you will have better choices for shopping. The Adidas Run Base across the street from the Expo has turned into a full Adidas store but expect lots of running stuff there too. Marathon Sports is also right by the finish line on Boylston and there is a New Balance store right along there too has some good stuff as well, although it isn’t BAA branded.

Buy the hoodie! As you head into Spring and Summer, you might not be thinking of warm stuff anymore. But when it cools off again next winter, this will become a staple in your wardrobe before and after runs. Most people that we know wear this more than any other item, including the more iconic Boston Marathon jacket. This year’s version is also an attractive dark grey for boyz and lighter grey/off white for the ladies.

Race Morning

Bag Check: If you want to drop a bag, you will leave it by Boston Common close to wear the buses pick you up to take you to Hopkinton. This bag is distinct from the smaller bag that they will let you take to Hopkinton. You can take some personal items on the bus to the start in this bag, including a little blanket. If you are in a later wave, it may be advisable to bring toilet paper in case the portables run out.

Bus Departure: The buses are very well organized, so there’s no particular reason to panic about getting on the buses or getting to the race on time if you take the buses from Boston Common. Follow the schedule set out in the guide, for when to arrive for your bus. They will allow for flexibility if you want to go on an earlier bus if you are with friends that are riding earlier buses.

In Hopkinton

Hurry Up and Wait: After you get off the buses, follow the masses of crowds to the grounds behind the High School. There will be free amenities there, like coffee and Gatorade etc. Get whatever you need. Find a spot in the grass and get comfortable.

Toilets: There are plenty of portable toilets, but there will be a lot of people. When you see lines starting to form for the toilets, stand in one. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have to go right now. You will eventually, and the line isn’t going to get any shorter. You can get a bit of a shorter line by targeting the portables in the corners of the field. Once you’ve gone the first time, go the back of the line and start waiting again.

Listen Up: The announcer at the start and other prerecorded announcements will be speaking constantly. Pay attention to when they tell you your wave and corral will be allowed to start going to the start line. Be ready to go when your time comes. They will check your bib to prevent you from leaving the athletes village and heading to the start line before your corral is called. But believe it or not, when they do call you, there isn’t a lot of spare time to get to the start.

Walking to the start: Once they allow you to leave the village, you have about a mile to walk to the start. There is another big portable toilet area near the corrals, if you still need to go (again). There will signs and volunteers along the way to make sure you get in the proper corral, and volunteers collecting your throwaway clothes along the way, if you want to get rid of them before the corrals. You can also keep your throwaways on and toss them to the side at the last minute before the gun goes off.


The Boston Marathon

Have fun: You earned the right to be here, so make sure that you have fun and enjoy the atmosphere and the crowds. There will be plenty of supporters along the course. Soak it all in. You really have nothing to prove as a runner anymore.

Run course tangents: There aren’t a lot of big turns on the course but the road curves back and forth a lot. Save yourself as much distance as possible by finding the shortest line through the course, even if everyone else is staying in their lanes on the long side of the corner.

Segment 1: Downhill to Ashland

6 km: This is steep downhill, especially the first kilometer, and very crowded.  The main mistake that newcomers make is they try to get past the masses early and gain time on the downhill. You will see people off to the side of the road trying to sprint by everyone to hit their time. Do not fall into this trap. Everyone in a corral in front of you had a faster qualifying time, so don’t try to beat them in the first mile. Settle into the crowd. They will hold your pace back a bit and this is doing you a massive favour. You will be fairly close to your goal pace because of the downhill without having to work hard. If you try to push here, your quadriceps will be too fatigued for the rest of the course.

Segment 2: Rolling hills to the half

6-20 km: If you’re looking at the course profile, you’re thinking that it turns into a reasonably steady and easy downhill through here. It is an illusion. Zoom in and you see that the whole course is little uphills and little downhills. It’s net down, but there’s plenty of up. There is no such thing as flat road all day long. The hills all become one after a while.

Segment 3: What is all that screaming?!

20-24 km: Soon before the halfway, you will start hearing an increasingly loud screeching noise off in the distance that keeps getting louder and louder. It is Wellesley College. By the time you get there, it is almost deafening. If you’re trying for a fast goal time, you want to get right by. If not, you’re allowed to stop and kiss the girls. Really. Just don’t be creepy about it. Which likely means that you just keep going. Maybe some high fives.

Segment 4: Newton to Heartbreak

24-33 km: Shortly after the screaming fades and your ears stop ringing, you will be in the small town of Newton. There will be a sharp downhill to a little bridge, followed by a right turn. Now is when we start the main hills.

There are four major climbs and several false flats, so this section feels like you are climbing constantly. You may wonder if you’ve made it to Heartbreak several times. Our goal here is just to not breakdown and keep going through this section.

Segment 5: Heartbreak Hill

32-33 km: After all the hype, you will be relieved that Heartbreak Hill isn’t all that bad. At least not on its own. It likely isn’t even the worst of the hills leading out of Newton but it is the last and still a challenge. The crowds here will help you up and there is usually lots of chalk messages written on the road and a big bouncy-castle like arch to the side to help mark the spot. Just know that once you get over this spot, there’s some good downhill again.

Segment 6: Onward to Boston

33-40 km: When you peak Heartbreak Hill, there’s a small little false flat again where you can catch your breath. You will then start heading on a good downhill through Brookline and into Boston. See how you feel here. If you’re having a rough day, the downhill will help you get to the finish line and enjoy the rest of your trip. The crowds will continue to grow. And if you’re having a good day and feel good, you have a 9 km race to the finish line that feels a lot like Sporting Life. Start building pace and go for it here. If you want to get a fast time in Boston, this is the section that will give it to you.

Segment 7: Finish (Right on Hereford, left on Boylston)

40-42.2 km: The Citgo gas station sign is one mile to go and you can see it coming from a long way off. You will barely notice Fenway park as you pass an overpass. Then you’re on another long straight road and one of the few almost flat sections so you can hold a good rhythm though here.  There will be a very small underpass to go under with about a kilometer to. As soon as you come up from there, there will be a sharp right turn onto Hereford Street. You are uphill –WTF , not again? Okay, this isn’t a major hill but enough of a rise that you wish it wasn’t there, like the final bridge in Chicago but a few hundred metres further from the finish. You can check out this hill after attending the expo. It’s only a couple blocks before the left on Boylston. When you turn left, you will see the finish, still about 500 meters down the road. Enjoy the finish.


I did it: After you finish, keep limping along Boylston Street. You will get your medal here and post-race fluids and any other needs. If you need help, there will be lots of medical staff on hand with wheelchairs and whatnot to give any assistance that you might need. You will also get a good rain poncho or tinfoil sheet whether you need it or not.

Boylston Street also carries you back to the bag check if you left bags. Grab them from there. You mostly keep moving away from the finish on Boylston until you get back to Boston Common, where you got on the buses.


Family Confusion Areas: There are official family reunification areas. Avoid them if you can. Picture 10,000 runners in two city blocks wearing identical grey ponchos and then think about finding a specific family member. It’s like “Where’s Waldo” if everyone in the picture was wearing a red and white striped shirt too, and had their heads covered.


Other Resources

You may have already seen the good Facebook video posted by Runners World but if not check it out!

Also check out the new official course video posted by the BAA.  This is better than most of the other course videos on the web.

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