Boston Marathon Tips

A few tips, collected over the last 15 years on running the Boston Marathon

The 2019 race guide is posted here


The Expo

The expo is big. This year’s expo is in the usual location the John B. Hynes Convention Centre , 900 Boylston. It’s just up the street from the finish line and can be reached by subway on the Green line from Hynes or Copley Station.

It can be hot and crowded.  NEW for 2019 – Digital Number Pick-up Pass

  • In the last week of March, an email will be sent to all participants that includes a PDF attachment and links to access your Digital Number Pick-Up Pass.

  • Please print or present the Digital Pass at the Boston Marathon Expo.

  • You may download the pass to your phone, print it, or add the pass to your Apple Wallet.

    You will also need photo ID so bring your passport or driver’s license You have to pick-up your own race kit in person, This rule is enforced! 

Make sure you get a copy of the free poster. It is generally handed out by the Adidas booth. It has the names of everyone running the race on it (half on one side and half on the other). Yours will be there too!

If you are looking for your Boston Jacket (it’s all about the jacket!) they tend to run out of sizes in the Adidas Boston Marathon gear at the expo so don’t wait to buy what you want.  There is a Marathon Sports Store on the street close to the finish line. They often have a better selection of sizes than the expo by the last day and the lines are shorter. You can also find the Adidas gear including the race jacket at other sports stores in the area. The Adidas gear does not go on sale before the race but lots of other stuff does late Sunday. If you are in the area its worth stopping by the expo a couple of hours before it closes.

The BBA 5k

The BBA 5K is held on Saturday at 8:00am. The start and finish are located on Charles Street between the Boston Public Gardens and Boston Common. It is sold out for 2019.  If you have friends or family coming this is a great chance for them to do something too! If you are around go cheer them on, They will be out there cheering for you on Monday.

The scholastic 1K and the B.A.A. invitational 1 mile start at noon on Saturday both events finish on the marathon finish line. Once all the events are over the finish line area is closed to traffic so everyone stops by to take photos.

The Pasta Dinner

The pasta dinner was good last time I went which was 2003!But the line is long.

NEW for 2019-  Tickets

  • All participants in the 2019 Boston Marathon may claim one complimentary ticket to the Pre-Race Dinner, presented by Blue Diamond Almond Breeze.

  • Runners will receive an email from B.A.A. Ticketing to claim their tickets and purchase additional tickets for friends and family for $30 each.

  • When claiming or purchasing your tickets, you will be able to choose a designated time slot as space remains.

    You are not allowed to bring bags to the pasta dinner. The dinner is held at Boston City Hall, Sunday from 4:00pm – 8:00pm. 


To get to the start either take the race buses from Boston Common or get someone to drive you to the drop off in Hopkinton – South Street parking lot (52 South Street, Hopkinton, MA). Buses from the South Street parking lot to the Athletes Village run from 6:00 am to 11:00 am. The traffic can get very backed up. Don’t try and get to the start line by car – they don’t let private cars get close on race morning.

The bus loading in Boston  takes place on Charles Street between the Public Garden and Boston Common. In theory you have to take the bus at the time recommended for your wave but it’s not really enforced. You do need a bib to get on the bus. There is a security pre-check in the park where they will go through bags. It’s a long ride so if in doubt use the potra-potties before you get on the bus.

With the 10 am start time you really do need to take the bus as early as recommended.

If your hotel does not provide transport or is not located on the subway you may need to drive to Boston Common to take the bus on race day.  In general, the subway does run early enough to get to the bus loading but the trains do not. There are parking  garages around Boston Common and it’s a public holiday so the rates are not outrageous.

You will get a small clear start area plastic bag that you can take on the bus to Hopkinton and into the runners village.  You will also get a finish area gear  bag in your race kit which you can check in race morning at the gear check tents on Boylston between Arlington and Berkeley. It is not beside the buses so leave yourself enough time to walk to and from the gear check.

The finish area in Boston is shaded and tends to be windy and cold. If you are not staying close to the finish line you should seriously consider checking some dry clothes.

You may be hanging around outside in Hopkinton for a long time before the start so be prepared. (In 2007 it poured down and they let the runners into the gym, that is the first and only time I have ever seen them do that.  Assume you will be outside the whole time). There are large open sided tents but there is not enough room in the tents for all runners.

The Runners Village.

There are lots of porta-potties but the lines are huge! In 2008 some runners bib numbers and chips were removed for peeing in the bushes so beware!

There is NO BAG CHECK in Hopkinton. Anything you are not wearing to run will be left behind and donated to charity.

Stuff to bring: (keep in mind that only the small start area bag is allowed on the buses ) The full list of allowed and prohibited Items can be found here.

  • Something to put between you and the ground. This is a challenge with the bag restrictions but  a heat sheet from a previous race or even a piece of clothing is better than sitting right on the ground

  • Warm clothes – Go buy something funky at Value Village and leave it behind.

  • A disposable shower cap. based on our 2018 experience. If it’s really cold and wet keeping your head warm makes the world of difference.

  • A hat and gloves –If it’s hot you need the hat to keep the sun off before the run. The dollar store is a great place to get cheap gloves and hats.

  • An extra-large garbage bag to put over your clothes in case it is wet or cold (you can also start the run in this if you need to) you may need to put it in your pocket to get it on the bus. You can also buy a disposable dollar store emergency raincoat.

  • Food and water – there are bagels, water, Gatorade and coffee available in Hopkinton. You can only bring water in containers which are less than 1 litre to the start. Backpack hydration systems are not allowed.

  • Body Glide- keep in mind you will have to leave the container behind or run to Boston with it.

  • Sunblock- for many of us this is the first singlet run of the year- with the race being point to point you get way more sun on the right hand side!

  • Two grocery bags to put over your shoes to keep them dry in case the ground is wet. Or just wear an old pair of shoes to the start and leave them behind.

  • Your race number and pins or a race belt. (you will need to show your number to get on the buses)

  • A permanent marker so you can write your name on your arm or leg. (people will call out encouragement to you by name if they can see it)- with the new rules you might want to do this before you get on the bus.

  • Us Canadians tend to have a maple leaf or flag somewhere on our running clothes as well.

Things to put in your checked bag

  • Dry clothes

  • Sandals to put on after the race (when you have that I never want to wear these shoes again feeling)

  • Money for a cab? or Subway- Subway is no longer officially free with your bib although you may still get on for free.

  • Cell phone? (there is a risk it can get lost in the baggage bus but it can be very useful for finding friends at the end) – with the new set up if you have a place to put it running with your phone may be the better option

Every year you see people looking very cold waiting in Hopkinton with nothing but the clothes they plan to run in! Don’t be that person!

Lots of people wear extra clothes to start the race and toss them in the first couple of miles. There are T-shirts, gloves and hats everywhere (some really nice ones too).

Go to the start when they tell you to. It’s not that close to the athlete’s village and there are a lot of people to get through. I ended up starting two corals back one year because I could not get to my coral before the race started.

They do check bib numbers going into the corals and they will not let you start in a faster coral. You can start in a slower coral but you can not start in the front coral of a wave unless it is your assigned coral.


The course is challenging. It’s hard to do but you have got to hold back at the beginning.

There is a lot of downhill.

Heartbreak hill is actually the last of three hills in Newton none of which are all that bad. You can find a good course guide here

All the cool things they say about Boston are true but you need to see that for yourself.

Water stops are every mile on both sides of the road starting at mile 2. The stations on each side of the road are staggered. It’s a very well run efficient course. I have never had any problems getting water or Gatorade on the course.

Each aid station has water and Lemon Lime Gatorade Endurance Formula which is NOT the same as what we get in Canada it’s a stronger formula with a higher salt content.

Energy Gel Stations

  • Three Clif Shot Energy Gel stations will be located on the course: mile 11.8 on the Wellesley town line; mile 17 in Newton; and at mile 21.5 just after Boston College.

Two caffeinated flavors (Mocha & Citrus) and two non-caffeinated flavors (Vanilla & Razz) are available.

If you have friends who want to watch you run the best bet is to have them look for you somewhere before the last few km where the crowds are very thick. It also helps to agree before the run on where they will be looking for you and which side of the road you will be on so you can look for them. It is disappointing when they stand there for hours and miss you as you go by.

Getting to the finish area from areas along the course on race day can be challenging. The trains and subways do run (the stop closest to the finish line is closed) but they can be very crowded. If you friends plan to follow you it will take them much longer than usual to get anywhere!


Take a cape even if you don’t think you need it. It gets cold fast and it takes time to find friends and family.

The family meeting area can be a zoo. We usually pick a place to meet in Boston Common with a back-up indoor spot. DO NOT PLAN TO MEET AT THE FINISH LINE only VIP’s can get near it.

If you lose a runner send another runner to look for them. They might be able to get back into the finish area with a race number and a little fast talking.

The athlete alert system is great but it can be very slow on international cell phones. It will give you the correct lap or finish time but you may get it an hour after the fact.


Go see a game at Fenway The Red Sox always play at home Marathon weekend. In fact they always play during the race. You will see people holding up the score along the race route.

Take a tour of Fenway Park Tickets must be purchased in advance.

The Freedom Trail This 2.5 mile route through historic Boston is actually painted on the sidewalk. You can do it self-guided or take a guided tour.

Hop on Hop off Bus Tours and Boston Duck Tours There are several companies that do this in Boston and it’s a great way to see the sights without walking too much before the race.

The USS Constitution The world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat. It’s free but they are serious about security you need a drivers licence or passport as ID and they do airport like security screening.

The New England Aquarium  Lots of cool stuff including a penguin colony. Central and easy to get to by subway. Warning- There are a lot of stairs! $27.95 for adults and $18.95 for children.

Boston Children’s Museum  Also central. $17 for everyone. $1 on Friday from 5pm to 9pm if you are in Boston early.

Over 21 only:

Samuel Adams Brewery Tour Only available on Saturday and you need to book in advance. It’s a bit of a trip but you can get there by subway.

Harpoon Brewery Tour. More central. Open Saturday and Sunday. You can only buy tickets the day of the tour. Tickets are $5.

Have fun!

Published by judyapiel

Runner, triathlete and coach. Owner of RunK2J, Community Events at Bushtukah. Always looking for a new travel adventure.

4 thoughts on “Boston Marathon Tips

  1. Great advice! I was debating whether I really needed to bring something to sit on at the start. Now I will bring my 10 yo NYC heat sheet. Thanks!

  2. This will be my 30th Boston and 22nd Consecutive. You really nailed it with the advice given especially in regards to the new restrictions. Running the race is the easy part; the logistics before and after are the most challenging. Thanks for the reminders and may the wind be at your back!

    1. WOW 30! I am only on 12 and with the cost of going I am not sure if I will make it to 22! Hopefully the wind will be at our backs- it has been some years!

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