Running (and finishing) a big race like the Boston Marathon is definitely an accomplishment. The other big part of running this race is the overwhelming support you get from spectators the entire 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston. While I have ran the Boston Marathon once, I have been a spectator a few times and it is truly an amazing experience.
As runners, we all get that rush when someone yells out our name or bib number at just the right moment when you think you’re all alone – or you’re just about to slow down your pace. We all need that nudge and that is the role of the spectators. This year, Alana and I traveled to Boston with our son and made our way to Heartbreak Hill to cheer runners as they made their way up the final big hill of the race before descending towards the finish line just under 5 miles away. It was an awesome experience that I encourage you all to explore in the years to come.
Talking with a fellow GHRC member about this year’s race, she was astonished that the crowds were so thick – even at mile 22. That’s the thing about Boston, there are hardly any places along the course where you find yourself running alone. There are definitely hot zones where masses of people will gather for the race; areas such as Hopkinton, Natick, Wellesley, Boston College, and then Kenmore Square to the Finish Line. Also, any spot that is near a T stop or major intersection; lots of people and not a lot of elbow room.
Personally, I’ve watched The Boston Marathon from a few places.
- Prior to 2013, the Starting Line was really exciting. My folks live about 1 hour west from Hopkinton which making our way to the beginning of the race really easy. You were free to move around from place to place, many of the restaurants were open for breakfast, and lots of marathon vendors would set up at Echo Lake Park (adjacent to the start line). Now, there are a lot of barricades, roads are shut off, you can easily get stuck on the wrong side of the road, and if you have a stroller – good luck. #damnterrorists
- The Finish Line is also packed, but exciting if you get a good spot. Honestly, my main goal when heading downtown was to meet Alana in the family meeting areas – which are open to the public.
- Anywhere between Miles 19 through 23 are great spots. Usually there is a lot of excitement given it’s close to Boston College and in the heart of hill country. As an added bonus, you get to cheer on your favorite runners at the point when they’re about to take on Heartbreak Hill. If you decide to go beyond the hills there is great viewing at the crest of Heartbreak Hill to Cleveland Circle. Tip: You can easily park somewhere in Newton Centre, have an early breakfast at Johnny’s and then walk the 1/2 mile to the Heartbreak Hill Running Company (about mile 19.5). Head east up to Heartbreak Hill or west to see groups coming up hills 1-3 through Newton along Commonwealth Avenue.
This year was special because we were there to cheer on our friends from the GHRC – and it was Alana’s first time as a spectator at Boston. We spotted Todd Buckingham (MojoFIT-sponsored runner) and Scotty McKeel after getting the alerts from the Boston Marathon app. It helped that when they passed the runner packs were less dense. As more runners made their way towards us, the app started delaying notifications to the point that we somehow missed Todd Losee and Steve Harden. We were happy to have spotted Val; she seemed to be on track for her goal pace and – even with the heat – and she was smiling as she went by.
It might seem overwhelming to go to a city you don’t know, navigate Boston’s crazy streets to just be a spectator, but I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed. By the end of the day, you’ll be ready for a nap.
Some ideas for spectating at the Boston Marathon.
- Try out the Start Line: Spend Sunday night in a hotel in Westborough and get some extra sleep before heading to Hopkinton. Take the spectator bus (with your friend who is driving to meet you in Boston) and skip the long wait in Athlete’s Village. You can park along South Street in Hopkinton at a few business lots.
- Make a Day of It: Yes, from sunrise to sunset. If your friends are enduring the long day, so should you. You’ll want to be prepared to root on 30K runners. There are plenty of great breakfast joints along the course. Pick your spectating spot and then figure out how to fill your day. We picked Newton Centre this year and it was an absolute blast.
- Don’t forget your sign: Yes, we almost forgot our sign. Thank goodness a CVS was stocked with great poster-making materials. If you’re in New England, CVS trumps Walgreens.
- Eating in the North End: Yes, this is something many runners look forward to every year. As a former resident of this fine city, I can tell you that finding a place to eat on that weekend can be very difficult. I recommend
- Spend an extra day in Boston: Don’t miss out on everything Boston has to offer. You can walk for miles, so you probably don’t want to do that exploring before the race. If you can swing it, spend an extra day to visit the roots of United States democracy. You won’t regret it.
- Be adventurous: Buy a day pass for the T. Head out to Cleveland Circle and watch the leaders come barrelling down from Commonwealth Ave to Beacon Street. Get back on the T and head east towards the city, stopping periodically to cheer on a few more runners. Make sure you give yourself some time to get back to Copley; the T runs a little slower on Marathon Monday.
If you decide to go next year, let me know. I’ll try to point you in the right direction.