Friday, April 4, 2014

First Timer's Guide to the Boston Marathon

We're now just over two weeks away from the 118th Boston Marathon which seems like an appropriate time to start finalizing marathon weekend logistics. In this post, I'm going to give some tips for first timers (and folks who haven't done the race in a while) on everything except how to run the race--I'm planning a follow-up post on course strategy.

The Expo

Phote credit: John Hancock
I think the Boston expo is easily one of the best--if not these best--marathon expos out there. If this is your first time running, you're probably going to want to allot yourself at least an hour to get your bib, wander through all the booths, and stock up on last minute race essentials overpriced reasonably-priced souvenirs.

A note on the official shirt: Although you had to put down a size on your registration back in September, there's a t-shirt exchange. You can try on your shirt as soon as you get it and if it doesn't fit, swap it for one that does.

A note on the free posters: Each year at the expo, they hand out race posters courtesy of Adidas. The poster has the name of every marathon participant on it so it makes for a great, free souvenir. There's no reason not to take one.

A note on the now infamous jacket: Even if you've seen the official jacket online already and think it's the ugliest thing ever created don't particularly care for it, if this is your first Boston, you're probably going to want to buy it. My suggestion? Skip the terrible lines at the Adidas booth at the expo and head to Marathon Sports.  They've got a store on Boylston right by the finish but also have a number of other locations throughout the metro area.  If you sign up for their email newsletter, you can get a 15% coupon that works on the jacket too. Now you're skipping long lines, shopping local, and saving some dough.

The Day Before

Everyone has their own pre-race rituals so somethings here may be totally irrelevant to you. Oh well!

A note on brunch/breakfast: A word to the wise, this year the Sunday before the marathon is Easter. That means most restaurants have special brunch menus and have already started taking reservations. If you plan on going out to eat, I highly recommend reservations, even if you're just planning to eat at your hotel.

A note on church: I'm sure this section is irrelevant for many of you, but if you're someone who goes to church, even occasionally, today is a great day to go (and not just because it's Easter). Most churches in the Boston-area know what a big deal the marathon is and it's not uncommon to get a sermon or homily that's running-related. Many also do a special blessing of the runners. It's always a very cool experience!

Photo credit: BU News Service
A note on dinner: As with brunch, if you're not doing the B.A.A.'s pre-race dinner, you're going to want to have reservations (I'm assuming you already knew that). Many restaurants have special marathon menus with cleverly-named entrees or bottomless pasta. A couple quick recommendations:

Dante (Cambridge) - Dante serves bottomless bowls of their homemade pastas on Sunday nights. The service here is great and it tends not to be as hectic as some restaurants closer to marathon events.

DaVinci (Bay Village) - Close to the expo, DaVinci has a special pre-race menu with items like "finish line shrimp linguine" and  "Heart Breaking Chicken Pappardelle." 

Scollay Square (Beacon Hill) - If folks in your group are looking for more than red sauce Italian, Scollay Square is a decent choice. In years past they've had a special pre-marathon menu but their regular menu is wide-ranging with options that could please anyone.

Maggiano's (Back Bay) - Maggiano's may be a chain but if you're looking for giant family-sized portions of pasta, it's a great place to go. They have plenty of spaces for larger parties too which makes it great if you're traveling in a group.

The Morning Of

Photo credit: The Lakefront Trail
I'll keep this short: TAKE THE OFFICIAL TRANSPORTATION. Hopkinton is a small town with narrow streets. It gets extremely crowded on race day and if you're not on a B.A.A. vehicle (or a charity bus), there's a good chance you won't be able to get anywhere near the start.

A note on lines in the Common:  If you're taking one of the buses from the Common, don't be alarmed if you see what look like massive lines when you show up. Each bus has its own line and they move surprisingly fast. The B.A.A. may not have been running buses for all 118 years of the marathon, but they've got plenty of practice. What you'll experience is a well-oiled machine.

A note on when to catch your bus: Get to the Common at your designated time. Buses get backed up as you approach Hopkinton and you don't want to miss being called to your wave because you took a later bus. The Athlete's Village is a 5 to 10 minute walk from the start and you're probably going to want to use the bathroom too. Allow yourself plenty of time.

Okay, those are my tips for now. I'll be back with a post on course strategy as we get closer to the race.

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