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Race Reviews • April 3, 2023

7 Insider Tips to Running The Boston Marathon (And Getting To The Start Line)

Boston graphic

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What You Need To Know

The Boston Marathon is the most iconic of running races– over 125 years of blood, sweat, and tears, with so many legendary duels and battles it’s hard to rank them all. For many/most runners, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of their running goals. Often attainable, but often requiring years of work and incremental successes mixed with monumental failures, the race holds an almost mythical quality in the running world.

When runners do finally qualify (or race with a charity bib), the process of getting to Boston and to the start line becomes another marathon filled with logistics, long waits, bus drives, and more. Nobody wants to worry about those things in the lead-up to the biggest race of their life, so we decided to put together a guide that will help you get from point A to point Boylston as stress-free as possible.

boston marathon flag with cherry blossoms in the background

Running the BAA 5K on Saturday

Our Expert Guides

Meghann Featherstun
Meaghan Featherstun 3x participant, 2:56 course PR
meaghan nyc marathon
Meaghan Murray 3x participant, 2:48 course PR
ben johnson 1
Ben Johnson 2x participant, 2:44 course PR


MEAGHAN: The first time I ran the Boston Marathon was back in 2015. I was only a few years into running and couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of a major marathon. To the point that I took an Uber straight from the airport to the race expo the Sunday before the race. If you’ve ever been to the Boston Marathon expo, you know that having multiple pieces of luggage is one of the worst decisions you could ever make.

All this to say, over the course of three trips to Boston, I’ve learned the hard way how to navigate the weekend, but eventually came away with some big wins (like a 2:48 course PR). 

Hopefully these tips can help you prevent the same mistakes I did so you can have the most success on race day and feel good throughout that long journey that ends with a right on Hereford, left on Boylston.

We wanted a couple perspectives for this guide, so we also brought on Ben Johnson, Instagram personality and runner who’s run Boston twice (2021 & 2022), as well as Meghann Featherstun, registered sports dietician of Featherstone Nutrition and co-host of the Fuel For The Sole podcast, who’s run Boston four times.

Lastly, if you’re heading up to Boston, we hope to see you there– make sure you say hello!

Pre-race shakeout run in 2022

Where To Stay

MEAGHAN: If you’re reading this within a month of Boston, you’re probably screwed, and best of luck to you at whatever backwoods campground or overpriced hotel you’ll be staying at. The best place to stay is downtown Boston, near the finish line. Unless you have incredible parents who meet you in Boston, drive you down to Hopkinton on Sunday, and then drive up to the finish while you’re running Monday morning… yes, that was amazing. But, staying downtown is the next best thing.

There are a bunch of hotel options, but you really need to book early (like mid-July of the previous years) through Marathon Tours for the best deals. We typically stay at The Westin Copley Place

If you’re looking for a quieter place to stay, Cambridge is an option, which is located across the Charles River from Boston. This area is home to Harvard University and MIT, and has some nice restaurants and shops. 

Newton is another option, located just outside of Boston. That’s where the famous Heartbreak Hill is located. 

BEN: If you’re okay being even farther out of Boston, I’ve had luck staying in Waltham. It’s a small town along the course and avoids much of the hectic feel during the stay, but it will require driving into town to get your bib, and coordinating your own transport to the bus pickup for the start (more on this later).

This is a good option if you’re traveling with enthusiastic spectators that want to view the race from more than just the finish. If they have a car, being outside of town allows for stopping at a couple points along the course prior to heading down to the finish area to meet up.

Packing & Travel

MEAGHAN: It doesn’t matter if I’m packing for a long weekend or two weeks, there’s no way I can fit everything in a carry-on. With that said: ALWAYS CARRY ON YOUR RACE GEAR. 

We’ve heard plenty of lost-luggage horror stories where someone’s race kit ends up lost in the bowels of Southwest somewhere in middle America, necessitating an emergency run to Heartbreak Running Company. Nobody wants that stress on race weekend. For that reason, my race day shoes and kit can always be found with me.

In addition to my kit, I basically carry on anything I can’t replace and need for race day – like my favorite handheld. I also carry-on on Skratch Hyper-hydration for the night before and regular Skratch for race day. You can get the nice individual packets, or just store some in a plastic bag and look real sketchy. Both get through security just fine. 

Skratch Labs
Nathan Speeddraw
Nathan SpeedDraw

BEN: As Meg said, I always travel to races with a carry on and avoid the chance of a lost checked bag. Call me paranoid, but I also keep a smaller bag inside my rolling carry on. For more room and extra flair, I use the Nike Shoe Box bag which holds my race shoes and full race kit (shorts, singlet, socks, etc). If you just need to carry shoes, use a dry bag like the Ortlieb PS10. Both will keep odor locked in so it doesn’t smell up the rest of your luggage. 

It’s good to have both of these in case the overhead bins fill up and I am forced to check my bag at the gate; the smaller bag could be pulled out and put under the seat in front of me.

For my other items I make sure to pack all of my fueling and nutrition so that there is nothing new on race day (Maurten has never had an issue making it through TSA, but my extra large bag of Sour Patch Kids was checked before).

Bring layers, have rain gear, sunglasses or hat if you may run with those. If you fly more than once a year I would consider TSA PreCheck ($85 for 5 years) – it’s completely worth it to minimize waiting time at the airport.

Nike Shoe Box Bag
Ortlieb PS10

Plan Your Race Weekend

MEAGHAN: There are about a million things you can do throughout race weekend. From panel discussions to product launches to shake out runs, every running brand is there doing something cool and it really is a runner’s dream. You could do a marathon before the marathon, but you’ll probably regret it.

So, without bias, the only two events you should mark down for 2023 are:

8:00 – 10:00 AM Saturday, April 15: Believe in the Run x Featherstone Nutrition x New Balance Carb Loading Meetup (more details to come) 

BITR x Featherstone Nutrition x ASICS Shakeout Run
April 16, 2023 | 8:30AM ET
ASICS Brand House
299 Newbury St., Boston, MA 02115

Details and RSVP
crowd on newbury street in boston

Our 2022 shakeout run from the Asics Uplift House

Pro tip from Registered Sports Dietitian, Meghann Featherstun: Another often overlooked logistic that you need to figure out way before 6 p.m. Sunday night: Scope out what and where you want to eat the night before the race and make reservations if needed. Whether that’s pizza or pasta or something else that suits your race tradition, make sure you have that locked up before you find yourself scrambling for some take-out at the last minute.

Dress For Race Day

MEAGHAN: It’s not news that race day weather at the Boston Marathon is a real gamble. You could have a hot, humid 80F-degree day or a cold, rainy 35F-degree day. Hopefully, you have a general idea before you depart for Boston, but definitely bring multiple race day options. I have a few go-to’s for race day including the Tracksmith Session Speed shorts and Lane Five crop top. If it’s a cooler day, I’ll swap the crop for a Van Cortlandt singlet

It’s also important to bring some throwaways. What you race in and what’s comfortable on the bus ride to Hopkinton are likely two very different things, and there’s no bag check at Athlete’s Village. Whatever you bring you have to run with or toss. I typically pack an old pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt that I’m okay with never seeing again. I also have friends who hit up Goodwill, so you’ll be sure to see some onesies.

Tracksmith Van Cortlandt Singlet
Tracksmith Speed Session Shorts

Know Your Race Morning Logistics

MEAGHAN: Look, this is a point-to-point race with enough runners to fill up Fenway Park, so the logistics are … a lot. You’re going to do a lot of waiting, a lot of walking, and a lot of questioning your life decisions on the way to the start line (because it takes like 3 hours). Pack hydration and snacks. Then, pack extra hydration and snacks. 

If you stay near the finish, you’ll find a slew of people walking towards the buses on race morning. Expect long lines and a bag check similar to airport security, except fluids are encouraged. Do not bring any bag unless it’s the clear, plastic bag they give you because they will not let you in with anything else. 

Once you find yourself on a school bus, you get to enjoy an hour ride down to the start, which feels like a really long drive. Bring a straw and paper if you want to relive your elementary school days of spitballin’ at the driver (don’t actually do this). Along the way, you also come to the very obvious and very real realization that you have to run that same route back to Boston. Keep calm and carry on.

Last year (2022) we left our hotel at the last minute and ended up making it to Athletes’ Village with very little time to spare. I don’t recommend that (because, anxiety) but for us, it worked out really well. Instead of waiting in a 45 minute porta-potty line in Athletes Village, we walked straight to the start line (they were calling our corrals as soon as we got there). I panicked thinking we wouldn’t have a chance to use the bathrooms, but it turns out, there’s a whole section for gear drop, including bathrooms, on your walk to the start line. Yes, there’s about a half mile walk from Athletes Village to the actual start line. So if you’re in one of the first waves, skip the Athlete’s Village bathroom line and head straight to your corral. That’s the real pro tip. 

All this being said, you can find information in your Athlete Guide with the best time(s) to leave for the buses in the morning based on your bib color. Definitely follow those. 

BEN: Circling back to the “staying outside of Boston” plan. To get to the race you have to take a bus. There’s no other way. The roads all get closed within miles of the start. Almost all of the buses start in Boston, but there are a few that pick up a few miles from the start. There is very little information about this in the pamphlet, but it’s worked out for me. You’ll need a ride and drop off, but then there is a short bus ride to the start. As mentioned above there is a waiting area, and then sometime before the race they open up a road and you head up the road to another waiting area (with more bathrooms, etc). Just beyond that are the corrals and the start line. The jets fly over and then you’re off!

Pro tip from Registered Sports Dietitian, Meghann Featherstun: Don’t forget to pack snacks and hydration for the bus. Think about whatever you normally eat before your long runs and eat that 2 hours pre-race. And definitely plan to pack your own hydration – don’t count on the water and Gatorade at Athletes Village!

The Boston Marathon Race Course

MEAGHAN: Everyone tells you not to go out too fast on the downhills, which I find is pretty hard to do anyway. You will be packed in with thousands of other runners for the first several miles, which isn’t so bad since the spectators don’t show up until you’re out of Hopkinton. Don’t be fooled by the downhill start, though. You will encounter rolling hills throughout this entire course

The halfway point is located in the town of Wellesley. You’ll know when you’re approaching this point of the race from the noise alone. The Wellesley Scream Tunnel (comprised of Wellesley College students) provides a nice boost of energy right before heading into Newton, where the true hills emerge. 

There are a series of four big hills (the Newton Hills) from miles 16 through 21; the last is the infamous Heartbreak Hill. I’m told it’s the steepest of the bunch, but the three that precede it feel pretty big as well. Just keep in mind – for every up, there’s a down. 

Once you get past Heartbreak the course is mostly downhill. You’ll head through the town of Brookline and then enter the city of Boston, with the final few miles running down Commonwealth Ave and then, of course, turning right onto Hereford and left onto Boylston Street for the final stretch. The energy on Boylston is something that will stay with you for as long as you live. I promise. 

BEN: I always carry a handheld bottle with Maurten 320 mix for marathons and Boston is no exception. I’ll also normally fuel with Maurten gels after the bottle is empty, but Boston is one of the rare races that actually has Maurten on course! I will still carry 4 gels to help fill the gap from when my bottle is gone until the gel stations start showing up.

Pro tip from Registered Sports Dietitian, Meghann Featherstune: Maurten’s aren’t available until Mile 11.8, and that’s way too late to fuel! Carry at least 3 gels from the start and grab a couple at the aid stations.

Maurten Gels
Maurten 320 Mix

Boston Marathon Post-Race

MEAGHAN: Immediately after the race you will be ushered through the finish corral, which feels like it goes on forever. You can either head to the Family Meeting area or Gear Check (this can be checked before the race), before exiting the corral altogether. I didn’t run with my phone last year, and it took me a really long time to find people. So, if you’re geographically challenged like I am – I would suggest planning an exact spot to meet or carrying your phone. 

Regardless of how your day goes, you should definitely celebrate with a custom Tracksmith poster. Any finisher who stops by the Tracksmith store on Newbury Street gets a commemorative poster with a hand-stamped time, free of charge. It’s really one of the best souvenirs money can’t buy. Tracksmith does this for all major marathons (well, except Tokyo), and you can get your poster anytime after the race or the day after.

Hopefully that’s enough to iron out some of the major details. You put in the years of work to get here and this is your time to shine. Enjoy the race and the atmosphere and don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs (like the iconic Adidas celebration jacket or Tracksmith gear below) to remember this once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Good luck, we hope to see you out there!

Adidas Celebration Jacket
Tracksmith x Boston Gear

Crossing the iconic finish line

Medal-ed up!


Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. David Kearns says:

    Great info thanks guys

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meaghan nyc marathon
Meaghan Murray
Boss Lady
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Meaghan signed up for her first marathon three weeks before the race, because it was $10 more than the half she planned to run. She learned everything in running the hard way. Now a USATF & UESCA certified run coach, she loves encouraging friends to go for big goals as she continues to chase faster times. She enjoys a hot cup of coffee, a cold martini, and making bagels for friends and family.

All-time favorite shoes: Nike Alphafly Next%, New Balance SC Trainer, Asics Superblast.

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ben johnson 1
Ben Johnson
Road Reviewer
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Ben is a true running shoe enthusiast (as seen by his Instagram feed) and data geek who loves looking through data and stats related to running shoes and gear. His running continues to improve after his first marathon in June 2019 (2:52). Other hobbies include photography. Home is Minnesota.

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