With just two more weeks to go before we head to Boston for Marathon weekend, I realized that I’ve learned quite a bit when it comes to planning logistics for this exciting weekend. I’m occasionally asked for advice on where to stay, cheer, etc. so I thought I’d share what we’ve learned. This is our third time and we’ve tweaked the way we do this weekend each year as we figure out what works best for us.
We have stayed:
2013: Downtown Boston, near the finish line
2014: Closer to the start in Milford
2015: More or less on the course in Newton
All have their pros and cons. Since we travel as a family, what is most important to us is budget and ease of navigating the course with 2 small kids.
Reservations: When Brian knows he has qualified, we make our reservations with a hotel not requiring full payment in advance and the ability to cancel if need be. This is way before the hotels start booking up after the registration opens.
Pros: Being downtown is fun as it’s near the action. You can walk to the expo easily, you are near the finish line and shuttles leave from downtown to the start line for runners on race morning.
You can get by without a rental car and it’s great for sightseeing if you are taking extra time on your trip.
Cons: Be prepared to spend a lot of money, even when booking in advance. Many downtown hotels require a minimum number of nights (we had to stay 3 nights). We paid more for our downtown hotel per night than we did for our ocean front honeymoon hotel. We had to drive out to our cheer spot and navigate our way back to the finish area.
If you are cheering a runner on, it may be difficult to navigate the course from downtown as the subways are packed and delayed and you may be limited to the finish line area.
Staying near the start or on the course
Pros: Many hotels organize shuttles for runners, dropping them off a block from the start. There is usually a fee for the hotel shuttle (we’ve seen $20-$40). Also, there is another BAA organized shuttle that picks runners up from South Street parking lot (closer to Hopkinton than downtown) and shuttles them to Hopkinton. BAA recommends you only use race organized shuttles to ensure getting to the start without any issues. Staying out of the downtown area is considerably cheaper and access to other areas of the course come with minimal logistical issues. You can spend free time visiting Hopkinton and driving the course beforehand. Staying on the course allows supporters less hassle trying to get to a cheer spot.
Cons: You may want a car if you are not staying close to a subway station. If you want to meet your runner at the finish line after cheering them on elsewhere, it can be very difficult to navigate the road closures downtown. You may not have enough time to see them finish if they are running quickly, but chances are there will not be room on the finish sideline to squeeze in hours later anyway. You are not near the downtown action and without a car you will need to rely on public transportation.
Cheering a runner on at Boston
This will be the 13th marathon I’ve cheered Brian on. I’ve done all but one of these with kids, starting with just one newborn, moving on to 2 toddlers and now a 4 and 6 year old. Most courses I will see Brian in more than one location, but with Boston, I’ve learned that one location plus the finish area is most realistic.
The past two years we’ve always been on the south side of the course in Newton around Mile 18 or so. This is an area Brian likes to see us as he’s nearing the end and tackling those hills. It gives him something to look forward to and a little boost to get to the finish. This year we will be around this area but on the north side of the course. It’s a fantastic area in the middle of a beautiful residential neighborhood. The homeowners on the course make it a party with bounce houses and BBQs, the kids bring a little money to buy lemonade from the kids’ stands.
The race starts at 10:00 but we still arrive fairly early, I’d say around 10:30-11:00. We are able to see the elites go by and also ensure we have a spot to see Brian. I hate rushing, especially with kids, so I give myself lots of time.
How do I spot Brian in a sea of runners?
I’ve never missed him go by, I’m not exactly sure how this works out so well but it does. My eyes are exhausted from darting through the crowds and keeping my kids happy at the same time.
- Plan where you will be on the course so your runner knows what side of the road to be on
- Runners can also spot you sometimes before you spot them if they know where you will be
- Sign up for text splits so you have an idea where they are and what their pace is. WARNING: This is not always in real time and is often delayed.
- Figure out your runner’s planned splits for an ETA
- If your runner carries a phone during the race, use an app like Find My Friends to track them
- Remember what they are wearing and weed everyone else out.
- When you see them: YELL YOUR ASS OFF.
Since 2013 most marathons follow strict security measures and especially Boston. Know the security rules and think about them on race day. Don’t cause anyone unnecessary suspicion. For example, bulky bags or backpacks are not allowed on the course and I now use a clear tote bag.
This leads me to what to bring on the course. Again, with two kids, it’s best to be prepared. We can be out on a course for 3 – 5 hours all said and done and that’s a lot to ask of kids.
What I carry
- A clear plastic tote bag with zipper
- Portable phone charger
- Snacks for kids (lots of them)
- Paper and pencils for kids
- iPads for kids (if we are going to be waiting for a long time) + they like to use them to take pictures on the course
- I usually have the course map on my phone, sometimes I print with estimated split times if I’m going to more than one location
- Cowbells for the kids
We don’t carry signs usually, especially now with security measures in place. I used to bring a stroller but my kids are too big now, this was great for me and them.
An older post on cheering a marathon on can be found here.
Other fun things to do over Marathon weekend
- Run the BAA 5k that takes place over the weekend. The marathoner may choose to save their legs for the more important task at hand so this is can be something for others in your group. You don’t need to qualify for the 5k, though you’ll want to be on top of registration as it sells out quickly. It’s a great race that runs over the marathon finish line. See my recap from last year here.
- See a RedSox game. We are headed to Fenway to watch a game the day before the marathon. A good way for runners to save their legs.
- Check out the start line in Hopkinton and drive some of the course afterwards. Great photo op!
- Save some time to see Boston if you’ve never been!
I didn’t get into travel to/from Boston and rental cars but we are happy to answer any questions you may have. The BAA site is full of information as well, so be sure to read everything.
Feel free to add your favorite tips in the comments too!
This post has been brought to you by the word: Navigate