So in the spirit of rooting on a number of friends and acquaintances (e.g. Mike, Rose, Patrick) who are taking in their first ever Boston Marathon experience I thought that I'd share just a few things that I would have like to have known prior to touching down at Logan International:
- The trip to pick up your race kit is lickety-split ... the tour of the expo, not so much. With over 120 years to nail it down, the process of checking in to pick up your bib and associated race kit goodies is supremely painless. I bet that last year that took all of about 7 minutes, with most of that time spent riding the escalator up and down from where the massive number of volunteers were coordinating the hand-out. However, the expo is notable for its magnitude - in terms of size, number of sponsor booths, running shoe porn, etc. It's a veritable shopping experience unto itself - and while I was pre-warned to set aside about $1000 for spending there (which could be very easily blown) I decided to spend $0 ... not that I wasn't tempted however. All that being said, I tried as best as I could to see a good part of the expo but didn't want to linger too long - the introvert side got the best of me and I was out of there in a little less than an hour. If you're going to buy the custom Boston Marathon merchandise be prepared for long line-ups at the dressing rooms and the cashier tables.
- It is waaaaayyyy too easy to spend a lot of time on your feet exploring the city of Boston. This is especially true of course if you've never been there before - it's an uber-historic city with tremendous character, people, and iconic institutions (from Harvard University to Boston Common to Fenway Park). Again, it may be an entire destination trip for some, and that's cool - just be aware that if you are planning to lay down a solid race come Monday morning you could be jeopardizing your chances by covering too much ground sightseeing.
- On race morning make sure you have something comfy and dry to park yourself on while waiting for the race to start. Regardless of what corral and wave you are assigned to it's more than likely that you will have something in the ballpark of 2-3 hours of waiting in Hopkinton before lining up in the starting chutes. I brought some extra garbage bags just to lay out underneath me so that I didn't get wet sitting on morning dew-soaked grass at the Athletes' Village (basically a series of large open sports fields). Many people brought blankets and even old cushions because they spent some of that pre-race time snoozing. The Athletes' Village is well-stocked with coffee and fruit if you need a little morning pick-me-up, but other than that it's just going to be an extended period of visiting, or people-watching, or (if you're not careful) wandering around on your feet.
- Even with hundreds of porta-potties the lineups are enormous - you may want to head down early (if you can) to Grove and Main Streets where there are tons more toilets that aren't tied up. Seriously, if you wait until the last minute to get some final relief you may find yourself well back of your assigned corral or wave - and while that's technically ok, it might impede your race efforts as the BAA does a great job of sardine-packing runners who all qualified with a similar pace/time result. Since the first 3-5k of the race is fairly bunched up you might really want to be clipping along beside people who are accustomed to what your estimated finish time will be ... so if you're worried about washroom woes know that there's a plaza parking lot halfway along the trek to the starting chutes where a whackload of portable toilets are set up and various runners choose to hang out. Now there's no announcement PA system set up there (I don't think) and no extra amenities, but if instant bathroom access is your top priority this could be a great option for you.
- Whatever the weather, keep it together. The Boston Marathon has been run in all sorts of weather conditions - cold, hot, wet, dry, windy, still, you name it. All I can say is be smart and be prepared. Last year it was definitely on the warm side, and two of my pals (both much faster and smarter than I) were whammied by the heat and suffered dehydration issues in different ways.
- Sure the talk is all about Heartbreak Hill ... but what about all the other hills?!? The route to Boston is one long roller coaster ride, don't kid yourself. The so-called Heartbreak Hill is actually easy to miss - not because it's not well signed (even if unofficially so) but because it's only about a 91 ft. elevation gain. Truth be told, after you've been toiling up and down for 20 miles already, it's the 3.3% grade that makes it stand out (as the steepest of the climbs along the course) - but it's still not a monster. Just be aware that even though it's touted as a net downhill that your quads and hammies will let you know that you've been riding the waves all day long.
- The walk to South Station from the finish line is a good long way - but there are still people cheering you on! If (like me) you opt for using the MBTA to travel to and from downtown Boston just know that it's a good 30 minute walk (or more if you hobble) to South Station, the main hub for commuter trains and subways in Boston. That being said, lots of other marathon finishers will be making that trek, and all along the way you will find random strangers/Bostonians congratulating you on your outstanding accomplishments. Plenty of warm fuzzies to be had along the way, topped off by the fact that (at least last year) the MBTA offers free fares to all Boston Marathon finishers! Just have your bib and/or medal handy to show the ticketing officers and you're good to go!
Just your average Saturday afternoon at the expo ... makes mall-shopping at Christmas look like a piece of cake
That's about all of the wisdom that I have to offer - from my one year's worth of insight I hope that maybe some of this will help you in maximizing your enjoyment of the race weekend. Just remember that it's not what your results on Patriots' Day that count - it's that you made it to the start line by being determined, focused, disciplined and blessed. Soak it all in and enjoy the moment because you deserve it!