Your journey begins with baggage check and bus pick up at Boston Common. Depending on the weather, wear appropriate throwaway layers, bring space blanket(s), water/snacks. Anything you carry onto the bus must fit into a gallon ziplock bag.
Once on the bus, it can feel like it takes forever to get to Hopkinton, so unless you’re a pre-race solitude-loving person try talking to some of the other runners. There are so many interesting stories about how people got here, it can be a great distraction.
Stay relaxed in the Athlete Village, do some stretching and visualize your training. Take strength from all the preparation you’ve put in – the hardest part of any marathon is all the time spent getting to the start line!
Head from the Athlete Village to the starting line as soon as your wave is allowed. It’s about a half-mile walk, and you don’t want to feel rushed. There are Porta Potties set up in a nearby parking lot, usually without long lines. Make one last bathroom visit, position yourself in your corral, and do whatever stretching you can to stay loose.
Hopkinton (Miles 1-2)
Founded in 1715, Hopkinton is truly historic and lives up to its motto “It All Starts Here.”
Cross the beautiful blue and yellow start line and take a moment to appreciate that YOU are here! The first mile is narrow and crowded… stay calm. The initial drop of 130 feet is broken into segments. None of them is too steep by itself, but as a whole, they can put some hurt on your quads if you’re not accustomed to downhill running. Some tips: lean slightly forward (think – align yourself perpendicular to the road); engage your core; adopt a shorter/faster cadence to land on your midfoot; relax your breathing, and don’t overextend your knees. Don’t lean back to “brake” your speed, don’t pound, and try to stay light on your feet. Stay focused to avoid tripping on people- look ahead to find an open line and stick to it. The road surface is nice and even so, there is no need to keep an eye out for potholes. Crowd support is huge – soak in the energy and enjoy!
As the road modulates into rolling terrain focus on maintaining your target pace – it’s still net downhill, you will have a lot of energy in the tank and it’s easy to speed up too much as the crowd of runners thins out. You’ll pass the first of the water/Gatorade stations here – they are positioned every mile and staggered on both sides of the road.
Ashland (Miles 3-5)
Ashland, also known as “Clocktown” (and its high school teams the “Clockers”), is a beautiful semi-rural stretch of road. The terrain is rolling, and it’s “time” to settle into your pace and enjoy some more open space, while still getting great crowd support. As you pass through Ashland center, a fun landmark to spot is the Telechron Clock Tower, which honors the town’s history as the place where the electric clock was invented. Leaving Ashland, you’ll find yourself on a noticeable uphill!
Framingham (Miles 6-8)
Framingham starts to feel more urban – in fact, it attained official “city” status two years ago, in 2018. The scenery begins to feel more industrial, and the road becomes much flatter as well as much wider. The Framingham train station encompasses a wide stretch of the road on the left, with a variety of restaurants and businesses whose patrons will be cheering you on!
Natick (Miles 9-12)
Natick, whose roots as a town stretch back to 1781, has called itself “The Home of Champions” for nearly 130 years based on its firefighters’ strength and prowess in competitions with neighboring towns. And as you run through Natick, you should feel inspired yourself!
The terrain regains a slightly rolling feel as you pass beautiful Lake Cochituate. Heading into Natick center, the road trends slightly uphill but you will be cheered by increasing crowds of spectators. Natick center is a huge boost – note the impressive Fire Department and First Congregational Church as you pass by, as well as a packed and festive Town Common.
As you leave Natick, the road continues its rolling topography and due to fatigue, you’ll probably start to feel the uphills more noticeably, especially when the crowds thin out as you pass through the last rural stretch of the course. It’s a good place to check how you’re feeling and adjust your pace if needed, as you’re almost to the halfway point with the most challenging parts of the course still ahead.
Wellesley (Miles 13-16)
Entering Wellesley, you’ll hear the famous “Scream Tunnel” of enthusiastic Wellesley College students before you see it! Wellesley has great spectator support, and flat to gradual downhill terrain as you pass through the town center, the half marathon mark, the Wellesley Free Library, and the intersection where the route changes from Rte 135 to Rte 16. You probably won’t even notice the transition as the road continues to be flat, fast, and spectator-friendly!
The first of three Marathon Sports locations on the course is in Wellesley, on your left at about mile 15. Woo Hoo! Slightly more than half-mile farther, the steepest downhill of the course will jolt you into awareness that the biggest challenges are just ahead. Do your best to run gently down through this half-mile stretch, again trying to protect your feet, ankles, knees, and quads. It’s key to avoid pounding down this hill – as you will very shortly be heading up for the first long climb of the day.
Newton( Miles 16-22)
Even before you see the “Entering Newton” town sign on your left, you know you’re there. The road starts climbing and just keeps going. It’s not the steepest hill, and there are lots of spectators cheering… but as you progress up and over the Rte 95 overpass, and then up, even more, it can be daunting. The crowd thins out, and it’s a very exposed stretch that seems to go on much longer than the .75 miles (Check ?) of its actual length. The best way to manage this stretch is to keep your eyes on the road about 10 feet in front of you, rather than at the top of the hill (which will look very far away). Try to maintain consistent effort without “redlining”, even if that requires you to slow your pace. Shorten your stride, pull your shoulders down and back, and breathe deeply to get maximum oxygen intake.
Once past the summit, you’ll have smooth sailing on a slight downhill past the beautiful Woodland Hills Country club, all the way to the Newton Firehouse. At the Firehouse, you’ll make the iconic turn onto Commonwealth Avenue, and face your second hill challenge, Firehouse Hill. Slightly steeper than the first hill, but much shorter, again avoid redlining – stay steady and focused. You’ll be cheered along by lots of fans!
After cresting Firehouse Hill, the road returns to rolling terrain. A famous landmark off to your left as you enter Newton Centre and begin your next climb is the “Young At Heart” statue, a tribute to Johnny Kelley, who finished the Boston Marathon 61 times including wins in 1935 and 1945. The statue shows Johnny Kelley the year of his first victory at age 27 holding hands with Johnny Kelley running his last Boston at age 84- definitely inspiring! Although Johnny Kelley Hill is shorter and less steep than Firehouse Hill, you’ll definitely be feeling it! Remember to save enough leg strength for the final big uphill push, Heartbreak Hill.
After a brief level stretch, Heartbreak Hill starts gradually but soon pitches up to sustained 4% incline for about a half-mile. On the plus side, Heartbreak Hill has incredible vibes, fans, posters, and race support, volunteers. Newton is the place where the original energy bar, Fig Newton, was invented. People here know a thing or two about getting energized!
And now time to switch gears from uphill to downhill! True fatigue may be setting in, so check your breathing, posture, nutrition, and hydration. Engage your core, protect your quads and visualize yourself running lightly as you pass the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and the beautiful buildings (and raucous fans) of Boston College. Although the road is downhill, tired feet and quads may make it feel like a painful slog. After a slight right onto Chestnut Hill Avenue, you’ll turn left onto Beacon Street.
Brookline (Miles 23-24)
Entering Brookline, your first sight is Cleveland Circle, packed with rowdy spectators. It’s pretty much a zoo. The Green Line C trolley starts here, and there are a number of crisscrossing tracks on the street, so it’s important to step carefully. The course follows Beacon Street on a long, mostly downhill stretch through Brookline. The scenery starts to look very “Boston” – in addition to the trolleys, you’ll see brownstones, supermarkets, restaurants, office buildings and businesses of all kinds. It’s kind of sensory overload after the suburbs of Newton.
Washington Square is another favorite spectator location, and you’ll pass the second Marathon Sports location (Brookline) to your left on the outbound side of Beacon. As you head downhill toward Coolidge Corner, look up to see your first glimpses of the famous Citgo sign in the distance. But beware – the road surface is also more “Boston” now – uneven, broken pavement, and potholes. With tired legs and feet, it’s important to be careful!
Boston (Miles 25-26.2)
The road flattens out as you enter Boston, but directly ahead is a small but challenging hill: the overpass of the Mass Pike. It can feel like Heartbreak Hill at this point in the race, and It’s challenging to muster the strength. If you have a running mantra, now is the time to put it to use! Your reward is the Mile 25 marker with the Citgo sign directly in front of you.
Heading into Kenmore Square with one mile to go, the party is on and you are Boston Strong! Red Sox fans, Boston University students, and the general throng that is Kenmore give you a preview of what lies just ahead. The road heads down under the Mass Ave overpass, and then back up to the famous final “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston” turns. There are two blocks of slight uphill (because, you know, Boston) between the turns, but with so many fans cheering you on at this point, you get the boost you need.
The left turn onto Boylston Street gives you a clear view of the finish line just a few hundred meters ahead at the Boston Public Library, the street lined with flags, crowds, and general pandemonium (including the third Marathon Sports location on your left) as you pass the Hynes Convention Center and Prudential Place. This final stretch holds so many emotions, from the dramatic sprint victories of previous races to the tragic bombing of 2013, that being there is like being part of history. As you cross the finish line, it’s a moment you’ll never forget!
Author: Susan Mix