5 Unconventional Tips for Boston Marathon Runners

The Boston Marathon is one of the most analyzed races in the world. However, in my opinion, many people tend to repeat the same tips and advice.

My goal today is to give you an insider view of things you can consider to make the most of your race weekend and Boston Marathon experience.

I am fortunate to have friends who, collectively, have run the marathon more than 60 times, and last year I did a thorough analysis not just of their habits but also interviewed and analyzed the training of 52 runners and collected tons of graphs and data about it.

In the end, all this work allowed me to run a sub-3-hour Boston Marathon on my first attempt.

I hope these tips help you as much as they helped me to have a great experience.

Here is what we will talk about:

  • Manage the Weekend 
  • How to Fuel in the Morning 
  • Athletes Village 
  • Warm-Up
  • Pacing

Tip #1 – How to Manage the Weekend

One of my main goals for marathon weekend is to be as relaxed as possible and have everything planned in advance.

And when I say relaxed, it doesn’t mean just laying around watching TV. I’m talking about a mindset to not stress out about little things and just go with the flow.

And when you travel with two kids, it’s very important to be relaxed.

The good thing about the Boston Marathon is that the race is on Monday, so you pretty much have an extra day to enjoy the weekend and be ready.

If your logistics allow it, my main tip here would be to go to the expo on Friday. There are no lines (so no unnecessary standing up), you can be in and out pretty fast and most importantly, you’ll get that part of the process out of your mind.

And if you want to buy the coveted jacket, they do sell out, so getting there on Friday pretty much guarantees you’ll get one.

And speaking about the jacket. There is an unspoken rule about it.

You DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT wear it during the weekend. Only after you have finished the race do you earn the privilege of wearing it. Wear it before at your own risk.

Then you can use Saturday to explore the city with your family or friends and then use Sunday to relax, watch TV, and mentally prepare for the race.

Three cool things you can do on Saturday are: walking the Freedom Trail—a 2.5-mile walk full of history—, going to a Red Sox game on Saturday, or visiting the Harvard grounds.

Tip #2 – Fueling for a Late Start

Being a point-to-point course and a 30,000+ participant event, the logistics are different from your regular marathon.

That means an early morning and a late start. Depending on your wave, you’ll need to be at your transportation bus between two and a half and 3 hours before your start time.

5 Unconventional Tips for Boston Marathon Runners

This will probably mess up your morning routine. And you need to plan for that.

Here is what I did and recommend.

Wake up as late as possible and get to the bus without much preparation or breakfast. Then, on the bus—it’s a 45 to 60-minute ride—you can start having your breakfast and truly wake up. This means you are eating around 2 hours before your start time.

Adjust your timing to your personal preference. What I’m trying to express here is to not rush your breakfast or fueling before you get to the buses.

This will save you a lot of energy and you’ll make the most out of your time.

Finally, I’ll have a gel around 30 minutes before my start time.

Tip #3 – The Athletes Village at the Boston Marathon

After you get down from the bus, you’ll spend around an hour in the Athletes Village. But don’t expect a Village; it’s just a field with some huge tents where you just kill time.

They have water and Gatorade over there, so you don’t need to carry it all morning.

Here are the best tips to get the most out of it. All of these tips are thanks to my Boston Marathon veteran friends.

Bring some throw-away clothes. Depending on the weather conditions, you’ll want to have some pants, a hoodie, or a rain jacket to keep you warm and cozy during this time. 

Throw-away shoes are optional. To be honest, you are not on your feet that much time. Although many runners brought an extra pair of shoes, I did not find it necessary. 

Bring something to sit or lie down on. Try to have a water-resistant blanket or layer. One of those metallic shields they give after marathons is perfect for this. 

Go to the back of the village. When you walk in, go as far as possible. It’s usually less crowded, and the port-a-potties have shorter lines.

And talking about port-a-potties.

When you exit the Athletes Village, walk to the start line. There’s a second set of port-a-potties. And if you just need to pee, wait until here. You’ll be in and out in a matter of minutes. But I wouldn’t risk it if you need it for number 2.

Tip #4 – Where and When to Warm-Up

Once you exit the Athletes’ Village it’s a 0.7-mile (1.1km) walk to the start line (where you’ll find the extra port-a-potties).

This is the perfect moment to warm-up.

You can walk the first few minutes, and then start doing an active warmup. A-skips, B-skips, leg swings, and that kind of stuff.

There’s even enough space to do some pickups, get your heart rate up, and get your body ready to race.

When you are ready, head to your corral. Here, you can discard any extra clothes you still have.

Tip #5 – Downhill and Newton Hills Pacing

This is a very controversial topic, especially because the Boston Marathon course is net downhill.

The most common advice you’ll find is to take the first part easy. Because the first 16 miles don’t have hills. And that way, you’ll save your energy and legs for the dreaded Newton Hills.

I think this is complete nonsense. And here’s why.

First, the first part is not just downhill. There are rolling hills. And if you take it too easy, your overall pace will suffer.

Second, and most importantly, in my experience—I’ve run 21 marathons with times from 2:47 to 5:00—it doesn’t matter how slow you are in the first part, after mile 20 you are going to suffer and feel it.

And it doesn’t matter how slow you run or even if you are just starting a run. Hills will SLOW YOU DOWN. It’s pure physics.

Boston is not a place to try to negative split. And I have evidence.

The fastest Boston marathon runner I personally know—2:43— recommended blasting the first half and surviving the second.

Then, look at the graph below. It’s an analysis of 80 Boston Marathon finishers. Their times and their splits and paces.

And no matter how fast or slow they were, and no matter if they ran Boston faster or slower than their qualifying time, 77 of them ran the second part slower. And 78 of them saw their pace slip during the Newton hills.

Here is what I did and recommend.

My goal was to run the marathon in under three hours, which is an average of 4:14/km (6:01/mile).

Run the first half at around 4:05/km (6:33/mile) and just let the pace naturally slow down on the hills without stressing. My pace went down to 5:20/km at the end of Heartbreak Hill.

In the end, I finished in 2:59:50.

In short, these five tips are meant to give you a new perspective on running the Boston Marathon. They are a mix of my own experience and advice from friends who know this race inside out. The aim is to help you not only run better but also enjoy the whole experience more. 

Take these tips, tweak them to fit your style, and use them to get ready for the race. Whether you’re there to beat your personal record or just to finish, these ideas can help you out. Good luck with your run in Boston!

Diego Alcubierre, a passionate runner and coach, started his journey at 26 with a 10k time of 1:06:23 and has since slashed 30 minutes off his personal record. With five running and coaching certifications, Diego is committed to sharing his expertise and proven strategies to help runners of all levels enhance their performance, stay motivated, and enjoy the journey of running. At Bannister, he simplifies complex training concepts, empowering you to achieve your running goals.