After ten Boston Marathons, I’m still learning. I ran it four times as a young man, took a long time off, then ran it six times as a senior citizen. One thing I learned? Younger is better.
If this is your first Boston, you’re probably both excited and nervous, so you’re already looking around for tips and advice. Here are 10 ideas that you may not find anywhere else. Let’s take them chronologically.
- If you haven’t made travel plans yet, please don’t plan to arrive on Sunday. Get in a day early, get to the expo and get your stuff. On Sunday just take a short jog, 2-3 miles and then STAY off your feet. Odds are you’re taking a long flight. No one gets off the plane and runs a great race the next day. Indulge yourself. Don’t walk the Freedom Trail on Sunday!
- At the Expo, pick up the Boston Marathon poster at the Adidas exhibit. This poster has the names of every entrant, and yes you can find your own name. poster is free. Don't forget it. Assuming you got in on Saturday, give yourself plenty of time at the expo. It’s probably the biggest and best runners’ expo in America. Marathon merchandise is excellent, but very pricey. Just get the one or two items you really want, especially the Adidas windbreaker, about $100.
- If you are going to the Pasta Party, get there early. Don’t be discouraged by the long line – it moves rapidly. The pasta is actually fresh, hot and tasty. Be sure to thank the servers. Get your dessert early, as they tend to run out. Find a seat away from the loudspeakers. If you are making your own dinner reservations at a local restaurant, make them very early. The city is mobbed.
- Time for the shuttle bus. The Common is fairly well organized, but you need to arrive early in order to get on the bus for the ride to the Athlete's Village. Don’t listen to the The know-it-alls who nonchalantly wait for the last bus. If the weather is rainy or sunny, you want a spot under that tent. Get there on time.
- It is important to bring the proper items for the bus. At packet pickup you’ll get a 17” by 24” drawstring bag. Pack it the night before so you know what will fit. The bag is not completely safe however, so if you have money, keys, phone and other valuables, consider a small backpack with zippers and locks and put that inside the drawstring bag. Much more secure.
- I learned a trick from another runner years ago. For your time in the tent, bring two giant leaf bags from home and then on Sunday buy the Boston Globe, or scrounge up as many old newspapers as you can and bring them with you. Ball up every page of the newspapers until you fill up the bags, then tie them at the top and lay them on the ground next to each other. They make an outstanding bed to rest on while you wait, and keep your body off the cold, wet ground. Leave it there when it’s time to walk to the start. Check restrictions on what you can bring on the bus, since security restrictions have recently changed.
- Bring sunscreen. Put it on even if it's cloudy. Don't put it on your forehead directly above your eyes, as it can sting if sweat washes it down into your eyes. There is a good sunscreen called Neutrogena Ultrasheer. It contains an ingredient called "Helioplex", which is basically a stabilized version of Parsol 1789, a great broad-spectrum sunscreen. The beauty of Helioplex is that it is photo-stabilized so that it remains effective for 5 hours, which allows most of us enough time to cross the finish line on Boylston Street.
- Somehow find a way to write your name or nickname, where you’re from, or your favorite sports team on your singlet. You will be amazed at how many spectators will see it and call out to you. “Go Seahawks!” Or, “Lookin’ good Katie!” Or “Way to go Denver!” It’s a huge lift and you’ll smile every time you’re recognized. The Boston fans really get into this. Do NOT wear a NY Yankees anything!
In 1977, I ran the whole race behind a guy whose singlet said, "Arthritis: the nation's number one crippling disease.” Everybody yelled "Hey, arthritis" and "Go arthritis." I imagine he got pretty tired of being called Arthritis by the end of that race. I know I did.
- At the start, don’t go nuts. The road is very narrow and there are thousands of runners It’s net downhill for a long way, and you won’t save any time by jumping over hedges and using up a lot of energy. Let yourself go with the flow for five miles or so. A relaxed start will help you in the final miles. The other people are crazy. Don’t do what they do.
- Okay, here is the final best tip you’ll ever get. In the old days of the race the spectators knew where Heartbreak Hill was, and you are not finished with the hills until you crest it. Problem is that today the dopes will keep telling you you’re on HH and it’s really disheartening to go around a bend and come to another hill. So remember, you aren’t on HH until you see a very big tan Tudor style house with brown accents on your LEFT. When you see the house, the hills are over. Relax now and coast on home, all downhill from here. Have a great Boston!