20 Boston Marathon Finishers Share The One Thing They Wish They Knew Before The Race

To help those running the course for the first time this year, I asked finishers of varying years past: What’s the one thing you wish you knew before running the Boston Marathon?

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I remember my first Boston Marathon. I trekked out to Coolidge Corner with some of my friends, armed with sunscreen and Nalgene bottles filled with vodka. What I witnessed was terrifying: There were faces pitted with pure exhaustion, individuals limping along the course defeatedly, and way more bloody nipples than I ever thought I’d see in one day. At one point, a group of drunk college kids tried to cross over the route and knocked over some helpless runners along the way. Later, a runner pulled over in front of our group and tried to take a gulp from my friend Eric’s boozy hydration pack as he embarrassedly stammered, “Sir, it’s alcohol.”

Pure shock and limited knowledge about endurance races aside, I felt so inspired by all of the runners making the journey from Hopkinton to Boston that after I returned to campus, I ran on a treadmill in an empty Northeastern Marino Center, watching (mostly inebriated) college kids return from their cheering posts along the course in droves outside the window.

Several years, one graduation, and two of my own marathons later, I would get my own chance to make the epic right onto Hereford Street and left on Boylston that so many runners dream of. Though I’d watched the showdown happen live for five consecutive years and knew certain things — like if I took a drink from a college kid on the course, there was an 80 percent chance it would be beer — there was still a lot I didn’t know about how the race is organized, and what exactly this complicated course entails.

To help those running the course for the first time this year, I asked finishers of varying years past: What’s the one thing you wish you knew before running the Boston Marathon?

Before the Race: What You Need To Know

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Write Your Name On Your T-Shirt
“I’ll never forget how badly I was feeling during the 2016 marathon when I heard a random guy yell my name, and then meet my gaze to tell me that I was looking great. The realization that he had picked me out from the crowd of runners propelled me forward. Hearing any spectator shout your name because you have it on your shirt — or maybe even written vertically in Sharpie on your biceps — will at the very least make you smile, and at most give you a much-needed energy boost!” —Michele Gorman

The Expo Will Be Crowded
“The day before the marathon is the worst day to go to the expo. Everyone assumes it’s like other races where you can get in no problem. The line to get into the expo snakes around the building and then snakes all around the inside as well. Go on Friday!” —Brad Castillo

Pack Throwaway Layers
“If the weather calls for a little chill in the morning, buy some clothes at goodwill to wear, then toss at the starting line! You’ll want to keep yourself warm while you wait for the race to start.” —Danielle Adler

Expect the Unexpected
“Honestly, the weather is the biggest wild card for Boston. There’s no coverage, so if it’s sunny, you bake. If it’s windy or rainy, you are also exposed.” Elizabeth Corkum

Athlete’s Village Is NOT Your Last Chance To Use A Porta Potty
“Pre-race, in Athletes Village, be sure to listen for the announcements for when your wave is being sent down to the start, and go when you’re called. It’s a long walk. There are lots more Port-A-Potties down near the corrals on the left in Colella’s parking lot for last minute visits — and they’re not too crowded! If it’s cold, you can keep your warm stuff on as you enter your corral. They have volunteers everywhere collecting throwaway clothes.” —Amy Sullivan

Wear Sunscreen
“One thing I wish I knew before running Boston was that there is zero shade on the course. If it is a sunny, cloud free day, you will cook!” —Christopher Baker

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In 2016, I made a whole crew of new friends in Athlete’s Village!

Distract Yourself By Mingling in Athlete’s Village
“Talking to strangers about why or for whom they are running can be a great distraction.” —Brian Simons

Don’t Change Your Routine the Night Before the Race
To make a long story short: don’t change your routine the night before. I’ve seen this from the other side of things, [while volunteering] in the med tent. There was a girl our age last year, and someone told her to take salt tabs the night before to help with cramping but because it was going to be so hot. Her sweat produced so much salt, bad cramping ended up happening anyway. Stick to your own plan.” —Meredith Harclerode

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If it *DOES* rain, I recommend bringing a trusted garbage pack with you to Athlete’s Village. Comfy, and chic!

Don’t Overthink the Weather
“The forecast is going to change, but whatever it is, don’t obsess over it. Remember the weather will have an effect on everyone, so no need to get upset over some rain.” —Devon Quaglietta

Make Plans To Meet Up With Friends In Advance
“If you know anyone in your wave, make plans to meet up with them in the village or ideally for the shuttle ride. Otherwise, it’s a long time hanging out alone in a crowd.” —Allegra N. Kim

Listen To the Volunteers
“I’ve volunteered at the starting line. Do not try to line up before your wave is called. No matter what the excuse, the volunteers will be looking for bib colors and only letting the appropriate bib colors through. And yes, there’s plenty of Port-A-Potties and water near the corrals. You will be waiting there for a bit, so take advantage of them!” —Maura Ward Szendey

Plan Your Morning Nutrition Carefully
“Boston has a late start, which requires specific food planning. Don’t try anything new at Athlete’s Village (where you wait before getting into a corrals). Only bring what you should be eating and/or drinking and not much more. It’s tempting to consume more than you need when passing time or anxious about the start.” —Evan Dana

On Race Morning, Be Prepared to Wait
“You’ll have a lot of wait time between getting on the bus to Hopkinton and arriving at Athlete’s Village, prior to the start time. Plan accordingly — whether it’s timing your food, or any pre-race rituals you must tend to. Know that you’ll have several hours of waiting time.” Lorna Chaulet

Manage Your Expectations
“Don’t run this one to PR, Run this one because you earned it! Sit back and have fun. Enjoy the sites and every crowd moment! This is your prize… people run marathon after marathon just to get to where you are!” —Jennifer Crevelling Wood

During the Race: What To Watch Out For

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The Starting Chute Is Narrow
“The start in Hopkinton is narrow, the most narrow of the four majors I’ve ran, for the first time I felt cramped while trying to settle into pace.” —Quaglietta

Expect Rolling Hills, Even In The First Few Miles
“I would say two things were surprising: One is that everyone tells you the first 10 miles are downhill, but that’s not true! Expect rolling hills even in the first few miles, even though it’s net negative downhill. Also, in the first half [of the race], the course runs between towns, so you experience stretches of empty road in between screaming crowds as you go through town centers. Be careful not to speed up too much as you run through the crowds!” Brittany Lewis

The Course Is Stocked With Fuel
“If you’re not sensitive to what you eat and drink on the run, no need to bring a water belt or carry your own water. There’s plenty of onlookers who have water, beer, ice, orange slices and so on along the course.” —Castillo

Don’t Go Out Too Fast
“It is a huge temptation to attempt to ‘bank’ time over the first 6 miles, but you’ll pay a big suffer penalty late in the race if you do. I’m a nine-time finisher, and the only times I’ve had strong finishes and even(ish) splits were when I somehow managed to stayed sane, calm and steady in those early miles, right at, not under, goal marathon pace. During those early miles, the crowds and the incredible excitement make it SO hard to resist a too-speedy start.” –Elizabeth St Clair

The Crowd Support Is UnReal
“Wave to the crowds. Ask them to cheer and scream; they will.” Jonathan Levitt

No, But Really. The Crowd Support is UNREAL
“High five kids with power-up or targets on their signs, kiss the girls at Wellesley college. Feed off the crowd on the hills. Shout, but don’t drink with the bros at Boston College.” —Simons

Respect the Newton Hills
“Respect the Newton Hills — it’s not just Heartbreak Hill, but also trust that that final 10K can be pretty fast if you’ve paced wisely.” Corkum

No, Really. Respect Them!
“There are little uphills after every hill in Newton (the three big ones) so you aren’t at the top when you think you are, especially after Heartbreak Hill. After that, it is slightly downhill until the next incline, so take advantage of that!” —Jill Conroy

There are Little Hills, Too
“Remember there are three other hills after the big ones: the one over the mass pike into Fenway, the one coming up from under the bridge under Mass Ave, and Hereford.” —Castillo

Look for a Boost at Mile 18
“Need a lift on the Newton Hills? Look to November Project at Mile 18, the positivity and craziness will carry you to Boston College where they’re partying harder than anyone else.”Levitt

Don’t Start Your Kick Too Early
“Mile 26 isn’t until AFTER you turned onto Boylston, so the finishing stretch is longer than it looks — but you can enjoy it if you know that. —Conroy

Post-Race, And Thoughts Overall

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Take It All In, And Enjoy It
My advice would be: TAKE IT ALL IN AND ENJOY IT. The Boston Marathon was hands down the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life and granted I wasn’t running competitively, but no where else in the world does a crowd start at the starting line and last the entire 26.2 miles. (Okay — this is probably not true, but it felt this way). At one point I completely took my music out and just ran on crowd support. Boston is a joint effort where the crowd can get you to the finish line, and with that much energy it’s awesome to take note of it and use it to your advantage and enjoy it.” Harclerode

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My typical post-race plan is to find the nearest boloco and get a burrito and milkshake!

Plan a Post-Race Meetup Spot Away From The Finish Line
“Make a plan to meet your people farther away from the finish line than the reunion site. Get your stuff, get your picture taken, and then just keep walking away from the finish. If you have friends and/or family spectating the race, it’s hard to time the meeting [especially if the race doesn’t go as planned]. And if it’s cold, you don’t want to be sitting on a curb waiting. Just keep moving towards a destination!” —Kerry Johnson

Be Proud of Yourself, No Matter What
“You can run this race for years and still not get it right, so don’t set your expectations too high. There are many events outside of your control (hello, unpredictable New England weather in April!). Don’t beat yourself up over not running the perfect race during your first official 26.2-mile trek into Boston.” —Gorman

Got more advice for runners taking on Boston for the first time in 2018? Leave it in the comments!

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Also: the best race sign I have ever received 🙂

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