The runners practical guide to Boston marathon weekend

You have a bib for Boston? Congratulations you made it! In this post I’ll share some practical information on how to prepare for and enjoy marathon weekend. (Updated based on 2023 race)


I was fortunate enough to have experienced Boston marathon runners as travel companions to help me navigate my first Boston. Their simple tips and tricks helped reduce my stress and allowed me to get the most of my Boston marathon weekend. Hopefully I can help you do the same!

What to pack

Rule #1 of Boston has become, NEVER believe the long term forecast. Pack for everything from freezing cold wet conditions to hot and humid. This will save you rushing around on Sunday trying to find suitable race gear at the last minute that you probably have sitting at home. You won’t know what you really need to wear until you see the hourly forecast the day before the race. In 2015, the forecast called for sun, race day was rainy and windy. No-one expected the frigid, pouring rain and strong winds of 2018 (2-10C/35-50F with a 14 MPH headwind). In 2019, they sent out emails Friday warning us to prepare for conditions similar to 2018. By the time we entered the start corrals it was sunny and humid  with peak temperatures of 20C/68F hitting right around the Newton hills.PackingForMarathon

Pack for running in any possible weather and pack for hanging out at the start line in any possible weather. Consider picking up a throwaway pair of rubber boots for the athlete’s village. There are tents, but you have to walk through a field to get to the tents, and to get to the all important port-a-potties. If it rains the night before the race, or the day of the race the field can get very muddy.  Your running shoes don’t fit in the official “bag for the start village” which si the *ONLY* bag you can take through security but you can carry your racing shoes in your hands, or tie the shoelaces and hang them around your neck. Have a plan to keep your feet and running shoes dry in the event the field is wet and/or muddy.  I also recommend packing a small tube of sunscreen to bring to the start. The cancer society does have sunscreen dispensers on the walk from the start village to the corral, but they are easy to miss and if you are in wave 3 or 4 most of the dispensers may be empty. FYI, my sister pointed out that if it is sunny you are more likely to get sunburn on the right hand side because you are running the same direction the entire race (definitely true based on my 2022 race and sunburn )

When to arrive

Boston marathon hotels are crazy expensive. But, if it’s an option, its really great to arrive Friday afternoon if you can. Check the expo hours, ideally you want to have time to pick up your bib and wander the expo before it closes Friday. This allows you to explore the city, soak up the race atmosphere, and visit the race expo before it gets crazy busy!  If $ is a factor in deciding when to arrive, one option is to change hotels. Stay further out of town when you first arrive, and move to a hotel more convenient for the race on Sunday.

Why arrive early?

Quieter expo hall

If you visit the expo on Saturday you will line up just to get inside, whereas late afternoon Friday you can just walk in. Going the moment the expo opens on Friday is a bit crazy as well, lines aren’t as long as Saturday, but expect lines.

Getting a custom badge on your jacket

If you visit the fan fair outdoors on Boyleston next to Copley T station, there is a spot where you can get them to put a custom patch on your celebration jacket. It’s an iron on patch and it’s got a long line up Saturday and Sunday.  But the fan fair is open after the expo closes, so Friday evening is a great opportunity to get make your jacket one of a kind. 5 km race

Saturday morning is the Boston 5 km race, a great opportunity for friends and family who are coming to cheer you on to feel a part of marathon weekend. They get a Boston t-shirt and the 5 km course takes them across the finish line of the marathon. They get to run down Boyleston! (if you stop to take a selfie at the marathon finish line (about the 4km mark, during the 5 km please move to the side first so other runners do not crash into you).  Join friends and family for the 5 km or just cheer them on.  The 5 km race will sell out, so register early.

Cannolis, Clam chowdah & Boston Cream pie

CannoliAll famous local foods you should try, but not food you generally want to eat the day before you run a marathon.

Time to explore the city

Downtown Boston is very pedestrian friendly. Take a stroll around Boston Commons. Follow the Freedom trail and check out the Granary burying ground famous graveyards, the Faneuil Hall marketplace, Paul Revere’s house, and so much more. It’s easy to accidentally spend too much time on your feet. If you arrive early you can explore on Saturday and put your feet up Sunday. The New England Aquarium is also a fun stop and runner’s of a certain age may want to visit Cheers for a photo op on the edge of Boston Common ( you will get to know Boston Common well on race weekend!).  If you have teenagers with you, you can pretend to be cool by taking them to Bodega which is also around the corner from the Mapparium which is kind of cool as well.

How to get around

You do NOT want to be driving around downtown Boston. If you are driving, find a parking lot, park the car, and don’t drive it again until it’s time to leave town. I strongly recommend you research prices and locations ahead of time, because you can pay crazy amounts for parking in downtown Boston!  Monday is a holiday, but our parking garage still charged us the weekday rate on Monday which was 3X the weekend rate. If you are flying into Logan airport, you can take public transit into downtown from the airport, or take a taxi, Lyft or Uber. I do not recommend renting a car. You will pay more for parking than the rental and downtown Boston is a maze!

Public transit

The easiest way to get around is to use the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority).  I recommend picking up a 1 day or 7 day pass. You can buy these at the fare stations ticket machines. having a pass is a good way to cut down on your walking. Save your energy for race day. If you have a pass, it’s easier to just hop on the train, even if it’s just 1 or 2 stops.

  • The stop closest to the race expo is the Hynes Convention Centre on the Green line.
  • Copley station on the Green line is closest to the finish line but is closed on race day. It’s also a bit confusing because on race weekend with various events going on sometimes you can’t easily cross Boyleston and once you exit Copley station you are committed to one side of the street or the other (i.e. you can’t just go underground to cross the street).
  • Arlington station is the closest station to the finish line on race day.
  • Park St station is on the red line and takes you to Boston Commons which is very convenient for getting on the buses race day, but budget a solid 45 minutes if you have to check a bag before boarding the buses and you are getting off at Park Street because you have to cross the road which has the buses loading and that is a controlled crossing that gets really backed up with runners. If you are getting off at Park Street race morning and have to check a bag, I recommend NOT walking on the path at the edge of the park, but instead go on the sidewalk of Boyleston on the other side of the street.


As I mentioned above, downtown Boston is very pedestrian friendly.  You can just follow the Freedom trail and see all sorts of cool sights!

Blue Bikes

They have rental bikes in Boston as well. I would NOT want to drive these around downtown, but, wonderful for a cycle along the Charlestown river if you want to head towards MIT and Harvard to watch the rowers and sailboats.

What can I do Sunday when I want to explore without walking too much?

Boat tours

Harbour tours are a great way to explore while staying off your feet.

Free ferry ride

USSConstitutionThe Charlestown Ferry is part of the public transit system. That means if you have a transit pass, you can ride the ferry for free. It will take you from the dock next to the aquarium over the long wharf where you can visit the Charlestown navy yard. Free admission, but, remember to bring government issued ID, and you have to go through airport-style security, so don’t bring a backpack with anything like a pocket knife.  Liquids are okay, but otherwise just assume anything they would not allow as carry-on for a flight is not allowed, and there are no lockers to store your bags while you tour. You can check out the USS Constitution, (first set sail in 1797!) and the World War II destroyer the USS Cassin Young. Then you can walk back to the ferry and ride back to downtown. Just keep an eye on the ferry schedule, the last ferry leaves around 5:30 PM or so.

Bus tours

I know a lot of runners do Hop On/Hop Off bus tours the day before a race to explore. We have never bothered to do this in Boston because walking and Public transit can so easily get you to so many sites.

Segway tours

I haven’t done any Segway tours, but might be a fun way to explore downtown.

Where should I stay?

Near the finish

It is pretty awesome to stay walking distance from the finish line, or should I say staggering distance from the finish line. But you will pay for the privilege! You also need to book early. The finish area hotels start booking rooms for race weekend in May, and may be sold out by June!  Many of them have reasonable cancellation policies so you may just want to book one of the pricy hotels and cancel later if you change your mind (but make sure you read the cancellation policies!). The other advantage to staying in this area is walking distance from the finish equals walking distance from the shuttle buses to Hopkinton Monday morning. But since Boston starts relatively late as marathons go, it’s not that much hassle to take transit to Boston Commons race day to catch the shuttle. Just make sure to give yourself extra time if you are checking a bag. Bag check is in the finish area, the shuttle buses are in the middle of Boston Common.

If you are sharing a room with another runner, read all the small print, and consider calling the hotel if you are hoping to have two beds.  My sister and I have had to share a Queen bed two years in a row. Manageable for two sisters, but maybe a little awkward if you are just sharing a room with someone else from your running club. This year we tried changing hotels to get two beds, but, when we arrived we were told that was “based on availability” and ended up once again in a room with only one Queen sized bed.  We managed to jam a cot into the room, but next year we will continue our hunt for a finish area hotel where we can guarantee a room with two beds.

Further away but on the public transit route

Public transit is free after the race. My hotel was at the far end of Boston Common. It was cold and raining. I was exhausted. So, I just stumbled into Arlington station (tough yes that does mean walking down stairs :)) wrapped in my mylar blanket (I did not check a bag) and got off at Park St station, 50 meters from my hotel. Even though there was a steady stream of runners and their families boarding, it did not take too long to get on a train.  So if you can handle the ride you could stay further away from the finish line. This will save you money, and get you a bigger room. My sister and I stayed out by the airport in 2021 and were able to take the blue line in to catch the buses. In 2022 we stayed out in Quincy on the red line, it was a bit further out than the airport and we got off at Park Street race morning and did not give ourselves as much time as we should have to do gear check so were a bit rushed because we had to get all the way across the Commons to check our gear and walk back again. Other than that Quincy worked out pretty well, we were able to get a decent sized hotel room at a reasonable rate. The year my family came to cheer me on, we stayed near the 22 mile mark close to the Chestnut Hill reservoir, a short walk from the Green line. We were able to book it for a reasonable price only a month before the race.  When considering hotels further out, it’s good to know the Green line is the slowest of the train lines, 5 stops on the green line will take considerably longer than 5 stops on the red or blue line.  You often have to wait longer for your train on the green line as well because it splits to 5 different destinations and you may have to wait for the right train. But Boston starts late enough in the day that even taking all that into account, it’s quite manageable to stay on any of the train lines and take the train in on race day with enough time to drop off your gear check and get to the buses.


As of 2022, Airbnb is still allowed in Boston, the city has not had any sort of crackdown.  I am always a little nervous about Airbnb for marathons, ever since I booked one for the Chicago marathon and it was cancelled on me 2 months before the race leaving me to scramble and find a new place to stay. But, I have had many excellent stays at Airbnb.  There were a lot of panicked marathon runners who had their AirBnB cancel in 2022 because the hosts realized they could cancel, re-post and charge more money.  Of course some runners had no problems at all. It just depends on how much you trust your AirBnB host.

The Race Expo

There are a lot of good booths and vendors at the Boston race expo. But! It is crazy crowded on the weekend, especially on Saturday.  You will see a line around the block just to get into the building. In 2023, they changed the rules for what vendors were allowed at the expo and this had a drastic affect on what you could buy at the expo. An interesting side effect was the addition of pop-ups… all the usual expo vendors set up pop up stores in various areas near the expo, if you pop by the marathon sports on Boyleston and go up to their outside booth they have a map showing you where all the pop up stores are. It’s a little inconvenient having to walk all over the place to see what everyone has, but it’s also kind of fun and spreads out the crowds a bit. Some of the pop-ups host events as well like shake out runs or meet n greets with elite runners.

Another strange side effect of the new expo rules was that Maurten was the only booth selling gels at the expo and they ran out of gels by Saturday afternoon.  Caffeinated ran out first partly because all us Canadians can’t buy them in Canada (caffeine in them is high enough that sports stores can’t sell them as they fall into a different food category), as a result Canadians often stock up at race expos when we race in the U.S.

Buying the “Boston Jacket”

Boston marathon jackets

Boston marathon jackets

If you have the pleasure of running another Boston marathon in the future, make sure you bring your old jacket to wear around on race weekend. I love playing spot the oldest Boston jacket.

In 2023, the official Adidas Boston marathon gear store in the expo was a crowded, miserable chaotic zoo for much of the weekend. They were sold out of XXS, XS Women’s and Men’s L within an hour of the expo opening and the lines… the lines were ridiculous (my sister has run 17 Boston marathons, this was the worst she has EVER seen). The crowds trying to look at the gear were so bad you just wanted to leave!

All this is a long way of saying, there’s lots of cool official and unofficial gear, hoodies, t-shirts, pint glasses, stickers, souvenir sandals from Oofo, hats, gloves, shorts, tights, socks. But if you get to the expo and it’s a crowded mess! move on to the rest of the expo and then go to the fan expo or marathon sports, or if you were smart enough to order what you wanted take a moment to congratulate yourself that you are not caught up in that madness. I used to spend lots of time and money in that store at the expo, and next year, if it’s anything like 2023 I’m skipping it completely. For the first time ever I will buy the jacket online ahead of time (I could resell a women’s XS online if I have to later if worst case I don’t run) and for browsing the shirts and hoodies I will just go to the official outdoor store at the fan expo instead.

The poster/ Wall of names

They used to give out posters with everyone’s name on them, but sadly this appears to be a thing of the past, but when you enter the race expo look to the left as you enter there is usually a big wall of names there where you can find your name and take your picture.

Shoe shopping

I usually do some serious shoe shopping in Boston  because there is no state tax on running shoes in Massachusetts and vendors you usually have 10-15% off shoes at the expo.  Many shoe vendors produce a special Boston marathon edition shoe, but sadly those are never right for my feet. But it’s a great chance to try on different brands of shoes with product representatives on hand who know the product. This is much easier to do on Friday when it is less busy and they still have all the sizes in stock. UPDATE for 2023 they changed the rules about who could be at the expo, so only Adidas had shoes for sale in the expo, you had to go to the pop-up stores to try on different shoes at different stores. So if you know what you want you can find it on race weekend and likely get a decent price for it, but browsing multiple brands and shoes is no easier here than any other big city. Makes me sad.Buying the “Boston Jacket”

If you have the pleasure of running another Boston marathon in the future, make sure you bring your old jacket to wear around on race weekend. I love playing spot the oldest Boston jacket.

Where do I find pasta Sunday night?

The North End of Boston is the Italian district. Make reservations if you want to eat there Saturday or Sunday. You won’t be the only marathon runner looking for pasta. You may want to find an Italian restaurant outside the North End instead.

Another option is the race pasta dinner. You do need to secure tickets ahead of time, you will see details in the emails from the BAA as we get closer to race weekend.

If you like beer, of course you have to have a pint of the 26.2 Sam Adams with your dinner Sunday or Monday. (If it comes in a 26.2 glass, ask the staff if you can keep the glass :))

Shakeout run

ChartestonRiverRunIf you flew or drove to Boston, you may want to go for a run to loosen up.  There are two popular routes downtown:  Boston Commons, and the Charles river paths.  This year I am 90% sure we passed Shalane Flanagan running the other way along the Charles, and in 2016 we met Meb walking down Boyleston after our morning run.  If you run along the Charles river, do keep an eye out for wheelchair racers, they move a LOT faster than the runners and can come up quickly behind you.

beachrunIf you want a change of pace, consider taking the Blue line out to Revere beach near the airport, you can get there on the Blue line. There is a nice path alongside the beach, though the day we went the sand was hard enough we were able to actually run on the beach itself as well. A nice change from the river.

Photo ops

FinishlineIf you are running your first Boston you probably want some pictures to commemorate the occasion. There are lots of backdrops in the expo. I also recommend taking a picture at the finish line. Boyleston is closed around the finish line Sunday afternoon so you can go get a picture.  You will not be alone, but all the runners are very courteous and take turns posing next to the big Boston logo painted on the ground or with the finish line sign in the background. Check out the fan fair as well, sometimes they have some fun photo ops. In 2021 they had a lego version of the Boston Marathon trophy for photo ops.


BostonStrongThere will be many tributes to the 2013 Boston bombing. They used to have crocheted blue and yellow flowers on the lamp posts where the two bombs exploded. They now have permanent memorials. You will see pots of daffodils and signs with the phrase #BostonStrong. These are all in tribute to 2013 Boston.

Gear check and getting to the buses

Remember Copley T station is closed on race day, so you will likely get off at  Arlington (Green line closest), Hynes Convention Centre, (Green line next closest) or Park St. (red line but takes longer than you think to walk to gear check because you have to cross the road where buses load which is a controlled crossing on race day). Gear check is very efficient but is ONLY available at the finish line BEFORE your board the bus. THERE IS NO GEAR CHECK AT THE START AREA.  Forgive the all caps. They state this clearly in the pre-race information but we always meet at least one runner who thinks they can check a bag at the start line, so just want to make that crystal clear. They have lines of school buses at the finish line on race day morning where you can drop off your bib. Look at your bib color – white, blue, red, yellow. all the buses for each color are together (two of the bib colors will be on a cross street off Boyleston).  Each school bus has signs clearly indicating which bib numbers go where. there are lots of volunteers to take the bags.  There are also some port-a-potties around the gear check buses as well with reasonably short lines.

Boarding the buses

If you checked a bag, when you walk to the buses, go along the sidewalk opposite Boston Commons, do NOT walk up the path along the edge of Boston commons.  We made that mistake in 2022 and got caught in a massive backlog of runners waiting to cross the street and as a result what we thought was plenty of time to get to the start ending up being just enough time to get to the start (they were calling our wave as we arrived in the athletes village).  You might consider going to bus loading on the far side of the park (the side where the Cheers bar is located) the security lines are shorter there. If you are NOT checking a bag, Park St or Arlington are the closest T stations to the bus loading. From Park St you can walk straight to the security in the middle of the commons that is the shortest line. You are ONLY allowed to bring the official start village bag to the start. My sister was carrying her race shoes in a clear bag and she had to take the shoes out of the bag and leave the extra bag behind, even though all she had in the clear bag was the shoes.  one of the reasons I love using a bathrobe from a thrift shop as my pre-race clothing to wear to the start is it has pockets I can stuff with gloves, bagel, pre-race gel etc… in addition to my official start area bag. In 2023, they did not allow you through security until about 10 minutes before the official time to bus load for your wave, so there is no point in arriving super early and thinking oh I’ll just catch a bus with an earlier wave. Also important to note there are no port-a-potties outside security in the commons, so you won’t have easy access to a bathroom until buses are loading for your wave.

Enjoy yourself!

Take a step back and soak it all in. Boston is a special race. It’s hard to have *fun* running a marathon, but hopefully this post will help you relax and have fun marathon weekend.

If you are super stoked about Boston and want more Boston marathon related posts, check out

This is your Brain, This is your brain on Boston

Boston marathon treadmill settings

Other running related posts including comparisons of Boston vs the Chicago and New York marathons.


2 responses to this post.

  1. […] out my runners page for other running related posts include race reports for Boston and a Practical Guide to Boston Marathon weekend to help you plan your trip to the […]


  2. […] Since I have to train for Boston through the winter, I am driven to the treadmill far too often. I decided to try and make the most of it and provide myself with some distraction by calculating the incline over each quarter mile of the Boston marathon.   When I told a friend about this strategy, they asked for a copy of the spreadsheet, so I figured well maybe other runners would like it as well. You can also check out my post on how to make treadmill running more bearable.  And since you are likely headed to Boston, you may enjoy other Boston blog posts like the Practical Guide to Boston marathon weekend. […]


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