The Expert’s On-The-Course Guide To Spectating The Boston Marathon

The Athlete's Village iconic welcome sign at the Boston Marathon start.

The Boston Marathon is just a few short weeks away. If you are a runner coming with fans in tow, you might be wondering where they can spot you out on the course. Or maybe you’re headed up to catch the elites or cheer for a friend. Either way, we’ve got you covered.

A point-to-point course that begins in the quaint town of Hopkinton, the Boston Marathon affords multiple opportunities to see runners throughout the day. Depending on your viewing priorities, you can watch all 27,000 runners pass you by, or find a certain someone in multiple locations. The key is having a plan and not flying by the seat of your pants.

Pick a spot

Chicago’s Mark Buciak, 56, will be starting his 38th consecutive Boston this year and has brought friends and family members every time. “I have a high school friend who I think has the record for a non-Bostonian with the most races spectated,” he laughs.

Buciak’s recommendation for spectating? Pick a spot and camp out for the day. “If you think about it, only two miles of the race are actually in the city, so finding transportation to many of the other spots is difficult,” he says.

While you might assume that the finish line is the best place to set up shop, Buciak says no. “It’s a madhouse there,” he says. “Even if you do see your runner, waiting for them to then get through the chute after the finish takes forever.”

Instead, he sends all his friends to the 24.5-mile marker, the location of Anthony’s Townhouse in Brookline. “Townhouses in New England are bed and breakfasts without the breakfast,” Buciak explains. “The hosts, Barbara and Arthur, welcome everyone there—you can even use the restroom.”

To get there, take the Greenline C train to the St. Mary’s stop. Buciak says you can see your runner easily through the crowds, plus you are surrounded by thousands of cheering fans. “As a runner, I love seeing my friends and family there,” he explains. “It sets me up for a great final two miles.”

While you wait for your runner to pass by, satisfy hunger at the Busy Bee restaurant right across the street from Arthur’s. “They’ve got the best blueberry pancakes in the world,” says Buciak.

Once your runner has passed by, Buciak recommends then walking the final miles back to the finish line rather than taking the crowded T back. “This approach will probably get you back around the same time that your runner has finally made it out of the finishing area,” he says.

Move around

While Buciak is a fan of the one-stop approach to spectating, others prefer to move around to catch their runners more than once. Maryland-based Nancy Burns, 63, has run Boston once herself, but has cheered on husband Bob, 64, on 10 different occasions. She has both camped out at one spot, as well as mastered the art of watching for Bob at multiple locations.

Burns says that her spectating plan has changed over the years as the race has grown in size and popularity. “Years ago, we could drive to a spot to watch and then drive back down to the finish after,” she says. “Now it’s more of an ordeal.”

Traditionally, Burns’ favorite spot is on Commonwealth Avenue around the 19or 20-mile marker, where the crowds are big but not so deep that you can’t spot your runner. “Most runners are hurting here and can use some cheering,” she says. “There is a wide median strip, porta-potties, and food kiosks, so you have everything you need.”

Over the past few years, Burns has opted to catch Bob around the 16.5-mile marker, in between the famous Wellesley wall and Newton Hills. She takes the Greenline Riverside to the Woodland Station stop and then walks about a half-mile to the course. “If your runner is moving, you can watch them here and then get back to the T to catch them again by the Prudential Center,” she says. “You have to be willing to hustle and know that you’re going to be packed in like a sardine on the train, however.”

Burns has tried various locations over the years, including Cleveland Circle at about mile 22 or so. “This was a great place to watch, but Bob couldn’t hear me over the crowds,” she says. “It’s also tough to get a good spot here unless you arrive early.”

When to head out to your spectator’s vantage point depends on your choice in locale. “I used to drive Bob to Hopkinton, then watch the start on TV before heading out to cheer, Burns says. “Now you have to get out much earlier if you want a good location.”

RELATED: Boston Marathon Spectating Tips From TV Announcer Craig Masback

Celebrate after

Regardless of your preference and approach to spectating, once the race is said and done you’ll want to rendezvous with your runner and celebrate. Burns likes to meet up with Bob at McCormick and Schmick’s in the Park Plaza hotel, just a few blocks from the finish line. “This has become a favorite meeting spot for runners from our club,” she says. “It’s easy to reach and isn’t overly crowded.”

Buciak also hits the Park Plaza right after the race for a quick celebration drink. Then he likes to clean up and head a bit further afield to the North End. “I like going to Al Dente restaurant on Salem Street,” he says. “Then it’s a short 150 steps to Bova’s Bakery. That’s the real reason I come back to Boston.”

No matter how you slice it, watching Boston is an entertaining endeavor, maybe almost as fun as running the race itself. “I encourage all runners to go watch it at least once,” Buciak says. “Run the 5K a couple days before, experience the expo, and then watch the ‘super bowl of running’ on Patriot’s Day.”

Rules of the game

Since the 2013 bombing, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) has established some guidelines for spectators along the course. If you’re going, be prepared to follow a few rules and suggestions:

  • Keep all personal items under your immediate supervision at all times.
  • Be prepared for screening points at various points along the course.
  • Do not bring or use drones along the course.
  • Spectators are encouraged to carry personal items in clear plastic bags to expedite security screenings.
  • Security discourages spectators from carrying backpacks, coolers, suitcases, large blankets, large and bulky items, and costumes.

 

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