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Running your first Boston Marathon? A beginner’s guide to America’s greatest race

Running the Boston Marathon is a unique and special experience. These tips can help you make the most of your first time in Beantown.

Congratulations! You’ve qualified, applied and booked your place in the Boston Marathon. There are now just days before you depart for Beantown for one of the world’s most cherished running traditions.

RELATED: Find out your 2017 Boston Marathon bib number

Now in its 121st year–first run in 1896–the Boston Marathon takes place annually on Patriot’s Day (a.k.a. Marathon Monday) in Massachusetts which this year is April 17.

The event now attracts more than 30,000 participants, most of whom first need to qualify at a previous marathon by running the B.A.A.’s tough age and gender time standards.

If you’re heading to Boston for the first time this year, here are some things to consider and some useful tips to help make the most of your experience.

Have a pre-race plan for the days before the race

Boston is a very busy place on race weekend. From the Friday before through to the Tuesday after, Boston swells as participants, their friends, families and race fans and spectators flock to the city to take in the event. As such, you can expect that hotels and other accommodations, as well as bars, restaurants, coffee shops and local haunts, are packed to capacity at most times over the course of the weekend. Even just walking around the city can seem overwhelming with all the crowds. Be prepared to wait, stand in lines and potentially change your plans due to increased demand.

You’ll hopefully have your accommodations booked months in advance but even making reservations at restaurants is highly recommended. Do some research, check out online reviews and try to secure your spot at key locations and times, namely meal times. Boston is also an amazing city with lots to see and do, but if you can, save your sightseeing for after the race or else choose activities that keep you off your feet, such as taking in the traditional Red Sox games over the weekend.


Expo responsibly

The race expos at major marathons are definitely part of the overall experience and Boston is no exception. There you’ll find every major brand, sponsor, shoe and running-related product you could imagine and in many cases, at great deals and discounts. If you are planning to shop, have an idea of what you’re looking for before you go in or else you may end up spending way more than you budgeted for.

The John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo is also where you’ll pick up your race kit including your official race bib and number–remember to bring photo I.D. and your official runner passport. The volunteers do an amazing job of treating each and every athlete as someone special and this in itself is a special and memorable part of the experience. Take a moment to thank the volunteer who gives you your bib and also stop and think about how you got to Boston, appreciating all the hard work and effort that went into getting to this point.

Given the size and appeal, many participants spend way too much time at the expo. Aim to spend no more than two-or-three hours at the expo and preferably less on Sunday. If you can, we advise you visit on Friday or Saturday and skip Sunday altogether.

Be smart on Sunday

Sunday is usually a running/race day but for Boston, is an atypical rest or “off” day. Needless to say, the final 24 hours before the race are certainly important for your racing success. You’ll want to try to stay off your feet as much as is possible, keep hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water and sports drink and also complete your carb-load–which should have started on Friday.

One of the unique traditions of Boston is the pre-race pasta dinner which is part of your race passport and free to all participants. The food is very good and portions very generous and it’s definitely worth waiting in the long and rather intimidating lines (which move much faster than they seem too).

Although getting a good night’s sleep before the race is highly unlikely (which is why it’s important to “bank” sleep in the week before), you’ll likely want to wind down and be in bed a bit earlier than normal, especially since you’ll likely be getting up very early.

Marathon Monday

For a majority of participants, you’ll begin your day by making your way to the Boston Common to board a yellow school bus to Hopkinton. As such, Marathon Monday starts very early. Depending on how early you prefer to eat breakfast, drink a cup of coffee and umm, other morning activities, you may be rising at 4-5 a.m. Be sure to have your preferred foods and drinks ready for race morning and consider the timing of your intake taking into account the later start of the race.

Boarding of the buses begins at 6 a.m. for wave one runners and continues until 8:45 a.m. Be sure to board the bus at a time that corresponds to your wave, bib number/colour. Once you get going, the trip to Hopkinton takes about an hour. Note there are no toilets on the buses so be sure you go before you board the bus.

Once you arrive in Hopkinton, you’ll walk to the Athlete’s Village which although seemingly large, gets quite crowded quite quick. Try to find a nice quiet spot and get ready to camp out awhile (at least an hour). There are plenty of toilets as well as water, Gatorade, coffee and snacks if you need them. About an hour before your wave start, runners will be called to the starting corrals which is about one mile away (consider this your warm-up). Once again, there will be toilets available on route and outside the corrals for your last-minute needs.

Once you enter the corrals, you’ll still be forced to wait up to 30 minutes or more before the race begins. May we suggest trying to relax, being positive and taking in everything about the moment. Just before the gun goes off, there are some short speeches from important organizers and officials followed by the signing of the Star Spangled Banner. Once that ends, things are about to get real.

The 42K from Hopkinton to Copley Square

The Boston Marathon is among the most unique and storied 42.2K footraces in the world. It is truly special and running it will be both a physical challenge as well as an emotional experience.

Runners after the 2015 Boston Marathon.

After the finish

Once you cross the finish line, you’ll be encouraged to keep moving through various stations where you’ll be given water, sports drink, food, refreshments and much more. Eventually you’ll pass bag check and head towards the family meeting area. It’s definitely wise to have a plan–ideally decided beforehand–as to what you plan to do immediately after the race, especially if you’re meeting others.

As is often the case, you’ll likely want/need several hours to rest, recover and relax after the race. Having some proper food and beginning to rehydrate is also essential. Eventually, you should consider going out to celebrate your accomplishment and enjoy a bit of Boston. The Boston Marathon Mile 27 – Official Post-Race Party at Fenway Park is a popular option as are any number of local bars and restaurants downtown.

The day after

While you may have surprised yourself with how well you were able to walk (okay, hobble) around after the race yesterday, you are definitely in for a shock on Tuesday.

Don’t be surprised if you can barely walk and certainly not without significant pain/discomfort. Running any marathon is going to be hard on your body, but no marathon beats you up more than Boston. Your quadriceps will likely give you the most trouble but the calves could be bad as well. Be prepared to take a lot more time to get around, but we encourage you to at least try to move about to get some bloodflow to those aching and damaged muscles. Consider a light massage in the next days and in general, you shouldn’t consider running again until the DOMS have mostly gone away.

Congratulations again on what is truly a unique and special accomplishment and we wish you the best with your post-marathon recovery in the days and weeks to follow.