Posts Tagged ‘Boston Marathon’

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.

ImInBoston

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” but as long as you carry them in a clear plastic bag, they will let you bring them with you on the bus and into the village. So add clear plastic garbage bags to your packing list as well!  Have a plan to keep your feet and running shoes dry in the event the field is wet and/or muddy.

When to arrive

Boston marathon hotels are crazy expensive. But, if it’s an option, its really great to arrive as early as you can. This allows you to explore the city, soak up the race atmosphere, and visit the race expo before it gets crazy busy!  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 Friday you can just walk in.

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. You can just 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!)

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.

Walking

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. 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.

AirBnB

As of 2019, 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.

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. Here’s a tip, there is a second entrance to the expo area inside the mall. It will also have a line-up but the wait is usually closer to 5 minutes instead of up to an hour at the outside entrance. I am always nervous that some year they will close the mall entrance, but so far, so good.

Bring your credit card, there are a lot of opportunities to spend money at the expo and I always seem to spend more than I had planned.

The poster

After you have your bib and make your way into the expo area, keep an eye out for people handing out rolled up posters. They print posters with the names of all the marathon runners and give them out free at the expo. A great souvenir of your first Boston to mount on the wall.

Shoe shopping

I usually do some serious shoe shopping at the race expo 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.

Buying the “Boston Jacket”

Boston marathon jackets

Boston marathon jackets

The longest line up at the race expo is the line for the store where you purchase official race gear including the famous celebration jacket. If you hate line ups, you might want to bypass it here and go buy the celebration jacket and some of the other official race merchandise at Marathon Sports stores as well. There is a Marathon sports in the mall, and another on Boyleston.  My biggest problem is that I often like the other jackets they have for sale and end up buying two jackets! Because of course you have to buy the celebration jacket. FYI, everyone wears their jacket after they finish the race and the next day. 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 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. Free with your race registration, but you have to RSVP when you get the email for the pasta dinner and post-race party. It used to have some pretty bad line ups, but a friend who went in 2019 said it has improved a lot since they started assigning time slots to the tickets.

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 Charlestown river paths.  This year I am 90% sure we passed Shalane Flanagan running the other way along the Charlestown, and in 2016 we met Meb walking down Boyleston after our morning run.  If you run along the Charlestown river, do keep an eye out for wheelchair racers, they move a LOT faster than the runners and can come up quickly behind you.

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.

 

#BostonStrong

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 are now building permanent memorials. You will see pots of daffodils and signs with the phrase #BostonStrong. These are all in tribute to 2013 Boston.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago vs Boston marathon

I had the pleasure of running the Chicago Marathon in the fall 2018 and the Boston Marathon in the spring of 2019. In this post I’ll compare the two races. I hope one day you get to run them both but if you have to choose, maybe this will help you decide.

Chicago Marathon finisher medal

Getting a bib

Lottery

One of the reasons a Boston marathon bib is such a big deal is because you cannot get a bib through a lottery.

Chicago, like New York does provide the opportunity to get a bib through a lottery, though unlike New York, you have a decent chance of getting a bib through the Chicago lottery.

in 2015, 53% of those who entered the lottery received a bib. I have a number of friends who have successfully received a bib through the lottery in the past few years. Unfortunately, you cannot submit two runners together and request that you either both get bibs or both do not get bibs (i.e.if you want to be sure the two of you run the same year the lottery doesn’t provide that option). But! Chicago does provide the option of deferring your bib for one year. So if you get a bib and your friend does not, then you could defer your bib for one year (for a fee) and see if your friend gets in the lottery the next year.

Race # Entries received # Entries selected % selected
Chicago 2015 54,800 29,044 53%

Time Qualifier

racetimerAlmost all the Boston marathon runners qualify through a time system

Chicago also has a guaranteed entry for those who meet qualifying time standards

Here are the 2020 qualifying standards for Chicago and Boston

Age group Boston Men* Chicago Men Boston Women* Chicago Women
18-29 3:00 3:10 3:30 3:30
30-34 3:00 3:15 3:30 3:45
35-39 3:05 3:15 3:35 3:45
40-44 3:10 3:25 3:40 3:55
45-49 3:20 3:25 3:50 3:55
50-54 3:25 3:40 3:55 4:10
55-59 3:35 3:40 4:05 4:10
60-64 3:50 4:00 4:20 4:35
65-69 4:05 4:00 4:35 4:35
70-74 4:20 4:30 4:50 5:10
75-79 4:35 4:30 5:05 5:10
80+ 4:50 5:00 5:20 5:45

*Unfortunately running your BQ (Boston Qualifier time) may not in fact guarantee you entry into Boston. Boston caps the number of bibs provided to time qualifiers. If too many runners register with a qualifying time, they reduce the qualifying times until they have the correct number of runners. For example in 2014, runners had to qualify with a time 1 minute and 2 seconds faster than their BQ times to get a bib in Boston and the cut off times are getting progressively harder.

2014 cutoff 1:38

2015 cutoff 1:02

2016 cutoff 2:28

2017 cutoff 2:09

2018 cutoff 3:23

2019 cutoff 4:52

Because the cutoff time was almost 5 minutes in 2019  they dropped all the qualifying times by 5 minutes for 2020.

Charity Entry

charityBoth races provide the opportunity to fundraise for an official race charity. to get a guaranteed entry to the race, but Boston sets the bar high for charity entries.

Chicago 2019 fundraising targets start at $1250 if you claim a charity entry during the application window and $1750 USD if you claim a charity entry after the application window (i.e. if you decide to enter the lottery, and don’t make it then decide to do a charity entry because you didn’t get in through the lottery, you have to fundraise more $)

Boston 2019 fundraising targets started at $5000 USD.

Local races

shamrockChicago provide the option to help local runners get a guaranteed entry by participating in local races.

Chicago has the Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Shamrock Shuffle 8k four or more times in the past 10 years and have signed up for the next Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee a spot in the Chicago marathon.

Boston does not provide any sort of run x races get a guaranteed bib for Boston.

Tour Entry

If you really want to race Chicago or Boston and you have the financial means to do so you can purchase a tour package that includes a bib from one of the official marathon tour partners. Check the race website for a current list of official tour partners. There are a small number of entries available through tour groups for Boston outside the US and Canada but they sell out fast.

Cancelled Entry

If you get into Chicago and are not going to run the race, you can cancel/defer your entry once. You lose the registration fee but it gives you a guaranteed entry the following year.

Boston does not provide the option of deferring. Which might account for the people you see on the start line walking or wearing crutches 🙂

In Summary

Are you noticing a pattern here? Suffice to say it is MUCH easier to get a bib for Chicago than a bib for Boston.

Weather

Fall races are typically more predictable weather than spring races, but, Chicago is generally hotter weather than Boston and had a few years where heat was a major factor for runners (80F+) including the very infamous 2007 Chicago marathon when they had to shut down the course.

Here’s a breakdown comparing the weather at the two races the past 10 years. Since Chicago is not a point to point race whatever the wind direction you will spend about half of it as a tailwind and half of it as a tailwind.

YEAR Boston weather Boston Wind Chicago weather Chicago Wind
2010 49-55F Partly Cloudy ENE 2-5 MPH (headwind) 59-84F Scattered Clouds No wind
2011 46-55F Cloudy WSW 16-20 MPH (tailwind) 57-80F Clear ESE 3 MPH
2012 65-87F Clear WSW 10-12 MPH (tailwind) 38-51F Mostly Cloudy WNW 6 MPH
2013 54-56F Clear E 3MPH (headwind) 46-65F Clear NW 4 MPH
2014 61-62F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 45-65F Partly Cloudy SE 8 MPH
46-46F Overcast and rain Calm 54-78F Clear SSW 11 MPH
2016 61-71F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 50-63F Partly Cloudy ESE 8 MPH
2017 70-73F Clear WSW 1-3 MPH (tailwind) 56-73 Partly Cloudy SW 8 MPH
2018 35-50F Rain NE 14 MPH (headwind) 57-64F Drizzle ENE 5 MPH

Pre-Race Experience

Packet pick up

Both Boston and Chicago are well organized for packet pick up and both provide a shirt exchange if you discover the shirt size you ordered does not fit.

You must pick up your own race kit at both races. Don’t forget your government issued photo id!

Race swag

Official race gear at Chicago is sponsored by Nike. Nike focuses on running clothes for the official Chicago marathon gear. In 2018 they sold find t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, tank tops, visor, and jackets. If you want coffee mugs, laptop stickers, and cotton t-shirts you will have to explore other booths in the expo. You may also want to visit the Nike store on Michigan to purchase your official race merchandise, the lines were shorter, and they have a DJ and a fun atmosphere Friday and Saturday before the race. The Under Armour store just down the road from the Nike store on Michigan Ave also had some marathon branded running gear.

Official race gear at Boston is sponsored by Adidas. There is the traditional celebration jacket which is the most brilliant marketing scheme ever, since you feel like you have to buy one every year (and it isn’t even a good running jacket). There are often other jackets which are nicer than the celebration jacket (which might account why I have never run Boston without coming home with two jackets). There are also a good assortment of other official Boston marathon merchandise – a wide assortment of running gear but also baseball hats, visors, pint glasses, shot glasses, pins, stuffed unicorns, etc…Chances are you will spend more money on official merchandise at the Boston expo. You will find even more merchandise at other booths in the expo as well.

Pace bands

Boston had pace bands available at the booth just outside the race expo. They had the pace bands tailored to the Boston course. Boston has some tough hills in teh second half so it’s nice that they have the race specific pace bands.

In Chicago, they had arm tattoos instead of pace bands. I prefer the tattoos because the font on the tattoos was nice and big (I need reading glasses and some pace bands use print too small for me to read :))

Race morning

Getting to the start

Boston

The Boston marathon is a point to point race, with a finish in downtown Boston. The race starts in Hopkington. To reach the start you can:

  • take a shuttle bus from Boston commons (estimated travel time 60 minutes)
  • drive to Hopkington parking lot and catch shuttle to athlete’s village

The race starts in waves. As of 2019, the male elites start separately from the rest of the runners, so the elites don’t have to worry about that one runner who really wants to be on TV trying to lead the elite pack for the first mile.

  • 9:32 AM Elite Women start
  • Elite Men 10:00 AM
  • Wave one start 10:02 AM
  • Wave two start 10:25 AM
  • Wave three start 10;50 AM
  • Wave four start 11:15 AM *

*in 2019 due to the weather forecast they chose to start Wave four immediately after Wave three so they would have less time exposed to the elements in the athletes village)

Shuttle bus times depend on your start wave

in 2019

  • Wave one runners shuttles ran from 6:00 – 6:45 AM
  • Wave two runner shuttles ran from 7:00 – 7:45 AM
  • Wave three runner shuttles ran from 8:00 – 8:45 AM
  • Wave four runner shuttles ran from 8:55 – 9:30 AM

I was in Wave 3, I set my alarm for 6:30. I met friends in the hotel lobby at 8 AM and we walked over to catch the buses, one of the friends was staying further out of town and had taken the train into downtown to catch the shuttle bus. i.e. you don’t have to pay the $350+ USD a night hotel and stay within walking distance of the start.

Chicago

The start is much earlier. Wave 1 starts at 7:30 AM. I was in wave 2, 8 AM start. I still set my alarm for 5 AM. My hotel, like many downtown Chicago hotels, was walking distance from the start line (I was at Ontario St and Michigan Ave).  All I had to do was walk. If you want to find a cheaper hotel, you can stay further from the start and take the Metro line to the start. Yes, the Metro will be packed with runners, the first train might even be too packed to get in, but once on that train, in 15-40 minutes you are at the start. Security is efficient and quick (just like New York).  You don’t have to worry about a bag check cut off time because the bag drop off and bag pick up are the same place. Since they don’t have to transport your gear anywhere, you can just drop it off 5 or 15 minutes before you walk over to your corral.  Getting to the start in Chicago is much less hassle and much less stress.

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapottyYou can’t compare marathons without mentioning access to port-a-potties at the start!

Boston

In Boston you will find a good selection of port-a-potties in the athlete’s village, expect a line of 20 or so runners. Depending on how you enter the village you may pass a smaller field before you reach the main athletes village, that smaller field appeared to have shorter lines.  There are additional port-a-potties on the way to the corrals as well (with much shorter lines), but you can’t use them until your wave is called to the corrals. Guys – if you get to the corral and realize you need a pee PLEASE don’t pee on the clothes by the fences, that is really disgusting. If you really have to go, since you start in the suburbs, not the city, you do go past a wooded area in the first km and many a gentlemen runner takes advantage of that first set of woods to find a convenient tree.

Chicago

In Chicago The start area is split in two by the corrals. I found the lines for the port-a-potties shorter on the city side of Grant Park than the lake side of Grant Park. The lines at their worst were maybe 10-15 minutes long. Which is why there is NO EXCUSE for the dudes who were peeing beside the fence in the start corrals!  Witnessed by at least two of my running friends. Seriously! I have no problems with guys running out to find a tree on races past wooded areas, but peeing on the discarded clothing in the corral is really gross. Not what I want to see when I am walking over to the fence to toss a shirt or stretch. Boston and New York both threaten disqualification if you are caught doing something like that (FYI I have yet to meet a runner who has witnessed the famous ‘yellow rain’ on the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge in New York).

SIDE NOTE: Best solution I saw for this was the Vancouver marathon that had a fenced off set of troughs for guys who needed a quick pee before the start. This saved them a long wait at the port-a-potty and shortened the line for us ladies.

Corrals

Both Chicago and Boston divide up runners into waves, and corrals This helps spread out the runners and keep the start areas less crowded. Both Chicago and New York will check your bibs to make sure you are in the correct corral. Both races allow you to move to a slower corral but will not allow you to move to a faster corral. All runners have a common waiting area, so you can hang out with friends in Wave one before you start (as long as you get to the athletes village before they are called to the corrals).  FYI, it’s not encouraged, but I do know runners who boarded the buses for an earlier wave with friends.

Race course

Hills

Below are the hill profiles for Boston and Chicago. Note the difference between minimum and maximum elevation in each image.

BostonBoston Hill Profile

Boston is a net downhill, but that does not make it an easy course! There are two notoriously tough sections late in the race. The Newton hills around km 25 and Heartbreak Hill around km 32. You won’t find many flat stretches in Boston. This is considered a difficult marathon.  I have my marathon PR and I have my Boston PR. They are 10 minutes apart and I am proud of both of them. It is possible to set a marathon PR in Boston, but let’s just say you had better do your hill work or you are going to have a VERY rough day.

Chicago

The big climbs in Chicago are less than 10 meters. My friend Christopher said Chicago is “waffle flat”. I think that’s a perfect description. It is flat, with little bumps here and there. There is one “big’ hill in the last half mile of the course, but that hill is about as hard as one of the rolling hills in Central Park, it just messes with your head because it is so close to the finish line.  Chicago is a much easier course in terms of hills. Chicago is a good course to try for a personal best.

ChicagoElevation

Crowds and Energy

racesignsBoston has an estimated 500,000+ spectators. The Chicago marathon press release estimates they have 1,700,000 spectators.  That number will of course vary depending on the year and on the weather. Both races have great crowd support. In Boston, you have a couple of “scream tunnels”: the famous Wellesley college girls offering up kisses to runners, and dare I say it, Boston college may not be handing out kisses but matches or might even exceed the decibel level of Wellesley. I loved the dancing drag queens in Chicago. Each race only had short stretches with thin crowds except in locations where they cannot cheer such as the tunnel at the start of Chicago.

Boston has the added element of “Boston Strong” ever since the bombing at the Boston marathon in 2013 there is a spirit of taking back the race shared by both the spectators and the runners. This adds to the overall intensity in Boston.  Personally I got more more energy from the crowds in Boston, but both races were amazing crowd support!

Running your own race

In 2010 there were 26,632 finishers in the Boston marathon. In 2018 44, 571 runners finished the Chicago marathon. At no point in either race are you going to be running alone.

Boston

There may be a few patches at the start in Boston where you feel a bit trapped and have to move around to find your pace. It’s better than most races that size because just about every runner in Boston required a qualifying time. That means everyone else in your corral qualified with a similar marathon time to yours. You will all go out at a very similar pace. The only people you see going very slow or walking in the first few km will be runners who are injured but are determined to cross that start line because they worked hard for that Boston bib and they are going to do whatever they can! It’s not unusual to see at least one pair of crutches on the start line.

Chicago

In Chicago the wide roads reduce the congestion, and they do crowd management asking the spectators to move back off the road and leave room for the runners. As a result I found I was able to settle into my own pace within the first mile and only got stuck behind other runners very occasionally. I caught up to the 3:55 pace group and ended up following them for about 5 miles without any difficulty and I managed to pass them without a lot of dodging around runners as well (often pacers have a clump of runners around them making it hard to pass).

You can run your own race in Boston or Chicago.

International spirit

World_map-3One of the things I love about Chicago and Boston are the runners from around the world!

In 2018 Chicago had runners from 105 countries

In 2019 Boston had runners from 99 countries

Spectator Experience

Getting around

Chicago has a fantastic spectator guide  you can pick up at the race expo, the best I have seen.

Elites at the race

20171103_153854Both Boston and Chicago are likely to have presentations by well known runners on the main stage. Sponsors may have an autograph session with familiar names as well.  In Chicago 2018, Maui Jim sunglasses had Meb Keflezighi signing autographs at the expo and you could catch Meb, Joan Benoit Samuelsson and Paula Radcliffe on the main stage. Boston 2019 had Deena Kastor, Sarah Crouch, and Meb was around as well (he was the grand marshall)

Prize money draws big names. Both Chicago and Boston offer big prize money

The prize money is the same for the men and women – Hey rest of the sporting world did you hear that! Same prize money for both genders 🙂 okay I’ll get off my soap box now.

Ranking Boston Chicago
1st place $150,000 $100,000
2nd place $75,000 $75,000
3rd place $40,000 $50,000

There are also a variety of bonuses as well for running under a particular time, being fastest American, etc…

Boston elites in 2019 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston Winner
Geoffrey Kirui Male 2017 Boston Winner
Lelisa Desisa Male 2018 NYC winner & 2x Boston winner
Lemi Berhanu Male 2016 Boston winner
Wesley Korir Male 2012 Boston winner
Desiree Linden Female 2018 Boston winner
Edna Kiplagat Female 2017 Boston winner
Caroline Rotich Female 2015 Boston winner
Aselefech Mergia Female London winner
Mare Dibaba Female 2016 Olympic Bronze

Chicago Elite in 2018 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Galen Rupp Male 2017 Chicago winner
Mo Farah Male 4X Olympic Gold
Abel Kirui Male 2016 Chicago winner
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston winner
Dickson Chumba Male 2015 Chicago winner
Brigid Kosgei Female 2017 Chicago 2nd
Birhane Dibaba Female 2018 Tokyo winner

Boston attracts a few more of the top elite. BUT! you are more likely to see a record setting run in Chicago

Four world records were set in Chicago

  • 2:08:05 Steve Jones 1984
  • 2:05:42 Khalid Khannouchi 1999
  • 2:18:47 Catherine Ndereba 2001
  • 2:17:18 Paula Radcliffe 2002

in 2018 Mo Farah set a new European record 2:05:11

Finish Area

Boston

When you finish in Boston you move into a finish chute to collect the usual medals, blanket, water, banana, etc… I have never checked a bag, but pick up is just past the turn off to the family meeting area.  Copley station is closed on race day since it is inside the secure finish area, but Arlington station is a short (though it feels long) stumble from the finish area if your hotel is too far waay to walk. I admit my hotel was only on the other side of the commons but I decided to take the transit rather than walk across the Commons even if that meant navigating a set of stairs to do it.

Chicago

In Chicago the walk from the finish line to the exit is similar to Boston. Bag pick up was quick and efficient and it was only a short walk to meet friends and family (although there was a short set of stairs, I think I felt all 6 of them 🙂

Both races insist you keep moving after your cross the finish line. If you sit down, a medic will be by quickly to either take you to the med tent or get you moving again. There are volunteers in the finish chute in Boston with wheelchairs ready to grab runners who need help.

Both races had the usual food and drink at the finish. I think Chicago had a slightly better selection than Boston, and the finish area and family meeting area definitely felt more celebratory in Chicago.  I got a kick out of the beer in souvenir beer cans in Chicago provided by Goose Island. Runners could also get a free beer at the tent in the next to the family meeting area. I don’t drink beer, so sadly wasted on me. As drinks go I prefer a chocolate milk post-race 🙂 Sadly neither Boston or Chicago offered chocolate milk, there was a chocolate protein shake in the kit I got at the race expo but that was all the way back at my hotel, so I had to settle for water and Gatorade.

Post-race atmosphere

ChicagoSpectatorBoston

After the race in Boston, everyone wears their celebration jacket for that race year. It’s kind of cool seeing the same jackets all over the place when you go out for dinner and being able to offer a smile and congratulations to each jacket you pass. Some hotels and restaurants will cheer you when you walk in wearing your jacket after the race.

Chicago

When I hobbled into a pub in Chicago with my thermal blanket, there was no cheering, but the staff took amazing care of me. In no time I had sugar, caffeine and salt in the form of a coke and some pretzel bites. When I asked for a couple of wet naps to wipe my face they even brought me a clean rag soaked in warm water. If you want cheering head to the Nike store post-race for the cheering staff on every floor as you proceed to the 4th floor for free medal engraving.  The next morning there was no shortage of runners walking around with their medals and/or race shirts. The local pancake house had quite the waiting list for breakfast but was worth the wait.

The Chicago Tribune lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.  I don’t think the Boston paper publishes the results of all the runners, but they will have race coverage.

Volunteers

Volunteers rock at both races. THANK YOU to all the volunteers at both races!

thank-you

Summary

It is harder to get a bib for Boston and the course is tougher, but that’s what makes it memorable. There was a lady with me at the start line who was running her first Boston and I remember her saying with determination “Whatever it takes, I am going to enjoy this race, if I have to walk, if my leg hurts, I don’t care, I am going to enjoy this, I am running the Boston marathon!” There’s a lot of that in Boston. If you don’t want to be there, there are many, many, others who would happily take your place.  But it’s unlikely you will set a personal best on this tough course.

Chicago is a lower stress race. It’s easier to get to the start,its MUCH flatter. its in fall so weather is less likely to be a factor, and I found the water stops had enough tables that I could get water and Gatorade more easily than Boston. You are much more likely to set a personal best in Chicago.

You may have a different experience from mine in Boston or Chicago depending on your start wave and the weather.  But there is a reason these races are so popular. If you get a chance to run either race, do it!

If you are curious how these races compare to New York, I have compared New York and Chicago in another post  and I have also compared New York vs Boston.  If you are interested, I also have other race reports and running related posts

Boston 2019 – This is your brain – This is your brain on Boston

2019 was my third Boston marathon. I am a squeaker, i.e. I never know year to year if I will have a time fast enough to qualify. My first Boston, I went out too fast and blew up on the hills. My second Boston was part one of Boston to Big Sur so I took it slow. This time, I knew the course and had no second race to hold back for. Whenever I run a marathon I know there are others injured who would love to be at the start line, and this is particularly true for Boston where it is so hard to get a bib, so I try hard to “enjoy” the race as much as anyone can “enjoy” running a marathon.  You have a lot of time to think on a marathon, so for this race report I’m just sharing a selection of the random thoughts that ran through my head at Boston 2019. Apologies if some of the recollections of specific race features and spectators are listed at the wrong locations, runner brain!ThisIsYourBrainOnBoston

Susan’s brain before leaving for Boston

Time to obsessively refresh the weather forecast. Oh no, it looks cold, windy and wet!  I was not there in 2018 but everyone I know who was there says it was the most miserable marathon they ever ran. Could this be another 2018? No, it’s still 5 days away it could change. This is my 10th marathon, one lesson I have learned the hard way, forget the long range forecast. Pack for EVERYTHING from -1C (30F) with wind rain or snow right up to +30C(86F) with high humidity!

weatherForecase

Susan’s brain arriving in Boston

Okay we have just enough time to get to the optometry store where Meb will be at 1:30. I brought my copy of 26.2 marathons for him to sign, still can’t believe he ran an entire marathon with his breathe right strip inside his shoe digging into his foot at every step.

BostonWithMeb

 Susan’s brain at the race expo

Got our bibs, got the poster, and I HAVE to get the celebration jacket, but this winter jacket is REALLY nice too, and oh yes a pint glass, and this shirt is great but wait no XS in the shirt, maybe on this rack, nope no XS, well that’s okay. OMG look at the line for the cash! That is insane, never seen it so long on a Friday! Hmm the rest of the expo is quieter so I can check out some shoes .. none of these Asics feel right, these 361 are comfortable, hey look Christopher the Dunkin Donuts Saucony are in stock, oh you want me to grab a pair for you, sure thing, but ooh look at this t-shirt and they have it in a women’s fit, and hey these Brooks shoes are comfy and oh look this booth claims to have anti chafe better than body glide. I would love to finally finish a race and be able to take a shower without yelping in pain from chafing, so let’s grab that and then let’s get out of here before I spend even more money!

Susan’ brain Saturday

Looks like serious rain for the race, but at least it will be warmer than 2018. Hey sis, do you mind if we go back the expo? I know I bought the Brooks but now I want to get the 361 as well, oh yeah and a laptop sticker since we didn’t get one in the race kit. Oh cool Sarah Crouch is at the 361 booth as well. Can we go buy some cannoli at Mike’s pastry? I have never tried them and safer to eat something like that Saturday than Sunday. I had no idea there were so many flavors of cannoli. Can’t go wrong with chocolate dip.

Susan’s brain Sunday

A nice easy 5 km run in the morning to loosen up, wow there are buds and flowers on the trees! Spring! I thought I would never see you again! Apparently I was not the only Ottawa runner excited to see signs of spring (Ottawa set a record for longest winter ever this year, sucked for training!).

SpringOnTheRunOkay run done, stay off your feet, eat easy to digest but high value food, check hourly forecast, repeat until bedtime. Oooh Boston Cream pie! No wait that’s a bad idea today, I guess I’ll have to run another Boston marathon some day so I can try the Boston Cream pie.

Susan’s brain Monday (race day) morning

Have a great race Judy, see you at the athlete’s village! Whoa those are crazy thunderstorms right now VERY glad those will be gone before I reach the village and VERY glad Judy picked me up some rubber boots to wear to the start and that I have garbage bags, spare socks, rain coat etc… to wear at the start

BoardingBus

Susan’s brain on the bus to the athlete’s village

Don’t think about how long this bus ride is and that you have to run all the way back. Repeat until you arrive at village.

schoolbusride

Susan’s brain at the athlete’s village

Whoa we are later than usual, but luckily I know where the shortest port-a-potty line is located. Follow me! Glad I brought the rubber boots. Wish I had brought sunscreen, too late now they just called Wave 3 to the start corrals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Susan’s brain en route to the corrals

Oh look the cancer society has sunscreen. Thank you! Hmm this tape I tried to use to put my name on my bib is falling off. Oh well nothing I can do about that now.

20190415_102140

Susan’s brain in the corrals

OMG I am about to run the Boston marathon how freaking cool is that, and OMG how miserable is this going to be? ya know what this lady beside me has the right attitude, her first Boston and she just said  “No matter what it takes I am going to enjoy this race, I am running the Boston marathon!”  I like that attitude, I am going to remember her saying that when the race gets tough.

bostonstrong

Susan’s brain crossing the start

No wonder they don’t take pictures of anyone at the start, all you would see is all of us looking down to start our Garmins.

Susan’s brain for km 0-5 (5:28/km pace)

Don’t go too fast, don’t go too fast. Hmmm 5:20/km feels good on the downhill, given I would have to run that the whole race to finish in 3:45 I don’t think that’s happening today. Why does the top of my left foot hurt, maybe the tongue is folder over, I’m going to stop and try to fix that now, I still have plenty of race to go. Ashland has some good crowds cheering, love the puppy holding the two Boston Strong flags on either end of a stick in his mouth. Run across the 5 km timing mat and say “Hi mum & dad!” I am sure they are keeping an eye online and dad will be watching that first 5 km split to see if I went out too fast.

BostonDOg

Susan’s brain for km 5-10 (5:27/km pace)

Just keep a nice 3:50-3:55 marathon pace until 10 km, treat the first 10 km as a warm up. where is Santa Claus? I hear music is that.. yes it is… Sweet Caroline ‘ ba dum bum bum’ . top of the left foot is still sore, I’m going to loosen the bungee laces a bit see if that helps. Cross the 10 km timing mat and say “Hi Christopher!” it’s early out West but I know he wanted to watch the women elites who will be around mile 20 by now, so probably has another browser tab open monitoring friends.

SweetCaroline

Susan’s brain for km 10-15 (5:30/km pace)

Okay I have passed 10 km, so how am I feeling, could I do a 32 km long run feeling like this? Yes I could. Okay then. hip is a bit tight and top of the left foot is still sore but if Meb can run a race with a breathe strip in his shoe I can run through this. Running around a 5:34/km pace I need to stay under 5:35 pace to BQ today, given I haven’t hit the hills yet, not sure that will happen. Sure am glad it’s cloudy otherwise it would get really hot. Cross the 15 km timing mat “Hi Trevor!” My hubby isn’t there in person, but I love the virtual signs he sends me from the family (including the cats)

Susan’s brain for km 15-20 (5:33/km pace)

Santa there you are! I was looking for you! “Dig deeper than a kid looking for boogers” okay that’s funny. Almost at Wellesley. Lots of people yelling out “Go Dana Farber” or “Go Teresa”  I wish I had successfully found a way to put my name on my shirt or a Canadian flag. I like the cheering. Cross the 20 km timing mat “Hi Robin!” I know you are cheering on your sisters from afar but also probably have some shoots today, so will be popping online from time to time to see how we are doing.

Susan’s brain for km 20-25 (5:38/km pace)

Where are the Wellesley college girls, yes there they are, any good signs this year, “Kiss me I’m Irish”, “Kiss me I’m graduating”, “Kiss me its my birthday”, “Kiss me I give tongue”, “Kiss me I’m Canadian” there we go – quick kiss on the cheek please and thank you. Okay back to the running and “JONATHAN!” exactly where you said you would be. So great to see a friend cheering.  Less than 23 km to go. If 23 km was my long run this would be a short long run, I can do this.

Susan’s brain for 25-30 km (5:59/km pace)

Newton – okay then here we go, can I get through all the Newton hills without walking, and oh look the cloud cover is gone, now it’s full sun beating down on us through the Newton hills.  Wow I had forgotten how long the first hill is. Does it ever end? Is this one heartbreak hill? Lots of crowds cheering which is nice. Wow look at all the people walking, I may be running slow but I am passing a LOT of walkers on the hills. It’s getting hot, I am going to walk the water stops to make sure I actually swallow something at each water station.

NewtonHills

Susan’s brain for 30-35 km (5:57/km pace)

Maybe I will try dumping some water on my head, OMG that feels so good! I should have done than 5 miles ago. Now next order of business medical tent coming up… there we go… Vaseline? yes thank you! and oh wait I knew there were hills on this stretch but seriously?  Wait is this one heartbreak hill?  Is there any flat on this course at all?

heartbreak

Susan’s brain for 35-40 km (6:00/km pace)

Less than the Perth Kilt run (8 km/ 5 miles) in distance to go and the worst of the hills are over. I can do this. Pass the mile marker, walk to drink two sips of Gatorade, toss the rest, grab a cup of water, take two good sips dump the rest over my head, start running again, there’s the medical tent, now just hold on for about another 800 meters until the next mile marker and repeat. And look Canadian flag …VINCENT! Hi! Yay I found both the people I expected to find cheering on the course, I hope Diane is having a good race.

just-keep-swimming-dory

Susan’s brain for 40-42 km (5:43/km pace)

Well forget the BQ, but if I pick up my pace a bit I think I *could* still run a sub 4 hour, which would be a personal best for me in Boston. I’ll have to skip this last water stop and pick it up a bit, but I know the route from here just hold that pace until you turn right on Hereford left on Boyleston. Hold that pace – right on Hereford left on Boyleston. Hold that pace – right on Hereford left on Boyleston. Hold that pace – right on Hereford left on Boyleston. There’s the dip, hold that pace – right on Hereford left on Boyleston. There’s Hereford! right on Hereford left on Boyleston. I am turning onto Boyleston, damn that finish line is still a long way away, hold that pace, hey it just started raining, hold that pace, wow I am passing a fair number of runners along here, hold that pace hold that pace, smile for the finish line camera. Thank god that’s over. I sure hope runners brain didn’t screw up my math at km 40 and I broke 4.

rightONHereford

Susan’s brain through the finishers chute

Okay this is good I am not about to pass out or throw up. Hey that wind is picking up and with the rain it is downright cold, yes can you put that medal over my head for me please and thank you. Water, yes please, can you open the bottle for me please and thank you? Yeah that wind is cold, definitely yes I want a thermal blanket and yes tape to hold it closed for me. Are there chips in that finisher bag? Yes? good I need salt. Oh boy now I have to get out of the finisher area and across the Commons to my hotel. Just keep walking, one foot in front of the other, oh screw it I am going to take the train across the Commons. Stairs.. okay I can do this lean on the railing go sideways. Made it to the bottom of the stairs… ohhh that runner is sitting on the ground in the subway station it’s warm here that’s a great idea. Yes, I’ll just slide down the wall and sit here for a bit.  Damn now how do I stand up again, okay through the turnstile, stand on the train as all the runners stare at each other huddled in our thermal blankets with this sort of sympathetic smile and nod of shared misery.  two stops and now only 100 feet from my hotel, straight to my hotel room thank goodness no stairs and the elevator came quickly.

Susan’s brain back in the hotel post race

I did it! Hey Judy, how was your race? Yes, I am happy with my race. I am going to shower and collapse thank you. I wonder if I remembered to turn off my GPS at the finish line, oh good I did and if the GPS is right I have my sub 4. Yay I think, I can’t remember exactly what I just read on the GPS and can’t be bothered to look again right now! Off with the shoes wow that is a good bruise on top of my foot! Oh! right I forgot when I put on the new shoelaces last week to leave the first hole unused since I get lace bite, that explains the discomfort on my left foot for the entire race. I am an idiot, NEVER change something right before a race, apparently that applies to shoelaces as well. Oh well, a bruise will heal. Now shower…. YIKES… okay apparently I still haven’t found a solution to my chafing issues, ow ow ow. Now PJs, salty potato chips, a sip of coke, and I am ready to go online and feel the love from all my amazing and awesome friends and family who have been cheering from afar. Thank you to each and every one of you, I appreciate every comment and cheer.BruisedToe

Susan after Ibuprofen has kicked in

I just ran the frickin Boston marathon, how cool is that! Now where’s my Boston 2019 jacket?bostonjackets

If you enjoyed this, I have other running related posts

Treadmill settings to train for Boston marathon hills

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.

How does it work?

My first run on the treadmill I start at mile 0 of the race, when I get to a quarter mile I change the incline to match what it would be on the course, I do this again at 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile and so on until I am done my workout. Then I use a post it note to mark where I finished.

The next time I am on the treadmill I pick up where I left off, so if I ran 6 miles on my first treadmill workout, I start my next treadmill workout with the incline for 6 – 6 1/4 mile stretch of the Boston course.

My treadmill does not do declines, so I compensate by treating downhill as 0% incline, and flat stretches I treat as 1 % incline.

Why do I do it?

Two reasons:

Reason #1 if I am going to be on the treadmill it helps me practice all the different stretches of the course.

Reason #2 it provides a distraction! Every 1/4 mile I am checking and possibly changing the incline. I also have to do math in my head… I started this run at the 6.5 mile mark, I’ve run 3 3/4 miles so I need to change to the incline listed for 10.25 miles.  It doesn’t make the treadmill any more fun, but it does provide a distraction.

How did I calculate it?

I printed out the hill profile shown below, and noted the elevation at each quarter mile.

bostonelevation2

Then I used the formula (change in elevation)/(race distance)*100 to get the % incline for each 1/4 mile.

My treadmill does not support declines so I may the following adjustments for my treadmill training. These values are in the third column of the table

  • I added 1% to each incline because I want a baseline of 1% incline for flat stretches of the course
  • I set all downhill stretches (negative values) to 0% because my treadmill does not support declines. I figure 0% is the easiest setting on my treadmill so I’ll treat that as downhill.

If you have a treadmill which supports declines, you can use the fourth column showing the actual incline and decline % for each stretch with no adjustments.

Not a lot of flat on the Boston course, so make sure you do your hill training, up hill and down hill!

Check 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 race.

Here you go!

 

Miles Meters Incline With Declines
0 0 0% -6%
0.25 400 0% -5%
0.5 800 3% 2%
0.75 1.2 1% 0%
1 1.6 0% -2%
1.25 2 1% 0%
1.5 2.4 1% 0%
1.75 2.8 0% -2%
2 3.2 1% 0%
2.25 3.6 1% 0%
2.5 4 0% -4%
2.75 4.4 1% 0%
3 4.8 0% -2%
3.25 5.2 0% -2%
3.5 5.6 0% -2%
3.75 6 1% 0%
4 6.4 1% 0%
4.25 6.8 4% 3%
4.5 7.2 1% 0%
4.75 7.6 0% -2%
5 8 1% 0%
5.25 8.4 3% 0%
5.5 8.8 0% -2%
5.75 9.2 0% -2%
6 9.6 0% -1%
6.25 10 2% 1%
6.5 10.4 1% 0%
6.75 10.8 0% -1%
7 11.2 1% 0%
7.25 11.6 1% 0%
7.5 12 3% 2%
7.75 12.4 0% -2%
8 12.8 1% 0%
8.25 13.2 1% 0%
8.5 13.6 0% -1%
8.75 14 2% 1%
9 14.4 0% -1%
9.25 14.8 2% 1%
9.5 15.2 3% 2%
9.75 15.6 1% 0%
10 16 2% 1%
10.25 16.4 2% 1%
10.5 16.8 1% 0%
10.75 17.2 1% 0%
11 17.6 3% 2%
11.25 18 0% -2%
11.5 18.4 0% -2%
11.75 18.8 0% -2%
12 19.2 2% 1%
12.25 19.6 1% 0%
12.5 20 0% -1%
12.75 20.4 2% 1%
13 20.8 0% -1%
13.25 21.2 0% -1%
13.5 21.6 3% 2%
13.75 22 0% -1%
14 22.4 2% 1%
14.25 22.8 1% 0%
14.5 23.2 2% -1%
14.75 23.6 1% 0%
15 24 0% 0%
15.25 24.4 1% -7%
15.5 24.8 1% -1%
15.75 25.2 0% 2%
16 25.6 0% 3%
16.25 26 3% -2%
16.5 26.4 4% 3%
16.75 26.8 0% -2%
17 27.2 1% 0%
17.25 27.6 1% 0%
17.5 28 0% -1%
17.75 28.4 4% 3%
18 28.8 3% 2%
18.25 29.2 1% 0%
18.5 29.6 0% -1%
18.75 30 0% -1%
19 30.4 0% -2%
19.25 30.8 1% 0%
19.5 31.2 5% 4%
19.75 31.6 1% 0%
20 32 1% 0%
20.25 32.4 1% 0%
20.5 32.8 3% 2%
20.75 33.2 5% 4%
21 33.6 0% -1%
21.25 34 0% -3%
21.5 34.4 0% -2%
21.75 34.8 1% 0%
22 35.2 1% 0%
22.25 35.6 0% -2%
22.5 36 0% -2%
22.75 36.4 1% 0%
23 36.8 2% 1%
23.25 37.2 0% -1%
23.5 37.6 0% -2%
23.75 38 0% -2%
24 38.4 0% -2%
24.25 38.8 0% -1%
24.5 39.2 1% 0%
24.75 39.6 0% -2%
25 40 3% 2%
25.25 40.4 0% -2%
25.5 40.8 1% 0%
25.75 41.2 0% -1%
26 41.6 1% 0%
26.25 42 1% 0%

Boston Marathon vs New York Marathon Part 1 which is tougher?

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NYCvsBostonMy friend Christopher and I have had this conversation many times, and it occasionally gets quite heated 🙂 Which is the ultimate US marathon experience Boston or New York? (for those of you who scream neither! Hey perks of blogging, feel free to counter with your own post :)) This year I ran both, so I wanted to take a moment to compare the two and perhaps settle this matter once and for all (if that’s possible). In Part 1 I start by trying to figure out which course is tougher. (if you want to know which is the ultimate race experience check out part 2)

Let’s talk hills…

If I look at the hill profile for each race from my Strava account, it’s very interesting to compare the two races.

New York

NYCHillProfile

Boston
Screenshot_20170430-162846

New York has a higher overall elevation gain: 305 meters vs Boston 166 meters.

Each race has very little that you would truly call flat. You have rolling hills of various difficulty through most of the race.

Each race has three nasty hills in the second half of the race:

  • Boston has the famous Newton hills, 3 solid climbs back to back that start at km 28 (mile 17.5) and end at km 34 (mile 21).
  • New York has the Queensboro bridge at km 25, the Willis bridge at km 33 and the climb to Central Park from km 37 to km 39.

Many runners point out that Boston is a net downhill course, and therefore easier, but I’d like to point out that many first time Boston runners actually regret not training for the downhill. There is a little dip under an overpass just before you reach Beacon street which is a short steep downhill that draws many an expletive from the lips of the runners. Because the Newton hills are so close together many runners either tighten up on the uphill and cannot loosen up and find a downhill stride again, or they run the early downhills in Boston too hard and pay for it later.  Of course, many first time New York runners will tell you the biggest mistake they made was going to fast down the Verrazano bridge at the start and in so doing wrecked their quads and were unable to leverage the downhills later in the race.

What about the weather…

let’s compare the two year over year

YEAR Boston weather Boston Wind NYC weather New York Wind
2008 53-53F Clear W 2 MPH (tailwind) 44-50F Overcast NE 13 MPH (headwind)
2009 47F-51F Parly Cloudy ESE 9-16 MPH (slight headwind) 53-59F Overcast N 14 MPH (slight headwind)
2010 49-55F Partly Cloudy ENE 2-5 MPH (headwind) 46-51F Scattered clouds WNW 12 MPH (slight tailwind)
2011 46-55F Cloudy WSW 16-20 MPH (tailwind) 51-54F Cloudy SW 9 MPH (tailwind)
2012 65-87F Clear WSW 10-12 MPH (tailwind) Cancelled
2013 54-56F Clear E 3MPH (headwind) 51-53F Cloudy N 17 MPH (Slight headwind)
2014 61-62F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 45-48F Cloudy N 18 MPH (slight headwind)
2015 46-46F Overcast and rain Calm 59-64F Cloudy S 6 MPH (slight tailwind)
2016 61-71F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 57-59F Scattered clouds NW 15 MPH (slight tailwind)
2017 70-73F Clear WSW 1-3 MPH (tailwind) 55-62F Cloudy ESE 3 MPH (slight headwind)
2018 35-50F Rain NE 14 MPH (headwind) 48-52F Sunny N 4 MPH (slight headwind)

New York has more consistent good race temperatures than Boston year over year.  Boston has a few years where extreme weather would affect your race.

The wind is an interesting factor. Boston is a point to point race that goes pretty much the same direction the entire race, so a tailwind or a headwind can affect the entire race.  Most years the winds in Boston seem fairly negligeable, with only 3 of the last 10 races reaching winds over 5 MPH. Two of those years were tailwinds, one was a headwind. In New York you go North for two thirds of the course and then turn South for the last third of the race. Conditions in New York have generally been noticeably windier than Boston, but the wind switches between headwind and tailwind (in the table above I indicated headwind if it was a headwind for the longer portion of the course).

Out of curiosity I did a little research on the affect of winds on a runner.

“All else being equal, the drag on a runner created by air resistance varies according to the square of the runner’s velocity through the air. That means that the performance hit from a 10 mph headwind is four times greater than that from a 5 mph wind.

A tailwind helps runners, but not quite as much as a headwind hurts them. One estimate says that, when running at a six minute-per-mile pace, a 10 mph tailwind would increase one’s performance by about 6 seconds per mile, while the equivalent headwind (six-minute miles into a 10 mph wind) slows one down by about 12 seconds per mile. That’s a possible swing of almost eight minutes over the course of a marathon.”

All in all it looks like you have better odds of cooler temperatures in New York, but you are less likely to be battling a headwind in Boston.

Which race posts faster times…

We can’t compare average finish times for the everyday runner because the average runner entering Boston has a faster pace than the average runner entering New York. So the best we can do is to compare the times set by the elite runners.

Men’s Race

The Boston Course record of 2:03:02 was set in 2011 by Geoffrey Mutai when it was 46-55F cloudy with a 16-20 Tailwind (near ideal race conditions!)

The New York Course record of 2:05:06 was also set in 2011 by Geoffrey Mutai when it was 51-54F cloudy with a 9 MPH tailwind for the first two thirds of the race (wow he was having an amazing year!)

 

Year Boston Winner Time New York Winner Time Difference Fastest race
2008 Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot 2:07:45 Marílson Gomes dos Santos 2:08:43 0:58 Boston
2009 Deriba Merga 2:08:42 Meb Keflezighi 2:09:15 0:33 Boston
2010 Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot 2:05:52 Gebregziabher Gebremariam 2:08:14 2:22 Boston
2011 Geoffrey Mutai 2:03:02 Geoffrey Mutai 2:05:06 2:04 Boston
2012 Wesley Korir 2:12:40 CANCELLED
2013 Lelisa Desisa Benti 2:10:22 Geoffrey Mutai 2:08:24 1:58 New York
2014 Meb Keflezighi 2:08:37 Wilson Kipsang 2:10:59 1:22 Boston
2015 Lelisa Desisa Benti 2:09:17 Stanley Biwott 2:10:34 1:17 Boston
2016 Lemi Berhanu Hayle 2:12:45 Ghirmay Ghebreslassie 2:07:51 4:54 New York
2017 Geoffrey Kirui 2:09:37 Geoffrey Kamworor 2:10:53 1:16 Boston
2018 Yuri Kawauchi 2:15:58 Lelissa Desisa 2:05:59 9:59 New York

Women’s race

The Boston course record of 2:19:59 was set in 2014 when it was 61-62F with 2-3 MPH tailwind.
The New york course record of 2:22:31 was set in 2003 when it was 57-66F with 5-6 MPH headwind
Year Boston Winner Time New York Winner Time Difference Fastest race
2008 Dire Tune 2:25:25 Paula Radcliffe 2:23:56 1:29 New York
2009 Salina Kosgei 2:32:16 Derartu Tulu 2:28:52 3:24 New York
2010 Teyba Erkesso 2:26:11 Edna Kiplagat 2:28:20 2:09 Boston
2011 Caroline Kilel 2:22:36 Firehiwot Dado 2:23:15 1:21 Boston
2012 Sharon Cherop 2:31:50 CANCELLED
2013 Rita Jeptoo 2:26:25 Priscah Jeptoo 2:25:07 1:18 New York
2014 Rita Jeptoo (Disqualified) 2:18:57 Mary Keitany 2:25:07
2015 Bizunesh Deba 2:19:59 Mary Keitany 2:24:25 4:26 Boston
2016 Caroline Rotich 2:24:55 Mary Keitany 2:24:26 0:29 New York
2017 Atsede Baysa 2:29:19 Shalane Flanagan 2:26:53 2:26 New York
2018 Desiree Linden 2:39:54 Mary Keitany 2:22:48 17:06 New York

The majority of the time the men’s times are faster in Boston than in New York. The women’s times are more evenly split across the two races. But the course records are both faster in Boston than New York.

Setting world records

You may or may not be aware, that Boston race times do not qualify for world records. There are two reasons for this:

  • The elevation change exceeds the IAAF limits.
  • It falls outside the rule requiring the separation between start and finish to be no more than 50 percent of the race distance. As a result runners can benefit unreasonably from tailwinds (which clearly occurred the year Mutai set the Boston course record)

Finding your stride

Based on the numbers, New York looks like the tougher course, but, I was recently reading the book 26 Marathons by Meb Keflezighi.  In his book he states “People often ask me which marathon course is harder, New York City or Boston. Now that I’ve done both several times I can confidently answer “Boston”. He points out that it’s easier to settle into your pace in New York than Boston.  That long downhill with crowds cheering you at the start of Boston has caused many a runner to go out too fast and pay for it later when they hit the Newton Hills.  The Newton Hills don’t seem that brutal when considered on their own, but hit them at mile 17 and you discover where Heartbreak Hill got its name, especially if you went a little fast in the first half.

Boston is a the more technically challenging course. You can run a great race in Boston, but many experienced runners have been caught up in the first half and paid the price later in the race. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you “don’t go out too fast” your rested legs, the downhill, the crowds and the excitement of running your first Boston result make it tough to not to go out fast.

So after all that, which course is tougher?

From the elevation change and elite race results, you would logically conclude that the New York marathon is the tougher course.

Then you have an experienced runner like Meb confidently saying Boston is tougher.  Now keep in mind Meb has a different race experience from most of us. His job is to place. He has to react to the other runners around him, he does not get to choose his pace for most of the race. The rest of us are just out to run our own race. Aside from dodging runners who were in the wrong corral for the first two miles (a problem you avoid in Boston since everyone except the charity runners are assigned a corral based on a verified qualifying time), you are in control of our own pace and destiny.  So *if* you stick to your game plan you can run a great race in Boston.

Let’s not discount the weather. We all tend to obsessively check the forecast leading up to race day. The coldest temp recorded in New York is 44F, the hottest recorded is 64F.  The coldest temp recorded in Boston is 35F and the hottest recorded is 87F. You run a much higher risk of temperature affecting your run in Boston (they had over 2527 runners were treated by medical staff, most of them for hypothermia in the now infamous 2018 race).

So I’d say your odds of running a good race are better in New York. Let’s be clear though, both of these courses will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t do your hill training, and finishing either is of course a huge accomplishment!

Now which race is more exciting to run…. that’s in part 2!

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

Running Boston – don’t underestimate YOUR impact

Boston – to a runner that single word can conjure up just about every emotion: hope,  disappointment, excitement, fear, courage, misery, elation.

I just completed my first Boston Marathon. I wanted to take a moment to sit down (and not just because my legs are so sore I am not sure I can get up again) and pay tribute to those who make Boston such an amazing experience!

In alphabetical order, because I can’t possibly rank them by importance

  • Boston
  • Boston Strong
  • Course
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Random people you meet after the race
  • Runners
  • Spectators
  • Volunteers

Boston

As we drove into Boston Friday night, we caught the weather forecast on the local radio station. (for non-runners – many runners are obsessed with the weather forecast for race day). They announced the forecast for Saturday, Sunday, and Marathon day.  When we arrived downtown, our hotel had a runners information booth. When we walked down Boyleston to pick up our race kits, stores all along the street had signs and displays cheering on the runners. You couldn’t help but smile and feel welcome. Pretty amazing considering we are completely disrupting the city. I wish all marathon cities were so welcoming!

Chocolatesmall

Boston Strong

In 2013 two bombs were placed near the finish of the Boston marathon. Spectators and runners were killed and injured. The daffodil is a symbol of remembrance. Pots of daffodils can be found at store fronts everywhere. A blue and yellow ribbon of crochet daffodils is wrapped around the posts where the two bombs detonated. Every runner stops and pauses for a moment. The Boston marathon has actually become more popular since the bombing. Whenever I saw the phrase Boston Strong I thought of the day I was tracking my sister and several friends at the Boston Marathon and the hours following as we waited to find out if everyone was okay.  Runners who were there, quietly retold stories. Some runners, volunteers and spectators never returned. There are actually more runners who try and register for Boston now than before the bombing. It’s as though running Boston is a small way for runners to pay tribute to those affected.

DSCF6705

 

Course

The Boston Marathon course has a lot of hills. Enough said!

Family

You cannot run the Boston marathon without support from family. Family could be your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, cousin, or those friends who are like family. Whether they are with you in person on race day or not, family gets you there and family gets you through it! Calling to wish you good luck or to congratulate you when you finish. Listening to you talk incessantly about the race before and after. Giving you the time to pound the pavement during your training and the time to nap when you get home from that long run. Around the six mile mark I met a rummer carrying a carefully folded american flag. I asked her who it was for. She immediately rattled off four names. There are many types of family, and there are many ways to run with them.

I had my sister Judy on the course with me. Having my sister there to coach, mentor, and support me made the entire weekend easier and more special. My other sister Robin and her husband Paul stood on the roadside in the cold cheering and got me through that last 2 miles when I was struggling. My mom ran her first Boston at the age of 65. My dad qualified but never had a chance to run. His knees don’t allow him to run anymore, but I still love telling other runners about his rmarathon refuelling strategy : a beer every 6 miles! Add to that a spouse and two boys who don’t understand my urge to run marathons but still support me and you can can understand why I am smiling in this picture with my sister (and yes that is a sling, my sister broke her elbow the Sunday before Boston, and yes she did still run, very carefully, with her arm well paddde and protected, with a cell phone and cash in case she needed to bail, she finished! So a memorable year for both of us!)

SusanAndJudyZoomedin

Friends

My friends will probably be happy that Boston is over, because maybe now I will stop talking about it! I don’t know if other runners do this, but every time I run over one of the tracking pads which updates my results, I think of my friends who are tracking me online. Every friend who liked my Facebook post, posted to my wall, called, emailed, tweeted, or wished me luck in person helped me qualify, train and run that race! Thank you so much!

Most of us have a running partner or two who hold a special place in our hearts when we get to a big race like this! Not everyone is insane enough to run a marathon. Not everyone understands what drives you to drag yourself out to run four hours in cold rain and wind. When you have the chance to run a race like Boston and your training partner isn’t there with you, you still hear their voice cheering you on as you contemplate the next hill and wonder how long you can keep going. I look forward to the day I board the bus to Hopkington with my training partner! So keep up the physio Jersey! We need an updated race pic!

Geoduckrace

Random people you meet after the race

After you run Boston, you can wear “the” jacket. I bought my jacket Friday night so I could make sure I could get a jacket in my size. For two days it sat there in my room taunting me. I was at the race with K2J Fitness, my running group. To wear the jacket before I finished would be a major faux pas.

When you finally don the jacket (and once you finally put it on you don’t care it it’s blue & yellow or bright orange, pink or purple!) random strangers will congratulate you and even thank you for running the race! The lady at the toll booth on the freeway said congratulations. When I stopped to fill the tank in Vermont on the drive home, another driver walked over to ask if I had run, then congratulated me and gave me an actual pat on the back. Thank you complete strangers! Those little moments made my day! So don’t be shy, if you see someone wearing a race medal or jacket, if you think that race was an accomplishment tell them!

Runners

A speedo? really? There was a guy in the athlete’s village wearing nothing but a speedo. Wouldn’t that chafe? Not to mention it was cold, rainy, and windy!

If you train with a running group they are a big part of your support network. When you get injured, you need to talk to other runners who have been injured and recovered. Heck, after a while you start exchanging names of physiotherapists, and comparing stretches you’ve been assigned to treat your IT band. When the weather sucks, you need other runners to motivate you to get in your miles. When you skip a run, you need another runner to tell you, it’s okay to skip the occasional work out. I appreciated all the experienced Boston runners telling me about Boston races when they completely bonked. If ound it oddly comforting to discover runners I respect have had terrible runs in Boston. I can’t count how many people told me “Don’t expect to BQ on your first Boston” or “Don’t go out too fast!”. Your fellow runners get you to the start line.

At Boston, 60% of those running were first time Boston runners. We met each other on the buses, in the athlete’s village, in the start corral, on the course, after the race in our jackets, in the road side Liquor super store in New Hampshire where all the Canadians stop to pick up cheap booze on the drive home. I passed a runner with a red bib (which means he left in wave one well before I started in wave three). He had crutches and a walking cast! I met runners from Texas, Alaska, Quebec City, Vermont, Florida, Ottawa, Brazil, Korea. 30,000 runners registered for Boston (and I think they were all in line for the port-a-potty at the athlete’s village when I needed to go). There were runners walking, jogging, smiling, crying, stretching out cramped calves an dbacks, giving high fives to the crowd, waving their arms to get the crowds cheering, and sometimes just slogging along trying to drag themselves to the finish line. A shared day of ups and downs both emotinally and physically (did I mention the Boston course has a lot of hills?). I am proud to have my name listed with yours on the poster!

BostonPoster

Spectators

It was lousy weather on race day. It was cold, windy, and rainy. yet there were thousands and thousands of people out there cheering! Little kids offering orange slices, licorice, and high fives. The Wellesley college girls offering free kisses. People on their front lawns calling out ‘thank you for running’. When all I could think was thank you for standing outside to cheers us on. I was in the last corral of wave three. I left a solid hour after the first wave. There were fans out in that miserable weather for hours on end!

I put a sticker on my jacket with my name, so I heard many cries of “Go Susan” or chants of “Susan Susan Susan” which made me smile. I admit like many runners when I had to stop and walk those same cries can feel more like salt in a wound. I prefered the high fives and quieter encouragement when I had to stop and walk. But as you got closer to the finish the crowds got bigger and louder. I ran 26.2 miles to the sound of cowbells, bagpipes, drums, Elvis, rock bands, and so much cheering I assume that Boston must be sold out of throat lozenges today as everyone tries to treat their  laryngitis. I think there should be a Boston spectator jacket you can purchase if you have cheered at Boston. When I think Boston Strong, it’s not just about the runners, it’s about the spectators too!

Volunteers

There were volunteers handing out race kits, setting up the course, setting up the athlete’s village, handing out water and gatorade, raking up empty cups at the water stops, directing us, cheering us, taking care of those who needed medical help, handing out our medals, and helping us into our capes to keep us from getting hypothermia when we crossed the finish. Some of those volunteers stood in the cold for hours shouting out ‘gatorade gatorade gatorade, water water water’ and yet they still found time to yell out ‘Go Susan’ as I snatched a cup from their hands. A canadian volunteer was handing out medals and called over some of my friends when she saw their maple leafs and was so excited to have the opportunity to place the medal over their heads. The volunteers do get their own Boston jackets and they are well earned. Another Boston Strong team!

Now what?

Well I didn’t BQ at Boston, so I won’t be back next year. But I hope to return one day. Regardless this was a weekend to remember. I will happily regale anyone who is willing to listen with tales of Boston. Thank you once more to my amazing friends, fellow runners, my family, my kids, and my husband for all your support. I can honestly say I could NEVER have done this without you.

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.