Unlike marathons held in flatter locations, hills define the Boston Marathon route. Runners particularly dread "Heartbreak Hill" located between Mile 20 and 21 in Newton.
Heartbreak Hill is the last of 4 hills in Newton which begin at Mile 16. Heartbreak Hill is not the steepest or highest hill along the course - in fact, it makes only an 88 foot ascent over a .4 mile stretch near Boston College. If you walk - or even run - this stretch alone, you might think, "What's the big deal?"
However, runners consider Heartbreak Hill to be the most challenging stretch of the course because it occurs so far along in the race, at a point when their energy and stamina is almost depleted. And don't forget about the 3 other hills that come right before it.
Boston Marathon start times are staggered and are based on the participant's division. Please note that start times differ from previous years. These are start times for each division in 2021:
Men's Wheelchair - 9:02 am ET
Women's Wheelchair - 9:05 am ET
Handcycles & Duos - 9:30 am ET
Elite Men - 9:37 am ET
Elite Women - 9:45 am ET
Para Athletics Divisions - 9:50 am ET
Wave One - 10:00 am ET
Wave Two - 10:25 am ET
Wave Three - 10:50 am ET
Wave Four - 11:15 am ET
Please note that BAA labels these times as "tentative" - there can always be last-minute changes.
In the photo at the left, you can see runners at Mile 20 in Newton,
where hilly terrain begins to separate the front runners from the rest of the pack.
The fastest runners finish in just over 2 hours. In other words, they reach the finish line at Copley Square shortly past noon. However, the race continues well into the afternoon.
In keeping with the democratic spirit, you'll see unofficial participants also running at least part of the race, even though this isn't technically allowed. Some people do this just to see if they can. Still others do it just for fun.
The Marathon officially ends at 5:30pm, and Boylston Street usually reopens to traffic by 8pm, with other streets used by the race opening at about 7pm.
One reason for the Boston Marathon's prestige is that it is the only U.S. marathon with qualifying time standards. Participants must meet the qualifying times in order to participate.
If you want to be anywhere near the finish line, walk or take the T.
The Copley and Arlington T stations are closed on Boston Marathon Day as they are close to the finish line; you'll need to pick another station.
If you take the T, get off at a station on the side of Boylston Street where you want to watch the race. You will not be allowed to cross Boylston Street, and underpasses will be jammed - so pick your station carefully.
Do not drive into Boston on Marathon Monday. Streets are either gridlocked or closed. Get a very early start if you want to find a parking space in a T parking lot. They fill up much faster than you might expect.
Boston hotels fill to capacity during the weekend before the Marathon, and hotel rates soar significantly higher than usual. To get the best deal, make your Boston hotel reservations as early as possible. You can find Marathon hotel suggestions here, including names of hotels where you can watch the race from your room.
April weather in Boston is unpredictable . . . and so is Boston Marathon weather. Neither icy rain, broiling heat, nor wind storms deter the Marathon runners - but they may greatly diminish your viewing comfort. Dress in layers, and bring umbrellas and/or water bottles as common sense dictates. If you're not 100% committed to watching the runners, you may want to have a "Plan B" - so try these bad-weather alternatives.
Best Places to Watch the Boston Marathon
Depending on the weather, 500,000 or more people turn out to watch the race. When the weather hits the "perfect" mark (ie, not too frigid, not sweltering hot, no sleet, snow, or torrential rains), the number of Marathon spectators easily soars to over a million.
Our experience is that almost any viewing location along the route lets you experience the excitement of the race.
If you want to be near the finish line in Copley Square, be warned: crowds get huge and intense. Because of the massive number of viewers packed into a relatively small space, you will have only a slim chance of actually seeing the winners cross the finish line.
If you want to simply watch the runners, your best bet in the city is west of Kenmore Square.
Lots of boisterous crowds gather around Boston University, but plenty of more mellow venues can be found around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir near Boston College.
Getting to the Marathon
If you're planning to watch the Boston Marathon anywhere near the finish line, do NOT try to drive into the city. Many roads will be closed, traffic will be totally congested, and parking will be a nightmare.
If you're thinking you can drive into the city and park at some distance from the Marathon route, think again. Boston's Patriot Day Parade also takes place on Monday, kicking off from City Hall Plaza - so many streets in that part of the city will also be closed.
Street closures and parking restrictions impact six central Boston neighborhoods: Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Brighton, Fenway/Kenmore, the North End, and Government Center.
Public transportation on the T (Boston's subway) is the only sane solution - but you'll need to do some careful planning.
The good news? The MBTA (T and commuter rail) gives you easy access to almost the entire Marathon route.
Branch C of the T's Green Line runs parallel to much of the course, and the Commuter Line's Framingham/Worcester Line has many stops within half a mile of the course.
Subway and Train Stations & Stops near the Boston Marathon Route
The closest T station to the finish line is the Copley station on the Green Line - but it will be closed for the day. Arlington station (Green Line, next to Boston Common) is also usually closed.
The other closest option to the finish line on the Green Line is Hynes, down near Mass Ave, although you might also consider Boylston (Boston Common). To the south of Boylston, Green Line E/Prudential and Orange Line/Back Bay are good choices. Park Street on the Red Line (Boston Common) is also reasonably close.
A bit farther to the west, Green Line/Fenway is a good choice. If you want to be near Boston University - always a lively spot - take any of the Green Line B exits near BU, such as Blandford Street or BU East, BU Central, or BU West.
Keep in mind, though, that parking close of any and all of these areas may be restricted, even where roads aren't closed. Because Monday is the Patriots Day holiday throughout Massachusetts, parking in metered spaces is free - but good luck finding any that aren't Residents Only (and no, you can't park in those unless you want to be ticketed).
Many streets will be closed on both Saturday, when a couple of short races take place, and Monday, the day of the Marathon and Patriots Day Parade.
To see a complete list of road closures and parking restrictions, check the City of Boston's website and click on the link at the top of the home page (if you don't see it, check back within a week or two of the Marathon).
To ease your commuting effort and expense, the MBTA will run additional trains and Silver Line buses on Marathon Monday and also offers a special 1-day pass for the Commuter Rail on Marathon Day. You can also save with regular subway (T) and bus 1-day and 7-day passes:
Commuter Rail All-Day Unlimited Commuter Rail Marathon Pass - $15 - good for unlimited travel on all commuter rail lines and in all zones. (The Worcester Line, which runs parallel to the Marathon route with many stops less than 1/4 mile from the course and others within half a mile.) Buy it on MBTA's "mTicket" app, with cash or a credit card on board the train on Marathon Monday, at fare vending machines in subway stations, or at ticket windows in North Station, Back Bay Station, or South Station. If you're in town before the race and want to explore, you can buy a $10 version of this unlimited travel Commuter Rail ticket on Saturday and Sunday.
Subway/Bus 1-day pass for $12.75 - Buy it at any fare vending machine in a T station - good for 24 hours after purchase. Don't rush to buy this though until you calculate how many trips you'll make in one day - you can do about 4 subway trips for about the same price, so this ticket makes sense only if you expect to make 5 or more trips on one day
In Boston for a week? Buy a 7-day LinkPass for $21.25. You can buy them at fare vending machines in subway stations
You can find more details here: https://mbta.com/guides/marathon-guide
This map from the MBTA shows stops and stations closest to the Marathon route:
Why is the Marathon Called the "Patriots' Day Race" in Boston?
The Boston Marathon has taken place every year since 1897. Initially, runners ran on or just after Patriots' Day, a Massachusetts holiday that celebrates the battle on Lexington Green and Old North Bridge in Concord on April 19, 1775, marking the official beginning of the American Revolution.
Here in Boston, many people continue to call the Marathon the "Patriots' Day Race."
In 1969, Patriots' Day started to be officially celebrated on the third Monday in April, and the Marathon shifted to this day as well.
Because Patriots' Day is an official Massachusetts State holiday, most state, county, municipal offices, and schools are closed - which helps alleviate some of the commuter traffic into Boston and enables more people to watch the race.
Marathon Man Statue - John A. Kelley
The "Marathon Man" statue near the beginning of Heartbreak Hill, just north of Commonwealth Avenue at the Walnut Street intersection, commemorates Boston's legendary world-famous long distance runner, John A. Kelley, who ran 61 Boston Marathons before his death in 2004 at age 97.
Kelley won the Boston Marathon in 1935 and 1946, and represented the U.S. at the Summer Olympics in 1936 and 1948.
The statue depicts two smiling runners joining hands in a triumphant gesture. On your left, as you face the statue: Johnny Kelley at age 27 after he won his first Boston Marathon. On your right: Kelley when he ran his last full Marathon at 84.
At the base, a plaque explains that the statue represents "everyone who is young at heart."
Boston Marathon Memorials
During the 217th Marathon in 2013, two bomb explosions near the finish line ripped through the heart of our most iconic Boston event.
The outpouring of support from around the world at a pop-up memorial in Copley Square was heart-warming during a very difficult period in Boston.
One Boston Day marks the anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings and grew out of a desire by the survivors to thank the first responders, medical staff, and random strangers who cared for them, and to "celebrate the resiliency, generosity, and strength demonstrated by the people of Boston and those around the world in response to the tragedy of April 15th, 2013."
A special ceremony marks the two spots on Boylston Street where the bombs exploded.
The day is dedicated to random acts of kindness, spreading goodwill, unity - and honoring "Boston Strong."