I've run Boston 3 times, each time was quite the experience! Here are a few things to know.
Pre-Race: You will go to the finish line area (actually Boston Commons, a few blocks away from finish) and catch a shuttle bus to the start. The race doesn’t start until 10:00am, but you will catch the bus very early, like 6:00am! It will take you to the athlete’s village in Hopkinton. The bus ride will take nearly an hour.
At the athlete’s village you hang out for a few hours waiting for the start. There will be lots of large tents, with food (bagels, bananas,....), drinks (water, coffee, sports drinks) and a bazillion porta-potties! This area is at a school. That said, bring whatever food you are planning to eat, just to be sure you have what you are used to eating before you run.
I recommend finding some cardboard the day before the race and carrying it with you to the start area. A few pieces that you can carry under your arm onto the bus. This will give you something to sit/lay on that morning while you are hanging out at the athlete’s village. If you are on the ground the cardboard will keep you dry, if you are on the concrete it will be a little cushion. Also bring a couple of large garbage bags. They can keep you dry and warm prior to the race. I usually find a spot next to one of the school buildings, away from the crowd, usually a dry place next to a brick wall, out of the wind.
There is a bag check for your warmups BUT it is nearly ¾ of a mile from the start, so wear some old clothes that you don’t mind ditching at the start line, never to be seen again! You will check your bag and walk to the start. I also recommend wearing an old pair of shoes just in case you step in mud or water, then tossing them before the race, switching to the shoes you will run in. There will be lots of Porta Potties in the athlete’s village, as well as by the start line.
You will be lined up 10-15 minutes before you start running. Once the gun goes off it will take you several minutes to reach the actual start line. Most of the runners around you will be running your pace or faster, so be patient, avoid getting caught up in the excitement. In the first mile there will be crowds, then a few wooded areas that runners will jump off the course to pee!
Patience! Most of the course is a slight downhill, so you will have some fast miles. These fast miles can take a toll on your quads by the time you hit the last 5 miles!
My advice is to run the first 5 miles on effort, keeping it very easy allowing your body to warmup. Don’t get caught up on your splits (unless they are really fast, which is a sign you need to slow down!) In 2008 my first 5 miles were my slowest and I ran a PR. In 2013 I was 2 minutes behind my goal pace time at 5 miles, which really stressed me out. I was stressing out, but forced myself to stay calm and stick to my plan. I made it all that time back up and more to run a PR! So relax for 5 miles!
The course has some slight (almost unnoticeable) elevation changes, so your mile splits will vary even if your effort remains steady. Here are links to pace calculators that take into the course elevation changes so you can have a realistic idea of what to expect:
I also made me a little cheat sheet that told me which miles to expect faster splits, and which miles to expect slower split times. I wrote it on a small piece of paper, laminated it and carried it with me for reference during the race. This kept me from freaking out when my pace got faster or slower!
The hills will start on mile 16, very gradually. You won’t notice there are hills, but you will notice your effort is increasing and your splits start to slow down slightly. You get a break after a couple of miles then they will return on mile 20 & 21, which will be the slowest. BE WARNED! On Mile 22 you will encounter a steep downhill (sounds good, but after 22 miles it can do some serious damage, so ease down the hill until it levels out.
So in a nutshell, be patient for 5 miles, get in the groove for the next 10 miles, get through the hills (miles 16-21) in one piece, survive the sharp downhill and bring it home strong on the last 5 mile.
BOTTOM LINE: The first time you run Boston you should relax and enjoy it! You want it to be a positive experience. If you are patient you will run a good time. If you get greedy or impatient the course will eat up!
The crowds are incredible along the course, so take time to soak in the sights, sounds and smells!