Watching the Boston Marathon

With a half million live spectators and tens of thousands of runners, the Boston Marathon is a sight to see. It’s traditionally held on Patriot’s Day in mid-April (a Massachusetts state holiday), where a massive number of runners congregate to participate in New England‘s largest sporting event. The crowd support is pretty inspiring – spectators line the 26.2 mile path from Hopkinton to Boston, cheering the runners to the finish. If you’re around Boston in April, it’s a very festive atmosphere, and definitely worth seeing.

This post isn’t intended to be a comprehensive post about watching the marathon. We’ve only been back in Boston since early 2020, and this was the first time our kids were able to see part of the race. When we were college students, we both lived about a 20-30 minute walk from the finishing area, and would go out and watch for a bit every year. Here are some slightly grainy photos from that era:

If you are coming from out-of-town, definitely find a place close to the end – it’s where the runners, having already run for 25+ miles, go into a complete sprint, pushing themselves to the limit, at the very end, sometimes right next to a competitor. And later in the afternoon, there are all sorts of festivities.

In our case, the marathon coincided with our kids’ spring break, and we had an afternoon flight to California, where we used to live, and where our kids hadn’t returned in 2 years. But we were determined to see some of the race, even if they didn’t get the whole experience.

When looking at the 26.2 mile route, we debated where to watch:

If we had no constraints, we probably would have parked in Cambridge, walked across the bridge towards the last mile area between Kenmore Square and the finish near Copley Square (be careful trying to drive too close to the marathon route, lots of street closures).

Our flight’s timing didn’t allow for that. We thought about some famous locations like “Heartbreak Hill” or the “scream tunnel” next to Wellesley College, but realized that we’d get to see more of it if we watched near the beginning of the race. So we ended up choosing Ashland, the second town on the route, roughly 5 miles in. It seemed there that runners would have time to be in their groove, and we would have a good viewing experience.

We drove the Mass Pike to Ashland, and found that parking was fairly straightforward – there was a municipal parking area about a 1/4 mile walk from the Boston Marathon route and were confident that we would be able to make it back to the airport in time to catch our flight. Even in a more “remote” location like this, though, the route was lined with spectators, some with signs and such that they’d made for the occasion.

With hopes of being able to see at least a few of the wheelchair and other para athletic racers, we timed our arrival to be just before the lead men. Perfect timing! Within a few minutes we spotted a couple of wheelchairs, shortly followed by a few blind racers and two racers with missing legs. What an achievement!

A short time later, the lead men runners sped by!

Then the women were next!

And then the flood of regular runners started! To qualify as a 20 year old male, you need to have recently completed another marathon in under 3 hours!

The 80+ year old women need to have a qualification time of 5 hours and 20 minutes. Can you imagine running a marathon at that age? The oldest woman to complete the Boston Marathon was 85! And here’s another interesting article about a 79 year old woman who ran the Boston Marathon in 2021.

When Jeremy and I watched the marathon in college, we thought it was incredible to watch the first runners come across the line running faster than I would run the first mile.

My personal favorite viewing spot was the year that I volunteered at a water station towards the latter part of the race. It was incredible to hand out cup after cup of water or gatorade to exhausted runners. Plus, I got a cool bright orange jacket!

If you happen to travel to Boston the third week of April, make sure you don’t miss at least a portion of the Boston Marathon or other Patriot’s Day events (like the Battle of Lexington Re-enactment)!

Keep reading our travel blog for more New England travel ideas:

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