Boston Marathon

What spectators should know about the 2021 Boston Marathon

From COVID-19 guidelines to what not to bring.

Spectators cheer for runners along Commonwealth Avenue near "Heartbreak Hill" in Newton during the running of the 120th Boston Marathon in 2016. Keith Bedford / The Boston Globe

It’s been a while — seriously, nearly 30 months — since there was an actual Boston Marathon for fans to watch in person from Hopkinton to Boylston Street.

And this year, in particular, spectators can be forgiven if they need a refresher before attending.

The 2021 race takes place six months later than normal in the year and with a number of alterations due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There’s about two-thirds the normal number of participants, and they’ll all be required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to get to the starting line.

But what about the thousands of spectators lining the 26.2-mile course?


Here’s what you need to know:

What are the COVID-19 guidelines?

In addition to the normal safety guidelines for attending the massive event, Boston Athletic Association officials are asking spectators to take several precautions to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19.

For starters, anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home (you’ll still be able to watch the race on WBZ-TV and NBC Sports).

For those attending, the BAA suggests a few advance actions to limit COVID-19 spread, including getting vaccinated. They also “strongly” encourage spectators to get tested for COVID-19 in advance of traveling to Boston and suggest wearing a mask when individuals cannot socially distance during race week.

On race day, the BAA is also asking spectators and runners to consider “refraining from kissing a stranger around the halfway mark of the Boston Marathon,” a reference to the Wellesley College Scream Tunnel. They’re also asking runners not to accept drinks or food from spectators this year.

Indoor mask rules may differ from town-to-town along the course.

For example, while Boston, Brookline, Newton, and Wellesley have reinstated mask mandates requiring all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks when in public indoor places, other communities along the course — Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, and Natick — defer to state guidelines.


As of late July, state officials say that face coverings should be worn within public indoor places by unvaccinated adults, as well as fully vaccinated individuals who may be vulnerable to COVID-19 due to a weakened immune system or age, or who live in a household with someone who’s vulnerable to the disease.

What should I leave at home?

And then there are the usual safety guidelines, unrelated to COVID-19.

BAA officials say spectators entering official event venues, approaching viewing areas on the course, or in viewing areas on the course, may be asked to pass through security checkpoints and have their bags inspected by law enforcement officers or contracted private security personnel.

Spectators along the course or in any BAA venues are discouraged from bringing the following items, which may result in delays and “enhanced screening”:

  • Weapons or items of any kind that may be used as weapons, including firearms, knives, mace, etc.
  • Backpacks or any similar item carried over the shoulder.
  • Suitcases and rolling bags/rollers.
  • Coolers.
  • Glass containers or cans.
  • Flammable liquids, fuels, fireworks or explosives.
  • Any container capable of carrying more than 1 liter of liquid.
  • Handbags or packages or bulky items larger than 12 inches x 12 inches x 6 inches.
  • Large blankets/comforters, duvets, sleeping bags.
  • Costumes covering the face or any non-form fitting, bulky outfits extending beyond the perimeter of the body.
  • Props (including sporting equipment and military and fire gear).

BAA officials are also asking the public to not use drones along the course.

When should I get there?

Depending on where you go and who you want to watch BAA officials have created a grid of suggested arrival times for the Oct. 11 race:

Main St. HopkintonStart8:02 a.m.8:05 a.m.8:37 a.m.8:45 a.m.
Rt. 135, Ashland5K8:11 a.m.8:15 a.m.8:52 a.m.9:02 a.m.
Rt. 135, Framingham10K8:20 a.m.8:28 a.m.9:07 a.m.9:20 a.m.
Rt. 135, Natick15K8:32 a.m.8:40 a.m.9:24 a.m.9:40 a.m.
Rt. 135, WellesleyHalfway8:42 a.m.8:50 a.m.9:41 a.m.9:56 a.m.
Rt. 30, Newton35K9:06 a.m.9:17 a.m.10:16 a.m.10:38 a.m.
Coolidge Corner, Brookline38K9:15 a.m.9:28 a.m.10:30 a.m.10:55 a.m.
Boylston St., BostonFinish9:22 a.m.9:35 a.m.10:45 a.m.11:08 a.m.


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