Marathon Monday is a special day for both the runners and those who come out to watch the race. Whether you’re cheering on a loved one or just want to have a good time, the 26.2-mile course has plenty of awesome places to catch the action.
To get an expert’s perspective on where to be during the marathon, we talked to T.K. Skenderian, former communications director for the Boston Athletic Association, about some of the best places to watch the race unfold, from the starting line to the final turn onto Boylston Street.
While you won’t get to see much of the race from the starting line, nowhere else on the course has a greater collection of buzz, anticipation, and possibility. If you’re going to watch the race from Hopkinton, be sure to get there early. Skenderian warned that with so many runners arriving via bus, it can be a bit of a madhouse. “If you want to go to the starting line, I would recommend parking at Hopkinton State Park,” Skenderian said. “It’s not too far away in North Hopkinton, and spectators can take a shuttle bus to the start line from there.”
Ashland is a bit of a mixed bag. If crowds aren’t your thing, Ashland is one of the easiest places to find a seat. “If you’re just looking to see the elites run and have a spot on the course to yourself, it’s great,” Skenderian said. “You can see them all whiz by early.” But Ashland wouldn’t be Skenderian’s pick for a couple of reasons: It’s almost a mile walk to the course from the Ashland commuter rail stop, and while it won’t be crowded for spectators, it will be for racers. “If you’re looking for someone in particular, it can be difficult,” Skenderian said. “At that point in the race, the runners are packed so closely together.”
Unlike Ashland, Framingham has a healthy number of spectators, and it’s next to the Framingham commuter rail stop. “The Framingham station is right around the 10K mark,” Skenderian said. “It’s probably the best spot in the early part of the course to see your loved one, and afterward you’ll have time to hop back on the train and see them again further down the course.”
The closer you get to the finish line, the larger the crowds get in each town hub. The crowds in Natick Center around the 10-mile mark are a fun, rollicking bunch, while the West Natick rail stop is quieter and more remote, and will let you stand out more. Whichever one you choose, Skenderian said to remember that all of the commuter rail stations are on the north side of the course. “If you have a plan to meet up with your loved one, let them know you’ll be on the left side of the road,” Skenderian said. “Even 10 miles in, it can be hard for runners and supporters to find each other.”
The Wellesley Square commuter rail stop drops you off in the center of town right next to the race. At just around the halfway point of the race, it’s a good place to send some encouragement before heading closer to the finish line. If you want to experience the famous Wellesley College scream tunnel, head about a mile west from the Wellesley Square stop. “What’s great about Wellesley is that if you time it right, you can hop back on the commuter rail and ride to Yawkey in Kenmore Square,” Skenderian said. “The bad news is you miss all of Newton and Brookline.” Which brings us to…
If there’s one section of the course where racers need encouragement, it’s the Newton Hills one that begins somewhere around the 17-mile mark and ends between miles 20 and 21, a bit before Boston College. If you want to catch the start of the tough stretch, hop on the D branch of the Green Line and ride to the Woodland stop. Even better, if you walk a half mile to the east, “just up the street from Woodland is the Newton Fire Station,” Skenderian said. “It’s the first turn of the course, off of Route 16 and onto Commonwealth Avenue. It’s a great place to give the runners one last push of encouragement before they start the first of the four hills.”
If you’re committed to checking out a steeper portion of the Heartbreak Hills, you can ride the D branch of the Green Line to Newton Centre and walk 12 minutes to Commonwealth Avenue, but the more spectator-friendly spot is off of the Boston College stop on the B branch. “Runners are just cresting the last of the Heartbreak Hills, so it’s a really good spot,” Skenderian said. “The B line can take awhile, but the whole BC campus area is beautiful, and there’s a higher concentration of restaurants than the earlier parts of the course.”
One advantage to Cleveland Circle is that it’s accessible from the B, C, and D branches of the Green Line. (The Cleveland Circle stop on the C branch brings you closest, but because fewer stops leave from downtown Boston, the D branch is recommended.) No matter which train you take, the crowds will be pretty thick. “Starting at Cleveland Circle, it’s one long tunnel of loud cheering for the rest of the race,” Skenderian said. “The crowds all through Brookline, especially Cleveland Circle and Coolidge Corner, are hopping. There’s an amazing energy.”
Runners approaching Kenmore Square can see the Citgo sign looming larger, beckoning them forward. Once they’re there, the spirit from fans either heading to or departing from the Red Sox game makes Kenmore one big party. “If you can find a good spot in that last mile, you’re going to have a great time,” Skenderian said. “Plus, you’ve got the Boston Strong bridge, which is a really, really special place.”
If you’re set on watching the race’s final stretch along Boylston Street, be prepared for big crowds. Also, don’t be fooled by your GPS: While the Copley Green Line stop would normally bring you right to the finish line, it’s closed on race day, meaning you should ride to the Hynes stop. Skenderian said that, if you can handle the mob of well-wishers, it’s worth checking out. “Both of the final turns, onto Hereford and onto Boylston Street, are special,” Skenderian said. “Once people make that last turn onto Boylston, they’re jacked up. It’s an emotional place.”
Photos: The Boston Marathon through the years: