Boston Marathon

The 2021 Boston Marathon: What to know

The historic road race returns to its typical route this year — but not on the traditional 'Marathon Monday.'

In this April 15, 2019, file photo, fans cheer on the third wave of runners at the start of the 123rd Boston Marathon in Hopkinton. AP Photo/Stew Milne, File

The Boston Marathon you know is returning, albeit with one notable exception: This is no spring day race.

Yes, after the COVID-19 pandemic thwarted plans for the oldest annual marathon in the world on its traditional Patriot’s Day date in April 2020 and 2021, marathoners will hit the usual 26.2-mile course they love to hate for the first time since 2019.

Some runners technically completed the marathon last year: Participants ran in a virtual marathon last fall, in which marathoners ran individually with no designated course, due to the health crisis.

But what may be Boston’s best day will look a whole lot more familiar this year.

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Here’s what to know about the 2021 Boston Marathon:

A key anniversary and commemorations for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The 125th marathon

This year’s race marks the 125th Boston Marathon — a special milestone that race officials say will be commemorated with the first-ever Opening Celebration. The program will highlight “important moments from Boston Marathon history and feature a presentation of the Greek Olive Wreaths presented annually to Boston Marathon champions,” organizers say.

The event is slated for Friday at 6 p.m. in Copley Square.

Speaking of history, Sara Mae Berman, the trailblazing runner who finished first in the marathon three times in an era when women were not technically allowed to run the race, will be a guest of honor this year. Berman, now 85, will be presented with a banner for the 50th anniversary of her final victory on race day — coincidentally also the International Day of the Girl.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The Boston Athletic Association is also presenting a banner commemorating two-time champion Ellison Brown — the first place finisher in 1936 and 1939 and a member of the Narragansett tribe — to Brown’s grandchildren, Anna Brown-Jackson and Michael Monroe, Sr.

As organizers note, Indigenous Peoples’ Day (this year’s Marathon Monday) falls on the 85th anniversary of Brown’s first win.

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“Running and winning the Boston Marathon was something grandpa loved! He had gained another family through the Boston Athletic Association that he always talked about, one that we today are also glad to be a part of,” Brown-Jackson said in a statement. “Being an Indigenous person meant everything to grandpa because he was very competitive to begin with. If someone told him he couldn’t do something, whether it was winning the marathon or crossing through a path of land to gather shellfish for his family, he’d make sure to prove them wrong and do it!”

In honor of the holiday, Patti Catalano Dillon, a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe and a three-time runner-up in the marathon, will be interviewed at the race’s Fan Fest over the weekend on “setting the American marathon record at Boston 40 years ago,” organizers said.

Catalano Dillon will also be an official starter for the Men’s and Women’s Open Races.

“It’s such an honor to be asked and I’m so humbled and excited to celebrate both aspects of my identity — as a Bostonian and an Indigenous person,” Catalano Dillon said in a statement. “The Boston Marathon and the Native community both made me who I am today, and I am delighted to have an opportunity to celebrate them.”

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The BAA will donate $10,000 to WINGS of America, an organization that supports Native youth and their families through running, and $20,000 for Newton’s first-ever Indigenous Peoples’ Day Celebration. The association said it will also read “a land acknowledgment” to recognize the Indigenous homelands that the course spans ahead of the race.

Additionally, the BAA is donating $125,000 to “organizations working to increase access to running for communities of color,” the association said.

Grand Marshals and notable persons

Frontline workers nominated by hospitals from the John Hancock Non-Profit and BAA Charity programs will serve as the grand marshals of this year’s marathon and will be announced over the weekend.

The workers will be accompanied by “marathon champions including Meb Keflezighi, Sara Mae Berman, Bill Rodgers, and Joan Benoit Samuelson and driven the 26 miles in two Boston DUCK Boats, Back Bay Bertha and Catie Copley,” organizers said.

“In addition to Patti Catalano Dillon starting the open races, 1968 Boston champion Amby Burfoot will start the Men’s and Women’s Wheelchair Races. Russell Hoyt, son of the late Dick Hoyt, will be the starter for the Handcycle and Duo Divisions, while Christina Welton, great granddaughter of the late George V. Brown, will keep the family tradition going by serving as a starter for the Para Athletics Division,” the BAA said. “Finally, the Boston Marathon’s first-ever rolling start will be signaled by Hopkinton Fire Chief Bill Miller. Returning to the Boylston Street announcers’ booth for the final stretch of the race is 1983 Boston Marathon champion Greg Meyer.”

The course

The course returns to its traditional route this year, after the 2020 marathon had participants complete individual, virtual races.

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Marathoners will line up at the starting line in Hopkinton, and traverse MetroWest communities on their 26.2-mile journey into Boston’s Back Bay.

Race day schedule

The marathon schedule will include a rolling start and earlier start times than years past:

  • Men’s Wheelchair: 8:02 a.m.
  • Women’s Wheelchair: 8:05 a.m.
  • Handcycles and Duos: 8:30 a.m.
  • Professional Men: 8:37 a.m.
  • Professional Women: 8:45 a.m.
  • Para Athletics Division: 8:50 a.m.
  • Rolling start (begins): 9 a.m.

Weekend programs: Fan Fest and the marathon Expo

The Boston Marathon Fan Fest will be a hotspot of festivities in Copley Square beginning on Friday at noon through 8 p.m., and returning on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., respectively.

Attendees can catch live music, fitness classes, interviews and panel discussions on the Live Stage, and more. (A full schedule is available on the BAA website, here.) Fan Fest is open to the public and free to attend.

Also on the agenda: the Boston Marathon Expo.

Coinciding with Fan Fest, the expo — held at the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center at 900 Boylston St. — is open to all, and includes the “largest adidas Boston Marathon store in Boston,” organizers said.

Those heading to the expo can expect to see sponsor exhibits, the marathon shop, and photo ops, along with the bib number, race packet, and t-shirt pick up area for participants.

The expo, which is also free to attend, will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Masks will be required at the Expo.

COVID-19 precautions

While masks will not be required on the race course, all participants in this year’s marathon are required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result in order to participate. (Mask wearing will be required onboard participant transportation and other areas as required by local guidelines.)

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Tests for marathoners will be administered on site at a marathon medical tent, with vaccine verification conducted between Friday and Sunday during expo hours.

“The B.A.A. will work with a third-party testing provider for test administration and results tracking. Testing will begin no earlier than 72 hours prior to participant start times on Monday, October 11,” the BAA said in a statement last month. “Exact hours, locations, and additional details will be communicated directly to all participants. Tested participants will not receive immediate access to enter the Boston Marathon Expo for bib number pick-up and will be required to wait for confirmation of test results. The fastest path to pick up numbers for the 125th Boston Marathon is being fully vaccinated.”

Upon verifying vaccination status or producing a negative test result, marathoners will receive a bracelet that they must wear at all times (including when they pick up their finisher’s medals). The BAA said marathon volunteers and officials will undergo a similar process while all marathon medical volunteers will be fully vaccinated.

Any participant who tests positive will not be allowed to run and will be refunded their entry fee, organizers said.

“All test results will be reported by the third-party provider to the public health authority of the jurisdiction where the person resides,” the BAA said. “The B.A.A. will work to ensure that all cases are traced and tracked to prevent any additional spread due to exposure at marathon-related events or programs. Additionally, all participants will receive an email after race day asking to self-report if exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19.”

The association is urging all marathoners and spectators to get tested before they travel to Boston and to develop a plan should they need to isolate if they test positive. Unvaccinated individuals should also have a self-quarantine plan in place should they be exposed to a positive case.

Masks will be provided to participants at the finish line, and will be required in all indoor spaces in Boston, as per a city ordinance. Mask wearing will also be enforced in all marathon medical tents along the race course.

“The B.A.A. strongly encourages everyone to ‘Earn A PR’ by practicing personal responsibility for the 125th Boston Marathon,” the BAA said. “From guests traveling with athletes to spectators cheering on participants, everyone is encouraged to take efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

On that list: being fully vaccinated; wearing a mask when one cannot physically distance; accepting only nutrition hand outs from the BAA along the route; and, yes, refraining from kissing strangers at the famed Wellesley College scream tunnel. Those who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home.

How to watch

Aside from watching along the sidelines of the route, spectators can watch the marathon in its entirety on WBZ-TV beginning at 7 a.m.

NBC Sports Network and the NBC Sports app will also broadcast the race for a national audience starting at 7:30 a.m., and spectators can use the BAA Racing app “to stay updated on news, leaderboards, athlete tracking, and more,” according to the BAA.

What else to know

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