Spectators slap high fives with passing runners at the start of the 116th running of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Each year, around a half a million spectators line the 26.2 mile Boston Marathon course each Patriots Day to offer support, high-fives and the occasional hug to runners in a difficult race—one that has traditionally been known for the close proximity of the fans that line the course from start to finish. The weather, runners and crowd sizes may change, but the one constant that is essential to any marathon-goer is knowing where to land a great spot along the route to take in the best views of the race. These spots never disappoint if you can nab them early enough to get a good view.
READ: Security Changes for Spectators
Hopkinton (Starting line of the race)
This is where it all begins, and if you’re not one for large screaming crowds or excited college students, finding a spot along the beginning of the course may offer a good option for you. The starting line is typically hectic and security controlled. Try heading down the road a bit and checking out the area by the 1-2 mile mark (Franklin Road) where it’s a bit less crowded and you’ll be able to spot the runners much easier as they pass you by.
Framingham (Miles 6 through 9)
Still early in the race, this area tends to see a thinner crowd. This portion of the race spans from about Union Avenue in Framingham to Speen Street in Natick. At this early point in the race, the elite runners will be in one large pack leading the herd of the tens of thousands of other runners who will soon follow. If you’re hoping to spot your loved on, they should have spread out a bit by now.
Natick (Miles 8 through 11)
The Town Green in Natick is one of the most coveted spots for viewing the marathon. It not only offers a great view, but the grassy area is inviting and lively with enough off-the-route space to stretch out and relax. People tend to arrive here early to nab a good spot, so if you’re thinking about viewing the race from the Town Green, then make sure to plan accordingly. For runners, this portion of the race is relatively flat as they prepare themselves for the hills to begin.
Wellesley (Miles 11-15)
Marking the exact mid-point of this 26.2 mile course, Wellesley is a great spot to watch the race because it offers an electric environment as Wellesley College students cheer on racers and even offer up traditional kisses to the runners as they pass by. The best places to view the race from Wellesley are either just before the college (if a more lively environment is preferred) or just after the college by the Town Hall for a quieter viewing option.
West Newton (Miles 15-18)
A favorite spot amongst the locals looking to picnic, look for the red brick fire station that marks the sharp right turn in the course. Here runners swing from Route 16 to Route 30 (Washington St. to Comm. Ave.) after completing 17 miles of their journey. This is a great spot for those who are looking to offer cheers and lots of encouragement to the runners, as it’s the last area before the runners will endure the infamous Newton Hills.
Newton Hills (Miles 18-20)
Though Heartbreak Hill may be the most famous of the hills that the runners must endure, it’s the last in a series of four hills that runners go up and down during this grueling and intense part of the course. Such a difficult portion of the race certainly needs strong cheering and encouragement to push them onward. There tends to be plenty of elbow-room along this portion of the route, with the earlier hills offering a more family friendly viewing experience than the areas that approach Boston College and beyond.
The Chestnut Hill/Heartbreak Hill area tends to be one of the noisier portions of the race route, due to the “make-or-break” nature of the most infamous hill in the race. It is a common site for local college students who want to get into the spirit of the day with signs and loud cheering. Many people even opt to set up picnics to enjoy the day as the Newton portion of Commonwealth Avenue offers lots of spacious, beautiful green areas where families can set up.
Cleveland Circle & Coolidge Corner/Brighton Area (Miles 21-24)
This is the point in the race where the runners make their turn onto Beacon Street and enter the more urban portion of the race. This area is for you if you’re interested in a loud and raucous atmosphere, for these two spots tend to be lined with Boston College students who have been partying since dawn. Same story down by Coolidge Corner, where students from other local schools tend to converge.
Kenmore Square (Mile 24.5)
As runners continue down the more urban portion of the race, they begin to enter the Boston University territory. This spot, similar to Coolidge Corner, is also one of the rowdiest spots along the course. This is partly due to the large number of college students in the area, but also because of the direct green line accessibility at the Kenmore T stop for people who prefer to take the Commuter Rail into town. The crowds here tend to be several people deep. If your real interest is in seeing the race, skip Kenmore. If your real interest is in an urban street party, this is perfect. Once the annual Red Sox game gets out, even more people take to the streets, making for a truly “festive” experience.
Boylston Street (Miles 25-26.2)
This is the final stretch for the runners and also one of the most coveted portions of the race route to try to get a spot along. If you’re lucky enough to get there early and snag a spot that you can truly get a good view from, this is literally as good as any marathon experience can get. As you can imagine, this portion of the race route tends to attract the masses of people who want to see the “big finish” as well as individuals attempting to congratulate their loved ones for finishing this grueling race. Expect tight security along Boylston.
This year, expect even larger crowds than normal as the city is projecting that more than double last year’s number of spectators to turnout in a show of unity, strength and solidarity. So get there early and be ready to cheer loud and proud in the most Boston of fashions. Somebody has to be in front – right?
Chris, an avid sports enthusiast and writer for Examiner, is a graduating fourth year medical student who lives in Brighton, MA. Check out his Sports Medicine column at Examiner.com.