Spectating the 2014 Boston Marathon

We left off with yesterday’s ‘5 Random Things I Did This Past Weekend’ post where I outlined the lead-up into watching The Girl run her first Boston Marathon.  Today, we’ll tackle the whole shindig!

Off to the school buses:


In many ways, this morning sorta felt like dropping off a kid at the school bus for the first day of school.  Except, the kid got a bad deal on the one-way bus ride and had to run home.

And, most kids wouldn’t have been dressed as ‘fashionably’ as The Girl was.  With stringent rules on what you could take (or not take), everyone was sporting all assortment of leftovers to the starting line.  In this case, we picked up a super colorful beach towel off the clearance rack, and then combined it with some old random track pants she found in my closet.  Then added an XXL shirt from an event last year that wouldn’t have fit anyone.

After waving goodbye, she headed over to the mass exodus of busses – loading 30-40 busses at a time.  Each athlete had a rough 15-30 minute bus timeframe that they were supposed to board in, but in reality, it was pretty flexible.  The lines seemed pretty short, though, the time between each bus wave was about 20-25 minutes.


While walking back to the hotel a mere one block away I was trying to figure out how to get a photo of all the busses heading out (they did so in waves).  It was then that I noticed a 6-story parking garage half a block away.  I hung out there for what seemed like an eternity waiting for her busses to pull away.  She’s down there though, somewhere in one of those busses.  Note how it snakes all the way up and well out of sight (actually expanding to two lanes).


With her dropped off I headed back to the hotel to warm-up and plot my adventure for the day.

A (very long, very hilly) bike ride to watch:

I had spent a bit of time the night before trying to figure things out.  While public transit seemed like a doable option for later in the race, it didn’t appear to efficiently get me ‘early’ in the course.  Nor did it seem like a good option for trying to see someone moving relatively quickly at multiple points along the course.

Next, I considered using a car.  While we had a rental, I was pretty concerned that traffic would be a mess.  Especially with fairly fuzzy security plans in place this year that might make that much more difficult than years past.

Which, is an important point to note: All of the guidance of years past was kinda thrown out the window with potential new restrictions.  While in the end the restrictions were quite minimal, it definitely wasn’t portrayed that way – so I wanted something minimalistic to spectate from.

Ultimately, that seemed to funnel me towards a bike.  Anyone who’ spectated running races knows the bike is the best way to see a race, hands down.  However…I didn’t bring a bike with me.

Nope…instead, I grabbed one of these:


Virtually across the street from our hotel was Boston’s bike share program, which was super-easy for out of town folks to rent from.

So, I grabbed a bike and headed on out….fully aware that I was going to rack up some solid overage charges (the first 30 minutes are free…the next number of hours…not so much).


I headed out in what was probably the least direct route possible.  But, it was one I could maintain pretty good speed on.  I simply followed the Charles River path, on the same section I ran 23 miles the day before.

While it wasn’t the most direct, it allowed me to fairly easily maintain about 15-16MPH on a flat surface that skimmed around some initial hills (like doing Heartbreak Hill in reverse).  It also enabled me to skim endless busy intersections in the city.

Ultimately it’d take me about an hour to get to my first spectating point around mile 15-16.

The top pros go by:


I arrived at my first point on the course (above) before any pros went by.  Given I couldn’t hear any helicopters, I actually got back on my bike and pedaled about 3-4 miles to advance one mile on the course.  In this area of the course a few golf courses and railroad tracks didn’t make for the most efficient routing.

Once I joined the course I was watching the pro women go by.  I had missed the leaders, but got to see plenty of pro women followers – so that mostly worked out.

As the choppers starting hovering in you soon got the men’s lead vehicles.  Lots of them, kinda like some of the official vehicles when watching the Tour de France.

One vehicle though you won’t see in France was this police SUV.  While hard to see in the photo, if you look carefully you’ll see it has at least 9 cameras on it, one on every corner of the roof rack and in between each corner.  Plus another system in the middle, what looks like a bunch of mics setup for omnidirectional recording.


A few seconds after it went by, so did eventual race winner Meb:


And then following him through the pickup station was the main men’s chase pack:


And eventually a bit later, popular American runner Ryan Hall:


Once they passed, I pretty much immediately left the scene and headed back to pedaling to try and make it another 3-4 miles ‘up-course’.

The Girl goes by:


Of course, like before, 3-4 miles up-course was really at least double that in cycling.  There simply isn’t that many easily parallel-able streets on the runners-left side of the course in between miles 13 and 19.  There also isn’t much flat ground:


No worries though, I eventually finished climbing the Alps of Boston and found a spot to see her – roughly near the 13-mile marker.  Just after it actually.

I had been tracking The Girl using a combination of text messages from the race, and then her Garmin FR620 with live tracking enabled.  She had stashed away her cell phone in a Spibelt to transmit her location.   That worked fairly well until about the 10K marker, and then dropped off due to some sort of loss of cellular service issue (said the Garmin Connect page).

So I was in the blind until it randomly resumed again just before the 13-mile marker.  I was a bit concerned I had missed her, but thankfully with the blue dot back on and updating every 30-60 seconds I was able to pretty easily know exactly when she’d come by.  Below, one of the times I saw her:


She briefly stopped to chat and give me the lowdown on her race experience thus far (which, she had refocused to a bit more of a festive run than a PR run).  Details did include throwing up five times since the start of the race- nerves? And some seriously impressive blisters, they should have been awarded their own medals at the finish.  I decided against telling her that puking was like free speed.  Nonetheless, she soldiered on, smiling and taking in the experience.

While at the half-marathon marker, I had to smile at the gentleman across the street giving out water bottles from a massive stash of his own…in a suit.  Neat to see the community get involved…even in a suit:


I also saw a number of members of Team Hoyt go by over the course of the race, always impressive:


I also got comfortable with the fact that nobody was going to steal my little bike.  Unlike the Paris Velib bikes I’m familiar with, this one doesn’t have a lock built into it.  So, while I kept an eye on it, I eventually realized that said bike wasn’t exactly the Ferrari of road bikes to re-appropriate.  Thus I’d just leave it a few yards away – close enough I could run someone down if need be, but still out of the way.


After seeing The Girl go by at 13, I quickly jumped back on the bike – set on seeing her around heart break hill in 7 or so miles.  While that sounds like an easy feat, it was almost 15 miles of rather hard and hilly cycling to get to that point.

The Race to the Finish:


Luckily, I managed to beat her by a mere 20 seconds to this position to see her on the final climb up and over Heartbreak Hill.  I was pretty astounded.

I also got further updates from the girl on all the long-time friends she had stopped along the route to chat with and take selfies; I’m questioning if she had a few beers with the college kids around miles 22-23.


She was turning things into the massive running party that Boston is so well known for.  Not that I’d ever do anything like that….


Now, once you hit Heartbreak hill, from a spectating on a bike standpoint, it’s silly easy.  There’s an access road that runs right next to the course the entire way to (almost) the finish.  And best of all, it’s virtually all downhill or slightly flat.

So during this section I saw her every half a mile or so:


And again;


It was sorta like shooting fish in a barrel – kinda too easy!

Of course, eventually, things got tricky.  At around the 25.2 mile marker the access road goes away and you’re back to finding round-about ways.  And with the massive crowds, it became nearly impossible to do so efficiently.  Especially as said runner decided she wanted to see how quickly she could run the last mile.

Below, I just missed her as she turned up the street to the the final push to the finish.  No worries though, I know she was enjoying it (sorta like the lady below).


After she crossed the finish line I got the final text from the race (within seconds, impressive), and then went about my journey to find a place to offload my little cycling friend.  Ironically, about the only place with spots was right back where I started that morning.  All in, some 39.23 miles.


While I don’t quite have handy the ability to download this workout, the barometric altimeter clocked the ride in at over 5,000 feet of elevation gain.  Or about 125ft per mile, which, given how often I was climbing up and down…that could be the case.  Either way, by the then – I was totally inline with The Girl’s feeling’s by the end of the long and hot day:


And finally – most importantly – The Girl and her finisher’s medal:


With that – we both want to say a big thanks to all the DCR readers that cheered along for her (either in person or virtually), as well as anyone else who said hello over the course of the weekend.  We both appreciate it!

And of course I’m super proud of her for sticking with it (super positive and with a smile), despite all the things the course threw at her today.  She’s just pure awesome!

Now…to enjoy a few days relaxing at the beach.  Well, I’ll be relaxing anyway.  She’ll probably just be hobbling…


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  1. Hubert

    Congrats to Her! Well done!
    So nice to see you enjoying together :-)

    The pictures are great : what gear were you using Ray?
    I see that even with zoom, images are neat and very bright.

  2. About not stealing your Velib bike…
    In Antwerp they have the same system and a bike there ended up… in Morocco (more or less 2.500 km).
    link to hln.be

  3. Josh

    Awesome, congratulations!

  4. klonnolk

    for those without superduper GCLivetrack – try Glympse – free app for almost all phones… works great (and it’s truly “real-time” (maybe 10s delay?) – not “1min refresh”) :)

    • Knut

      Glympse is neat, but differs from GC Livetrack in at least one important way. It uses phone GPS which at least on my iPhone burns battery like crazy whereas GC Livetracking piggybacks your GPS watch for location data and thus is quite a bit more battery friendly.

  5. Congrats on a great achievement!

  6. Alex

    Thats a Boomerang Sniper detection system by the looks of it link to en.wikipedia.org

    • Tyler

      Great find! Hard to believe they churned out v1 in 65 days…pretty impressive!

    • KenZ

      Yeah, except V1 totally sucked. Burned two USMC vehicles to the ground, and the first army unit that had 12 of them had over 1,000 false positives in the first two days… before they even reached the Iraq border driving in from Kuwait.

      I distinctly remember white knuckling by convoy across Baghdad to get to the Army unit to download the data, only to find they’d ripped every one off their vehicles and thrown the junk in a connex.

      Like all revisionist history, “it was a huge success.”

      Now, to be fair, they work pretty well these days so perhaps I’m being a little harsh; just amps me up when I read stuff like that!

      Anyway, back on topic, congrats to the girl!

    • I’m always astounded by the breadth in readers here, in terms of there’s always someone that knows something about anything I post on. Super cool.

  7. Dr. D

    Great report and yes, running is definitely about having fun and taking in your surroundings.
    We all get the same colour medal, so sometimes the time does not matter :-)

    Well done to all who showed up at the start line and hopefully had a fun run.

    @Ray – I spotted a friend in one of your pictures – amazing!

  8. Joe

    Great race report Ray. Sounds like you got a decent workout in as well! For some reason the picture of the bus line reminds me of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and the Land of Make Believe. Were all of the pictures taken with the Virb?

    • Hi Joe-

      Nope, none with the VIRB this time. All with either my iPhone or a Nikon AW1 small mirrorless camera. If the image name when hovering over starts with DSC, it’s the Nikon, and IMG, the iPhone.

  9. Jason K

    So what were the “damages” when you returned the bike?

    And welcome to New England, I’m down in CT.

    • I’m not entirely sure actually, only because I just brought a day pass and it doesn’t (to my knowledge) give you a receipt.

      That said, looking at the table, it looks slightly more than I thought it would be – around $50 (I thought it might be around $30, as I figured I’d drop the bike off sooner around mile 22 or so and go via T). Still, worth every penny to see The Girl that many times.

    • Eli

      Seeing as the bike system is the same as what is used in DC can’t you return and checkout as many times as you want? Easy to get longer then 30 mins if you return before 30 mins is up and then take it back out again. Cheating?……

    • Unfortunately the Boston system is fairly small (but Paris standards anyway), thus, there was only a couple of viable stations and only in the last few miles. Basically just in the city limits.

    • Yiannis

      Hi Ray,

      Great race report! What software are you using for processing the photos? For example adding this nice vignette effect on the DSC_1591 image?

      Thanks and regards!

    • Just Lightroom for everything. I have zero photoshop skills, so if I can’t fix the lighting within LR, I just sorta give up. ;)

    • Yiannis

      Thank you for the response Ray! Will give it a try…!

  10. MYA.

    Congrats to her! Great job. :D
    Enjoy your time you guys.

  11. Matt

    “In many ways, this morning sorta felt like dropping off a kid at the school bus for the first day of school. Except, the kid got a bad deal on the one-way bus ride and had to run home.”

    Great line. I laughed.

  12. Lutfi Zakhour

    Brilliant, congrats toThe Girl!

    Ray, thanks for all the great running fodder, always enjoy all your posts!

  13. Matt

    Congrats to your wife!

  14. Turn The Damn Cranks

    To The Girl: Well run!

    To Ray: I’ve now read the post several times, and I still can’t figure out how you got from missing the leaders to seeing the leaders. I assume there’s an unreported bike trip in there?

    Also, I think the guy in the suit may have been walking advertising — the sign on the store behind him is cut-off in the photo, but it appears to be for a custom tailor. Was he the tailor?

    • Ahh…the trick is that the women start before the men. ;)

      I had wondered the same thing on the tailor, but, I can’t imagine any runner would have put those two together. Still, nice touch.

    • Lew

      Simplest explanation is the guy probably works at or owns the tailor shop. He’s just dressed for work.

    • DelaneyBC

      ” I can’t imagine any runner would have put those two together.” Really? Have you forgotten that, for most of us, running isn’t our day job…I where a suit to work every day, and I run, and I might just go to that particular tailor because of what he did in that race…the business probably has a few customers, employees, friends and relatives running in the race.

    • I guess I was simply implying that if I’m running my butt off mid-way through a marathon, I’m not sure I’d have mentally processed that all at the time. Perhaps later if I knew the locale, but not then.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s cool.

  15. Mark

    Well done Bertie, great race on a hard course, enjoy your Holiday!

  16. Helen

    What a great race! Congrats to The Girl. Thanks for another great race report and awesome pictures.

    I love The Girls’s sunglasses. Which brand and model is it?

  17. Drew

    Well done Bobbie – and Ray for keeping up with her. Your writing style is great. Thanks for all that you and the Girl do. Cheers.

  18. MC5

    Kudos to TG for making lemonade of a rough start! And thanks very much for the usual awesome report on the ‘new’ BM scene!

  19. Hey Ray….

    What was the overage charge on the bike?

  20. Texassky

    I, too, would love to know the bike commute total price! *being nosey*

  21. Matt

    I’ve ridden one of those bikes and I can’t believe you made it 39 miles. That is seriously impressive. I see “the girl” wore a Mizuno singlet and I’m wondering if you bought that at the expo? If so, I’m so bummed I missed you. I’m a rep for Mizuno and say or hear about 5 times a day when people ask about running electronics, “check the review on DC Rainmaker”. I really enjoy your site and would liked to have said thank you in person. Thank you!

    • HI Matt-

      Yup, she bought it there. Even got the free water bottle for trying something on. :)

      Sorry to have missed you!

    • Wawan

      I used the one in Montreal 3 years ago on a business trips for 6 weeks, I managed to clock 20-30 miles almost everyday, although I have to keep docking and undocking the bike to prevent additional charge.

  22. Randy

    So what was the final damage for the bike “rental”?

  23. Chris

    Please stop taunting me with that V800.

    Didn’t someone do Ironman Nice on a rental bike like that a few years ago? Wonder if we figured out who it is? 23 mile run one day, 39 miles on the rental the next day, lives in France. Looks suspicious.

    • I’ve sen a couple of Euro alp summits done on bike share bikes. I think mostly the London one (which I believe is the same model as the Boston one). I don’t remember offhand seeing any Velib’s doing it (the Paris model). I’d say that I was quite happy to be on the Boston model and not the Velib one, as the Velib is far heavier/bulkier.

    • Eli

      there was a shorter try on one in DC: link to dcist.com

    • Adam

      Yeah, that Boston bike looks very similar to our ones in London. They weigh a good 23 kg (or 50 lbs for you Americans) and ride like a cruise-liner though, I dread to think what the Velib bikes are like if they’re even heavier!

      They’re super convenient though and getting around London is much more pleasant with them.

  24. Ian Brisbin

    Whoa, wait? The Girl is Canadian? (8th-to-last-photo) If so, yay! If not, still yay! What a wonderful experience for her (I’ve done two myself, and it truly is unforgettable), and what a unique account from you. Thanks for doing this…your stuff is always a great read!

  25. Phil

    I have a soft spot for Hubway bikes, last summer I started riding one on the Charles River path during lunch. 20mins at 10mph lol But it definitely helped kickstart my habit, so I have two bikes and ride the equivalent of a marathon. I haven’t taken a hubway bike out yet this season, will have to see how different it feels now

  26. Raymond Wright

    Congratulations on a great race. Since we can clearly see what The Girls name is, and could even know more if we looked at the results. Can we just call her by her name from now on?

  27. Congrats on the Boston Marathon finish! Looks like you were having fun! Renting a bike was a great idea. I rented a bike in London and DC. It’s a great way to see a city and would be a great way to keep up with a marathoner, too!

  28. Alfie

    Congratulations to The Girl on her run!

    And that was one impressive workout for you as well considering the equipment!

  29. Bike sharer

    Congrats on the run!!!

    I would love to see some power data from one of those bikes one day. They are beasts! If they have standard pedals maybe you could switch in the vectors? Otherwise it would require getting the manufacturer involved.

  30. Congratulations to The Girl, very well done.

  31. Matthew

    Heartfelt congratulations to The Girl and all the finishers.

  32. Mike Guitard


  33. Congrats to The Girl!

    I’m trying to figure out how exactly she managed to finish the race with puking 5 times. I puked a few times at mile 18 of a race one time, and I literally saw my life flash before my eyes – totally thought I was gonna die. GO HER! And you are very resourceful for thinking to grab a bike and be able to spectate ALL the action! Very cool post!

  34. Long Run Nick

    Congrats to The Girl!
    Ray, a SUPER photo journal. Brought back fond memories of my “bandit ” Boston Marathon run in 1978. Qualifying time for me then(30-34) was around 2:45-50. I ran with a number that read Too Slow. It was my second marathon and I finished in 3:51. Bill Rodgers had finished almost 2 hours ahead of me.
    “Fast forward 30 yrs I finally qualified for Boston as a 65 yr old. Needed 4:15, ran a 3:57! Never went back. I didn’t think anything could compare with my ’78 experience.
    Question Ray: aren’t there still qualifying times for Boston? That is one of the things that makes Boston unique. Thanks for letting me ramble. Please continue your wonderful efforts.

    • Yup, still definitely qualification times. They dropped them slightly a couple of years ago (1-2).

      You should definitely go back…I suspect it’s quite different these days…

  35. giorgitd

    Congrats to the Girl! Super accomplishment! Oh, and the following on the 100 lb bike? Sure, that was OK, too. :)

  36. bornlibra23

    Hey Ray
    I am in Boston as well. Want to hang out tomorrow?

  37. Alice

    Congrats to The Girl, she’s amazing!
    And thanks for the great report, Ray, have a lovely beach time, wherever that might be!

  38. Jason

    Ray – it was great to meet you after the race. Congrats to the Girl!

  39. Hey! Great job running The Girl.

    This was my first Boston – what a wonderful experience. We we all part of something bigger.

    I know I’ll have to go back next year as I really want a jacket that doesn’t look like a traffic cone covered in clown vomit.

  40. Congrats to The Girl.

    Great read, makes me want to run in Boston!

  41. Francisco

    Hi Ray, I saw that You are using the polar v800, when You are going to write a full review of that watch?


    • Yes, I plan to write a full review once the final firmware is done. Currently expected for mid-May. So, usually about 1-2 weeks after that so I can validate nothing significant has changed/broken.

  42. Felix Hagemann

    Ray, did you realize that the lady you commented in (“sorta like the lady below”) is Uta Pippig, three time winner in Boston? She was giving great support and encouragement to all runners.


  43. Dan Morley

    Congrats to Bobbie. It was my first Boston too, we probably started in the same wave (I was 14771). I too did not have the best of days and by the half way mark decided to back off and interact with the crowds and just enjoy it. It was an amazing experience that has me still smiling and day dreaming about it.

  44. The Hubway bikes were the best to get around and I think a lot of people decided to just enjoy the run. It had a crazy high finishing rate, yet everyone I know had a rough/slow day and decided to just soak in the sights.

    Interestingly, I stuck my phone in my bra and got a text message that the thing had been finished the second after crossing the line.

  45. Arnaud M.

    Congrats to the Girl! Nice effort on the bike Ray a day after a 23 mile long run! Impressive!

  46. David

    For next “week in review”…

    link to runnersworld.com

  47. LOVE the parking garage bus shot. I’ve taken that “bad deal” busride before but never saw the aerial view. Impressive biking, too, on what can only be described as a glorified beach cruiser. I’d love to know what the bill was…

  48. Gene

    Hi Ray,
    With a lot of the new gadgets using Bluetooth or other wireless features to take full advantage of the watch capabilities, are you and The Girl usually doing your athletic competitions with smart phones now? I like how you were able to bike around the race course by following the live tracking, not to mention the safety aspects for search and rescue should something happen during a solo outing. Perhaps clever ways or gadgets to carry the smart phone during competition/training seems like a useful topic to write your thoughts about?
    Thanks, G!

  49. Becky

    Loved this article! Going to watch a friend run next week and was hoping to do the bike thing to watch too! This made me realize its possible and actually kinda fun!