1 of 2
Bryant Sperry
Kim Cowart reaches mile 26 of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

It’s April, and for many runners that means one thing: the Boston Marathon.

I’ve had the privilege of running Boston five times from 2010-14. Things have changed since 2013, but the race is still like no other. For those running for the first time, and even for those spectating, I have a few tips to make your Boston experience one you’ll never forget.

First, buy the Boston Celebration jacket. I’m not sponsored by Adidas, and I admit the jacket is expensive and not always the most attractive. But every time I slip one on, I feel part of a special club. It reminds me I can do hard things. If you want to avoid the expo lines, you can purchase them online now. You can still exchange them at the expo if they don’t fit. If you do purchase it at the expo and you’re a smaller size, go early before they sell out.

Second, plan to either discard or run with whatever you take with you to the start line. You can’t bring bags with you to Hopkinton. If you want your items waiting for you at the finish, there are bag drop-offs at Boston Common. Make sure you take your bag to the bus number that corresponds with your bib number, and your clothing, food, keys, etc., will be waiting for you when you finish.

Third, make arrangements to have dry clothes or something warm to wear at the finish. Whether you leave it in your drop bag or have a spectator greet you with a sweatshirt, you will be glad you did. It may be awhile before you can get back to your hotel, and it gets chilly fast. You may also want to have something to eat waiting for you, too. There is food at the finish line, but a banana and chips aren't much if it’s going to be a couple hours before you get back to your hotel.

Fourth, if you’re the type of person who likes to be cheered on, or just need a boost when Heartbreak Hill looms ahead, put your name on the front of your shirt. You will find the entire marathon route is full of your best friends cheering you on by name. Fair warning, if your shirt has any writing other than your name, they will cheer you by that name, too. You’ll finish thinking you really are Nike.

Fifth, if you have friends or family who want to watch you run down Boylston Street, they should plan to find their viewing spot well before the wheelchair division starts their race. It makes for a long day, but crowds gather early. It's anything but boring and it's not long before the elites make their way to the finish. My husband loves watching the elites finish as much as I love running the event. It’s a moving, emotional experience not to be missed.

Sixth, the easiest way for spectators to meet up with their runner is to stand on the right-hand side of the runners headed toward the finish line. This way they avoid walking up and around Boston Common to get to the family meeting area. My family usually stands in front of the Hynes Convention Center. The bag pickup and meet-up areas are all behind the convention center. In 2014, there were plenty of security check areas. To make it through quicker, spectators should leave purses at home.

Seventh, determine where you will meet before race day and stick to it. Make sure everyone knows how to find the pre-determined spot, whether it's the designated family area or some other landmark. Be patient. It will take time for everyone to make their way there.

Eighth, even if you don’t normally run with a phone, I recommend running Boston with one. I was there in 2013, so assuming the worst, you want a way to get in touch with loved ones. In the best-case scenario, the finish area is congested and can be confusing.

Comment on this story

Ninth, leave the music behind. You’re in Boston! Soak in the sights and sounds. Strike up a conversation with another runner. Listen to the crowds cheer you on. The last thing you want is to be distracted. Feel all the feels.

Last, but definitely not least, enjoy. Seriously! Boston is the only race I’ve ever run where people congratulate you before you even start. Soak it in. Take pictures. Appreciate the history you're running through. High-five kids in Framingham. Pump your fists through the crowds at Heartbreak Hill. Kiss, or hug, a girl from Wellesley. Boston is a celebration of life, freedom and joy. Is it any wonder it’s run on Patriot’s Day in spring?

Good luck to all, and run Boston Strong.