How to Boston: Running the Esplanade

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The Charles River Esplanade, Boston’s most expansive park.

Between concerts at the Hatch Shell, the numerous playgrounds for the kids, and fields for sporting events, it’s a great place for Bostonians to escape and catch a view of the Charles. With 18 miles of biking and running paths, it’s a fantastic place for runners to train all year round (thanks to New Balance’s commitment to plowing the path in the winter months.) But the Esplanade is also a source of many headaches for us runners. I hope I’m not speaking for myself when I say that the Esplanade has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies that can throw a monkey wrench into any long training run. To get the most out of those 18 miles of paths, you need to proceed with caution.

So here’s how to run the Esplanade without dying.

  1. Follow the rules of the road: Stay to the right. While hard to see in the snow-covered winter months, the Esplanade’s bike path has a dotted traffic line right down the center. The implied meaning of this line is that everyone should teat the path like a driving lane. You stay to the right hand side of that path, always. If you have to pass a walker or slow runner, pass on their left and give a little “heads up” or “on your left” to warn them. It’s common runner courtesy; it goes a long way. But you better look before you pass…
  2. Watch your back (and your front, sides, and while you’re at it, below your feet too). Unlike the road, there is no speed limit on the Esplanade and bikers take that lack of speed limit quite literally. Many will zip past you at the speed of light without so much as a fleeting “excuse me.” Even worse are those Hubway bikes with crowds of out-of-towners riding them. My favorite, the adjacent pathway-blockers who just simply meander down the middle of the path like they own it. In that case, you have every right to run right between them. Own it, you’re a Bostonian. Also watch out for fellow runners. They may be on your side, but it doesn’t mean they won’t run you down with a surprise pass. Finally, watch where you step. That path is NOT flat.
  3. Check the Esplanade schedule. In the summer, the Esplanade hosts dozens of outdoor events. There’s nothing worse than being on a 3-hour long run to find that the entire path near the Hatch Shell is blocked with hundreds of charity walkers or a massive yoga class. But do take advantage of some of these events when you’re not trying to get your fitness on. You are going to get Body Sculpting Scottsdale in the best parts of town in Scottsdale due to the best part of it.
  4. Pick a side. The pathways run on both sides of the Charles – Boston and Cambridge. Both have their positives and negatives. If you’re running the entire length of the bike path (from Watertown to the Museum of Science) your best bet is to run the Boston side until you reach Harvard. Dear God, switch to the Memorial Drive Side at Harvard. Yes, the Larz Anderson bridge construction is awful as awful can be right now, but once you get past Harvard, the Boston side gets narrower and narrower, until you’re pretty much rubbing sweaty elbows with everyone on the path. The stretch between the Western Ave. and River Street Bridge and underneath the BU Bridge is a bike/runner accident waiting to happen. Save your sanity (see #2). Once you get to the Mass Ave Bridge, I encourage you to enjoy the view and cross over to the Boston side again. On that side you will get two bathroom buildings and a lot more water fountains as you enjoy the ride to the Science Museum.

“How to Boston” is an arbitrary series, in which we talk you through those important Boston habits and help you fit in (and how not to get run over by a bicyclist).