The history of the race
The Boston Athletic Association was formed in 1887 and a central office was soon constructed on the corner of Exeter and Blagden Street. The mastermind behind the first Boston marathon was John Graham, a member of the Boston Athletic Association and a man who had learnt his trade in the Olympic Marathon. 1896 had seen the first modern Olympic Games staged in Athens and it was an inspiring occasion for sportsmen around the world.
He enlisted the help of Herbert H. Holton, a businessman in the city, and the pair decided on a route. This route was measured at just over twenty-four miles and, in mid-April 1897, John J. McDermott won the first Boston Marathon, originally called the American Marathon. The athlete from New York won the race in an impressive time of two hours, fifty-five minutes, and ten seconds. The following year saw a foreigner win the event. Ronald J. MacDonald, from Nova Scotia, won the race in a time which beat the winning time of the previous year.
The first and second marathons were held on the nineteenth of April. This date was Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts and Maine and it stood as race day until 1968, apart from the years during which the nineteenth fell on a Sunday. However, the following year, Patriots’ Day officially changed date, moving to the third Monday of the month.
The race increased in popularity during the opening years of the twentieth century and, in 1924, the Boston Athletic Association decided to relocate the position of the starting line. It moved from Ashland to Hopkinton and, three years later, the course was made longer in order for it to meet official Olympic standards.
The 1966 race saw a woman competing in the full race for the first time. Roberta Gibb hid in the bushes until the race began. She managed to finish in a very respectable 126th position and finished with a time of three hours, twenty-one minutes, and forty seconds. Several women tried to run in the marathon before this became legal in 1971 but many of them were forced to drop out by officials. The 1972 race saw Nina Kuscsik win to become the first official female champion.
However, it remained clear that women still had a lot of work to do if they wanted to stand on an equal footing with the men. Only eight women entered the race in 1972 but they all managed to finish the race, showing that women could show phenomenal endurance and athletics skills as well as men.
Just three years after this historical moment in the event’s history, the marathon became the first in the world to officially include a wheelchair division competition. Bob Hall finished in a time of just two hours, fifty-eight minutes, and this event helped to change the face of disability and sport forever.
The course, which winds gradually through the beautiful city of Boston, is 26.22 miles long. Generally speaking, it follows Route 135, Route 16, Route 30, and then heads through the streets in the city centre before finishing outside the majestic Boston Public Library in Copley Square. The Boston Marathon is famous throughout the world of athletics for being extremely challenging. This is primarily as a result of the tough gradients found throughout the course.
Difficult areas include the hill on Washington Street, which is part of the route near Route 16, and the three hills located on Commonwealth Avenue on Route 30. At several points during the course, most runners are forced to slow down to walking pace.
One of the areas which runners dread the most is Heartbreak Hill, situated near Boston College. The hill was given its name in 1936 after John A. Kelley, who had won the event the previous year, overtook Ellison Brown in that section of the race. Kelley foolishly decided to pat Brown on the shoulder in an extremely patronising manner as he passed him and this move encouraged the trailing athlete to use all his available energy during the closing stages of the marathon.
Brown eventually won the marathon and the Boston Globe coined the name ‘Heartbreak Hill’. Runners reach this point after competing for approximately twenty miles. Whilst the hill only rises for 88 vertical feet, it is located at such a point during the race that runners find it very challenging.
Famous results seen in Boston include:
- In 1947, Yun Bok Suh ran the race in a time of just two hours, twenty-five minutes, and thirty-nine seconds. This was only the second time in the men’s open race history that a world-best was seen. The Korean athlete managed to become an overnight legend in the world of athletics.
- Liane Winter managed to win the event in 1975, establishing a women’s world-best time of just two hours, forty-two minutes, and twenty-four seconds.
- Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach won the Boston Marathon in a time of two hours, thirty-four minutes, and six seconds in 1985. She is still the last American winner of the event.
- In 1997, Fatuma Roba became the fourth person to win both the Boston and Olympic Marathons, as well as the first African female to win the event.
How to enter
You can register online for next year’s race which will be held on the 20th of April, 2009. The elite women’s race will start at 9.35 in the morning and the men’s race will begin about half an hour later. The Boston Athletic Association will stop accepting applications when 25,000 places have been filled. Proof of qualification must be provided along with your entry.
If you decide to enter the race, you must be aged 18 or over on the day of the event next year. The Boston Athletic Association reserves the right to reject any entry application, cancel the race, or issue special invitations. Furthermore, the association may adjust the entry procedure at any point.