A Brief History of the Boston Marathon

John Graham, Boston Athletic Association member and inaugural U.S. Olympic Team Manager, was so inspired by the Olympics that he decided to conduct a marathon in the Boston area.  A route with the distance of 24.5 miles from Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland to Irvington Oval in Boston was chosen.  The first Boston Marathon was held April 19, 1897.  John J. McDermott of New York emerged out of the field of 15 as the victor with a time of 2:55.10.

In 1924 the starting line was moved to Hopkinton, but it wasn’t until 1927 that the distance was increased to the Olympic standard established in 1908 of 26 miles, 385 yards.  The race is held on Patriots Day, a holiday commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War, recognized only in Maine and Massachusetts.

Women in Boston

Roberta Gibb was the first woman to run the full Boston Marathon.  Roberta ran without an official race number (she hid in the bushes until the race started) and finished in 3:21.40.  She was the first female finisher for three years, 1966-68.  Katherine Switzer was issued a bib  number in 1967 as she did not indicate that she was a female on the application, only listed her name as K.V. Switzer.  B.A.A. officials tried repeatedly to physically remove her from the course once she was identified as a female.  She finished in her own estimate in 4:20.  The A.A.U. permitted sanctioned marathons to allow women to run in 1971.  Eight women entered  in 1972 and Nina Kuscsik became the first official women’s champion finishing in 3:10.26.  All eight women finished.

Wheelchair Division

The Boston Marathon became the first marathon to include a wheelchair division.  The Race Director, Will Cloney promised Bob Hall in 1975 that he would receive an official finisher’s certificate if he finished in less than 3 hours.  Bob Hall finished in 2:58.

Heartbreak Hill

Heartbreak Hill was given the nickname by Boston Globe reporter, Jerry Nason.  In 1936, John Kelley caught Ellison “Tarzan” Brown on the Newton Hills.  Kelley made a friendly gesture of tapping “Tarzan” on the shoulder and “Tarzan” responded by regaining the lead on the final hill, and as Nason reported, “breaking Kelley’s heart.”

Qualifying Standards

Qualifying standards were introduced in 1970.  The entry form stated, “A runner must submit the certification…that he has trained sufficiently to finish the course in less than four hours…”

Prize Money

Prize money was established in 1986, with the support of principal sponsor John Hancock Financial Services.  The winner was awarded $60,000 and a Mercedes-Benz.  The prize purse in 2010 will be $806,000

Starting Line

Elite women were given a separate start in 2005.  In 2006, the field was divided into two waves, the first 10,000 started at 12:00 and the rest of the field at 12:30.  This was also the first year for chip timing.  The following year, in 2007, the start was rolled back to 10:00 A.M.


The inaugural event had 18 entrants, 15 starters, and 10 finishers in 1897.  By 1995 the field had grown to 9,416 entrants.  In celebration of the centennial running in 1996, the field skyrocketed to 38,708 entrants, a world record at the time.  The following year, the numbers dropped back down to 10,471, but gradually increased over the decade to 26,331 entrants and 22,843 finishers in 2009.  The 2009 race sold out in late February.  The 2010 race was limited to 25,000 entrants and sold out in November.


  • John A. Kelley holds the record for the most races started (61) and finished (58).  It was Kelley’s third attempt that he finally finished the race.  He won the race in 1935 and 1945.  He last completed the course in 1992 at the age of 84.  He served as grand marshall from 1995-2004, missing only one year due to illness.  Kelley passed away in 2004 at the age of 97. A three-time Olympian, John Kelley was selected as runner of the century by Runners World Magazine.
  • The only B.A.A. member to ever win was John J. Kelley who established a course record of 2:20.05 in 1957.
  • The only men to have won Boston 4 or more times are:
  1. Clarence DeMar (7)
  2. Gerard Cote (4)
  3. Bill Rodgers (4)
  4. Robert K. Cheruiyot (4)
  • The last Americans to win the Boston Marathon were Greg Meyer in 1983 and Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985.
  • Since 1988, African men have won all but two races and African women have won all but one since 1997.
  • Course records are held by Robert K. Cheruiyot 2:07.14 and Margaret Okayo 2:20.43, both from Kenya.
  • In terms of media coverage, the Boston Marathon ranks only behind the Super Bowl as the largest single day sporting event, with 1100 members representing 250 outlets.
  • Approximately 500,000 spectators line the course annually.
  • In 2009, 1200 participants representing 24 charities raised more than 10.5 million dollars.

I overslept this morning.  My alarm started going off at 5 am.  I thought I would go to the park and run a 5K, but I didn’t get up until after 7 am.  I have been very tired this week, but also can’t seem to get my foot out the door to running some shorter and faster races – I think sometimes it is much harder than a marathon!

So, I popped 4 Advil, and went out and met the neighborhood running club for the late group.  I met a very nice guy, Lenny, and had alot of fun running 3.5 miles.  We got back and visited with the other early runners coming in.

I spent some time reflecting on why I love running.  I think it is because it means so many different things to different people.  Just listening to the stories, and seeing the joy of accomplishment on the faces of the people that made goals and surpassed what they thought was even possible, made me reflect on what running is about for me.  I think it is these moments-meeting interesting people and sharing a moment in their lives.  How often do we spend an hour (or four) talking without interruption with a friend in our everyday lives?  All the time enjoying the beauty of our world…I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Now-off for a day of thrifting with my girl!