The 110TH Boston Marathon
The world’s most venerable marathon is also very innovative. And it is a race for both young and experienced runners--the power of tradition and youth.
Posted Tuesday, 13 December, 2005
In the world of athletics, there is nothing like the Boston Marathon. It will run on Patriots Day, April 17, a Massachusetts and Maine holiday, as it has since 1897. The tradition, history, atmosphere, and the quality of the field are like no other marathon in the world.
This most venerable of them all is also a marathon for the young. It is the one race everyone has in mind no matter where in the world they may be running 26.2; the goal is Boston and qualifying. This is true for all runners, and especially the young and adventurous. Running Boston is a must, and for many it means arriving as a true runner. And as a running experience and distinctive destination, Boston cannot be beat.
“Boston”. The name has come to define marathoning, as in, “I want to qualify for Boston”. Patriots Day in Boston, Massachusetts is “Marathon Monday”. And, of course, Boston’s BAA Marathon is the only running event in the world, except for the Olympics, that has qualifying standards. It is the only marathon that helps define performances in all other marathons. And that is fitting—it is the oldest continuously run marathon. It was designed by the BAA, based on the original Olympic Marathon in Greece, and run only months later.
Youth Shines Through in Champions and Records
Boston has been a race for the young since the beginning, as reflected in the average age of the winners. The average age of winners in the men’s race is 27.5, and the average for women winners is 28.2. Since Cosmos Ndeti began his consecutive streak in 1993, the average has been 27. You have to go all the way back to Gerard Cote in 1948 (age 34) to find a winner older than 33. And except for the remarkable two-time winner, Miki Gorman (winner in 1974, age 39, and 1977, age 42), the oldest woman to wear the laurel wreath was Ingrid Kristiansen at 33 in 1989.
Joan Benoit was 21 when she won her first Boston and set a course record (2:35:15) in 1979. And she was 25 when she returned four years later to set the record (and American best) at 2:22:43. Uta Pippig was 28 when she broke this mark and running 2:21:45 in 1994. And Margaret Okayo set the current course record (2:20:43) at age 25 in 2002.
Similarly, Bill Rodgers was 27 on that historic day in 1975 when he first took the record under 2:10. He ran 2:09:55 in winning his first of four. He lowered the record again to 2:09:27 in 1979. Toshiko Seko and Alberto Salazar were 24 and 23 respectively when they successively set records of 2:09:26 and 2:08:52 in 1981 and 1982. Rob de Castella was an ancient 29 when he blasted to 2:07:51 in 1985. And Cosmos Ndeti, age 24, set the current mark in 1994 with a 2:07:15.
The youngest woman to win Boston was Kim Merritt, age 20, of Wisconsin in 1976. That distinction on the men’s side goes to 18-year-old Timothy Ford of Massachusetts in 1906. And 19-year-olds have won five times, including Kee Yong Ham (Korea, 2:32:39) in 1950 and Shigeki Tanaka (Japan, 2:27:45) in 1951. Marathon legends Johnny Miles and Tarzan Brown were only 20 when they won their first, 1926 and 1936.
Only one man and one woman have won as masters, the amazing Clarence DeMar when he won his seventh in 1930 at age 41, and Gorman in 1977.
Innovation – Helping to Define the Sport
The Boston Athletic Association and John Hancock have been on the cutting edge of innovation. They were the first to introduce wheelchair marathoning when Bob Hall pushed from historic Hopkinton to the glinting skyline of Boston in 1975. They were among the first to introduce a visually impaired division, and mobility impaired division. Although it has stringent qualifying standards, Boston is among the most inclusive of marathons. Boston welcomes runners of all ages from around the world.
Probably the greatest innovative impact on the world of running was the introduction of qualifying standards in 1970. They have been adjusted several times since in response to marathon demographics. But they remain THE standard for marathons in every corner of the earth. Qualifying times for each age group are outlined on the BAA Website.
The 100th running in 1996 demanded innovative ideas as 38,708 entrants filled Hopkinton for the start. The Championchip scoring system had its biggest test on that day.
Next April will be the third year that elite women race separately, starting approximately one half hour before all others, and before the traditional noon start. This has provided increased focus and better appreciation for the remarkable elite athletes in this field, and this doubles the excitement for all spectators and television viewers.
The Boston Marathon is among the largest charity races in the world, with over 1,200 slots of the 20,000 allotted bib numbers going to representatives of the 18 recognized charities. These runners raise millions each year (estimated $7 to $8 million in 2006) for a wide variety of worthy causes (check on the BAA Website for information on charities).
There will be $575,000 in prize money awarded in 2006. B.A.A. Boston has awarded over $10 million since prize money was introduced in 1986, the same year John Hancock took over sponsorship.
Boston is a race of streaks. Finns won 6 of 9 races from 1954 to 1962, and only one since. United States men won 9 in 16 years from 1968 to 1983, and none since. Kenyan men have won 14 of 18 at Boston since Ibrahim Hussein became the first in 1988. You never know when the next trend will begin, or when history will be made. Tradition and innovation define Boston, and Boston defines marathoning.
And speaking of youth, the BAA runs a terrific program for kids in the Boston region as a free community service. The innovative “BAA Training Basics” offers unique introduction to running programs for kids in the area. It includes cross-country in the fall, and recreational running in the spring, along with a relay involving high profile elite athletes working with the kids. The BAA also offers a true marathon training program for those 18 and over looking to expand to long distance running.
Boston is a fixture in April. Runners always know when it will be run. Patriots Day is unique to Massachusetts and Maine (Maine was actually part of Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War and until 1820, when it was admitted as the 23rd state). Patriots Day was established to honor April 19, 1775, when the Minutemen fought battles with British troops in Lexington and Concord. This was the day of the “shot heard round the world”, the military beginnings of the war for independence.
Patriots Day was always celebrated on April 19, so all Boston Marathons were also run on April 19 through 1968, except when the 19th fell on Sunday, in which case the race was held on Monday the 20th. On Friday, April 19, 1968 21-year-old Amby Burfoot (Connecticut collegiate runner) earned his victory. Beginning the following year, 1969, the holiday was set as the third Monday in April, and has been so since.
Therefore, the date for all Boston Marathons is predetermined, a solid target for participants. The earliest it can be held is April 15 (it will be held April 16, 2007), and the latest possible is April 21 (2008). Marathon Monday is a tradition like no other.
Visitors to Boston can walk the Freedom Trail, which includes many locations relevant to Revolutionary times, and they can experience Minute Man National Historic Park in Lexington and Concord. The April 19th battles took place on the Lexington green and the bridge over the Concord River. British soldiers are buried there. They died thousands of miles from home in a failed attempt to occupy and subdue the American colonies.
Boston is the largest single-day sporting event in the world, except for the Super Bowl. Anywhere from 500,000 to a million spectators line the route and cheer, and for many it is a tradition, a holiday but much more. They know marathoning in Boston and towns along the route, and residents and visitors alike appreciate the efforts of every runner; they cheer all runners, first to last.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Boston Marathon, and one of those often overlooked, is the team competition. Runners can make their experience twice as interesting and even more motivating by inclusion in the team competition. There are open and masters divisions for both women and men, and team members must be registered members of a USATF or RRCA club (or international equivalent).
Three individuals score, with the lowest aggregate time determining the team’s place. Team members must be qualified as individuals. This offers a different dynamic to the Boston competition.
Experienced Volunteers Help Make the Experience
Thousands of volunteers create an atmosphere like no other, from packet pick up right through to the finish line. Thousands of volunteers repeat each year, and collectively add a wealth of experience to marathon support. From information to medical support, they are there for every runner. They are easy to spot in their adidas Boston Marathon jackets. They know marathons—many are running club members—and they add immeasurably to the special atmosphere that is Boston.
Continuing the Tradition
When runners participate in the BAA Boston Marathon they are part of a tradition that goes directly back to the beginning of marathoning. The BAA raised funds and sent five of the 13 Americans who participated in the first Olympics to Athens in 1896. The Americans won 9 of the 12 Olympic track and field events.
The BAA men on returning were so impressed with the marathon, a 24.5-mile trek from the Greek village of Marathon to the stadium in Athens (won by Spyridon Louis of Greece), that they determined to establish a similar race in Boston. It would be in conjunction with the BAA Games, set for Patriots Day, 1897. The “American Marathon” ran April 19, 1897. The 110th running on April 17, 2006 will become another chapter in this venerable legacy. And every 2006 participant will be part of this tradition, a member of a unique “club”.