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  • Writer's pictureBetsy

Memories of Boston

First photo is me after finishing my first Boston Marathon in 2000 at age 19 as a sophomore at Emmanuel College (I am wearing my ill-fitting high school cross-country warm up suit). I remember eating some Friendly's ice cream on Boylston street with my mom and sister-in-law who came to watch me run and then I took the subway a couple miles down the street to my dorm room on Brookline Ave. I went to the dining hall for dinner and then had a biology test for which I had to study. Second photo is me racing the BAA 5k in 2018 (held on the Saturday before Marathon Monday). Such great memories!

Monday would have been the 124th running of the Boston Marathon, the world's oldest and longest continuously run marathon (and second longest run race, 2nd to the Buffalo Turkey Trot), until this unprecedented year. As of this writing, the race has be postponed until Monday, September 14th, 2020.

If you ever find yourself at a cocktail party (hopefully those will happen again, soon!) with someone who has run the Boston Marathon, here is a brief primer on some important tid-bits:

* The first race had only 15 participants (all men). The basically drew a line in the dirt in Ashland, MA (the first race was shorter than the standard 26.2 miles) and said "See ya in Boston!". All Boston Marathons were free of charge to run up until the 1980s. You finished the race and then got a bowl of clam chowder and a blanket. So New England. They also only had olive wreaths for prizes for the winners up until they signed on big race sponsors (namely John Hancock). Geoff Smith was the last winner in 1985 to not win any money. And he's still kind of salty about it (we chatted with him about his feelings when he came to visit Gainesville, FL last May). Can't say I blame him.

Currently, the registration fee for U.S. citizens is $205 and $255 for international runners, AND the qualification standards for running the race are pretty impressive. For instance, if you are a 40 year old male, you need to have already run a marathon under 3 hours and 10 minutes, which equates to approximately 7:14 /mile pace. Even then, you are not guaranteed entry into the race, as faster qualifiers are given preference (meaning, if you are a 40 year old male and run 3:05, you are higher up on the list). Approximately 30,000 runners complete the Boston Marathon each year.

* Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb is credited as the first woman to run the Boston marathon in 1966. The first woman to officially start (meaning, she obtained a race bid) was Katherine Switzer in 1967. Although, officials didn't know she was a woman because she filled out her registration form as "K. Switzer". They just assumed she was a male. A dramatic situation occurred during the race when the race director, Jock Semple (what a great name for a guy who is about to act like a first class jerk), saw her run by, jumped on to the road, and tried yank off her race bib and pull her off the course, reportedly yelling something akin to "no women in my race!" (I'm paraphrasing. And he was Scottish, so picture a mean Gerard Butler yelling at you, while you are trying to go on a hard 3 hour run in a sweatsuit.) The good guys/ladies won, though. Katherine's linebacker boyfriend had her six and unceremoniously took Jock out. Famous photo evidence of the whole scene below. Women were "allowed" to officially run in 1972.

*Boston became the first marathon to have a wheelchair division in 1975. These athletes use a push rim cycle to cover the course, and by all accounts, they are considered runners in the same way able bodied athletes are. They also have mobility and visually impaired runner divisions, as well. I can remember being a spectator and watching athletes run by with crutches. Talk about inspiring.

*2013 was the year the beautiful race was tainted by two homemade bombs which were detonated just before 3PM approximately 200 meters from the finish line. Runners were still competing and finishing in large currents. Three spectators lost their lives and over 200 folks were injured, some very seriously. Out of this tragedy, grew the Martin Richard Foundation, which does so much great work to give back to the community.

For more info on the Martin Richard Foundation, visit:

Here is a photo of Martin just weeks before the bombings. What a sweet, impactful soul.

***gets tissue, blows nose, blots eyes. Ok, carrying on:***

*All marathons are hard, but Boston is particularly tricky as it has some massive hills in the town of Newton, MA, the most famous of which is called "Heartbreak Hill". These hills come at the point of the race (~18 miles) where all of us mortals usually have our glycogen stores depleted, leaving us susceptible to "hitting the wall" in the race. Basically, your muscles are tired. And hungry. And you now need to climb an asphalt mountain. And then keep running for close to an hour more. Fun times.

Interestingly, even with these cruel inclines, Boston is a net downhill course (you end at a lower elevation than you started) and it is a point-to-point course headed west. Due to these characteristics, Boston is not eligible as a world-record qualifying course. This is to prevent the advantage of a strong tailwind - which happened in 2011, when Geoffrey Mutai ran 2:03.02, the fastest marathon at that point, but it wasn't ratified as a world record. Major bummer. He still holds the men's record. The women's record holder is Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia who ran 2:19:59. She was denied the glory of a win, however, as she finished second to Rita Jeptoo in 2014. Jeptoo was later stripped of her win due to disqualification due to blood-doping violations.

Here is a map of the course with the elevation gains and losses.

* If you want to experience the course, here is a great video of all 26.2 miles. Note the gorgeous fall foliage.

*Dave McGillivray has served as Boston Marathon race director since 2001. Every year, after the last finisher crosses the finish line, Dave laces up with shoes (with a group for company and support) and runs the entire course backwards (like, starts in Boston and ends in Hopkinton - not the other kind of backwards, people). Talk about dedication.

I could write a book on all the history and fascinating stories of the Boston Marathon. However, lots of people have already done this! Here are a few that I would recommend checking out:

Boston Marathon: The History of the World's Premier Running Event by Tom Derderian

Duel in the Sun by John Brant

4:09:43: Boston 2013 Through the Eye of the Runner's by Hal Higdon

Dream Big: A True Story of Courage and Determination by Dave McGillivray and Nancy Feehrer

Boston: The Documentary is also excellent. Here is the YouTube trailer:

Here is how you can watch the film in its entirety:

Marathons in general, and Boston Marathon in particular, are symbols of strength, resilience, and hope. I draw a lot of comfort in these extraordinarily trying times by reflecting on the magic and heroic efforts of humans surrounding this great event. I hope it brings a smile to your face, as well!

Stay well, FitFooters! And happy running!


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