HISTORY OF THE BOSTON MARATHON

The First Boston Marathon

After experiencing the spirit and majesty of the Olympic Marathon, B.A.A. member and inaugural US Olympic Team Manager John Graham was inspired to organize and conduct a marathon in the Boston area. With the assistance of Boston businessman Herbert H. Holton, various routes were considered, before a measured distance of 24.5 miles from Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland to the Irvington Oval in Boston was eventually selected. On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York, emerged from a 15-member starting field and captured the first B.A.A. Marathon in 2:55:10, and, in the process, forever secured his name in sports history.

In 1924, the course was lengthened to 26 miles, 385 yards to conform to the Olympic standard, and the starting line was moved west from Ashland to Hopkinton.

The Marathon Distance

The 1896 Olympic marathon distance of 24.8 miles was based on the distance run, according to famous Greek legend, in which the Greek foot-soldier Pheidippides was sent from the plains of Marathon to Athens with the news of the astounding victory over a superior Persian army. Exhausted as he approached the leaders of the City of Athens, he staggered and gasped, “Rejoice! We Conquer!” and then collapsed.

The marathon distance was later changed as a result of the 1908 Olympic Games in London. That year, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandria wanted the marathon race to begin at Windsor Castle outside the city so that the Royal family could view the start. The distance between the castle and the Olympic Stadium in London proved to be 26 miles. Organizers added extra yards to the finish around a track, 385 to be exact, so the runners would finish in front of the king and queen’s royal box. For the 1912 Olympics, the length was changed to 40.2 kilometers (24.98 miles) and changed again to 42.75 kilometers (26.56 miles) for the 1920 Olympics. In fact, of the first seven Olympic Games, there were six different marathon distances between 40 and 42.75 kilometers. By 1924, the distance was standardized for all future Olympic marathons at 42 kilometers (26 miles, 385 yards).

On a Monday: The Patriots’ Day Race

From 1897-1968, the Boston Marathon was held on Patriots’ Day, April 19, a holiday commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War and recognized only in Massachusetts and Maine. The lone exception was when the 19th fell on Sunday. In those years, the race was held the following day (Monday the 20th). However, in 1969, the holiday was officially moved to the third Monday in April. Since 1969 the race has been held on a Monday. The last non-Monday champion was current Runner’s World editor Amby Burfoot, who posted a time of 2:22:17 on Friday, April 19, 1968.

Women Run to the Front

Roberta Gibb was the first woman to run the full Boston Marathon in 1966. Gibb, who did not run with an official race number during any of the three years (1966-68) that she was the first female finisher, hid in the bushes near the start until the race began. In 1967, Katherine Switzer did not clearly identify herself as a female on the race application and was issued a bib number. B.A.A. officials tried unsuccessfully to physically remove Switzer from the race once she was identified as a woman entrant. At the time of Switzer’s run, the Amateur Athletics Union (A.A.U.) had yet to formally accept participation of women in long distance running. When the A.A.U. permitted its sanctioned marathons (including Boston) to allow women entry in the fall of 1971, Nina Kuscsik’s 1972 B.A.A. victory the following spring made her the first official champion. Eight women started that race and all eight finished.

First to Sponsor the Push Rim Wheelchair

The Boston Marathon became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division competition when it officially recognized Bob Hall in 1975. With a time of two hours, 58 minutes, he collected on a promise by then Race Director Will Cloney that if he finished in less than three hours, he would receive an official B.A.A. Finisher’s Certificate. American wheelchair competitors Jean Driscoll and Jim Knaub helped to further establish and popularize the division.

Olympic Champions at Boston

Three-time defending women’s champion Fatuma Roba became the fourth person to win the Olympic Games Marathon and the B.A.A. Boston Marathon when she posted a 2:26:23 to win the 1997 Boston Marathon. Roba, who won the 1996 Olympic Marathon, joined fellow-women’s champions Joan Benoit, who won Boston in 1979 and 1983, before adding the 1984 Olympic Games title; and Rosa Mota (POR), who won a trio of Boston crowns (1987, 1988, and 1990), while adding the 1988 Olympic title. Gelindo Bordin (ITA) is the only male to win the Olympic (1988) and Boston (1990) titles.

Milestones

Tuesday, March 15, 1887: The Boston Athletic Association was established, and construction began soon after on the B.A.A. Clubhouse at the corner of Exeter and Blagden Streets.

Summer 1896: The marathon at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 served as the inspiration for the B.A.A. Boston Marathon. John Graham, coach and manager of the B.A.A. athletes, was a keen observer of the Marathon-to-Athens Race and returned to Boston with plans to institute a strikingly similar long-distance run the following spring.

Monday, April 19, 1897: The Boston Marathon was originally called the American Marathon and was the final event of the B.A.A. Games. The first running of the Boston Marathon commenced at the site of Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland and finished at the Irvington Street Oval near Copley Square. John J. McDermott, of New York, emerged from a 15-member starting field to capture the inaugural Boston Marathon.

Tuesday, April 19, 1898: In its second running, the Boston Marathon welcomed its first foreign champion when 22-year-old Boston College student Ronald J. MacDonald of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, won the race in 2:42:00. MacDonald’s accomplishment foreshadowed the international appeal the race would later attract. Today, 24 countries can claim a Boston Marathon Open Division (men’s and women’s) champion. The United States leads the list with 53 triumphs.

Thursday, April 19, 1900: Race winner John P. Caffery was followed across the line by runner-up Bill Sheering and third-place finisher Fred Hughson, providing Canada with a sweep of the top three places. To date, only five nations have swept the top three places; Canada (1900), Korea (1950), Japan (1965 and 1966), Kenya (six times, including 2012 when it swept both the men’s and women’s races), and United States (35 times, which includes 29 times for men and six times for women). Kenya rounded out the list of nations in 1996 when that country’s men swept the top six spots. Also, Kenyan men placed first through fourth in 2002; first through fifth in 2003; and first through fourth in 2004. The United States, which has swept the top three spots on 31 occasions, leads all nations. At the inaugural Boston Marathon in 1897, all 10 finishers were from the United States.

Wednesday, April 19, 1911: The legendary Clarence H. DeMar of Melrose, Massachusetts, won his first of seven Boston Marathon titles. However, on the advice of medical experts, DeMar initially “retired” from the sport following his first title. He later won six titles between 1922 and 1930, including three consecutive titles from 1922 through 1924. DeMar was 41 years old when he won his final title in 1930.

Friday, April 19, 1918: Due to American involvement in World War I, the traditional Patriots’ Day race underwent a change of format but preserved its perennial nature. A 10-man military relay race was contested on the course, and the team from Camp Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, bested the field in 2:24:53.

Saturday, April 19, 1924: The course was lengthened to 26 miles, 385 yards to conform to the Olympic standard, and the starting line was moved west from Ashland to Hopkinton.

Thursday, April 19, 1928: John A. “The Elder” Kelley made his Boston Marathon debut. Kelley, who won the race in 1935 and again in 1945, posted the record for most Boston Marathons started (61) and finished (58). His final race came in 1992 at the age of 84. Meanwhile, Clarence H. DeMar captured his second straight title. To date, only nine open division men’s champions have returned to successfully defend their titles. DeMar is the only one to have recorded consecutive triumphs on more than one occasion (1922–24 and 1927–28).

Monday, April 20, 1936: The last of Newton’s hills was given the nickname “Heartbreak Hill” by Boston Globe reporter Jerry Nason. When John A. Kelley caught eventual champion Ellison “Tarzan” Brown on the Newton hills, Kelley made a friendly gesture of tapping Brown on the shoulder. Brown responded by regaining the lead on the final hill, and as Nason reported, “breaking Kelley’s heart.”

Saturday, April 19, 1941: Leslie S. Pawson of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, joined Clarence H. DeMar as the only men to win the race three times or more. Pawson first won the race in 1933 and added a second title in 1938. The pair has since been joined by Gerard A. Cote, Bill Rodgers, Eino Oksanen, Ibrahim Hussein, Cosmas Ndeti, and Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot.

Saturday, April 19, 1947: For the first time in the history of the men’s open race, a world best was established at the Boston Marathon when Korean Yun Bok Suh turned in a 2:25:39 performance.

Monday, April 19, 1948: The Boston Marathon crowned its second four-time champion when Gerard A. Cote of Hyacinthe, Quebec, edged B.A.A. runner Ted Vogel. Cote’s first triumph came in 1940, and he added back-to-back wins in 1943 and 1944. To date, only DeMar, Cote, Bill Rodgers, and Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot have won the men’s open race four or more times.

Saturday, April 20, 1957: John J. Kelley became the first and currently lone B.A.A. club member to win the Boston Marathon. In addition, from 1946 to 1967, Kelley was the only American to win the race.

Tuesday, April 19, 1966: Although not an official entrant, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Joining the starting field shortly after the gun had been fired, Gibb finished the race in 3:21:40 to place 126th overall. Gibb again claimed the “unofficial” title in 1967 and 1968.

Wednesday, April 19, 1967: By signing her entry form “K. V. Switzer,” Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to receive a number in the Boston Marathon. By her own estimate, Switzer finished in 4:20:00.

Monday, April 21, 1969: The Boston Marathon has always been held on the holiday commemorating Patriots’ Day. Beginning in 1969, the holiday became officially recognized as the third Monday in April.

Monday, April 20, 1970: Qualifying standards were introduced. The official B.A.A. entry form stated, “A runner must submit the certification...that he has trained sufficiently to finish the course in less than four hours.”

Monday, April 17, 1972: Women were allowed to officially run the Boston Marathon, and Nina Kuscsik emerged from an eight-member field to win the race in 3:10:26.

Monday, April 21, 1975: A trio of stories emerged from this race, as Bill Rodgers collected his first of four titles, Bob Hall became the first officially recognized participant to complete the course in a wheelchair, and Liane Winter of West Germany established a women’s world best of 2:42:24. Hall was granted permission to enter the race provided that he covered the distance in under three hours. Hall finished in 2:58:00, signaling the start of the wheelchair division in the race.

Monday, April 19, 1982: Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley became the first two runners to break 2:09:00 in the same race after dueling one another for first place over the final nine miles. Salazar emerged victorious from the thrilling final sprint to the finish in 2:08:52, with Beardsley just two seconds behind.

Monday, April 18, 1983: Joan Benoit won her second Boston Marathon in a world best time of 2:22:43. Benoit, who won the inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon the following year, became the first person to win the Boston and Olympic Marathons.

Monday, April 15, 1985: Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach, who placed fourth at the 1984, 1988, and 1992 U.S. Olympic trials Marathon, handily won the women’s race in 2:34:06 and remains the most recent American women’s open division champion at Boston.

Monday, April 21, 1986: Through the generous support of principal sponsor John Hancock Financial Services, prize money was awarded for the first time, and Robert de Castella of Australia earned $60,000 and a Mercedes-Benz for finishing first in a course record time of 2:07:51. On the women’s side, Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway captured her first of two Boston Marathon titles in 2:24:55. She received $39,000 and a Mercedes-Benz. (Kristiansen won her second title in 1989.)

Monday, April 18, 1988: Kenya’s Ibrahim Hussein finished one second ahead of Tanzania’s Juma Ikangaa, and became the first African to win the Boston Marathon, or any other major marathon.

Monday, April 16, 1990: Jean Driscoll of Champaign, Illinois, won her first of seven consecutive wheelchair division races. John Campbell of New Zealand established a world masters best of 2:11:04, finishing fourth overall.

Monday, April 18, 1994: World best performances were established in the men’s and women’s wheelchair divisions, while course records fell in the men’s and women’s open divisions. For the fifth consecutive year, Jean Driscoll posted a world best to win the women’s wheelchair division, while Heinz Frei of Switzerland set the men’s world best to mark the 12th time the record had been established at Boston. Cosmas Ndeti of Kenya lowered the course record to 2:07:15, while Uta Pippig set the women’s standard at 2:21:45.

Monday, April 17, 1995: Cosmas Ndeti crossed the line first in 2:09:22 to join Bill Rodgers and Clarence H. DeMar as another champion to have won the race three consecutive years. Between 2006 and 2008, Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot would also win three straight crowns.

Monday, April 15, 1996: The historic 100th running of the Boston Marathon attracted 38,708 entrants (36,748 starters) and had 35,868 official finishers, which stood as the largest field of finishers in the history of the sport until 2004 (New York City: 37,257 starters; 36,544 finishers). Uta Pippig overcame a 30-second deficit and severe dehydration, among other difficulties, to become the first woman of the official era to win the race three consecutive years.

Monday, April 21, 1997: Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia became the fourth person to win the Boston and Olympic Marathons, and the first African woman to win the Boston Marathon. Two years later, she would become the second woman of the official era to win the race three consecutive years.

Monday, April 17, 2000: After seven consecutive victories (1990–96) followed by three years as runner-up (1997–99), Jean Driscoll won an unprecedented eighth title in the wheelchair division, moving her past legendary Hall of Famer Clarence H. DeMar for most all-time victories at Boston. Catherine Ndereba became the first Kenyan woman to win the Boston Marathon; Elijah Lagat, also of Kenya, was first to the finish in the men’s race, marking the 10th consecutive year a runner from his country won the title. Both the men’s and women’s races were the closest in history.

Monday, April 15, 2002: Two records were set in the women’s race when Margaret Okayo of Kenya dethroned two-time defending champion Catherine Ndereba in 2:20:43, and Russian Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova broke the 14-year-old masters record with her 2:27:58 victory.

Monday, April 21, 2003: The Boston Marathon qualifying times were adjusted for the first time since 1990, and the maximum field size was set at 20,000 official entrants.

Monday, April 19, 2004: To better showcase the women’s elite field, the B.A.A. implemented a separate start for the top female runners. In a dramatic change to race format, 35 national- and international-caliber women began at 11:31 a.m. (29 minutes before the rest of the field and the traditional noon start). Also, Ernst Van Dyk, of South Africa, made history in the push rim wheelchair division when he won for the fourth consecutive year in a world record time of 1:18:27, and he became the first person to ever crack the 1:20:00 barrier.

Monday, April 18, 2005: Catherine Ndereba became the first four-time winner of the women’s open division. Ernst Van Dyk added to his record for consecutive wins in the men’s push rim wheelchair division, capturing his fifth straight title. In Tallil, Iraq, 41 U.S. servicemen and women completed the first-ever Boston Marathon in Iraq that same day.

Monday, April 17, 2006: In one of the most significant changes in Boston Marathon history, the field was divided into two starting waves, with 10,000 runners beginning at the traditional noon starting time, and the remainder of the runners starting at 12:30 p.m. In addition to the two-wave start, the Marathon for the first time scored the event by net (chip) time. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot beat Cosmas Ndeti’s 12-year-old course record by one second, while Rita Jeptoo, Jelena Prokopcuka, and Reiko Tosa provided the women’s division’s closest-ever 1-2-3 finish.

Monday, April 16, 2007: For the second year in a row the start of the race underwent a major change, this time with the start time being rolled back to 10:00 a.m. The push rim wheelchair race featured the first two Japanese champions in the history of that division, with Masazumi Soejima and Wakako Tsuchida winning the men’s and women’s titles, respectively.

Monday, April 21, 2008: Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot won his fourth total, and third consecutive, Boston title, joining Clarence H. DeMar, Gerard Cote, and Bill Rodgers as the only men to have won the race at least four times.

Monday, April 19, 2010: Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot from Kenya established a new men’s course record by 82 seconds with a time of 2:05:52. In the men’s push rim wheelchair division, Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa won in 1:26:53 and became the most successful Boston Marathon competitor of all time, with his ninth title. The race marked 25 years of partnership between principal sponsor John Hancock and the B.A.A. The official charity program surpassed the $100 million mark in 2010.

Monday, April 18, 2011: Geoffrey Mutai from Kenya set a new course record, as well as a new world’s best time of 2:03:02. The top four men all finished under the old course record. Caroline Kilel of Kenya just outlasted Desiree Davila of the United States to win in 2:22:36. The push rim wheelchair division had an emotional element all its own, with both men’s and women’s victories going to Japan - this just after the earthquake that had struck that country. Masazumi Soejima finished ahead of Kurt Fearnley and Ernst Van Dyk in a winning time of 1:18:50. Once again, records were set for female entrants (11,462) and finishers (10,074).

Monday, April 16, 2012: Weather conditions reached almost 90 degrees along the course. The heat did not affect Canada’s Josh Cassidy, who pulled away early to win the push rim wheelchair division in 1:18:25, breaking Ernst Van Dyk’s course record by two seconds. Due to the warm-weather forecast, anyone who decided to pick up a bib but chose not to run the race was given automatic deferment to the 2013 Boston Marathon. After timing adjudication post-race, 2,160 runners became eligible for this offer. The 500,000th finisher in the 116-year history of the Boston Marathon crossed the finish line.

Monday, April 21, 2014: In a triumphant victory, American Mebrahtom (Meb) Keflezighi crossed the finish first on Boylston Street in a personal best of 2:08:37. Keflezighi was spurred on by the memories of those impacted by the tragic events at the 2013 Boston Marathon, becoming the first American man to win the open race since Greg Meyer in 1983. Rita Jeptoo of Kenya ran a course record of 2:18:57 to claim her second consecutive (and third overall) Boston Marathon win. In the men’s push rim wheelchair division, Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa won his 10th Boston Marathon title, while Tatyana McFadden of the United States retained the women’s crown.

WEATHER CONDITIONS
YEAR HOPKINTON TEMP* BOSTON TEMP** WIND SKY
2000 50 47 N/NE 7–12 mph Cloudy
2001 53 54 N/NE 1–5 mph Partly Cloudy
2002 53 56 N/NE 1–5 mph Mostly Cloudy
2003 70 59 Variable 3–8 mph Clear
2004 83 86 WSW/SW/W 8–11 mph
2005 70 66 E/NE 5–8 mph Clear
2006 55 53 Calm Clear
2007 47 50 E/ESE 20–30 mph Overcast and Rain
2008 53 53 W 2 mph Clear
2009 51 47 E/SE 9–16 mph Partly Cloudy
2010 49 55 E/NE 2–5 mph Partly Cloudy
2011 46 55 W/SW 16–20 mph Clear
2012 65 87 W/SW 10–20 mph Clear
2013 56 54 E 3mph Clear
2014 61 62 WSW 2–3 mph Clear
2015 46 46 Calm Overcast and Rain
2016 71 61 WSW 2-3 mph Clear
2017 70 73 WSW1-3 mph Clear

*Based on start of Wave One
**Based on winner of men's race

USUAL WEATHER CONDITIONS
  • Snow
    • 1907: Traces of sleet
    • 1908: Snowflakes and drizzle
    • 1925: Cold wind and occasional snowflakes1961: Snow squalls driven by winds of 10–12 mph; recorded temperature was 39 degrees
    • 1967: Snow squalls accompanied the runners through the first five miles
       
  • Driving Rain
    • 1970: Mix of rain and sleet; temperatures in the high 30s
    • 2007: Rain; winds gusting 25–30 mph; temperatures in the mid 40s
    • 2015: Rain; winds gusting up to 15 mph; temperatures in the mid 40s
       
  • Extreme Heat or Unseasonable Warmth 
    • 1905: The temperature was reported to have reached the 100-degrees mark.
    • 1909: The temperature soared to 97 degrees.
    • 1915: Reports of “intense heat.”
    • 1927: With the temperature reaching 84 degrees, a newly surfaced but uncured road melted under the runners’ shoes.
    • 1931: Reports of “terrific heat” that “spelled ruin to the hopes of countless ambitious runners.”
    • 1952: The temperature rose to the upper 80s, with a high of 88 degrees.
    • 1958: The temperature climbed to 84 degrees.
    • 1976: For much of the first half of the race, the temperature along the course was reported to be 96 degrees.
    • 1987: The temperature was in the mid/upper 80s and the humidity was more than 95 percent.
    • 2004: The hottest marathon since 1976 (86 degrees at the finish) caused a record number of heat-related illnesses.
    • 2012: The temperature reached 75 degrees by the start of the Women’s Elite field (9:30 a.m.), with a high of 89 degrees reported in Framingham (10k-mark) by mid-day.
       
  • Other Unusual Weather Conditions
    • 1939: Runners at the start of the race in Hopkinton experienced dark skies caused by a northeast storm and a partial eclipse of the sun.
    • 2002: A heavy mist severely reduced visibility, grounding helicopters, which resulted in limited televised coverage of the race.
    • 2010: Eyjafjallajokull, a volcano in Southern Iceland, erupted in late March, and again on April 14, interrupting European air travel for weeks.