Countdown to ’14 Boston Marathon: 10 Fun Facts About the World’s Greatest Race

April 08, 2014 Posted By: Bob "Wish" Wischnia

That the Boston Marathon is the greatest race in the world is pretty much indisputable. Every runner in the world aspires to run Boston at least once. It’s the Holy Grail of running and has been so since the very first one in 1897.

This year, on April 21st–Patriots’ Day in Boston—nearly 35,000 marathoners will start in suburban Hopkinton with their sights firmly set on the finish line along Boylston Street at Copley Square. The running of the 118th Boston promises to be both emotional and historic.

Here are 10 facts about Boston that you may not know—but should.

1. The Boston Marathon is the oldest, continuously held marathon in the world, but contrary to popular belief Boston is not the first contested in America. The first marathon in the United States was held on September 19, 1896. The race began in Stamford, Connecticut in its town square (now Columbus Park) and finished at Columbia Oval in the Bronx. The winner of that race was John J. McDermott, a 22-year-old Irish immigrant, who ran 3:25:55. The following spring, McDermott would win the first Boston Marathon ever held in 2:55:10.

2. Heartbreak Hill is the most notorious single hill in running on the greatest course in marathoning. Heartbreak is actually three hills, starting just past mile 17 in Auburndale. The final of the three Heartbreak Hills is the hardest and comes between miles 20 and 21. The top of Heartbreak is in Newton, just before the 21-mile mark .

3. The last of the three Heartbreak Hills was named in 1936 by Boston Globe sportswriter Jerry Nason. In the 1936 race, John A. Kelley led Ellison “Tarzan” Brown until the last of the Newton hills when Kelley was forced to walk and Brown surged past to win the race. In his coverage of the race, Nason christened it “Heartbreak Hill” which has stuck ever since.

4. For years, the Boston Marathon started in Ashland, rather than Hopkinton and was about 25 miles long. In the early years of the marathon, the actual distance varied from race to race. In 1908 at the London Olympics, the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles was arbitrarily established but distances still varied.  Because 1924 was an Olympic year and Boston would serve as the Olympic Marathon Trials, the starting line for the ’24 Boston Marathon was moved from Ashland three miles west to Hopkinton to lengthen the course and conform with the Olympic distance of 26 miles, 385 yards. Since 1924, Hopkinton has been the starting point for the Boston Marathon.

5. John A. Kelley is the greatest Boston marathoner of all time. Kelley won Boston twice (1935 and 1945) and finished second seven times. Although Kelley did not finish his first Boston in 1928, he eventually competed in a record 61 Boston Marathons. A statue of Kelley was erected in 1993 on the Boston course near Newton at about 19.2 miles, about one mile before the foot of Heartbreak Hill.

6. There are two great Boston champions named John Kelley in Boston lore.  John A. Kelley, who won Boston in 1935 and 1945, is known as “Kelley The Elder” or “Old John Kelley” and John J. Kelley, the 1957 winner, is known as “The Younger” or “Young John Kelley.” The two Kelleys, both deceased, are not related,  but Kelley The Elder mentored “Young Kelley.” In turn, Young Kelley, who is from Groton, Connecticut, coached and mentored Amby Burfoot in high school and to his victory in 1968.

7. The last American male to win Boston was Greg Meyer in 1983. Greg Meyer ran Boston last year to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his victory as did past champions Amby Burfoot (1968) and Joan Samuelson (1979 and 1983). Burfoot’s running again this year. Other past champions, such as Bill Rodgers, Uta Pippig, Samuelson and Burfoot, often run the Boston Athletic Association 5-K which is on Saturday this year.

8. Boston is the fastest marathon in the world. Almost all of the Boston marathoners have to achieve a qualifying time to run Boston (5000 charity runners run without a qualifier), so Boston has the cream of the crop. Its median finish time of 3:44 is—by far—the fastest of any “open” marathon.

9. Boston is the only marathon in the world held on a Monday. It is always held on the third Monday in April which coincides with Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts. Patriots’ Day is a civic holiday in Massachusetts, commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first two battles of the Revolutionary War. The Boston Red Sox always play a home game on Patriots’ Day and it traditionally begins at 11 a.m. Since the marathon used to begin at noon, the end of the game usually coincided with the lead runners going through nearby Kenmore Square which is the 25-mile mark. Now since the marathon starts between 9:30 and 10 a.m., the leaders reach Kenmore Square about noon. Still, many Red Sox fans leave the game early to watch the marathoners.

10. The best spot to watch the Boston Marathon is Kenmore Square. There are many great places to watch the marathon—Cleveland Circle, Wellesley, the top of Heartbreak Hill, Coolidge Corner—but Kenmore Square is the most convenient to downtown and near enough to get back to the finish. Situated on Beacon Street and about a mile from the finish, Kenmore Square is right outside Fenway Park and under the famed Citgo sign. At this point, the marathoners are struggling to reach the finish line on Boylston Street and need all the encouragement they can get. Kenmore Square is wide and open with plenty of room for thousands of spectators who begin gathering and securing spots early on Marathon Monday.

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