Twelfth in our series to appear on the first Friday of each month: Boston Firsts Fridays. #BostonFirsts
First Realty Management Corp. was founded in Boston over 50 years ago. We are proud to call this wonderful city our home, and call focus to some of the events & innovations that happened FIRST in Boston.
BF#12 First U.S. Marathon: Boston Marathon (1897)
Boston really was ahead of the field in this race; not only was the 1897 running of the Boston Marathon (then called simply the “American Marathon”) the first such event in this country, it is the oldest annual marathon in the world.
The idea of an American marathon was inspired by the running of the marathon in Athens, Greece in the first Olympic games of the modern age in 1896. Those Olympic games were the first truly international sports competition and the highlight was the very first marathon competed for internationally.
Initially, however, the marathon was not a standalone event. The Boston Athletic Association (BAA), a non-profit organization that still hosts the event today, was established ten years earlier in 1887 to “encourage all manly sports and promote physical culture”. As part of this manly agenda, they would meet at their headquarters on the corner of Exeter and Boylston Streets (the current location of the Boston Public Library and not coincidentally the finish line of the race) and engage in manly pursuits such as water polo, billiards, boxing, fencing, tennis and presumably a bit of light towel-snapping. They would host a competition called the BAA games, and in 1897 added the marathon to the lineup.
The race in 1897 was 24.5 miles or 39.4 kilometers, starting in the town of Ashland. The starting line was moved to Hopkinton in 1924, lengthening the course to 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km), the recently set Olympic standard.
In a rather clever bit of inspiration, the BAA decided to run their new marathon on the holiday Patriots’ Day, which had only recently been established in 1894. This was an intentional choice to link the struggles for athletic excellence with the struggles for American liberty, and the two would forever be intertwined. (Reportedly the original race course would have followed the Battle Road that the original patriots walked, but for logistical and distance reasons this had to change.) In an even more clever bit of inspiration, Patriots’ Day was moved in 1969 from April 19th to the third Monday in April, giving many of us a long weekend!
Approximately 15 amateurs took part in the inaugural marathon, won by John J. McDermott. Last year (2013), there were 26,839 registered participants, plus an unknown amount of unregistered participants. On the 100th running of the race in 1996, the starting field was nearly 39,000! In 2014 the BAA is expecting an enormous turnout.
In 2013 the race was disrupted by two terrorist explosions near the finish line, several hours after the winning finishers were recognized but while the race was still going strong. The race had to be halted, but the city remained strong.
The race has been run continuously since that day in 1897 and will be #BostonStrong forever…
While the Boston Marathon is the oldest continuously running marathon in the world, it is only the second longest continuously running footrace in North America – Buffalo, New York has been holding an 8K “Turkey Trot” on Thanksgiving Day since 1896.
Boston Athletic Association: http://www.baa.org/