Like many famous sports events, the Boston Marathon started small. Some members of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) saw and participated in the marathon at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens. That gave them the idea for a local race.
Only 18 runners started in the first race in 1897. John J. McDermott, a photo engraver from New York City, won the first race with a time of 2:55:10 (2 hours, 55 minutes, 10 seconds). He ran a shorter course (by about 1½ miles) that started in Ashland, Massachusetts.
The race grew slowly. It took more than 70 years (1968) for the Boston Marathon to attract more than 1,000 runners.
Another difference about the early races is that women were not allowed to run. At the time, many people thought women did not have the strength or stamina to run long distances.
In 1966, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb applied to be in the race but was refused. So she sneaked onto the course. Gibb was someone who loved to run so much that she trained in nurse’s shoes. All her training paid off. Gibbs ran the race in 3:21:40, faster than about two-thirds of the men.
In 1972, the BAA officially allowed women to enter and run the race. Now, more than 40 percent of the runners in the Boston Marathon are women.
In 1986, the BAA started to award prize money for the top male and female finishers. Some of the top distance runners in the world compete every year. The Boston Marathon is among the six World Marathon Majors. The other “majors” are run in London (England), Berlin (Germany), Tokyo (Japan) and Chicago and New York City in the United States.
The fastest men run the course in under 2 hours 10 minutes. The fastest women runners post times around 2 hours 20 minutes.
Still, most of the participants in the Boston Marathon are just people who love to run or who want to test themselves to see if they can run 26.2 miles.
Some, like Johnny Kelley, keep running. The local running legend won two Boston Marathons, in 1935 and 1945. But what is more amazing is Kelley started in 61 Boston Marathons and finished 58 of them.
That’s because the Boston Marathon is not just about the runners who finish first. Running, finishing and being part of the event makes everyone who participates in the race a winner.
Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 27 sports books for kids. His latest book is “Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association.”