The history of the Boston Marathon

Look back on the events from the world’s oldest annual marathon.

A historic photo of runners in the 1959 Boston Marathon.

John Kelley (#2) and Hal Higdon (#129) leading the pack of the 1959 Marathon.

The Marathon is just days away, so we wanted to look back on some historic finishes for the oldest marathon in the world. Here are 10 milestone years from the race’s 126-year history.

  • The first race was only 24.5 miles from Ashland to the Irvington Street Oval near Copley Square.
  • The second race in 1898 was won by the first foreign champion, a Boston College student named Ronald J. MacDonald from Nova Scotia.
  • The 1924 Marathon extended the course to 26 miles and 385 yards to meet the Olympic standard and moved the starting line to Hopkinton.
  • The nickname “Heartbreak Hill” was introduced in 1936 by a Boston Globe reporter after John Kelley caught up to Ellison “Tarzan” Brown in Newton and tapped him on the shoulder. Later on the hill, Tarzan would pass Kelley and reclaim the lead.
  • The first woman to run as an unofficial entrant was Roberta “Bibbi” Gibb in 1966. In 1967, Katherine Switzer would be the first woman to receive a bib number by not specifying her full name on her entry form. Women were officially allowed to participate in 1972.
  • Qualifying standards were introduced in 1970. Runners had to complete the course in less than four hours, which is about nine minutes per mile.
  • The Boston Marathon was the first to include a wheelchair division in 1975.
  • John Hancock became a sponsor in 1986 — the first year that the Marathon awarded prize money. Monday’s race is the last for the insurance company as the title sponsor + Bank of America will take over next year.
  • The 1996 race was the 100th running of the Boston Marathon.
  • The coronavirus impacted the 2020 event, postponing the race to a virtual experience in September. The first time the Marathon didn’t take place in April was the rescheduled date on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021.
The winner from Nova Scotia in the 1910 Marathon.

Fred S. Cameron was the winner of the Boston Marathon in 1910.

Photo via Wikicommons

This year is the first year a Marathon has allowed entrants to register to compete in the nonbinary category.

We’re cheering on the participants for another historic year on Marathon Monday.

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