In 1942, milkman Joe Smith broke the previous record and won the Boston Marathon. He was still running so fast at the finish line that he crashed into the bleachers and knocked down the photographers.
The terrible events of April 15, 2013, focused the nation’s attention on Boston. But the 26-plus-mile race that was shattered by a terrorist bombing deserves its own spotlight.
The Boston Marathon goes way back—you could say to 490 BC. It was then that, according to legend, a Greek soldier named Pheidippides ran nonstop some 25 miles to announce victory over the Persians at Marathon. After delivering his news, he collapsed and died on the spot. The first modern-day marathon race was run in the 1896 Summer Olympics. The Boston Marathon began the following year. In 1897 only 15 runners stepped to the starting line. To make sure they survived, a uniformed militiaman rode his horse along each runner, with lemons, water, and wet handkerchiefs at the ready. That year, and for many decades after, the only prize for winning the Boston version was an olive-branch wreath, which reflected the race’s classical past. Later, businesses sponsored cash rewards for winners. In addition, participants who run on behalf of charities now raise millions of dollars each year.
Over the years, the Boston Marathon has piled up some impressive statistics. Here is a sample: It is the world’s oldest annual marathon, it attracts half a million spectators every year, and the 1996 version was the world’s largest marathon, with more than 38,000 entrants. In 2011, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya ran the fastest marathon of anyone anywhere—just 2:03:02.
This illustrious race is always held on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday of April. The holiday commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution, at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775. Battle reenactments and a traditional Boston Red Sox home game contribute to Patriots’ Day observances. No doubt in years to come the confluence of the Boston Marathon and Patriots’ Day will have new meaning, as Bostonians and Americans everywhere will celebrate defiance in the face of terror.
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- The History of the Boston Marathon: A Perfect Way to Celebrate Patriots’ Day
This article explains how the Boston Marathon “isn’t just an athletic event—it’s a celebration of our democratic republic.”
(Source: The Atlantic, April 17, 2013)
- American Experience: Patriots Day
Follow the links for more about the Revolutionary War battles commemorated on Patriots’ Day.
(Source: PBS; accessed April 30, 2013)
- 2014 Boston Marathon
Learn all about the 118th Boston Marathon from its sponsor, the Boston Athletic Association.
(Source: Boston Athletic Association; accessed April 30, 2013)