The Marathon is New England’s most widely viewed sporting event by far. Even if you’re not among the 26,000+ official participants signed up for the 117th event in 2013, watching the runners and being part of the enthusiasm is an awe-inspiring experience. And every one of the elite athletes from around the globe who participates in this famous event is a winner.
While some runners compete for the fastest finish times among each other as well as the fastest in the history of the event, many others run to raise money for charities, and still others want to do their personal best. The Marathon is managed by the Boston Athletic Association, a non-profit organization formed in 1887 to promote a healthy lifestyle through sports, especially running, and to manage athletic events.
Note: Boston hotels fill up quickly for Marathon Weekend! To ensure reservations, you should decide where you want to stay as far in advance as possible.
Where does the Marathon take place?
The 26 mile, 385 yard race begins in the town of Hopkinton, located just southwest of Boston. It finishes across from the Boston Public Library and Old South Church in Boston’s Copley Square, located in the Back Bay neighborhood close to downtown.
Unlike marathons held in flatter locations, hills are what characterize the Marathon route. Most runners particularly dread “Heartbreak Hill” located between Mile 20 and 21 in Newton. It is the last of four hills in Newton and begins at Mile 16. Heartbreak Hill is not the steepest or highest hill along the course by any means – in fact, it makes only an 88 foot ascent over a .4 mile stretch near Boston College. However, runners consider Heartbreak Hill to be the most challenging part of the course because it occurs so far into the race, at a point when energy and stamina is almost depleted.
Boston Marathon start times are staggered and are based on the particular division of the participant. The fastest runners finish in just over two hours. In other words, they reach the finish line at Copley Square a little past noon. However, the race continues well into the afternoon.
In keeping with the spirit, you’ll see unofficial participants also running at least part of the race, even though technically this isn’t allowed. Some people do this just to see if they can and still others do it just for fun.
One reason for the Marathon’s prestige is that it is the only U.S. marathon with qualifying time standards. As such, in order to participate, individuals must meet particular qualifying times.
Curious to know if you could qualify for the race? Find the Marathon’s qualifying times here.
Best places to watch the Boston Marathon
Depending on the weather, as many as 500,000 people or more turn out to watch the event. Boston Marathon weather varies dramatically based on the year – find out more here
Our experience is that any location along the route will let you experience the excitement and thrill of the race. If you want to be close to the finish line in Copley Square, however, be warned: crowds are huge and intense. Because of the massive number of viewers packed into a small area, you will only have a slim chance of actually seeing the winners cross the finish line.
The First Boston Marathon
After experiencing the spirit of the Olympic Marathon, B.A.A. member and inaugural US Olympic Team Manager John Graham was inspired to organize a marathon in the Boston area. With the help of Boston businessman Herbert H. Holton, various routes were considered before a measured distance of 24.5 miles from Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland to the Irvington Oval in Boston was officially selected.
On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York, emerged from a 15-member starting field and captured the first B.A.A. Marathon in 2:55:10, and, along the way, forever secured his name in sports history and legend.