The first marathon, 39.4 kilometers, was run in 1897. The race was inspired by the marathon run in the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens. In honor of the shared struggle of Athens and the United States for liberty, the race was scheduled for Patriots' Day, a holiday established only in 1894.
What is Patriot's Day? The holiday commemorates the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775. Those clashes between British troops and colonial militiamen touched off the American Revolution. It isn't a national holiday. Only Massachusetts and Maine (which was a part of Massachusetts until 1820) celebrate it as a full official holiday.
In 1969, the commemoration was changed to the third Monday in April to allow for a 3-day weekend. The race made the change, too. It's the oldest annual marathon in the world and has been run continuously since 1897.
Originally, it was a local event. Anyone who wanted to run, did, free of charge, and the winner was given a wreath of olive branches to wear. But in the 1980s, professional runners encouraged corporate sponsors to put up prize money for the race. In 1986, the first cash prize was given. Women weren't officially allowed to run in the Boston Marathon until 1972. The race has historically allowed "bandits," people who run the race without paying the entry fee. They can't start running until the official entrants have left, but they have been allowed to cross the finish line. Because of the bombings in 2013, bandits are now discouraged.
The bombings gave the race a new dimension.
In 2013, a little before 3:00 p.m., nearly 3 hours after the winners had completed the race, two bombs exploded about 180 meters before the finish line. Three people were killed; some 260 people were injured. The race was halted, and Boston mobilized. Both runners and spectators, rather than running away from the explosion site, converged on it to help the victims.
|Runners and spectators help victims|
of Boston Marathon bombing 2013
Tsarnaev's trial recently ended with a conviction on all counts he was charged with. His defense stated that the ethnic Chechen acted in retribution for U.S. military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries, convinced to do so by his older brother. (The brother was killed in a shoot-out during the pursuit of the suspects.)
|Meb Keflezighi crosses the finish|
at the 2014 Boston Marathon
This year, both organizers and runners see the race as a return to a new normalcy. The Associated Press reported that while security will be tight "officials have avoided more drastic measures, like creating a buffer zone between fans and the runners, or closing off certain areas of the course to spectators entirely."
Thirty thousand runners will start the race on April 20, and a million spectators will cheer them on. Bill Rogers, who has won the race 4 times, summarized how people are looking at this year's race: "The healing is occurring; that's what everyone wants. They want it to be a wonderful celebration, just like it has always been. And I think that's what's happening."
|Boston Strong: City skyline and Longfellow|
Bridge on the Charles River