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From Our Blog

Guide to the Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon in the world.

emptied street for boston marathon with spectators on either side

The inaugural race in our city was held in 1897, following the first modern-day Olympics in Athens in 1896. Now held on Patriot’s Day on the third Monday of April, known locally as “Marathon Monday”, it’s one of the world’s best-known marathons and being a spectator on this remarkable day is one of the best things to do in Boston.

Around the world, runners strive to “qualify for Boston” each year to be one of the more than 30,000 runners to compete on this challenging course. Incredibly, women weren’t allowed to enter the marathon until 1972, however two noted women fought convention for the right to run. In 1966, Roberta Gibb was the first woman to run the entire marathon. The next year, Katherine  Switzer registered as “K.V. Switzer”, was  the first woman to run and finish with a race number, despite a race official trying, unsuccessfully, to eject her from the race and tear off her bib. The rules changed five years later, allowing women to run. Today, nearly half the entrants are female.

Boston Marathon Elite Women
Elite women © JD Baskin

Elite women start the race at 9:32 a.m. and elite men begin at 10:00 a.m. Waves of runners follow, starting the race based on their predicted finishing time. The 26.2 mile course begins in Hopkinton, follows route 135, Route 16 and Route 30, then through city streets to the center of Boston. The official finish line is at Copley Square, just a few blocks from Boston Park Plaza. Half a million people line the course of the race each year, so when visiting Boston during this time, it’s a must-see event.

One of the best places to watch the marathon is between the 11 and 12-mile mark, near Wellesley College. And it’s certainly the loudest place. Students and faculty form what they call a “scream tunnel” and cheer on the runners. Their encouragement can be heard from a mile away and is considered one of the most iconic stretches of running in all of road racing.

The famous Heartbreak Hill is near Boston College. It is a 0.4 mile rise between mile 20 and mile 21 of the race. For runners, mile 20 of any marathon is when they are said to “hit the wall” or use up their glycogen reserves. Adding a hill contributes to the challenge. In 1936, it is on this hill that defending champion John Kelley overtook Ellison Brown, giving him a pat on the shoulder as he passed. Unfortunately for Kelley, this act renewed Brown’s determination and he pulled ahead and won the race, thus, it was said, breaking Kelley’s heart.

The biggest crowds are near Copley Square. The final turns, onto Hereford Street and the last turn onto Boylston, with only half a mile to go, is a memorable and emotional place for runners, who know the finish line is approaching, and spectators who are cheering on friends, family and determined strangers. Elite women are predicted to reach the finish line at 11:56 a.m. and elite men at 12:08 p.m.

For spectator information, visit the Boston Athletic Association website. For directions, information on Boston transportation or for more viewing tips, speak with one of our Concierges.

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