The original big-city marathon one of biggest days in Boston’s calendar
As many as 100 Irish runners compete in Boston each year
Timothy Cherigat of Kenya wins the 108th edition of the Boston Marathon in 2004: Boston was the original big-city marathon, and some would say still the best. Photograph: Reuters
It may not be the original marathon, but Boston has almost as long a history and such an enduring and wonderful appeal that makes the double explosion that devastated the finish of yesterday’s 117th race even more impossible to comprehend.
It has, since 1897, been one of the city’s favourite days and events, sporting or otherwise, and proudest too, celebrated not just in Boston itself but throughout the surrounding New England area. Long before the New York, London or Chicago marathons, Boston was the original big-city marathon, and some would say still the best.
Always held on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday in April, a public holiday in the New England area, it was inspired by the revival of the Olympic marathon at the Athens games in 1896. Only 18 brave runners started that original race but these days the race attracts far more entries than it can handle, pre-qualifying being required for most runners, with entries capped at just under 27,000.
Oldest annual marathon
With that background it remains the oldest annual marathon in the world. Part of its appeal is that it runs through some of Boston's most famous suburbs: starting in Hopkinton, almost exactly 26 miles from the finish at Copley Square, alongside the Boston Public Library, it follows a near direct line through Ashland, Framingham, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline – and also passes Boston College close to the famous Heartbreak Hill, easily the toughest part of the 26.2-mile route. At least half a million spectators line the route each year.
Given the strong Irish presence in the city and surrounding area it was only natural that it nurtured an Irish connection too – as many as 100 Irish runners compete in it each year.
In 1974, Limerick athlete Neil Cusack, during his final year at East Tennessee State University, and without much planning, decided he would try Boston.
The college paid his way, although there was no appearance fee in those days and no prize money either. These days the winner gets $125,000, plus a hefty appearance fee.
After just six miles Cusack found himself in front, and was a minute clear at half way. Surviving Heartbreak Hill, he arrived home a comfortable winner in 2:13.39 – the second-fastest time in the then 78th running of the Boston marathon, and still the only Irish winner.
In 1988 – four years after he won the Olympic marathon silver medal – John Treacy also lined up in Boston, and after mixing it with some of the top Afrcians finished third in a best time of 2:09:15 – which remains the Irish marathon record.
Also making it onto the winners’ podium in 1991 was Wexford native Andy Ronan, who ran the race of his life to finish third, in a personal best of 2:11.27 – and establishing himself as one of the best runners in the New England area.
He is now head running coach at Stony Brook University in Massachusetts.