The first modern marathon was held at the 1896 Olympics in Athens. The 24.8-mile course was based on the distance run by Greek soldier Pheidippides from the plains of Marathon to Athens, where he carried the news of the Greek army’s victory over Persia. Following the inaugural Olympic marathon, John Graham, the manager for the U.S.’s first Olympic marathon squad, was inspired to establish the Boston Marathon, with assistance from businessman Herbert Holton. The 24.5-mile route started at Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts, and ended at Boston’s Irvington Street Oval near Copley Square. Fifteen men participated in the inaugural race, known at the time as the American Marathon. It was held on April 19, Patriots’ Day, a holiday celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine in honor of the start of the Revolutionary War. In 1969, Patriots’ Day was officially moved to the third Monday of every April and the Boston Marathon has been run on that day ever since.
The Olympic marathon distance was changed at the 1908 games in London after King Edward VII and Queen Alexandria requested that the race start at Winsdor Castle. The distance between the Olympic stadium and the castle was 26 miles and race organizers added 385 yards around a track so the athletes could finish in front of a royal viewing box. In 1924, the Boston Marathon course was increased to 26 miles, 385 yards to comply with Olympic standards, and the starting line was switched from Ashland to the town of Hopkinton.
In 1970, the Boston Marathon introduced qualifying standards and participants had to submit proof they could run the race within a designated time. In 1972, Nina Kuscsik became the Boston Marathon’s first female winner, following the Amateur Athletics Union’s decision the year before to allow women to compete in long-distance road races. Kuscsik, who finished with a time of 3:10:26, was one of eight women who ran the race that year. In 1975, Boston became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division. In 1986, prize money was awarded to Boston Marathon winners for the first time. John A. Kelley, who ran his first Boston Marathon in 1928, holds the record for most races started (61) and most completed (58). Kelley won Boston in 1935 and 1945 and participated in his last race in 1992 at age 84.
Today, the Boston Marathon, considered one of the world’s most prestigious road races, attracts professional and amateur runners from around the world. The event’s centennial running, on April 15, 1986, had 38,708 entrants and 35,868 finishers.