The Boston Marathon is special to many people – runners and non-runners alike. Marathon runners from all over the world aspire to earn their ticket to Boston, and running Boston is often the highlight of their running careers. But if someone asks why Boston is such a big deal, not everyone has the answer on the tip of their tongues. I’m an exception. Here are five reasons why I think Boston has earned its status at the top of the marathon running heap:
1. You have to qualify to run Boston.
The first reason Boston is so unique is that it’s a qualified race. In other words, in order to register for the race, you must have already run a marathon at a particular (relatively fast) pace. The Boston qualifying standard drives many people throughout their careers as a mark of achievement. But while the Boston Athletic Association wants the race to be challenging to get in, it doesn’t want to exclude non-elite runners.
While race organizers tightened the standards to qualify in 2012, they still aim to allow approximately the top 5 to 10 percent of runners into the race. Think about that in contrast to the marathon at the Olympics, where only the top two runners from the United States participate. That’s a much stricter standard, and it’s also an example of how high the bar can be for elite competitors.
2. Even you can run the Boston Marathon.
Despite Boston being a race that requires a qualifying time, it’s achievable for non-elite runners. That makes Boston unlike almost any other “elite” event because many of us have a shot of competing alongside the absolute best runners in the world. When you spot someone wearing a Boston T-shirt or jacket, you know they met a high standard to get there.
3. Boston has a long and storied history.
Boston is a tradition. The success of the first modern day Olympic marathon in 1896 inspired the first Boston race in 1897. That makes Boston the world’s oldest marathon – as well as one of the oldest consecutively held sporting events. If you want to find tradition, you’ll definitely find it on the road to Boston each spring. Many historic moments took place on the road to Boston, including the famous 1982 “Duel in the Sun,” during which Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar battled to the top of the now-infamous “Heartbreak Hill.” It’s also the race in which Katherine Switzer became one of the first women to finish a major marathon in 1967 – despite almost being tackled by an event organizer, since, at the time, women weren’t allowed to participate in the race.
4. Boston has great spectators.
The Boston Marathon has some of the best spectators in the world. The marathon is held on a regional holiday called Patriot’s Day, so most people have the day off to come out to the race and cheer. With the race course passing many colleges along the way, including an amazing stretch near Wellesley College, the Boston crowds are a kind of madness that really make the experience incredible. The so-called “Wellesley Girls” also create a screaming, cheering line of humanity that will motivate just about any runner.
5. It’s now a place of remembrance.
Sadly, after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Boston became an even more unifying and patriotic event for both runners and the city of Boston. In 2014, Boston proclaimed the day “One Boston Day” toremember the tragedy, which adds another layer to the importance of this race in many people’s hearts and minds.
Runners everywhere strive to qualify for the Boston Marathon. As a runner who has been to Boston a number of times, I can tell you from experience that it lives up to its reputation. It’s an experience a marathon runner never forgets. I encourage runners to try to get there. It’s worth it.