An ESPN columnist said it well today:
“The Boston Marathon turned 114 years old on Monday, but it never gets old.”
Indeed. The Boston Marathon is perhaps the most famous and prestigious race of its kind in the United States.
The first running of the storied marathon was in 1897, the year that defined American journalism. The race was one of the year’s landmark moments.
The course, I noted in The Year That Defined American Journalism, began in Ashland, Massachusetts, and was 24.5 miles long–about 1.5 miles shorter than that of a contemporary marathon race.
Fifteen men were in the field in 1897.
Some of them, said the Boston Post, in revealing a delicious sense for detail, “looked as if they could spare a few pounds.”
Along the course that spring day, “the runners answered the cheers of spectators with bows and waves.”
The winner of the inaugural run was John J. McDermott of the Pastime Athletic Club in New York. He finished the course in 2 hours, 55 minutes, and 10 seconds, which the Boston Globe said exceeded the record time of the 1896 Olympics.
McDermott supposedly dropped nine pounds during the race, suffered severe leg cramps, and was forced to cut through a funeral procession as the marathon neared the finish line, where some 3,000 spectators awaited.
“This probably will be my last long race,” McDermott said afterward. “I hate to quit now, because I will be called a quitter and a coward, but look at my feet.
“Do you blame me for wanting to stop it? I only walked about a quarter of a mile in the whole distance and it was 20 miles before I lagged a step.”
But, he added, “I think I shall be all right tomorrow.”
McDermott entered the 1898 edition of Boston Marathon, and finished fourth.