For runners, the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston in Massachusetts are holy ground. Next week, more than 30,000 runners will line up on that ground to run, walk, and possibly even crawl their way through the Boston Marathon. Why? The Boston Marathon is no ordinary marathon. It is one that runners around the world have on their bucket list and train for years to race. Here's why.
The Boston Marathon is world famous for a number of reasons. It is one of the six World Marathon Majors. These marathons, which include Boston along with races in Tokyo, New York, Chicago, London and Berlin, represent the largest and most renowned marathons in the world. For the elite, these marathons represent a racing series with a $1 million prize handed out each year to the runner with the most wins. But even the average runner keeps the marathons in the World Marathon Majors on her bucket list, if not to run all in one year then certainly to run in a lifetime.
The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon. Yes, it is even older than that marathon in Greece. According to legend, the marathon began in 490 B.C. with Pheidippides, the Greek messenger who was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. Pheidippides ran the entire distance, bursting into the legislative assembling shouting "We have won," before he collapsed and died. But the Athens Classic Marathon, the race that follows this route and pays tribute to Pheidippides, was not established until 1972.
This year marks the 119th running of the Boston Marathon, an elite race established in 1887.
I call it elite, because it is also a very difficult race to get into and to complete. The Boston Marathon is the only such race in the world that you can't simply pay an entry fee to register. There are only two ways that runners can earn a bib for the Boston Marathon - raise thousands of dollars of charity — a feat that in and of itself is no easy task. Or qualify.
To qualify for Boston, a runner must complete a previous marathon at a pace so challenging, current estimates show that only 10 percent of runners are able to achieve it. Qualifying times vary depending upon the age of the participant on the day of the race, but they range from 3 hours and 5 minutes for men in the 18-34 age group to 5 hours and 25 minutes for women aged 80 or over.
Those times may be hard to wrap your head around, but I'll tell you this: I'm pretty much your average middle-of-the-pack runner and if I can continue to run at the pace I run now, I may be able to qualify for Boston when I hit 80. That is if they haven't made the qualifying standards tougher by then.
So it's tough to get into. And it's also tough to run. Any marathon is, but in Boston, runners hit the race's notorious "Heartbreak Hill," around mile 20, right when muscles are fatigued and momentum has all but faded away. Fortunately, the estimated one million spectators that line up along the course cheer so loudly that any negative thoughts are pushed away.
The Boston Marathon has always been an elite, prestigious race. But in 2013, when the bombings occurred, it became an even greater symbol of perseverance, strength and community — in the running world and beyond.
Next week, running legends Meb Keflezighi and Shalane Flanagan will tow the line at the Boston Marathon, along with roughly 30,000 runners of all shapes, genders, ages and sizes, from every corner of the world. One day, I would love to be on that line with them. But for now, I will settle for streaming this phenomenal race online. And then I will go for a run.
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