History of the Race


The Boston Marathon was founded in 1897, the year after the first Olympic marathon was held in Athens in 1896. It was held on Patriot's day, thus securing that holiday as the annual running of the marathon ever since.

Interestingly, the Boston Marathon started out as only 24.5 miles, just a little under two miles less than what the traditional distance is now. In fact, the marathon distance itself did not officially become 26.2 miles long until 1908 after the London Olympic games where the King and Queen of England requested specific start and end points, resulting in the 26.2 mile distance. Nonetheless, it still took until 1924 for race organizers to change the Boston Marathon route in order to match the new Olympic distance. For this change to occur, the starting line was switched from Ashland to Hopkinton, while the finish line remained in Boston, and the course remainded unchanged ever since.

Founder - John Graham

The Boston Marathon was founded by John Graham, who served as the Olympic team manager in 1896. He was inspired after the innaugural Olympic marathon in the 1886 games and therefore organized the Boston Marathon in 1897. He was assisted by Herbert Holton, who helped establish the initial route from Ashland to Boston. Graham was a member of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), and the race has been passed through the BAA leadership team ever since.

Founder and First Olympic Marathon Team

The First Race

At the start of the innaugural race, only 15 men toed the line in Ashland, and only 10 men crossed the finish line in Boston. The winner was John McDermott of New York, who also won the only other marathon offered in the US in the October prior to Boston's first race. His finishing time was 2:55:10 for the 24.5 mile course, and he won by a comfortable margin of six minutes and fifty-two seconds.

First Boston Marathon

Current Course

By clicking on the map you can learn more about the history of major landmarks - the starting line, finish line, Wellesley tunnel, and Heartbreak Hill.

Course Map Start Wellesley Tunnel Heartbreak Hill Heartbreak Hill Finish Line

Women in the Race

Although the marathon is now split nearly equally between male and female entrants, during the first 75 years only men were allowed to race. The reasons and hesitations that kept the race directors from allowing women to enter the race were not overcome until 1972. Visit our next page to learn more about the pioneers who helped women break into the Boston Maraton.