Boston Marathon Results And History

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Here & Now's Alex Ashlock is covering the 117th running of the Boston Marathon and joined us from the finish line to tell us who the winners are:

  • Men's race: Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia (2:10:22)
  • Women's race: Rita Jeptoo of Kenya (2:26:25)
  • Men's wheelchair race: Hiroyuki Yamamoto of Japan (1:25:32)
  • Women's wheelchair race: Tatyana McFadden of U.S.A. (1:45:24)

Alex also spoke with the author of a new book about the organization that launched the world's oldest marathon - the Boston Athletic Association.

John Hanc's book is "The B.A.A. At 125: The Official History of the Boston Athletic Association, 1887-2012" (see excerpt below).

More than 25,000 runners took part in Monday's Boston Marathon, compared to about 15 for the first race in 1897. Women were not  officially allowed in the race until 1972.

Hear a longer version of the conversation with John Hanc:

Alex asked John Hanc whether the book is also a history of Boston.

____Book Excerpt: ‘The B.A.A. At 125’

By: John Hanc____

"The B.A.A. at 125"  book cover

A True Foot Soldier:
Clarence DeMar’s Dominance at Boston Showed the Heart of a Champion

Private Clarence DeMar arrived in France in 1919, the year after the Armistice ending World War I was signed. He was part of the Army of Occupation: American troops who — at least according to a lighthearted postcard DeMar wrote to a friend back home — had little to do but sit around in the barracks, drink lemonade, and eat ice cream.

It was one of the rare periods in DeMar’s life when he was not on the move.

An almost Dickensian childhood, withperiods spent in an orphanage, had hardened DeMar. Yet, although he had a reputation as a cold, taciturn man, he was also highly intelligent, hard-working, and studious. A self-coached runner, DeMar ran his first Boston Marathon in 1910. He was 22 years old at the time, and finished second. The following year, he not only won the race, he broke the existing course record by three minutes. Eleven years later, after a hiatus from marathon running and his military service, “Old Man” DeMar came back to Boston — and won again. And again, the year after that. In 1924, the B.A.A. finally decided to conform to the Olympic marathon distance of 26.2 miles, first contested in London 16 years earlier. To get the additional distance, George V. Brown simply extended the marathon by 1.2 miles from Ashland, right into the heart of his hometown. From then on, Hopkinton was the start.

Veteran marathoner Clarence DeMar crosses the finish line April 19, 1930, in Boston, Mass., to win the Boston Marathon for the last of his record seven wins. DeMar's time was 2:34:48.2. (AP)
Veteran marathoner Clarence DeMar crosses the finish line April 19, 1930, in Boston, Mass., to win the Boston Marathon for the last of his record seven wins. DeMar's time was 2:34:48.2 (click to enlarge). (AP)

Clarence DeMar won that race, too — his third Boston Marathon victory in a row. He finished second in 1925, third in 1926, and then zoomed back to win it again in 1927 and 1928. DeMar so dominated the Boston Marathon in the 1920s that the press began calling it “DeMarathon.”

In at least one sense, the well-educated printer from Melrose, Massachusetts, was the right man in the right decade: DeMar’s demeanor seemed to mirror that of his fellow New Englander, the cold, unsmiling man from Vermont who was then president of the United States. “[DeMar] exemplified the last of the ascetic, frugal, tightlipped, close-mouthed, intolerant Yankees,” notes marathon historian Tom Derderian, “those from the same mold as Calvin Coolidge.”

It’s fitting that DeMar would win the first 26.2-mile, “modern” Boston Marathon in 1924. He would go on to win the race a total of seven times — a record that is unlikely to be broken. Moreover, he helped revolutionized the sport. He was one of the first runners to do the kind of heavy training volume and 20-mile runs that are a standard component of marathon programs today, and his training approaches are still discussed on running forums. Unlike many of the working-class competitors of that era, DeMar — although employed in what we would today call a “blue-collar” profession — was more like those who would come along in the Running Boom 50 years later. DeMar even wrote his autobiography, entitled Marathon, published in 1935. Its pages reveal a man who marched (or ran) to a different beat — self coached and suspicious of authority, a wise, witty, if sometimes cranky observer on running and human nature. “I sometimes feel that the whole word is divided,” he wrote, “into those who pay attention and accomplish things and those who distract attention and are infernal nuisances. The runners are paying attention and the rest of the world is mostly trying to distract them.”

Author John Hanc is pictured finishing the 2011 B.A.A. Half Marathon. (Victah Sailer/PhotoRun)
Author John Hanc is pictured finishing the 2011 B.A.A. Half Marathon. (Victah Sailer/PhotoRun)

Some of the thoughts he espoused on training in his book are relevant today. In the 21st century, there is much debate on proper form and foot placement for runners and how to teach it — through certain patented training methods — or help accommodate it, through certain kinds of running shoes. DeMar tells us that early in his career he received similar advice; he was told he would run much better if he ran on his toes, instead of landing on his heel, as was his natural gait. He tried. “I couldn’t get the idea of running by hitting the toes first and then coming back on the heels. I tried to dance along on my toes without the heels touching!” While he writes that he eventually did learn to land on his toes, he soon discarded the idea as a silly exercise. “My whole attitude is that whether one shall run on his heels or his toes is hardly worth discussing. The main thing in distance running is endurance and the ability to get there as quickly as possible.”

While he was a cool and calculating competitor, DeMar could rhapsodize about the appeal and joys of the distance long before it was anything more than an event regarded as near-suicidal. In a chapter entitled “What Does it Feel Like to Run a Marathon?” he talks about the post marathon exhilaration — what today would be called a “runner’s high” — and balances it against the feelings of tenseness and discomfort before and during the race. “Do most of us want life on the same calm level as a geometrical problem? Certainly we want our pleasures more varied, with both mountains and valleys of emotional joy, and marathoning furnishes just that.”

An enjoyable read, even 78 years after it was published, Marathon shows DeMar to be a man who ran with his head as well as his heart. His heart, in fact, was why he had originally stopped running marathons after his initial success. He was under doctor’s orders, he later said, and offered a comment on both the doctor and the orders. “He told me I had a slight heart murmur and should not run more than a year or two. I asked him when I’d first notice anything and he said that in a few years, I’d feel weak, going up and down stairs. I’ve been looking for these symptoms for over a quarter of a century! In less than two years I heard that the old doctor had died of heart failure himself, so I’ve often wondered if he wasn’t listening to his own heart by mistake.”

DeMar lived until 1958, and it wasn’t a heart attack, but stomach cancer that killed him. Still, his heart sparked one of the first debates about the health benefits of marathon running. According to sports medicine historian Adam R. Hornbuckle, a postmortem cardiac examination revealed that DeMar’s heart, while enlarged, was normal, and although there was evidence of slight coronary disease, the coronary arteries were two to three times the usual diameter. Dr. Paul Dudley White, the leading medical proponent of exercise in the 1950s, published the results of the DeMar autopsy to prove his claim that a lifetime of vigorous physical activity did not injure the heart — a not uncommon belief at the time.“However,” notes Hornbuckle in a 1993 paper on DeMar’s marathon-medical legacy, “[White] did not attribute the extraordinary size of DeMar’s arteries entirely to marathon running, as he considered genetic endowment to be equally important.”

While Dr. White’s views on the value of exercise have been validated and are widely accepted today, the nature-versus-nurture, how-far-is-too-far debate continues. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the annual meeting of the American Medical Marathon Association, which is held in Boston every April on Marathon Weekend, is in some ways a continuation of that discourse — an extension of the same issues and questions first raised by the heart of the Boston Marathon’s greatest champion. Prior to his win in the 1930 Marathon, DeMar got married, moved to Keene, New Hampshire, and began a new career. He became a teacher of industrial arts at the Keene Normal School. There, he also taught Sunday school and was a Boy Scout leader. The frosty New Englander spoke warmly about his lifelong devotion to working with youngsters. “Teaching is a very happy way to earn a living,” he told a local reporter. “I like it very much.”

Excerpted from the book THE B.A.A. AT 125 by John Hanc. Copyright © 2012. Reprinted with permission of Sports Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.


This segment aired on April 15, 2013.


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