What to know as the Boston Marathon makes its big Patriots' Day returnPlay
Boston's beloved rite of spring is back.
The 126th running of the iconic Boston Marathon will be the first staged on Patriots' Day since 2019 — a span of 1,099 days.
The 2020 marathon was canceled for the first time in race history because of the pandemic. (Boston was first run in 1897.) COVID-19 concerns prompted another first in 2021: an autumn marathon. The race was held on Oct. 11, meaning just six months separate this Marathon Monday from the last.
Needless to say, race organizers and residents alike are excited to see the tradition revived against its usual backdrop of blossoming trees and springtime optimism.
"It is more than thrilling that after more than a thousand days, we will finally have a full field of athletes out on the starting line in Hopkinton on Patriots' Day," said Tom Grilk, president and CEO of the Boston Athletic Association.
That full field of athletes is around 30,000 strong. For the 2021 race, the BAA downsized to 20,000 runners because of COVID concerns. Those concerns still exist, and they will play a role in Monday's proceedings. All runners must be vaccinated or have a medical exemption. (The rule applies to the 10,000 volunteers who support the race as well.) Runners also must mask up aboard the buses that carry racers to Hopkinton for the start of their 26.2-mile journey to downtown Boston.
Off the course, the marathon's return to pre-pandemic scale is welcome news for local businesses. The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau said before COVID, the marathon injected about $200 million into the region's economy.
Here's what else you should know about this year's race:
One major difference has nothing to do with the pandemic, but it does reflect a crisis that's rocked the world.
Just days before the marathon the BAA banned registered runners who are citizens of Russia and Belarus, and who live in those countries, because of Russian President Vladimir Putin's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Grilk said the BAA made the decision as a way to show support for Ukrainians. The symbolic gesture affects just a few dozen runners, and athletes from Russia and Belarus don't populate the leaderboards very often. (Only three Russian athletes — all women — have ever won a Boston Marathon.)
While some racers said they agreed with the ban, others have argued against it, saying it punishes Russians and Belarusians who don't have anything to do with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Still, many participating in the race expressed appreciation for how the race allows people from around the world to gather around a common purpose.
"One nice thing about running is that it takes the focus off what makes us all so different and emphasizes what makes us the same," said Jared Ward, an American who ran the Olympic marathon in 2016. "I'm not a politician, but I hope we can continue to remember that there are people struggling on both sides of the Russian border."
The marathon reveres its history. It hasn't always been laudable.
Women weren't officially allowed to run Boston until 1972, although women's running pioneers Roberta Gibb and Kathrine Switzer had finished the race prior to that year. Eight women toed the starting line for that historic '72 race, eventually won by Nina Kuscik. She and the other seven runners are being recognized Monday, on the 50th anniversary of the first official women's race.
Women now make up at least half the marathon field each year, if not more.
There's a world-class field of runners hoping to add their names to Boston Marathon history in 2022.
The reigning men's winners from the Boston, London and New York marathons are in the race, plus the women's Olympic marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya and American Molly Seidel, who won bronze in the Olympic marathon in Japan last summer.
Five-time men's wheelchair winner Marcel Hug of Switzerland was expected to go for his sixth first-place finish, but has withdrawn from the race, according to WBZ.
Manuela Schär, also from Switzerland, returns after winning Boston, London and Berlin in 2021. American Tatyana McFadden withdrew from the women's wheelchair race due to a medical issue.
Every runner has a story to tell. But throughout the field, some athletes are showing their staying power.
More than 200 people are running the Boston Marathon for the 20th consecutive time. That group includes longtime race director Dave McGillivray, who will leg out his 50th Boston Marathon in a row.
McGillivray does it a little differently than everyone else. He wraps up his duties at the finish line, then heads back out to Hopkinton and starts his marathon. He often finishes in the dark, while the vast majority of the field is already celebrating or licking wounds.
McGillivray will also be in Hopkinton in the dark hours of marathon morning, overseeing the start of the race. Speaking of which, here's the schedule:
- 6 a.m. — Military Marchers
- 9:02 a.m. — Wheelchair Division (Men)
- 9:05 a.m. — Wheelchair Division (Women)
- 9:30 a.m. — Handcycle & Duo Participants
- 9:37 a.m. — Professional Men
- 9:45 a.m. — Professional Women
- 9:50 a.m. — Para Athletics Divisions
- 10:00 a.m. — Wave 1
- 10:25 a.m. — Wave 2
- 10:50 a.m. — Wave 3
- 11:15 a.m. — Wave 4
Want to watch the race in person? Here's what to know.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators typically line the marathon course. While they won't face any COVID-related restrictions, Boston Mayor Michele Wu is urging people to use common sense: Stay home if you're sick and wear a mask if you're concerned about infection — especially in the huge downtown crowds near the finish line.
There are many excellent spots to watch the race — if you can get to them. They include the start and finish, of course, but also the "scream tunnel" at Wellesley College, just before the halfway point of the race; and Heartbreak Hill at around 20 miles, before Boston College.
This spectator guide includes the projected times when the leaders in the various races are expected to pass through specific points along the route.
Beware: Getting around on race day is a pain.
Officials are urging spectators to use public transportation. But be sure to note the Copley MBTA station along the Green Line is closed all day. T riders are instead encouraged to use Arlington station, which serves all Green Line branches. Also, from about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., above-ground Green Line stops at South Street, Kent Street and St. Mary's Street will be closed.
Buses will operate a regular weekday schedule, though some routes will be detoured. The T is also offering a special discounted commuter rail pass for $15, valid all day Monday and good for unlimited rides.
Race security will be both visible and invisible, with uniformed officers on patrol and plainclothes officers in the crowd. Local law enforcement have been on heightened alert in response to last week's deadly shooting at a New York City subway station.
Expect the same safety measures that have been in place since the bombings in 2013, including checkpoints between Kenmore Square and the Boylston Street finish line. Bags, if you have one, will be searched at those checkpoints. (Here's a list of items banned on Marathon Monday.)
Finally, the weather.
It's spring in New England, which means expect anything. Remember the monsoon in 2018; a violent thunderstorm that threatened the race even happening in 2019; and the broiling heat for the 1976 race. Thankfully, conditions look pretty good for the 2021 marathon, according to the forecast from WBUR meteorologist Dave Epstein.
And there you have it. The Boston Marathon, back where it belongs.
With additional reporting from members of the WBUR Newsroom
This article was originally published on April 18, 2022.
This segment aired on April 18, 2022.