Category Archives: The History

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Play Tells Untold Stories of Marathon Bombings

Category : Marathon 2016 , The History

The Boston Theater Company is staging a documentary play, “Finish Line: The Untold Stories of the 2013 Boston Marathon.” The play tells the stories of 33 survivors, first responders and others affected by the bombings, using nothing but their own words. BU News Service’s Jonathan Gang spoke with co-creators Joey Frangieh and Lisa Rafferty to find out more.


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Boston. April 20, 2015. The elite women run past the 13-mile mark at the 2015 Boston marathon. (Dingfang Zhou/BU News Service)

15 Years of the Marathon’s Top 15 Female Finishers

Category : Marathon 2016 , The History

(Photo by  Dingfang Zhou/BU News Service)
By Buthayna Al Refai, Mariya Manzhos,
Alexandra Werner Winslow, and Olya Yordanyan
BU News Service

This year marks 50 years since the first American woman ran the Boston Marathon. Back then, her bid to enter the race sparked controversy. Today, women from around the world compete, and lately those from overseas have been taking the top spot in the race.

In 1966, Roberta Bobbi Gibb threw on a hoodie to hide her hair, secured a pair of her brother’s shorts with twine, and took her place behind a bush near the Boston Marathon’s starting line. Her application to enter the marathon had been denied. The Amateur Athletics Union that sanctioned the marathon prohibited women from racing more than 1.5 miles.

But Gibb wasn’t taking no for an answer. For Gibb, who regularly ran near her home in San Diego, the marathon represented an opportunity to change the regulations that kept women from officially participating.

“It was a classic Catch-22,” Gibb told Runner’s World in a recent interview. “How could women prove that we could accomplish something if we were never given a chance to try?”

And try she did. Photographs show the 23-year-old relaxed and smiling as she crossed the finish line less than four hours after she started, the 124th runner to unofficially complete the 1966 Boston Marathon.

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became another icon of resistance to the ban on women running when she became the first female to run as officially registered. However, she had cloaked her gender by registering as K.V. Switzer. She professed that she liked the way it sounded, like J.D. Salinger.

Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a number, however, during the race an official ran after her yelling: “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!”

That iconic moment in women’s sports history was just a start for Switzer. Among her later contributions: the creation of the Avon International Running Circuit and officially making a women’s marathon part of the Olympic Games of 1984.

By 1972, women setting out to cover the same 26.2 miles that Gibb and Switzer ran did so as part of an official women’s division. Today, scores of women from around the world join the pack.

There’s just one difference between them and the women who paved their way: these days, the top 15 finishers are usually citizens of another country.

As early as 1973, Gerda Reinke, a runner from West Germany, was among the top 10 finishers. In 1975, Liane Winter, also from West Germany, set a world record.

By 2015, 11 of the top 15 finishers were not American. In 2010, 14 — all but one — hailed from another country. And in the two years since the Boston Marathon bombings, there’s been no discernible drop in international female runners finishing in the top 15.

View map full screen.

A number of sub-patterns emerge from mapping the Marathon’s top 15 female finishers since 2001. European countries, for instance, supplied 34 runners, or 15.11 percent, with Italy topping them all at seven. In the past 15 years, only 25 percent of finalists were from the U.S.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, China, the globe’s most populous country, produced only four of the Boston Marathon’s top 15 finalists in the last 15 years. To the north and south of the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Colombia produced 4 percent.

The real standout in the finalists’ geographic distribution are the East African runners. Since 2001, they have consistently placed among the top 15 finishers, with 40 Kenyan and 36 Ethiopian finalists in the past 15 years.

Taken together, in fact, Kenya and Ethiopia represent 33.8 percent of the last 15 years’ top finalists. Moreover, 86 percent of Boston Marathon winners — those who placed first in the women’s division in the last 15 years — were from Kenya and Ethiopia.

A 2012 study by the National Institute of Health proposed eight factors that may explain the outsized Kenyan and Ethiopian success in distance running, including diet, environment, and extensive walking and running at an early age.

More unexpected is the study’s hypothesis that an economic motivation may play a part in East African runners’ success.

“The Boston Marathon’s rewards for women from Kenya and Ethiopia are enormous in proportion to other opportunities available to these women in their countries,” said Tom Derderian, a running historian and author of “The Boston Marathon,” a history of the race.

He echoes the National Institute of Health study’s suggestion that monetary rewards have proven to be a significant incentive for East African female runners. Award money ranges from $1,500 to $150,000.

“Women have an option to work on the farm, or do well in the Boston Marathon and become rich,” said Derderian. “They can buy a farm in their country and become a major person in their community.”

And yet, even though Kenya and Ethiopia have produced the most top 15 female finishers in the last 15 years, the country to produce the most finalists overall is, in fact, the U.S.

With 57 top 15 female finishers since 2001, the U.S. has supplied almost twice as many as Kenya, the next biggest country of origin.

Among the American women to participate in recent years is Cambridge resident Emily Raymond, 34, who moved to the Boston area 12 years ago. She began preparing to run her first Boston Marathon in 2006.

Although Raymond skipped the years when she gave birth to her three children, this year she will run her sixth Boston Marathon.

“I keep trying different things. There is something I can always improve,” says Raymond. “Every year I think I could do better.”


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How Has the Boston Marathon’s Wheelchair Event Evolved?

Category : Marathon 2016 , The History

(Photo by Xuedong Wang/ BU News Service)

By Jon Sigal, James Mattone and Juan Esqueda

The Boston Marathon is a storied event. The city watches on the third Monday of April as runners from around the world compete for 26.2 miles. But, some of them don’t run.

As it turns out, eight different events will take place on April 18. Men and women will gut it out in their respective “open” and “masters” events, and framing them will be a conglomeration of three-wheeled speed demons. That’s right – the wheelchair event is as much a part of the Boston Marathon as fans gathering around Boylston Street and Copley Square to cheer on the race.

To get a sense of how integral this portion of the race is, the timeline below highlights some milestones. Now in its fifth decade, the Boston Marathon’s wheelchair competition has no shortage of elite athletes.

Similar to how the running events attract people ranging from the Eritrean-born Meb Keflezighi to the Kenyan-born Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, male competitors from around the world convene for the wheelchair event.

Eighteen men from seven different nations have emerged victorious, and the below map gives a sense of just how far-reaching the event is.

Male Winners by Nationality 

The same phenomenon holds true for the women’s portion of the wheelchair race, as 16 different women from six countries have emerged victorious. Some notable competitors include the Japanese-born Wakako Tsuchida and Swiss-born Edith Hunkeler.

While less geographically diverse, the below map illustrates how truly global the female event is.

Female Winners Nationality 

It has became increasingly difficult to win the wheelchair event over time. Wheelchair technology has improved, competitors have mastered the course and they’ve also become better conditioned.

The below graph depicts this, as the first male winner took nearly two hours and the most recent winner clocked in at roughly an hour-and-a-half.

The same trend can be observed in the female portion of the race. The first winner took nearly four hours to complete the 26.2 mile course, while the most recent winner accomplished the same feat in just under two hours.

Another intriguing way to analyze the men’s and women’s races over time is a side-by-side comparison. The spikes and dips follow the same patterns, and trends link up with the elite race as well. For example, in 2011 when Geoffrey Mutai had the “fastest marathon” run ever, the men’s and women’s wheelchair records were also broken.

The wheelchair’s 2016 version will commence at 9:17 a.m. on April 18 with 35 male participants, while the female counterpart kicks off at 9:19 a.m. with 15 participants.

To get a sense of the journey these 50 athletes will embark upon, check out the map below.


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Bombings Primed Medical Tent Worker to Return to Cover Marathon

By Dagny Crepeau and Holly Winkelhake
BU News Service

In 2013, Anna Booras, a pre-med student at Boston University, was volunteering at the Boston Marathon for the first time as a college freshman. She’d signed up to volunteer with two friends, both as a fun way to spend the afternoon, and as a way to gain a bit more experience in her field. As a first-time volunteer, she was placed in the medical tent stationed at the finish line, and assigned small tasks. Most of her time that day was spent running to the bus that had shuttled runners in from Hopkinton, in order to retrieve the belongings of those who couldn’t finish the race.

During a lull in activity in the tent, Booras said she ventured outside to watch the finish line for a few minutes. As she recalls, it was “the most unfortunate timing.” Standing just a few yards from the finish line, Booras saw the first bomb explode. Smoke obscured the scene for several moments, during which confusion spread among onlookers. When the smoke cleared, the carnage became apparent. It wasn’t long before first responders began carrying the wounded into the tent.

“The worst part was looking at a patient’s face and seeing them look fine,” Booras said. “And then looking down at the rest of [their body] and realizing that they weren’t fine.”

Booras recalls initially wanting to run, afraid for her own safety. But seeing the calm determination of the doctors in the tent as they tended to the injured changed her mind.

“They were all focused on helping people,” Booras said. “They weren’t running, they weren’t scared. That’s what I remember the most.”

Two days after the bombing, Booras’ ears were still ringing. Although the ringing eventually subsided, Booras has lived with the lasting effects of what she saw. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder just a few days after the bombing, and the sound of sirens, however distant, still wakes her up at night.

Brittany Costa watched the same scene from a different vantage point. A member of the U.S. Army Band and Army Reserve, Costa was marching the Marathon with her platoon for Tough Ruck, an organization in which military members march the marathon route carrying rucksacks bearing the names of fallen service members. As Costa’s platoon neared the finish line, they heard the first blast and assumed they were hearing fireworks. By the time the second blast erupted, they knew something was wrong.

“A huge black ball of smoke was coming towards us down Boylston Street and police and EMTs were screaming at everyone to run, so we did,” Costa said. “It wasn’t until a little bit later that we all realized a bomb had gone off.”

At the finish line, Costa recalls finding those unfortunate enough to be within the blast radius injured and crying. As members of the military who are trained to administer first aid, she and her fellow platoon members acted as first responders on the scene.

“We were there before most of the ambulances and EMTs showed up. We were able to help carry a lot of people to medical tents, if they needed it, or if they just had some minor cuts and bruising we were able to treat them pretty quickly with supplies we got from nearby medical tents,” said Costa.

In the wake of the devastation, the Boston Athletic Association has implemented several new regulations designed to better prevent and address such emergencies in the future. Among new protocols, backpacks and other large bags are now items of suspicion by default — they’ve been barred from the pre-race dinner, as well as from the race itself. Runners are forbidden to carry anything larger than a fanny pack during their 26-mile odyssey, which means that military members hauling their rucksacks for Tough Ruck are no longer able to participate with them.

The medical tents at the Boston Marathon also underwent some marked changes. Beginning in 2014, the tents’ many entrances and exits were condensed into a single entrance and exit, both of which are funneled; that is, anyone entering can only enter through the designated entrance and leave through the designated exit.

The medical staff grew from 1,400 volunteers in 2013 to 1,900 in 2014, a number that the BAA has continued to meet every year since. Trained therapists and psychiatric professionals entered the medical tents for the first time the year after the bombs went off. In Booras’ words, they “float” — that is, they aren’t tied down to any particular station inside the tents, but instead walk around, offering help where needed.

At this year’s 120th running of the Boston Marathon, Booras will serve for her fourth year in the medical tent. Despite the psychological toll of her first time as a volunteer, Booras has found the strength to return every year since, considering her participation a gesture of respect to her fellow medical personnel, and to those injured or killed in 2013. She said she also considers her continued participation a personal triumph over fear.

“If we stopped and gave up and didn’t continue with our lives, we’ve lost.”