Close
Current temperature in Boston - 62 °
BECOME A MEMBER
Get access to a personalized news feed, our newsletter and exclusive discounts on everything from shows to local restaurants, All for free.
Already a member? Sign in.
The Bay State Banner
BACK TO TOP
The Bay State Banner
POST AN AD SIGN IN

Trending Articles

Concord Town Meeting members pressure school committee to rename middle school

Banner [Virtual] Art Gallery

Banner [Virtual] Art Gallery

READ PRINT EDITION

My Boston Marathon memories

Jimmy Myers
My Boston Marathon memories
(left) Marathoner Aaron Morris PHOTO: Courtesy Morris Family; (right) Boston Athletic Association 1919 trophy PHOTO: Courtesy Ted Corbitt Archives

My history with the Boston Marathon dates to my freshman year at Boston University. I remember the newspaper and television reports leading up to the event. Out of pure curiosity, I got a firsthand look at the proceedings.

I lived at Myles Standish Hall on Bay State Road and secured a prime viewing spot as the runners came down Beacon Street through Kenmore Square, completing the final mile of the rigorous 26.2-mile run.

Knowing little or nothing about marathon running, I stood and watched in awe as hundreds of runners pushed their way to the Prudential Center finish line. I watched in awe because the question dumbfounded me: “Why would anyone in their right mind want to run over 26 miles?”

I was even more perplexed when I learned that the winning runner received a wreath — no cash — just a wreath at that time. Try explaining that to a poor young man from the streets of Philadelphia who did most of his running from hoodlums from different gangs in my neighborhood. Some of my best long-distance running came from being chased for miles when leaving Edison, Ben Franklin, West Philly, Overbrook, and South Philly High Schools following games played at those locations.

With that type of inspiration, there is no telling how many marathon records would have been broken back then and even today.

But one thought stuck in my mind about that day. The last straggling runners — many walking and some just about crawling those previous several yards to cross the finish line — were in anguish. I gained a true sense of admiration for that group of runners and found myself respectfully cheering them on. Inspired by their courage, I went to the library and read up on the history of marathon running.

The first official marathon runner of note (or so history/myth tells us) was Pheidippides, who brought news of a war victory from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, Greece, in 490 B.C.

Many stories surround marathon running, but many historians agree that the first Olympic Marathon was run on April 10, 1896, and won by Spyridon Louis in 2 hours, 58 minutes, 50 seconds. The course began in the town of Marathon and finished in Panathenaic Stadium — a distance of around 40 kilometers (25 miles). The route between Marathon and Panathenaic Stadium was repeated when Athens hosted the 2004 Olympic Games.

The first running of the Boston Marathon was in 1897, with John J. McDermott of New York winning.

At my first Boston Marathon experience in 1969, I don’t remember seeing many Black runners in the competition. I’m sure there were some Black people somewhere; I don’t remember seeing them. However, studying the history books provided me with the names and exploits of one of them, Aaron Morris.

Born in Barbados, West Indies in 1895, Mr. Morris emigrated to the United States and began his running career in Brooklyn, New York. Running for the St. Christopher Athletic Club back on April 19, 1919, he would finish in sixth place in a time of 2 hours, 37 minutes, 31 seconds, thus becoming the first-known African American to run this race. The race had 25 finishers and was won by Carl Linder in 2:29:13.

Marilyn Bevans PHOTO: BRYAN SCHUTMAAT

Marilyn Bevans is listed as the first African American woman to run the Boston Marathon, finishing fourth in 1975 in 2 hours, 55 minutes, 52 seconds, and becoming the first African American woman to run it in under three hours. Bevans was the first Black Woman to win a marathon, crossing the finish line first at the 14th Washington’s Birthday Marathon in Greenbelt, Maryland, in 1975.

She would go on to crush the 1977 Boston Marathon in 2:51:12, finishing second behind Michiko “Miki” Suwa Gorman, who won the race in a time of 2:48:33. Ironically, this was the first race to have women of color finish in the top two spots. Bevans’ personal best was in 1979 in Boston with a time of 2:49:56.

Until the 1980s, white runners dominated Boston and the other major marathons. That all changed when Kenya’s Ibrahim Hussein led the parade of world-class marathon runners from the African continent, winning the 1988 Boston Marathon in a time of 2:08:43. Runners from Africa have dominated the Boston Marathon since that time — specifically, East Africa. Since 1991, 29 of the last 32 winners have been from either Ethiopia or Kenya, and 23 of the past 32 female champions are from the same geographical area.

Diet, altitude and attitude with a mixture of body build all contribute to their dominance. Diets with high carbohydrates and low-fat ingredients like Ugali, a porridge made from millet and maize combined with servings of eggs, milk and honey, fuel these athletes like no others.

The altitude of the Rift valley in Kenya is 8,000 feet above sea level. According to professor of sports science Vincent O. Onywera, who studies distance runners, “There is a widespread belief in the athletic community that altitude training can enhance sea level athletic performance, with at least three independent studies demonstrating that altitude training increases both sea level maximal oxygen consumption and running performance,” he told news outlets.

Further, having dominant long distant athletes from the same area over long periods gives younger runners confidence that they too, can be among the world’s elite.

Evans Chebet (men’s champion) and Hellen Obiri (women’s champion) will return this year to defend their 2023 Boston Marathon titles.

This year’s Boston Marathon is expected to field over 30,000 runners and offer prize money of over $1.1 Million, of which $806,000 will be distributed to the top 10 women’s and men’s finishers. The race winners will each earn $150,000, and the men’s and women’s wheelchair division winners will earn $40,000. The Boston Marathon is the first Abbott World Marathon Major event to offer equal $50,000 course-record bonuses across the open and wheelchair divisions.

That’s a long way from the days of a wreath and little or no cash for punishing your body for 26.2 miles.

And finally, what would my Boston Marathon story be without a personal touch?

While working for WBZ-TV4 in the late 1970s, someone from station management came up with the idea of covering the Marathon live from a helicopter. I am still looking for the person responsible for that brilliant idea, who also decided that I was the perfect person for the job.

Never one to be fond of flying, and still not, I, for the Boston television audience, performed a couple of live shots of the race course. Needless to say, that was the first and hopefully the last history-making event of that nature in my news media career.

Enjoy the 2024 Marathon — with me safely on the ground, thank you.

Aaron Morris, Boston Athletic Association, Boston Marathon, Marilyn Bevans, Sports