Today is a day off for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In Boston, it’s Marathon Monday, a day for people to run a long ways to test and push themselves while the spectators down as much beer as physically possible, because Boston needs another reason to drink. Ok it’s not that simplistic, but many people seem to think it is, for some reason. So I’m taking a little time to write up a few things to know about Patriots Day itself, why the day is celebrated, and why it’s important. And I’ll also throw in a few things to know about the Boston Marathon, both this year’s race and the history of it.
- What is actually celebrated on Patriots Day?
The first battle of the American Revolution. On the night of April 18th, 1775, Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride to warn the countryside of the military’s attempts to sieze the colonists’s storage of militia weapons at Concord. And no, Revere did not say the famous words “The British are coming”. He had to ride quietly through the night and the colonists thought of themselves as British already, so there are no grounds for claiming he said this. Revere was captured before he finished his mission, but others got the word out, and the British were met by armed resistance on the village green of Lexington. A small skirmish ensued. Then the Redcoats marched to Concord before being pushed back at the Old North Bridge. The Redcoats responded by locking down Boston, and the American Revolution began.
There is one other event also commemorated: The Baltimore Riot of 1861. This is considered the first blood shed in the conflict of the American Civil War. On April 19, 1861, members of the 6th Massachusetts Militia were traveling to Washington DC for federal service after the fall of Fort Sumter and the beginning of the American Civil War. Maryland was a border state and was even though it did not actually succeed to the confederacy, it was still not friendly to the members of the Northern military. When the 6th Massachusetts Militia arrived in Baltimore on April 19th, tensions boiled over. A riot broke out when confederate sympathizers and anti-war Democrats, the largest political entities in Maryland at the time, recognized military from the Republican north. The riots were ended, but not before 4 Massachusetts soldiers were dead and 36 others were injured.
2. When was Patriots Day first celebrated?
There were long standing municipal days of remembrance called Lexington Day and Concord Day in Massachusetts and Maine, which until the Missouri Compromise in 1820 was a part of Massachusetts. There were not any large scale celebrations though. Then in 1894, the governor of Massachusetts, Frederic T. Greenhalge, abolished the long standing Fast Day, and announced a new holiday for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Patriots Day. The day was set up to commemorate people who gave their lives for the freedom of Massachusetts in both the American Revolution and the American Civil War. Maine followed in 1907 and replaced its Fast Day with Patriots Day. The holiday was celebrated on April 19th, the actual date of the battles, until 1969, when the schedule was changed to Patriots Day being celebrated on the third Monday of April, which is what we have now.
3. Is it officially recognized as a holiday anywhere else?
Well, yes actually. It is primarily a Massachusetts and Maine holiday, but other states do recognize it. Wisconsin lists the day as a “Public School Observance Day”. It is recognized as an important day in American history. There is still school, but time is taken to recognize what happened on that day. Florida law also encourages people to acknowledge the events of the day, but does not treat the day as a holiday. Massachusetts and Maine are the only states that recognize Patriots Day as a holiday.
- When did the Marathon begin?
The first ever Boston Marathon was run in 1897. It was inspired by the success of the 1896 Olympics in Athens, the first modern Olympic competition. Patriots Day was selected for the marathon because of the symbolism found in the Olympic marathon. The race is called a “marathon” because it was supposed to recreate a famous event in Greek history: the run of Pheidippides from the site of the Battle of Marathon to Athens to announce victory to the Athenians. The Boston Athletic Club modeled their own race of 24.3 miles, same as the 1896 Marathon, to commemorate the spirit of the Patriots in the Colonial age. The original plan was to have the route run from Concord to Boston, but the distance wasn’t enough for a regulation marathon, so the starting line was placed in Ashland. A field of 15 amateurs ran the first ever Boston Marathon, with John J. “JJ” McDermott winning the race with a time of 2:55:10.
2. How does the Marathon work now?
The sarcastic answer to this question is “Well people run a long ways and other people watch.” The more technical answer is that the route has changed significantly since 1897. For one, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) changed the distance of an official marathon from 24.3 miles to 26.2 miles. To bring the Boston Marathon up to standards, the BAA changed the distance to 26.2 miles, and changed the starting location to the Hopkinton Green. This has been the starting line since 1924.
The other major change is the process of qualification. The Boston marathon is the oldest continuously run marathon in the US and is the most famous race in the American runners community. The people who qualify to run are among the most skilled runners in the American and international community. The first marathon had a field of only 15 runners. This year’s race has 30,000 runners competing! So how does one qualify for the marathon? Well the race is open to any runner 18 years and older, but they have to have completed a full length marathon before with an official time that fits in the qualification times for each age group. These are the qualification times.
These are just a few pieces of interesting trivia regarding the marathon.
- The first 35 marathons saw an American or a Canadian win. The 36th saw the first winner from outside North America, Paul de Bruyn of Germany, triumph in 1932.
- The race has seen huge diversity in its victors over its history, but not much recently. In the Men’s Open Division, 19 of the last 25 winners have been Kenyan. Though the last time a Kenyan won was in 2012 when Wesley Korir won.
- The most recent American victory was in 2014, when Meb Keflezighi became the first American victor since 1983 when Greg Meyer won.
- Women were not officially allowed to run the Marathon until 1972, though women had been unofficially running since 1966. Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb is recognized by the BAA as the first woman to complete the marathon course. Katherine Switzer, who registered as K.V. Switzer, was the first woman to finish the race with an official number, though race official Jock Semple famously tried to rip off her number. All female finishers from 1966 to 1971 have been recognized by the BAA.
- The Boston Marathon was he first in the world to add a wheelchair division. The first male winner was Robert Hall in 1975. The first female winner was Sharon Rahn in 1977.
- The course record for the men’s open division was also the world record for a time. In 2011, Geoffrey Mutai ran a staggering 2:03:02, the fastest marathon ever run at that point. It has since been topped by Dennis Kipruto Kimetto’s 2:02:57 at the 2011 Berlin marathon.
- Walter Brown, who was the founder and longtime owner of the Celtics and has a hockey arena at my school, Boston University, named after him, served as the chair of the BAA from 1941 until 1964. His most famous and negative moment came in 1951, during the height of the Korean War, when he banned Koreans from participating in that year’s race.
- Two runners have actually died while running the race. An unnamed 62 year old Swedish man died in 1996 because of a heart attack. And Cynthia Lucerno, 28, died of hyponatremia in 2002.
- The marathon goes on about the same time as the Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park, who have been scheduled to play every year at home since 1959 on Patriots Day. The Patriots Day game starts at 11:00 AM, the only scheduled morning game on the major league schedule.
So there are a few things about the meaning of Patriots Day and the history and workings of the Marathon itself. I hope people take some lessons from it! If you’re in Boston today, enjoy the marathon! And don’t get too crazy today. Happy Patriots Day everyone!