Posts Tagged ‘boston marathon history’

Boston Marathon 50 years later – 1973 vs 2023

How has the Boston marathon changed over the years? I’ve run it a few times, including 2022 and I’ll be back in 2023. But what was it like fifty years ago? I had the opportunity to find out from Ken Parker who qualified for his first Boston marathon in 1972 and ran his first Boston in 1973. I hope you enjoy this peek into the Boston marathon time capsule!

You may also be interested to read about what is was like for Ken to qualify for Boston before you could Google ‘marathon training plans.’

By the numbers

The 2022 Boston marathon had 28,604 runners. The temperature reached a high of 54F. The men’s winner was Evans Chebet of Kenya in a time of 2:06:51. The women’s winner was Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya in a time of 2:21:02. The men’s wheelchair winner was Daniel Romanchuk of the USA in a time of 1:26:58 the women’s wheelchair winner was Manuela Schär of Switzerland in a time of 1:41:08

The 1973 Boston marathon had 1,384 runners. The temperature reached a high of 78F. The men’s winner was Jon Andersen of Eugene, Oregon beat out the favorite Frank Shorter with a time of 2:16:03. The women’s winner was Jacqueline Hansen a college student from Granada Hills, California in a time of 3:06:26 beating out the other 13 women.

Ottawa Citizen article on 1973 Boston Marathon

Race Hotels

dollar sign

Susan – 2023 “The Courtyard (not a fancy hotel) nearest the finish line is $769 USD a night Boston weekend. Too rich for me, so I stay further out and take one of the trains down to the Commons to catch the buses to the start. Regardless of where I stay, I always meet other Boston marathon runners walking around in Boston jackets from past years. The breakfast buffet inevitably runs out of bananas.”

Ken – 1973 “I used to stay at the Boston Sheraton right beside the finish. I was in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the military in Canada covered the cost of hotel and travel for us if we qualified for Boston. You could tell it was a popular hotel for Boston marathoners because there were always plenty of runners walking down stairs backwards in the hotel the day after the marathon.”

Race Swag & Expo

Susan – 2023 “When you pick up your bib you get a technical long sleeved shirt, a laptop sticker, a printed program and various strange goodies from sponsors including a ‘Boston Cream Pie’ flavoured gel from Gu. The race expo has just about every running shoe company, and running gear supplier on site. In addition there is an entire section of official Boston marathon clothing and souvenirs. The ‘must have’ for every first time Boston runner is of course the $125 USD celebration jacket.”

Boston marathon 2022 race souvenirs

Ken – 1973 “There was no race expo, there was no swag, or celebration jackets, all you got was your bib and a basic cotton t-shirt.”

Boston marathon 1975 race shirt

The route and getting to the start

Susan – 2023 “We catch the buses to the start from Boston Commons. You have to pass through security who ensure you are only carrying the official clear bag onto the bus. Volunteers co-ordinate the bus loading, and you have to show them your bib or they won’t let you board the bus. The bus drops you off at the school in Hopkinton, and you wait outside until your wave is called to the start. There are 4 waves each with 8 corrals. The wheelchair racers start around 9 AM, and the first runners leave around 9:30 AM.”

Ken – 1973 “The race route was the same as it today. We started in Hopkinton. There were buses by the hotel that would take us to the start. Jock Semple, the race director (the same Boston race director who tried to push Katherine Switzer off the Boston course in 1967) used to manage the bus loading and would get quite grumpy if runners weren’t following directions. You had to make sure your bib was visible or you’d be sure to get an earful.  Once we arrived at Hopkinton, we would hang out in the gym at the school until it was time to start. The race started at noon. There were no corrals and waves, just one bulk start.”

1975 Boston marathon start

The cheering crowds

Susan – 2023 “The city really gets behind the marathon. There are 30,000 runners and 40-45% of them are women. Police, firefighters, and military are everywhere keeping runners and spectators safe. Spectators line the entire course cheering us on. I always look forward to the insane cheering at Wellesley and Boston college. If you see anyone in a Boston College shirt, tuck in behind them as you approach the school, they will get extra cheering that you can use to give you a burst of energy. The other runners who get the biggest cheers are usually people who were injured during the Boston marathon bombing and have returned to run the race”

Wellesley College Boston marathon 2022

Ken – 1973 “One of the most wonderful things about the Boston marathon is the way the city gets behind it. This was true even in 1973. Even though there were only one thousand runners, the Boston police were out firmly keeping everyone off the course reminding them it was marathon day! Locals would be out on their lawns and on the streets cheering us on. And yes, even in 1973, the loudest cheering section were the college girls at Wellesley (Marathon Monday | Wellesley College) . 1972 was the first year they officially allowed women to enter Boston, and the Wellesley girls cheered even louder when a female runner went by. Some of the male runners would tuck in with a female runner as they went past Wellesley to soak up that extra energy.”

Wellesley College Boston marathon cheering 1970s

Pacing and Support

Garmin watch

Susan – 2023 “Boston doesn’t have pacers, but they do have clocks every 5 km and mileage markers every mile and of course almost every runner on the course is wearing a Garmin. You do get the occasional spectator who yells out ‘you are almost there’ when you still have 10 miles to go, but you know exactly where you are and exactly how far you have to go at any given moment. No need to carry water or electrolytes as there is no shortage of water and aid stations along the course, supplemented by spectators offering beer, coke, freezies, paper towels, orange slices and more!”

Ken – 1973 “Pacing was a little more challenging than it is now. They had timing stations, but they were portable, and instead of placing them at specific distance intervals they would be placed at geographical landmarks along the route like Natick or Wellesley. But even those didn’t help most of us because after the lead runners passed the timing stations, they would pack up and head to the finish. We didn’t have Garmins to keep track of our mileage either, so we mostly relied on the locals who would yell out “10 miles to go.” This could be a little unreliable as inevitably a few minutes later someone would yell out “only 15 miles to go.” There were no water stations either, but the local residents would come to our rescue standing in their front yards with garden hoses. I didn’t care, it was still amazing, because even then it was *BOSTON*!”

The finish line

Susan – 2023 “We all have timing chips on our bibs, and there is a mat ahead of the finish line so the announcers can see your name before you cross and call out names of runners as they come in. In every finish line photo, you can spot runners runner reaching down to stop their Garmins, and within minutes of finishing we can look up our official finish times on our cell phones.”

Boston marathon Finish line 2022 runners stopping their Garmins

Ken – 1973 “I had no Garmin, but I did still run with a watch that I would check to see my time as I crossed the finish. Capturing official finish times was a little more complicated. There were no timing chips and mats. At the finish, as you ran across the finish line a volunteer would press a button on the Chronomix timer. The Chronomix would record the time for each runner in sequential order. As soon as you crossed the finish line you were corralled single file into the finish chute which kept all the runners in the order in which you finished so the volunteers could write down our bib numbers in order of finish position. Then the volunteers would map the order of the finishers to the finish times captured by the Chronomix.”

Chronomix timer

Medals & post race snacks

Susan -2023 “After you cross the finish line you head down the chute where an army of volunteers hand you a mylar blanket, your medal, and an assortment of snacks to help you refuel. Medics with wheelchairs at the ready scan the hoards of finishers in case they need to whisk a woozy runner to the med tent. You stumble out of the secure area to the meeting area or the Commons to meet up with any friends or family and ideally head out for a celebratory meal and drink afterwards. In 2022, I finished in 4:07:03 18420th overall. My time is more than 20 minutes slower than my qualifying time, but I really don’t care, I just finished the Boston marathon!”

Ken – 1973 “There were no finisher medals (Note from Susan: It looks like the first finisher medals were handed out in Boston in 1983, a pewter medal with no ribbon) but we would celebrate over drinks afterwards and the next day the Boston Globe would publish all of the results in the paper. I checked the paper and I ran 3:22:10 placing 541st overall. But to be honest, I was not too concerned or excited about my time, It was a major achievement to run and finish Boston!”

Celebrating Boston marathon finish 2022

Who are Ken and Susan?

Ken Parker has been active participant in the development of marathon as a mainstream sport and in particular with the development of competitive women’s running which he champions to this day. He was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and coached the OAC women’s running team in Ottawa well into his 80s. This post is the second in what I hope will be a series of posts, as I hope to continue interviewing Ken to learn more about his experience in the marathon space and in particular his involvement with the evolution of competitive women’s running!

Susan aka hockeygeekgirl, got into marathon running in her 40s and was lucky enough to find a great group of running friends who make the long runs more bearable and join her on many a fun run adventure including 6 Boston marathons. If you enjoyed this post you may want to check out her other running posts, everything from race reports, to practical tips on how to make the most out of your Boston marathon weekend, to running disaster stories from runners just like you!

Boston history – The challenges of qualifying for the 1973 Boston Marathon

Ever wondered what it was like to try and qualify for Boston before you could Google “Boston training plans?” Ken Parker discovered marathon running in the early 1970s, this post takes you through his journey to earn a Boston Qualifier and will be followed by a post about his experience running the 1973 Boston marathon.

I didn’t start out as a distance runner. I was a sprinter, and my best event was the 100 yards. I had no coach, and I ran in a pair of thin leather shoes with spikes. Like many sprinters, I was occasionally drafted to take part in a relay, so I considered the 4X400 distance running. I was pretty good, but there was another kid from North Bay who always passed me around 70-80 yards, so I had no illusions of winning gold medals at the Olympics.

Boxcar C119

When I joined the Canadian Air Force, as a navigator in Squadron 436 in Ottawa (flying in the vintage gas guzzler, Boxcar C119,  for the aviation fanatics out there), there was a fitness test. My commander took this test seriously, if you failed you were grounded. Not a desirable situation for a navigator! Part of the test included a mile and a half run. I played flag football and basketball, I’d run track, I wasn’t concerned, and I did pass the test, but I was shocked these skinny guys were leaving me in their dust on the run, humbling for someone who thought of himself as a runner.

Not long after, I was posted to Winnipeg and I heard a news story about the Boston marathon. 26 miles!  Wow! One day I want to do that! I started researching and finding out everything I could about the marathon and discovered Boston wasn’t just “a” marathon it was “the” marathon. For a competitive runner like myself the lure was irresistible. (side note from Susan: The first New York marathon was 127 runners running loops around Central park in 1970, the London marathon didn’t start until 1981, the Chicago marathon has been around since 1905, and is a great race, but does not have the prestige of Boston)

Run to the Top by Arthur Lydiard

Now keep in mind this was in the early 70s. I didn’t have the option of doing a Google search for marathon training plans. I had never seen a copy of Runners World (side note from Susan: apparently the first issue came out in 1966). So, I researched training for a marathon the way everyone researched in those days: I went to the library. I asked the librarian to show me the section on running books. Well they didn’t have a section, but they did have a book by Arthur Lydiard called Run to the Top.

Arthur Lydiard was a controversial New Zealand runner who created his own training plans using trial and error. He was somewhat controversial as a coach, but it’s hard to argue with his results. He coached New Zealand’s running team which dominated the middle distance at the time. His team included Peter Snell, New Zealand’s Sports Champion of the 20th century, who won gold in the 800m and 1500m at the 1964 summer Olympics.  Runner’s World has since hailed Lydiard as the ‘All Time Best Running Coach’. Lydiard believed in building an endurance base by putting in a lot of miles, and he believed in designing a training plan to reach peak performance on the day of your goal race.  His training plans combined strength work such as hill running and sprinting, anaerobic training, and every marathon runner’s favorite part of the training plan, a taper. Sound familiar?

Fun fact:  We used to do seminars every month from the fall leading up to the Ottawa Marathon in May partly because, in the early years, the general public didn’t really know how to train for a marathon. In the late 1970s we brought Arthur Lydiard as a speaker to talk about how to train for a marathon. So I had the chance to meet the man who wrote the book I used to train for my first marathon. He was really great!  

Meme What if I told you its not that simple

So, back to my training. I started training for a marathon. The biggest change for me was adding a lot more long runs. But of course, those of you familiar with Boston know that you don’t just register for Boston, you have to qualify for Boston. Boston introduced qualifying times in 1970 because the number of runners registering for Boston had been steadily increasing. They had 1,342 runners in 1969. The Boston Athletics Association officials felt that a field over 1,000 was too congested on the course so the 1970 Boston marathon application stated “A runner must submit the certification of either the Long Distance Running chairman of the Amateur Athletics Union of his district or his college coach that he has trained sufficiently to finish the course in less than four hours. This is not a jogging race.”  

This new requirement reduced the field size in 1970 to 1,174 but that still exceeded the target field size of 1,000 runners. So, in 1971 they updated the race application again “An athlete has to have run a marathon in under three hours, thirty minutes; or, in the last year to have run ten miles in 65 minutes or under; 15 miles in 1:45, or 20 miles in 2:30.” That’s right, they reduced the qualifying time by 30 minutes! (side note from Susan: I guess I should stop complaining about that 5 minute drop in Boston qualifying times in 2020). This resulted in a 1971 field size of 1,067.  They kept the 3:30 qualifying time until 1976 but added requirements that the time must be achieved at a B.A.A. or other sanctioned marathon, or an A.A.U. sanctioned long distance race. They continued to allow runners to qualify at races shorter than the marathon distance because there were a limited number of marathons at the time. 1972 was also the first year women were officially allowed to run the Boston marathon, but they had to meet the same qualifying standards as the men.   

So, to qualify for the 1972 Boston Marathon, I needed to run a sub 3:30. In May of 1971, there was a charity event organized for the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Winnipeg called the Spacewalk. People walked various distances. The Spacewalk was my first opportunity to run the marathon distance. I ran it in 3:20:05. But it was not an “official” marathon so I could not use it as qualifier.

Spacewalk race newspaper article

But the timing of my quest for an official marathon worked out well, as 1971 was the year they founded the Manitoba road runners association. In May 1972, they put on a marathon in Birds Hill provincial Park. The park had a nice running loop around the exterior. I ran it in 3:30:50. At this time I was running around 250 miles per month with a long run of 16 miles.

I had an opportunity to improve my time in September 1972 when I ran a marathon was in St Vital, a suburb in the South end of Winnipeg. I remember being interviewed by the CBC and I had to explain to the reporter that a marathon was a 26.2 mile race because he had never heard of marathons before. 13 runners entered the St Vital marathon. The route took us winding through the suburban streets, up and down crescents and side streets. My wife came to cheer me on. When I spotted her on the course she called out “you’re in third place!” I finished in 3:11:54.

I had my qualifier and I was on my way to the 1973 Boston Marathon!

Boston Marathon Qualifier

Who is Ken Parker?

Ken has been active participant in the development of marathon as a mainstream support and in particular with the development of competitive women’s running which he champions to this day. He was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and continues to coach the OAC women’s running team in Ottawa. This post is intended to start setting the stage for a series of posts, as I hope to continue interviewing Ken to learn more about his experience in the marathon space and in particular his involvement with the evolution of competitive women’s running!

If you enjoyed this post you may want to check out my other running posts, everything from race reports, to practical tips on Boston, to running disaster stories from runners just like you!