Boston's marathon has a long, storied past

The elite men start the 117th running of

The elite men start the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, in Hopkinton, Mass. (April 15, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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Every Patriots Day, the third Monday of April, the world's oldest annual marathon is run from a village green in Hopkinton, Mass., to downtown Boston, a distance of 26 miles and 385 yards.

The Boston Marathon originated in 1897, the year after the modern Olympics was first staged in Athens and had, as its centerpiece, a marathon race won by Greece's Spiridon Louis, who, as legend has it, was either a shepherd, well-to-do farmer, messenger or soldier.

Boston's marathon was a feature of the Massachusetts civic holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the American Revolutionary War's first battles at Lexington and Concord in 1775. Another Boston staple of the day is a late-morning Red Sox home game.

More than a half-million spectators annually line the marathon route, with the largest crowds at Wellesley College, about roughly halfway through the race, and Heartbreak Hill, which is part of a series of hills near Boston College toward the end of the race.

Runners hungrily eye the Citgo sign near Fenway Park through their final miles toward the finish line near the base of the John Hancock skyscraper.

Boston famously was the site of Rosie Ruiz's ersatz victory in 1980, when she was found to have sneaked into the race barely a half-mile from the finish, and of American marathon champion Bill Rodgers' first victory at the distance in 1978 before he won the New York City Marathon four times.

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After race officials for years fought to prevent female competitors, Long Island's Nina Kuscsik was the race's first official women's champion in 1972. (Kathrine Switzer had finished Boston five years before, registered as "K.V. Switzer," despite race official Jock Semple's attempt to rip her racing number off and eject her from the field.)

Joan Benoit, who would win the first women's Olympic marathon in 1984, made her marathon debut by winning Boston the previous year -- wearing a Red Sox cap.

Under the guidance of road racing maestro Fred Lebow, who organized the first New York City Marathon within Central Park in 1970, the New York race, held in November -- though canceled last year in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy -- expanded through the five boroughs in 1976.

Boston remains, to serious runners, a prestigious race -- the ultimate in marathoning.

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