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The Beginning of a Boston Tradition

Monday, April 19, 12:15 p.m.

A lot has changed for the Boston Marathon since its first run in the spring of 1897. Today, what is certainly the oldest and most revered marathon in the country, perhaps the world, began as an ambitious vision by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) founders, after witnessing the first-of-its-kind race at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Medal The BAA officials designed the current course to match the original in Greece: a 25-mile hilly route culminating at a stadium, or the closest thing to a stadium that Boston had at the time, the 220-yard Irvington Street Oval.

At exactly 12:19 p.m., 18 men leaped from the starting line in front of Metcalf's Mill in Ashland (since 1924, the race has begun at Hopkinton Green). The starting official had no gun; he simply shouted "Go!" to start the BAA marathon.

In the early years, runners endured the narrow and dusty dirt roads winding their way to Boston. Today, of course, the roads are wide and paved.

Original coverage
Click here for The Boston Globe's coverage of the first marathon, 102 years ago.
Since the beginning of the Marathon, the starting line has been in flux, dictated by an often-repositioned finish line. In the marathon's third year, the BAA moved the finish line in front of its old clubhouse on the corner of Boylston and Exeter streets, site of the expanded portion of the Boston Public Library.

The starting line was pushed backward along Pleasant Street and onto High Street, where it rested on the Boston and Albany railroad bridge. The 22-foot wide bridge was more than adequate to handle the 17 starters that year.

By 1907, the bridge could not accommodate the 124 runners. Repairs that year closed the bridge, so the starting point was moved again, onto Union Street at Steven's Corner.

In 1924, the course was lengthened to 26 miles, 385 yards. With that change, the start left Ashland forever, moving up the road and across the town border into Hopkinton.