Here’s why a unicorn is the symbol of the Boston Marathon

“It’s probably one of our most frequently asked questions.”

Ever wondered why a unicorn is the symbol of the Boston Marathon?
–John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe, File

The unicorn, with its horn pointed upward and majestic mane, has graced the Boston Marathon finish line for decades.

The mythical creature, which started as the symbol for the Boston Athletic Association, has become synonymous with the historic race, gracing runner’s jackets, medals, and trophies.

“It’s probably one of our most frequently asked questions,” Jack Fleming, the BAA’s chief operating officer, said of the unicorn’s origin with the athletic association, which organizes the marathon. “People pause on it, they think about it.”

He said the common belief is that the unicorn was on the family crest of one of the BAA’s founding members.

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“That hasn’t been proven,” Fleming said. “But with the rich heritage up here — between the Scots and the English and the Irish, it’s a pretty good likelihood.”

The athletic club was founded in 1887 (the first Boston Marathon took place in 1897), and the unicorn was associated with all the organization’s sports.

Even if it once belonged to family that had a coat of arms, the unicorn’s meaning and significance has since broadened.

“The unicorn is a mythological figure that is meant to be pursued, but, in that pursuit, you never catch [it],” Fleming said. “So it inspires you to continue to try — to race harder in the case of running — and though it may be elusive, it really is the pursuit of the unicorn that makes you better and better and better.”

Fleming noted that the style of the unicorn has been “stylized” a few times over the decades, but he said “Spike” — the name that has been affectionately given to the unicorn by BAA staff — has largely remained the same.

“We’re really so proud of it,” he said.

Photos: The Boston Marathon through the years: