For more than 12 decades, the Boston Marathon has been a Patriots Day tradition. But what that has exactly meant has changed over the years.
For the first 71 years of the race’s existence, Patriots Day was April 19, and the marathon was held on that historic date no matter what day of the week it was. The only exception was if April 19 fell on a Sunday, then the marathon would take place on Monday. So while Marathon Monday was more frequent than, say, Marathon Tuesday or Marathon Saturday, it wasn’t the tradition it is today.
Search through the Boston Athletic Association’s record of marathon results and you’ll find the April 19 race on every day, Monday through Saturday, since it began in 1897. Patriots Day, which was established as a public holiday just three years earlier, also saw local towns hold commemorative parades and events in memory of the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord.
However, in February 1968, Massachusetts Gov. John Volpe signed a so-called Monday holiday bill to instill some scheduling consistency in the state’s floating holidays — and subsequently its most famous marathon. The federal government would do the same later that same year when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Uniform Holiday Bill.
The decision to make Patriots Day the third Monday of April instead of April 19, the date of the battles, was met with some resistance from local Revolutionary War enthusiasts.
“No one would think of changing the Fourth of July to the first Monday in July, but without the 19th of April there would have been no Fourth of July,” Rep. Lincoln Cole, a Lexington Republican, told The Boston Globe at the time.
But for marathon organizers and runners, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
“We will hold the race on whatever date Patriots Day is legally celebrated in Massachusetts,” Will Cloney, the marathon’s longtime director, said after the bill was signed.
Amby Burfoot, the winner of the 1968 marathon, says the change didn’t matter much to those in the race, either. The law didn’t go into effect until 1969, which gave runners more than enough time to adjust and one last non-Monday marathon.
“Other than the inevitable cries of horror from the traditionalists, it didn’t make much difference to the runners,” Burfoot recently told Boston.com.
For the then-21-year-old Wesleyan student, the relatively warm 70-degree heat that year had more of an impact on his 2 hour, 22 minute, 17 second finish time. The particular day of the week, not so much. Even when it comes to ever-regimented marathon training and preparation, Burfoot downplayed the impact of the change.
“All days are the same as long as we know what we’re aiming for, and everyone knows when the Boston Marathon will be held,” he said.
Burfoot, who is running again this year in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his 1968 win, did say that some runners probably enjoy having the Boston Marathon at the end of the long weekend (even if many have to take off a day of work), since it gives them a chance to rest or explore the city. It also makes the massive annual three-day expo less disruptive to weekday business and traffic.
Given modern considerations — TV viewership, downtown traffic, and those who don’t have work off on Patriots Day — Burfoot added that he’d be surprised if the marathon doesn’t eventually transition to Sundays. Then again, losing the now-cherished Monday tradition could get more than just the stuffy historian types up in arms.
Photos: The Boston Marathon through the years: