How to Enjoy a Challenge from the Comfort of your Armchair

Posted by martin.parnell |
How to Enjoy a Challenge from the Comfort of your Armchair

Next Monday morning, April 15th. I will pour myself a cup of coffee, turn on the TV and spend a few hours indulging in one of my favourite pastimes, watching thousands of amateur and professional runners from all over the world braving hilly terrain and varying weather in an attempt to complete the Boston Marathon. 

The event is hosted by several communities in greater Boston in eastern Massachusetts and is always held on Patriots' Day, the third Monday of April. Begun in 1897, the event was inspired by the success of the first marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics and is the world's oldest annual marathon. The course runs from Hopkinton in southern Middlesex County to Copley Square in Boston. 

There are some incredible stories connected to the race and the history behind it. One of the most well-known is that of Kathrine Switzer. For many years, women were not allowed to officially enter the Boston Marathon. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer, registered as "K. V. Switzer" and became the first woman to run and finish with a race number, despite an infamous incident in which race official Jock Semple tried to rip off her number and eject her from the race.  

In 1996 the B.A.A. retroactively recognized as champions the unofficial women's leaders of 1966 through 1971. In 2015, about 46 percent of the entrants were female. Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb is recognized by the race organizers as the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon (in 1966) although women were not officially allowed to enter until 1972. 

In 1980, amateur runner Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line first in the women's race. Marathon officials became suspicious when it was discovered that Ruiz did not appear in race videotapes until near the end of the race. A subsequent investigation concluded that Ruiz had skipped most of the race and blended into the crowd about one mile (1.6 km) from the finish line, where she then ran to her false victory. 

Ruiz was officially disqualified, and Canadian Jacqueline Gareau was proclaimed the winner. Gareau was acknowledged publicly with a medal ceremony a week later. Her time of 2:34:28 was a course record. Gareau went on to place fifth in 1981, and second in 1982 and 1983. There are a number of other Canadian runners who have made an impact on the event.

In an article posted in Runs & Races April 20th, 2018, Anne Francis not only celebrates Canadian Krista DuChene and her astonishing third-place finish that year, but also goes on to recognize other Notable Canadian podium finishes in Boston Marathon history:

Odette LaPierre: Odette LaPierre of Charny, Que. placed third in 1988 (2:30:35), fourth in 1987 (2:31:33) and eighth in 1989 and 1992. She also competed in the marathon at two consecutive Olympics, in 1988 and 1992.

Lizanne Bussieres: Ste-Foy, Que.’s Lizanne Bussieres placed third at Boston in 1986, and also competed in the Olympics in 1988 and 1992.

Art Boileau: Art Boileau of Edmonton, Alta. was second in 1986 (2:11:15), in between representing Canada in the marathon at two consecutive Olympics, in 1984 and 1988. 

Jerome Drayton: Drayton is the last Canadian man to have won the Boston marathon – in 1977 (2:14:46), after placing third in 1974. His Canadian marathon record of 2:10:09, set in 1975 during one of his three Fukuoka Marathon wins in Japan, was finally broken in 2018, 43 years later, by Cam Levins in 2:09:25. 

Gerard Côté: Côté won Boston an astonishing four times and was a major presence at the race throughout the out 1940s. His wins in 1940, 1943, 1944, and 1948 were all with times between 2:28 and 2:31. Three of his victories came after battles with the legendary Johnny Kelley for the title. Côté was also third in 1946, and fourth in 1947, and sixth in 1949. 

Johnny Miles: Miles won Boston twice: in 1926 and 1929, setting a course record both times. His 1929 time was 2:33:08. The 1926 race was Miles’ first marathon, and he had never actually raced a distance longer than 16K. He had to ask his neighbours to help him pay for the cost of a train ticket to Boston.

Tom Longboat: Longboat was one of Canada’s best known and most gifted runners, winning Boston in 1907 with a time of 2:24:24, setting a new course record by more than five minutes. Longboat captured every Canadian record from the mile to the marathon at some point during his career.

But, one Canadian runner I’d like to focus on is Ronald J. MacDonald. MacDonald won the second-ever Boston marathon, in 1898, in 2:42. The field that year was 25 runners. MacDonald was born in Fraser's Grant, Antigonish County, Nova Scotia. His father died at sea when MacDonald was twelve years old, after which his mother relocated the family to Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, where relatives were living. MacDonald worked as a telephone lineman, and later in the family lunch store on Cambridge Street. In 1897, he enrolled at Boston College as a special student. 

On April 19, 1898, Ronald MacDonald joined 25 other runners in Ashland at the start line of the Boston Marathon. He was 5’6" and weighed 142 lb (64 kg), and had curly light hair. It was his first marathon and he raced in bicycle shoes. MacDonald ran the whole way without taking any fluids. He ended up finishing in 2:42, the fastest of 15 finishers, three minutes faster than Gray, 13 minutes faster than the previous years’ time, and a time considered a world best at the time for a distance of about 25 miles (40 km). 

Ronald MacDonald represented Canada at the 1900 Olympic Summer Games held in Paris. MacDonald ran the marathon, but finished the last of 7 finishers. He complained that the top 3 runners, who were French, had cut the course, and that only he and an American actually completed the whole course.

In 1901, MacDonald returned to the Boston Marathon with confidence stating that he would win and break the record of Jack Maffery, another Canadian, who had run 2:39:44 the previous year. MacDonald joined 37 other runners that day and ran as part of the top 4 for most of the race. Unfortunately, MacDonald was seized with cramps and had to retire from the race, reported to be due to a sponge soaked with chloroform he unknowingly accepted from a spectator. 

I have run the Boston Marathon 3 times. The last time was when I had qualified with a time of 3:43:43 on marathon number 188, when I was aiming to achieve my Marathon Quest, to run 250 marathons in one year. 

I am currently in training for the Edmonton Marathon, this coming August, with the aim of qualifying for the Boston Marathon 2020. If I achieve my goal, it will mean I have run it in my 40s, my 50s and my 60s. 

Meanwhile, on Monday, I’ll just sit back and watch others attempt to run this prestigious event.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, was released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential” and has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality. Find out more about Martin at  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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