Less than a week out from the 123rd Boston Marathon, Liz Coda is trying to keep her nerves at bay. The 28-year-old will compete in her third consecutive Boston Marathon, aiming for a personal best time of 3:19, well below the women’s qualifying standard. She was drawn back to Boston to keep her streak alive and will be making the trip from Philadelphia, where she is a graduate student studying to be a school counselor.
“In Boston, there’s this extra level of just respect and excitement throughout the entire city,” Coda said. “This is probably no surprise, but in Boston really more than any other race, there is such a strong community feeling.”
The Boston Marathon has long attracted runners of all abilities from all over the globe. Now in its 123rd year, the race is the world’s oldest annual marathon, bringing together more than 30,000 participants and close to 10,000 volunteers, with racers traveling from across the United States and 118 countries.
While it consistently ranks among the top three largest marathons in the country, Boston’s bibs are some of the hardest to attain. The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), which manages the race, sets notoriously fast qualifying standards, based on age and gender. In order to qualify for Boston this year, for example, Coda had to run a race certified by a national governing body like USA Track and Field, finishing in 3 hours, 35 minutes, or less. The higher your age, the slower your required pace. Registration occurs on a rolling basis, typically the September before the race, with the fastest qualifiers able to register first, until the qualifying field is full. This year, more than 80 percent of 2019 entrants (approximately 23,000 people) will have met those standards.
For those who do not meet time standards, there are dozens of charities and nonprofits that offer fundraising slots for runners. This year, the B.A.A. estimates charity racers will collectively raise more than $36 million.
“Each year, the Boston Marathon brings people from all backgrounds together to celebrate athletic excellence and community spirit,” said Tom Grilk, chief executive officer of the B.A.A. “Being able to showcase our community, in particular the eight cities and towns that comprise the Boston Marathon route, is truly an honor.”
History of the race
Run each year on the third Monday in April and coinciding with the local holiday Patriots’ Day, the Boston Marathon celebrations stretch across a weekend, with an assortment of associated events, including a 5K race on Saturday, April 13, that draws in 10,000 competitors. This year, the race organizers have added a three-day fan festival in Copley Square Park near the marathon finish line, consisting of live music, photo opportunities and activities.
The 2019 race marks—to the day—the sixth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. On April 15, 2013, homemade bombs went off on Boylston Street near the finish line, killing three people and wounding more than 260 others. In the years since the attack, victims, first responders, local officials and supporters have run the race, and a team of runners raises money for the Martin Richard Foundation, which honors the youngest bombing victim, Martin Richard, who was just 8 years old.
According to The Boston Globe, the city also is months away from completion of memorials to honor the victims of the bombings. Marking the two spaces where the blasts occurred, the sculptures created by local artist Pablo Eduardo are slated to be erected by summer.
This year, the 2014 men’s marathon winner Meb Keflezighi will serve as grand marshal, leading out racers on their path to Boston. Keflezighi, who retired from professional racing in November 2017, returned to run Boston in 2018, not competitively, but as a member of Team MR8. Keflezighi formed a relationship with Martin’s parents in 2014 and has since been involved in supporting the city, the victims and the survivors of the bombings.
According to the B.A.A., 30,199 individuals will compete in this year’s race, with 16,535 men and 13,664 women. The field consists not only of elite marathoners and wheelchair racers but also amateur athletes and charity racers.
Returning this year are 2018 champions Desiree Linden, Yuki Kawauchi, Marcel Hug, and Tatyana McFadden. The four are among 17 prior race champions competing this year. The 1979 champion Joan Benoit Samuelson will also run, marking 40 years since her victory, in which she set a course and American record.
Liz Coda first qualified while racing her second-ever marathon in Chicago in 2015, earning entrance into the 2017 Boston Marathon.
“I finished in 3:27 and it was really painful. But I was sort of like, ‘Oh, this is a thing I can do. Maybe I have a talent for this,’” Coda said.
Her passion for running was supported, in part, by her involvement with a nonprofit in Philadelphia called Students Run Philly Style, which provides mentoring, guidance and training support for kids ages 12–18 who set goals to run a half or full marathon. Coda has been a mentor and pacer for kids in the program since 2014, supporting students through the full marathon in 2014 and 2018, the half in 2015, and Philadelphia’s Broad Street 10-mile run each year.
She has run a total of eight marathons, including Berlin and Chicago for a second time in 2017, and the 2019 Boston Marathon will be her ninth marathon. She will be starting in the second wave to go off behind the elite racers.
The last two years have provided vastly different racing conditions—the 2017 race saw temperatures in the 70s, while 2018 proved frigid with torrential rains—but Coda said she’s trying not to think about the weather.
“Nothing can be worse than last year,” she joked. “Some training advice I’ve heard that I like is: Rather than thinking about the weather, because it is completely out of your control, shift it and think about ‘What is in my control?’ I can make sure I’m going to sleep really early, I can do some extra yoga so I’m stretching out—focusing on those kinds of things instead.”
Coda will have the support of several friends from Philadelphia who are also competing in the race, as well as cheering squad members from the Philadelphia chapter of November Project, a grassroots workout group that originally started in Boston.
The Boston Marathon is a point-to-point race starting west of Boston proper in Hopkinton, and moving through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline, before finishing in Boston. The famous finish line sits in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood, near the central branch of the Boston Public Library.
Where to watch, and when
The men’s and women’s wheelchair divisions lead off the race at 9:02 and 9:04am, respectively, followed by handcycles and duo participants at 9:25am. The elite women start at 9:32am and the elite men go off right at 10. The rest of the 30,000-plus participants start in four waves from 10:02am to 11:15am
Key viewing spots
- Hopkinton (start): Catch the early excitement of the race starting at 9am.
- Wellesley (mile 13): Famous for the “scream tunnel” of Wellesley College students, this section is one of the loudest of the race due to spectator enthusiasm. The first racers are expected to pass around 9:45am.
- Heartbreak Hill (mile 20): The most grueling uphill section of the Boston Marathon is a great place to throw in support as a spectator to vault runners into the final six miles of the course.
- Cleveland Circle (mile 22): This section of the race funnels runners onto Beacon Street, which will lead them into the heart of Boston. Right near Boston College, spectators can catch racers coming off Heartbreak Hill and registering just how close they are to the finish line.
- Kenmore Square (mile 25): With one mile to go at this point, the crowds are typically thick as spectators cheer racers through their final turns of the race.
- Boylston Street (finish): Thick crowds line the way from the final turn from Hereford Street onto Boylston Street, propelling runners through the final steps across the iconic blue and yellow finish line.
The B.A.A. has advised spectators there will be heightened security, as well as checkpoints along the race course.
Where to watch if you can’t attend
Fair warning: This event is inspiring as all get-out. The high-energy crowd feeds off the effort of the racers, and there’s hardly a section of the course that’s not lined with spectators on both sides.
New England weather can be unpredictable in mid-April: the 2018 race saw torrential rains, wind, and temperatures in the 40s, and more than 2,500 runners required medical treatment for various issues, including hypothermia, according to The Boston Globe.
Race directors have added eight weather shelters along the race and have mobilized schools along the course where runners and spectators can seek coverage if need be; this year’s forecast is in the 50s, with some rain showers, though things can change.
Pre-empting the marathon each year, a group of enthusiastic cyclists takes over the race course for a “midnight ride.” When the clock strikes 12am on Marathon Monday, cyclists cross the start line of the race in Hopkinton and bike the race course to the finish line in Boston. Individuals coordinate transport of bikes to the start line, but particularly hardcore individuals may opt for a two-way ride, starting earlier than midnight and biking the entire course in reverse to get out to Hopkinton.
The Boston Marathon overlaps with Patriots’ Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord. Each year, the town of Lexington stages a re-enactment at 5:30am.
“The couple days leading up to the race, there’s so many runners, there’s so many stores and places having special events and acknowledging it and there’s so many things going on,” Coda said. “I just feel like because of the history and prestige attached to the race, it is such a revered event.”