Every year, runners from around the world arrive in Boston ready to perform extraordinary acts of endurance and athleticism, many of them writing their names into the history books. But some of the race’s most powerful stories don’t have anything to do with course records. They have to do with trying to go the distance — and sometimes failing, then trying again — in what President Obama in 2013 called “a 26.2-mile test of dedication and grit and the human spirit.”
Below, read 26.2 tales of people (and one very special dog) and their unforgettable moments of inspiration, humor, and hope.
1. My Grandfather’s Last Lesson
By Dave McGillivray, longtime Boston Marathon race director, as told to Annalisa Quinn
When I was 17, the most I had run nonstop was like 11 miles. But I just decided on the day of the Marathon that I wanted to run. So I called up my grandfather, who lived in Brighton near the course. My grandfather was a no-messing-around kind of guy. But he had a soft heart, and he always supported me.
“Grandpa, I’m gonna run that race in Boston,” I said.
He said, “Oh, they call that the Boston Marathon.”
“Well, yeah, OK, that’s a good name for it. I’m gonna go run it.”
“OK,” he said. “I’ll meet you at Coolidge Corner.”
I wasn’t officially registered. I wasn’t old enough. I was what we affectionately now call one of the “bandits.” So I jumped in, and I started running, and long story short, I get to the hills in Newton and I just couldn’t go any farther. Down I went. I was a mess.
When I finally got home, I called my grandpa. No answer. I call him again. No answer. Finally, at 9 o’clock at night, he answers the phone. I say, “Grandpa, where have you been?” And he says, “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you all night.” And I told him — dejectedly — that I failed. That I quit.
And he said, “No, you learned.”
“OK, what did I learn?”
“That you cannot go along in life setting reckless goals. You knew you had no business being in that race. You didn’t train. You didn’t earn the right to do it.”
And he was right.
But he cut a deal with me at that moment. He said, “You train for it next year and I’ll be there waiting for you. Again.”
Two months later, he died of a heart attack.
In August 1972, I turned 18, and I could officially register. I trained and trained and trained, hitting 120 miles, 130 miles a week. But the day before the race I got really sick, like the flu.
I was in bad shape from the start. But I kept going. I got to where I dropped out the year before, and I’m doing a survivor’s shuffle over the hills. Then bam, down I go again. And I sat on the curb, head in my hands. Loser, I’m saying in my head. I dropped out of my first marathon, and now I’m going to drop out of my second.
But then I realized where I was. I was sitting in front of the Evergreen Cemetery, where they buried my grandfather. I stood up, and I could see his gravestone.
Son of a gun, I thought. He said he’d be here.
I had to keep my end of the deal. So I just mustered up all the energy I could, and ran the last five miles. I finished in 4½ hours. And I said to myself on that day in April of 1973, I’m gonna run this race every year for the rest of my life. I would do it in honor and tribute to the lesson my grandfather taught me about earning the right.
I’m 68 now. I’ve run Boston 50 years in a row. And every time I run by the cemetery, I give a nod.
2. The Grand Barkshal
By Linda Matchan
He was a good boy on the Marathon route. A very good boy.
Starting in 2015, Spencer, the beloved golden retriever from Holliston, served as a cheerleader for tens of thousands of runners, standing proud — for hours — between Mile 2 and Mile 3, holding a Boston Marathon flag in his mouth.
He welcomed hugs and photo ops. Countless runners compromised their race times by stopping to give him a pet. “He sensed the energy of the runners and gave it back tenfold,” says Rich Powers, one of his humans. Last year, the Boston Athletic Association named him Official Dog of the 126th Boston Marathon, declaring him Grand Barkshal.
Sadly, that was Spencer’s last Marathon. He succumbed to cancer in February at age 13. But Rich and his wife, Dorrey, are making sure that he’ll still inspire. An enormous painting of him will be displayed at the Hopkinton Center for the Arts, and they’ve taken out a billboard thanking Spencer and Penny, the dog’s niece who died of cancer shortly after him. (Penny once comforted an injured runner by staying with her until the medics arrived.)
Rich Powers will be at the race again this year. His goal is to erect a statue of Spencer at the place where they always stood together, he says. “I want him to continue making a difference somehow.”
3. Dunkin’ Run
By Jeff Beling
My friends and I have run Boston a few times. During our training, we’d take the train out to Framingham or Ashland to do our long runs on the actual course. Often, while waiting for the commuter rail, one of us would grab a doughnut from one of the two Dunkin’ Donuts in Back Bay station. Our discussions on the wisdom of this decision eventually evolved into an idea: What if you ran the Boston Marathon course and ate a doughnut at each of the Dunkin’ stores along the way?
A little bit of research told us that there were 13 shops on the route. Thus, the Baker’s Dozen Marathon was born.
On a cold day in November 2019, four of us set off on the course determined to each run 26.2 miles and eat 13 doughnuts. We each had a French cruller at the starting line, and then we were off. Nine doughnuts and about 18 miles in, the Newton Hills were actually a break — it’s the longest stretch with no Dunkin’ shops. But we had to eat four in the last stretch. My final tally: 10 French crullers, two old-fashioneds, and one glazed.
We crossed the finish together, at 4:29:43. All the parking lots, walkways, and lines added up to an extra hour and 0.8 miles. We succeeded, but not without some gastrointestinal difficulties. Personally, I felt great! I’ve qualified for 2024, and maybe I’ll stop for a glazed somewhere along the way.
4. Bobbi Gibb Came to Race
By Janelle Nanos
On the morning of her first Boston Marathon in 1966, Bobbi Gibb got into a fight with her parents.
She’d traveled for three days by bus from California to her childhood home in Winchester to run the race. She’d trained for two years, 40 miles at a time in the Sierra and Rocky Mountains. But in 1966, women weren’t allowed in the race. Gibb, then 23, had tried and been rebuffed. And now her parents were apoplectic.
“It was not thought proper for a grown woman to run, God forbid, in public,” Gibb recalls now. After she shared her plan to sneak in at the starting line, her father stormed out of the house. “He thought I would injure or possibly kill myself,” she says. Meanwhile, her mother looked on in exasperation: Once again, her daughter was flouting social norms.
Gibb’s mom was a homemaker who had once hoped to be a journalist. She self-medicated to offset her disillusionment with her life. The two had been at odds for years. “Don’t you see?” Gibb implored. “A woman doing this could help set women free.”
Her mother’s lip quivered. “Get the keys,” she said.
The drive to Hopkinton was the first time the two talked about their dreams. “I’ve always envied your freedom,” her mother said. “I thought I needed you to conform. Thank God I failed.”
They hugged in Hopkinton, then Gibb found a spot near the starting line. Crouched in a forsythia bush, she wore her brother’s long shorts over a bathing suit (it was before sports bras) and covered her head in a hooded sweatshirt. The moment, she realized, was bigger than her. If I can prove this misconception and prejudice and false belief about women is so wrong, she thought, it’s going to throw into question all the other false beliefs that have kept women so limited so long.
The gun went off.
Gibb jumped into the pack. It was minutes before the men realized she was among them. They adopted her quickly as their own. They pushed each other, all running a sub-three hour pace. “They were all like brothers, you know?” Gibb recalls.
As they approached the halfway mark, Gibb heard screaming and laughing in the distance. “What’s going on?” she asked the men.
“Just you wait,” one told her. “It’s the tunnel of love.”
As she approached Wellesley College, young women lined either side of the road. They made an archway with their arms in the middle of the street.
“Like a spark down a wire, the word spread to all of us lining the route that a woman was running the course,” recalled Diana Chapman Walsh, a senior that year who would go on to become Wellesley’s president. She remembered the scream tunnel falling silent as the young women scanned the faces passing by. Spotting Gibb, a “ripple of recognition shot through the lines” and a cheer erupted.
“The women were jumping up and down, and some of them were crying, and they were laughing,” Gibb says. “And over to one side, there’s a woman with three kids. And she’s [singing] ‘Ave Maria,’ with this passion. So I found it incredibly moving.”
Gibb would later be recognized as the first women’s winner of the era when women were barred. Kathrine Switzer would officially run the next year, with a bib mistakenly given to her. Nina Kuscsik won the women’s division in 1972, the first year women were allowed to race.
In Wellesley, most men ducked to run through the tunnel, but Gibb didn’t have to. The dappled sun filtered through their arms and fingers and she felt the wind in her hair as the cheering enveloped her.
“In that moment,” she says, “I realized that things were never going to be the same.”
5. What You Can Do, Even When They Say You Can’t
By Cathy Ching
For Sami Atif, an educator, mathematician, and father, running can be intimidating. He’d never been a runner before 2021, when he joined the Boston chapter of Black Men Run, a group that promotes healthy lifestyles. But as a pandemic-era transplant to Roxbury from West Philadelphia, he found outdoor running to be the safest way to meet people. “Since relocating to Boston, it’s been a place for me to find brotherhood and to think about health and wellness.”
Atif’s new perspective on running challenged all of his assumptions — and that’s a positive thing, he says. In his old neighborhood, running was seen as a flight response. “If you [saw] a Black man running,” he says, “typically it wasn’t a good thing. To be able to turn that narrative directly on its head and reframe it, I thought, was really important.”
As a larger person, he’s also challenging stereotypes of what a runner looks like. “There’s an image of what a runner is, both body image-wise and athleticism. There are all sorts of reasons to tell people not to try,” he says. “Intimidation comes in terms of how you’re reflected within running as a sport, whether or not you feel you are fit enough, whether you are fast enough.”
Atif has learned firsthand that such comparisons are the thief of joy. But, last October, he traveled to Detroit with his group to run the Detroit Free Press Marathon. He wasn’t the fastest, but he finished what he started.
As he takes on Boston for the first time this year, he doesn’t forget that his participation requires things not everyone can afford: time, effort, commitment, and courage. “Running,” he says, “is a privilege.”
6. What a Difference a Second Makes
By Katherine Bace
One second. David Martinez missed qualifying for the 2016 Marathon by one second.
He’d wanted to run the race since first experiencing it as a Boston University student. As a spectator, he says, “I remember feeling goose bumps.” So when he was studying abroad in Madrid, he entered a marathon to qualify for Boston. He finished at 3:02:33, which felt plenty fast enough. “I was ecstatic,” he recalls.
The feeling didn’t last long. The field of hopefuls for the 2016 Marathon was especially tough, dropping the cut-off time to 3:02:32. Martinez missed by a single second. He was devastated.
At that point, someone else might have given up. Not Martinez. Instead, he ran the Baystate Marathon in Lowell, earning the qualifying time he needed. His first Boston Marathon followed in 2017. It was later than he’d originally planned, but timing isn’t everything.
7. The Dynamic Duo
By Jon Chesto
Dick Hoyt and his son Rick raced dozens of marathons together — father pushing his son in a wheelchair, son inspiring his father every step of the way. Although Dick died two years ago, and Rick has retired from racing, Team Hoyt soldiers on, continuing their legacy.
This year, 27 people will run to raise at least $200,000 for the Hoyt Foundation, which helps individuals with disabilities and organizations that serve them. Among them will be recently retired Bruins star Zdeno Chara, who in 2011 fired up his teammates before Game 7 with a video of the Hoyts. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup that night.
The Hoyts’ story is the stuff of legend. It began with a 5-mile road race in 1977, a benefit for the family of an injured lacrosse player. Dick pushed Rick, a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, using a wheelchair that maneuvered like a shopping cart with a bum wheel. They finished second to last, recalls Rick’s younger brother, Russ. But when they got home, Rick delivered a message through his computer: Dad, when I am running, it feels like my disability disappears.
That was it. There was no turning back.
They ordered a custom-made wheelchair, ran more races, and Rick eventually suggested Boston. Organizers rebuffed them in the late 1970s — twice — and then they were told they’d need to earn a qualifying time. A blazing fast performance at the Marine Corps Marathon got them in, and they had a lifetime membership to Club Boston. They wouldn’t be denied here again.
Rick and Dick officially completed 32 Boston Marathons, starting in 1980, and the Hoyt Foundation eventually became an official charity. This year, the BAA is letting the foundation, now led by Russ, designate two “duos” to run in Rick and Dick’s honor. Three of Dick’s grandsons are running, and the foundation is again giving out grants this spring to families who have children with disabilities, to help them do something they’re passionate about.
Then there’s the debut of the Dick Hoyt Memorial “Yes You Can” Run Together race, on May 27. It’s in Hopkinton, where a bronze statue of the dynamic duo stands. And of course, the race is 5 miles long, in honor of the adventure that started it all. “The motto, ‘Yes You Can,’ is something that came out of what Dad and Rick said,” Russ says. “Whatever it is that people find difficult, [they can] just give themselves that answer, ‘Yes, you can’ — that’s pretty much our message.”
8. The Unstoppable Maickel Melamed
By Lisa Button
It wasn’t Maickel Melamed’s first marathon. The Venezuelan had run New York City, Berlin, Chicago, and Tokyo. But the 2015 race in Boston might have been his most difficult. Three hours in, he continued running, slowly taking step after step. He was still going at five hours. And at seven hours.
Melamed has a condition similar to muscular dystrophy, the result of complications at birth. (His parents brought him as a little boy to Boston Children’s Hospital.) He ran past 5:30 p.m., when the official clocks were turned off. Past 10:30. Past midnight. When the thunderstorms began, his team held up umbrellas. When he fell, they helped him climb to his feet.
Cold and wet, Melamed struggled, especially toward the finish. That’s when his team urged him to take 46 steps then rest, 46 steps then rest. Supporters gathered in the dark started counting every step in Spanish, urging him on. “It was a spectacular mantra,” Melamed later recounted to Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos. “When love is stronger than pain, nothing can stop you.”
Nothing could stop Melamed. He crossed the finish line at about 4 a.m., after nearly 20 grueling hours. “I’m so late,” he joked.
Known for running marathons, and for his optimism, Melamed’s a trained economist and sought-after motivational speaker and role model. At talks and on his Instagram posts, he tells people that the first word he heard was “no.” No, you’re not going to live. Then: No, you’re not going to walk. No, you’re not going to speak well. “And so with every ‘no’ we get, we stick out our tongue and say another word that’s much greater: ‘Yes,’” he says. “Because it’s never a question of ‘what,’ it’s a question of ‘how.’”
Last year, Melamed and a team spent eight days climbing Mount Roraima — the tallest of the table mountains called tepuis — in an effort to boost post-pandemic tourism in Venezuela. “It’s a leap of faith,” he explained prior to embarking. “But what isn’t? What’s worth doing that isn’t?”
9. A Devoted Doctor
By Diti Kohli
Over the last five decades, plenty has changed about the Boston Marathon, including its size and its sponsor. Yet one constant remains: Dr. Lyle Micheli.
The orthopedic surgeon — director emeritus of sports medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital — first volunteered on the medical team in 1975. Since then, he has returned faithfully every year to treat spasms, sores, and, in 2013, much worse. Micheli’s work landed him a formal designation, one he prefers to downplay: longest-serving Boston Marathon volunteer ever.
“It’s a way of helping the city,” he says, “when Boston is on full display.”
From his post on Boylston Street, Micheli, now 82, has watched the race evolve. It ballooned from 1,100 runners his first year to more than 30,000 today. Officials swapped out beef stew for PowerBars at the finish line. And a single medical tent grew to 26 stations positioned along the course.
Micheli initially volunteered alongside six physicians. Now, some 1,900 people volunteer in a medical capacity — including massage therapists, trainers, nurses — and “sweep team” helpers look for injured runners. (In the ‘80s, Micheli’s daughter was one of the first sweep team volunteers.) They staff stations from Hopkinton to the Back Bay and many convene at 7 a.m. the morning of the race to discuss the weather and the wind — ”whether we’re going to expect hypothermia or hyperthermia,” Micheli says.
Since 2013, the casualties from the bombing have been at the front of his mind. That April, Micheli — a Vietnam War veteran — was helping someone when he recognized the smell of gunpowder. The medical team pulled down parts of the barricade, built makeshift tourniquets with running jackets, and tried to save as many lives and limbs as they could.
Micheli vowed to be at the finish line again in 2014, and he was. This year will be his 49th. “I’m just happy to still pitch in,” he says.
10. Doing Good by Running Well
By Cathy Ching
For more than three decades, runners and organizations have raised huge sums of money for worthy causes through the Marathon, for a total of nearly $490 million to date. They’re supporting 262 charities this year alone. And Dana-Farber Cancer Institute holds the crown: It has raised more than $5.3 million for 2023, bringing its grand total over the years to more than $117 million. The money funds cancer research, says Jan Ross, assistant vice president of running programs at the hospital. “The fact that we’re in our 34th year speaks to our power and passion for the program and [the] participants who are a part of it.”
11. When Age Is Just a Number
By Dan Shaughnessy
A longtime college employee with a desk job, Katherine Beiers didn’t start running until around age 50. Now she’s 90. And she can’t even tell you how many marathons she has completed — it’s somewhere between 50 and 60.
The trick is to “just keep running and don’t stop,” Beiers says, with Forrest Gump-like conviction. “Keep moving.’’
Beiers is a Santa Cruz, California, lifer. She dedicated her career to the library at the University of California Santa Cruz, raised two daughters and a son, and brags about 10 grandchildren. She got into running because she used to visit the university’s field house on her lunch break. “I called my kids to tell them I did a mile on the track and then one of the wonderful [long-distance] runners said, ‘Katherine, get off the track and come with us.’”
In her 50s, she finished third in her age bracket at the New York City Marathon. And she’s believed to have become the oldest woman to complete the Boston Marathon when she ran it at the age of 85 in 2018. That was her 14th race in Boston — she still has friends she made running her first in 2003.
Oh, and in her spare time, she was mayor of Santa Cruz.
Beiers turns 91 in July. She doesn’t have plans to run any more marathons, but she stays in shape with trail running — she’s completed a 50K near San Francisco. “I’m very fortunate to be in good health,” she says. “I had a torn meniscus once, but nothing major. There was a time when I had a doctor who said I should stop running. So I switched doctors.’’
12. Sprinting to Help During a Heart Attack
By Dugan Arnett
The first thing Meghan Roth did when she came to in the back of an ambulance was insist that the medics let her finish the race.
It was October 11, 2021, and Roth — a standout runner who’d previously qualified for the US Olympic trials — was 7 miles into the pandemic-delayed Boston Marathon when she suddenly collapsed.
Only later would the 34-year-old from Minnesota learn the full extent of what happened: She’d gone into cardiac arrest, which could’ve proved fatal if not for the quick response by the runners and spectators who rushed to provide CPR.
From there, Roth’s focus shifted. I need to piece things together and figure out who saved my life, she thought.
She learned about the retired cardiac nurse, Marie Rodgers, whose Natick home she’d had the good fortune of collapsing in front of. And a young nursing student, Cameron Howe, who’d also been a spectator that day and also rushed to help. She learned of the two runners — Nick Haney and Tanner Smith — who’d stopped to assist with CPR. And the first responder, David Pai, who provided a cardiac thump to get her heart working.
Roth remained hospitalized for nearly a week after the race, and doctors implanted a small defibrillator she’ll have forever.
She has slowly regained her strength, recently running the fastest half-marathon of her life. And she briefly toyed with the idea of running this year’s Boston Marathon — which would have been her first marathon since her collapse — before a health scare put those plans on hold.
And so she is content to watch this year’s race as a spectator, something she’s never done. It will be her first time back in Boston since the 2021 race. It will also be a reunion of sorts.
In the weeks leading up to her arrival, she’d begun making plans to connect with the people who’d come to her aid that day. “There’s just going to be so many emotions, seeing them, and talking to them,” she says. “I don’t know all the emotions I’m going to feel, but it’s going to be a lot — in a good way.”
“It would be impossible to not feel connected to them.”
13. Meet the World’s Fastest Carrot
By Cathy Ching
Jordan Maddocks is training to qualify for the Olympic trials — as a human being, hopefully.
Let me explain. In Arizona last year, Maddocks, in a carrot costume, set the Guinness world record for running the fastest marathon dressed as a vegetable. Before that, he set the record for “world’s fastest fruit” while dressed as a banana.
It started because Maddocks wanted to do something for his friend Todd Chiniquy, who needed lung transplant surgery. Looking to cheer up Chiniquy, Maddocks did what any good friend would do: Suit up as a banana and run a marathon. “It was a really amazing experience for me because I was being powered by something greater than myself,” Maddocks says.
Maddocks has run all six of the World Marathon Majors, and Boston is one of his favorites, though he has yet to run it in costume. “Boston has a spirit of its own,” he says. “[A] next level of energy that is contagious.” When he returns to the city again, and he will, he might need to break out a new costume.
14. The Best Spectators in the World
By Annalisa Quinn
More than 2,000 people were treated for heat-related problems at the scorching race in 2012, when temperatures reached the high 80s. The organizers upped water supplies and set up misting tents, but even that wasn’t enough. That’s where spectators came in: They rallied together to buy water and Popsicles, passing them out to exhausted runners along the route. At least one couple engineered a water-spraying station, dousing runners as they passed. “In no other sport do volunteers and spectators have as much to do with the outcome as in a marathon,” says race director Dave McGillivray. “In a marathon, [spectators are] a partner in this.”
15. She Was a Wonder
By Clara Silverstein
Carol Chaoui called herself “Wonder Woman” and dressed the part, with a golden crown, red boots, and a cape. Those of us who ran with her called ourselves her “Superhero Friends,” though few of us could keep up. In 2007, at age 43, she finished her first Boston Marathon in 3:30, only about an hour behind that year’s female winner. She ran it 10 times, modifying her Wonder Woman regalia just a little, with removable armbands and knee-high red socks instead of boots.
Chaoui always welcomed company, no matter her companions’ running abilities. She planned fun runs near the Wellesley home she shared with her husband and four children, asking us to don zany costumes for various occasions, especially Saint Patrick’s Day. If we looked too drab, she pulled out socks, hats, or leis from her collection — the gaudier, the better.
She exuded such energy and fitness that her breast cancer diagnosis at age 45 shocked everyone.
Cancer revealed even more of her superpowers. She gathered her community and forged ahead, starting the nonprofit Wellesley Turkey Trot in 2012 to raise funds for metastatic breast cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She formed the Couch to 5K group to train runners of all levels to participate.
And while enduring multiple treatments for cancer as it spread, Chaoui continued to run, raising money for Dana-Farber through the Boston Marathon team. Her husband ran several times with her, and their daughter joined them in 2018. Over time, she raised more than $600,000 for cancer research.
When Chaoui couldn’t run, she walked. When her hair fell out after chemo, she wore bright scarves and hats. She led us in developing deep friendships and support for each other.
Chaoui passed away in August 2020, yet her superpowers carry on. In 2021, on the morning of what would’ve been her 57th birthday, many of us got decked out in her favorite colors — pink and orange — to celebrate her life in front of a plaque honoring her at Linden Square in Wellesley, near the start of the Turkey Trot.
These days, we sign up for races as “Wonder Woman’s Superhero Friends.” All of us — even the newbies who never met her — try our best to follow in her kind and quick footsteps.
16. A Space for Native Women to Be Seen
By Katherine Bace
In the early years of the Boston Marathon, several Native American runners won fame, and first place. Thomas Longboat of the Onondaga Nation, won in 1907, and Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, of the Narragansett Indian Tribe in Rhode Island, won in 1936 and 1939. But despite deep traditions in running, few Native athletes now compete in elite marathons.
Ultramarathoner Verna Volker, of the Navajo Nation, is working to change that. In 2018, she established Native Women Running, a nonprofit dedicated to “developing sisterhood” among runners. “I wanted to create a space for Native women to be seen,” says Volker, who lives in Minneapolis.
The BAA named Volker to last year’s Honorary Women’s Team, and she ran the Marathon alongside three Native Women Running athletes from around the country. “It was huge for our women to compete there and see Native Women Running be at such a big event,” she says. “It was a dream come true.”
Elite marathons can present numerous challenges for Native women, including financial hurdles that Volker’s nonprofit helps team members overcome. It also advocates for Native women outside the sport, such as by raising awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Volker hopes to encourage future Native athletes. “Representation is key for our next generation, for my daughter,” she says, “so she can feel included in this space.”
17. “This Is Our [Expletive] City”
By Annalisa Quinn
When David Ortiz — this year’s Marathon Grand Marshal — took a microphone at Fenway Park on April 20, 2013, he faced a city that had endured a week of fear, shelter-in-place orders, and a manhunt for the surviving Boston bomber. Broadcast on national television, Ortiz’s words were unscripted, and raised an immediate roar: “This is our [expletive] city,” he said. “And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.” Even the Federal Communications Commission declined to raise a fuss. “David Ortiz spoke from the heart,” the FCC’s chairman tweeted. “I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston.”
18. Cheering on the 2014 Comeback
By Jon Chesto
Boston proved its resilience after the terrorist attacks of April 15, 2013. So, too, did the Marathon.
When I returned to Hopkinton to race a year later, I couldn’t help but wonder whether everything that made the Boston Marathon special would survive. I had no business putting on my Brooks T5s that day, after being sidelined with plantar fasciitis all winter. But I wanted to show support — for the victims of the bombing, for the city, for the race.
Yes, security around the start-line corrals was tighter. But the familiar sights, sounds, and smells all returned once the gun went off, and the roller-coaster ride plunged down Route 135 toward Ashland.
The pee breaks in the trees on Hopkinton’s outskirts. The crowds shouting “USA! USA!” in Ashland. The barbecue scents wafting across downtown Framingham. Grumpy Santa taunting the runners on the way into Natick, kids bouncing on trampolines on the way out. The scream tunnel in Wellesley, loud enough to be heard a half-mile away. The crowds up and down Comm. Ave. through the Newton hills, one long party of pain to the Boston city line. The sea of humanity with a mile to go in Kenmore Square, under the Citgo sign’s glow. The right on Hereford, the left to the glory of Boylston. The BAA’s blue and gold across the finish-line arch, and the pell-mell beneath it.
I won’t miss another Patriots Day in Hopkinton now, particularly after the pandemic canceled the race in 2020, for the first time in its long history. While we as a community are forever changed by the 2013 bombings, the Marathon endures. This Marathon Monday, kids will line the course again, hands outstretched. And I’ll give out my share of high-fives, regardless of how sore my legs feel.
Tragedies can bring people together. So can traditions, especially those that go the distance.
19. Roseann and Her Fireman
By Ivy Scott
It was the second of two bombs on April 15, 2013, that took the lower half of Roseann Sdoia’s right leg — but the third of three heroes that gave her a love story.
The first hero, a college student, turned his belt into a tourniquet; the second, a police officer, commandeered a truck. The third, a firefighter named Mike Materia, lifted Sdoia inside the vehicle and gingerly held her burned hand all the way to the hospital. Materia returned to Mass. General the next day to check on Sdoia as she healed. And the next day. And the next.
Initially, she brushed off her mother’s jokes about the “cute fireman” who seemed to be stopping by an awful lot. But neither could deny that out of the darkest of circumstances the two felt drawn to one another. Soon, Sdoia was calling Materia “her fireman.”
“It was clearly not your typical meeting, dating, and getting together,” Sdoia said in 2019. “But it happened to bring us together, and we realized the other person had all the qualities we were each looking for.”
Sdoia married Materia in the fall of 2017, and together they’ve tackled extraordinary undertakings, such as the launch of Sdoia’s career as a motivational speaker, and smaller tasks, such as walking their dogs and doing their taxes. Over time, Sdoia has even been able to reexperience Marathon Monday, a Boston tradition that was among her favorites growing up. She finally returned to the finish line in 2018 to cheer on her husband as he finished the race.
But Sdoia’s most cherished moments are the peaceful ones, far away from the noise and terror that first brought them together, in the quiet company of her fireman.
20. When a Marathon Is Just What You Need
By Linda Matchan
Matthew Erikson was despondent in 2022 when his painful divorce became final. So he did what he always does when he’s facing adversity: He ran a marathon.
The first time was in 2008 in Oklahoma City, after he lost his job as a newspaper music critic. He ran his second in 2018 in San Francisco, as relief from the stress of wedding planning. His third — the brutal Boston Marathon — was last year, while he was mourning his divorce. “Running was my way of not feeling sorry for myself,” says Erikson, a senior publicist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Running has been a way for him to overcome a poor self-image forged as a “gay and miserable” young boy in poor shape. Today he is fit, an accomplished pianist, and “proudly gay.” He raised more than $10,000 for Fenway Health, which serves and advocates for the LGBTQIA+ community, those living with HIV/AIDS, and others.
Of all his marathons, Boston holds a special place for Erikson. “I don’t want to be histrionic, but the Boston Marathon helped me recover the most,” he says. “I look at it as a point of pride.”
21. Katie Lynch’s Legacy
By Francis Storrs
When describing herself, Katie Lynch liked to use a Latin phrase: Parva sed potens. Small but powerful.
First, the small: She was born with a unique form of dwarfism. At age 26, she stood 28 inches and weighed 35 pounds.
More important, the powerful: Lynch was an honors student at Wayland High, manager of two sports teams, a scene-stealing actor, a tireless dancer in her wheelchair at prom. Surprising everyone at graduation, she asked her friends to lift her from her chair and walked 5 feet across the stage for her diploma. Her brother Wyeth said it was the first time he’d seen her walk in eight years.
Lynch graduated summa cum laude from Regis College, continuing her studies during long stretches in the hospital. She got a job at Boston Children’s Hospital, advocating for sick children and their families who needed help. And she gave motivational speeches. “No one is disabled,” she said, “everyone is just differently abled.”
In 2001, Lynch contacted Marathon race director Dave McGillivray, asking if she could run. Yes, he said. “But,” she added, “my marathon is going to be 26.2 feet.” OK, McGillivray said. When Lynch made up her mind, there was no stopping her.
She trained hard, in 10-foot intervals, and raised more than $20,000 for Children’s. In Hopkinton on the morning of the race, McGillivray marked out 26.2 feet from the starting line. Lynch supported herself on her walker, her two brothers by her side. The crowd counted down “3, 2, 1, go!”
Lynch hoped she’d be able to finish her race in 15 minutes. It took her far less. “I made it,” she said, “and I know everybody else can, too.” As the crowd cheered, she was crowned with a laurel wreath, a Marathon medal draped around her neck.
At the end of every Boston Marathon, McGillivray runs the course himself. This time Lynch was waiting at the finish line, some 12 hours after her race. She gave him a laurel wreath and a medal she’d made.
“Ha!” she said with a smile. “I beat you.” Parva sed potens.
Katie Lynch died in 2002 at age 27. You can remember her as small. But the powerful is what matters.
22. “Did You Start the Race to Finish It?”
By Timothy Fahey
I ran the Boston Marathon in 1982 on a whim, with zero training (“It’s your funeral,” a friend said), and wearing sneakers I’d borrowed the night before from a guy in my dorm. After carbo-loading with a pancake breakfast, I hitched a ride from Holy Cross to Hopkinton and listened for the starting gun.
By the time I was maybe 11 miles in, Alberto Salazar was already edging out Dick Beardsley at the finish line. Hours behind but too stubborn to quit, I soldiered on.
About three-quarters of the way up Heartbreak Hill, I sat down on a set of steps, taking a much needed breather. An old woman spotted me and approached.
“Did you start the race to finish it?” she asked.
“What?” I said. My brain was still a couple of miles back.
She came a step closer, leaned in on her cane, and looked me dead in the eyes. “I said, ‘Did you start the race to finish it?’”
“Yes,” I replied.
With that she whacked her cane against the wrought-iron banister next to me and shouted, “THEN FINISH IT THEN!”
I was up and running again like I’d been shot out of a cannon. The last 5 or 6 miles were a blur — I walked, backward at times, so my legs wouldn’t seize up. My pride, my will, and that cane helped shuffle those borrowed sneakers to the other side of the finish line, a 4 hour and 58 minute effort.
That day I lost 13 pounds, got sunburned along half my body, and finished the Boston Marathon.
23. Talk About Guts
By Ivy Scott
Phil Shin saw the ad for his first marathon in a California newspaper, and ran it four days later in the pouring rain. “It took me six hours and it was a God-awful experience,” he recalls, laughing. “In Los Angeles, it was the wettest marathon on record at the time, so I basically swam half of it.”
He swore that day he’d never do it again; he was wrong. The next 22 years of Shin’s life would include dozens of races — most recently, the Black Canyon 100K — and an ever-increasing passion for the sport that helped save his life. Because in 2018, when Shin was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer, it was his marathon running that helped him withstand an intense series of surgeries and bounce back with unusual speed.
“Running definitely created this extended runway for my life while I was living with my diagnosis,” Shin explains. “Had I not been a runner, I don’t believe that I would’ve had the amazing outcome I did.”
But Shin says the real hero lives inside of him — literally. Mark Murphy, his college friend, took up running to get fit enough to donate a piece of his liver to Shin and, in the process, caught the cross-country bug. Somehow, by giving a critical part of himself away, Murphy received a core piece of Shin in return.
Five months after the transplant, the pair conquered a half-marathon together. Murphy felt a full marathon was impossible, but Shin knew better. Last year both men crossed the finish line in Boston.
“I finished about an hour ahead of him and when he came through, I mean, we were both just a complete mess,” Shin remembers. “But this is kind of what it’s all about. It’s these miracle moments that show people that if two dopes like us can make this happen, then it can happen for anybody.”
24. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
By Annalisa Quinn
One hundred yards from the finish line, his legs gave out. In 2019, Marine veteran Micah Herndon was running Boston in honor of three friends killed in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. He was so close; his body just wouldn’t obey. But he couldn’t give up, either. So he dropped onto his hands and knees on Boylston Street, and dragged himself across the finish line, repeating the names of his friends for strength: Mark Juarez, Matthew Ballard, Rupert Hamer.
25. When the Marathon Almost Wasn’t
The Boston Marathon may seem immortal, but four decades ago it almost fell apart forever. Read the full story here.
26.2 Running for 1.2
By Annalisa Quinn
Ashlee Eskelsen had qualified for the Marathon before, but something always got in the way — ”either distance or money or timing or another pregnancy.” In 2017, pregnant with her third child and with the chance to run, Eskelsen went for it. Fourteen weeks along, she consulted a doctor, and took the race slowly, but knew it was well within her abilities. On the sidelines, spectators yelled, “Go, mama!” and “You got this, mama!” Hearing the cheers, Eskelsen says, “was really empowering as a mother and as a woman.”
Her son, Levi Miles (Miles as in 26.2) was born that October. Now 5, with carrot-red hair and a toothy smile, he likes to run, too. “I hope that one day he’ll run Boston with me again,” Eskelsen says. Next time, she adds, they’ll be “side by side.”