In its 113th year, the Boston Marathon, a historic 26.2-mile race from Hopkinton to Boston, is an American tradition, riding the wave of marathon mania sweeping across the nation and around the world.
Though economic times are tough, it didn't dampen the dreams of the roughly 25,000 marathoners who paid anywhere from $100 to $200 for a prized Boston Marathon bib number and a chance to compete in the historic race. Why? Because year after year, the Boston Marathon has solidified its position as one of the world's elite marathons. Now in its 24th year as a "professional" race, the prize money has grown increasingly lucrative; more than $800,000 in total, with a hefty $150,000 for the winners.
During the last 24 years, no U.S. runner--man or woman--has been able to break the tape at the finish line and earn the big prize.
That's where U.S. Olympians Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher come in--at least that is the hope of many U.S. marathon fans. Both are legitimate contenders. Hall sports a personal best of 2:06:17, run at London last year. That result showed the American half-marathon record holder can mix it up with the world's premier marathoners.
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Despite a disappointing 10th place finish in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Marathon, Hall hopes to make his mark on the world's oldest 26.2-miler. In a recent interview, he shared his feelings on his motivations behind taking on the Boston Marathon for the first time:
"I feel like all the great marathoners have run that course and established themselves as marathoners on that course," Hall said. "I've always wanted to run Boston.... And racing in the States is a big deal for me. I want to run in front of the people where I'm from. I want to generate more interest in the marathon in the U.S., and I feel like that's pretty difficult to do (overseas). If you do it in the Olympics, that's one thing. But I think to generate a lot of interest in the U.S., you gotta race in the U.S."
Goucher's marathon resume is far shorter than Hall's, consisting of just one race--but what a race it was. In her debut at last November's New York Marathon, the native Minnesotan finished a strong third in an impressive 2:25:53. Like Hall, Goucher will be cheered on by thousands in Boston.
But if Kenyan Robert Cheruiyot and Ethiopian Dire Tune have anything to say about it, the Americans will be thwarted once again. They are the defending champions (in 2:07:46 and 2:25:25, respectively), both confident they can defend their titles. A full stable of other elite athletes will challenge the champions and the top Americans, including U.S. understudies Brian Sell and Elva Dryer.
For the 25,000 runners behind the leaders, the challenge will not be to earn prize money, but simply to negotiate the undulating route, one which requires hard training and a solid race strategy. Months of preparation can be undone by starting out too quickly in the inviting early downhill miles, making the five mile rolling stretch through Newton starting at mile 16 a difficult task indeed. An even pace strategy will almost always result in a better and less painful result, but is easier said than done.
Although steeped in tradition and history, the race has changed markedly in the past several years. Perhaps the most visible alternations are the earlier start time (10 a.m. as opposed to the old noontime start) and the separation of the field into two separate "waves," in order to ease the flow of human traffic in the tiny hamlet of Hopkinton.
The names and faces may be different, but what hasn't changed is the feeling of satisfaction--and elation in many cases--that comes from a successful Boston Marathon finish. As the old MasterCard commercial said, it's "priceless."
If you aren't running and can't be there in person to watch it, catch the race live via will be shown nationally on Universal Sports via Universal Sports TV and UniversalSports.com/marathon, where fans can watch the world's top marathon runners compete head-to-head in this coveted event. Coverage starts at 9:30 a.m. ET on April 20.