Thus have Prince William & Catherine been joined in Holy Matrimony in London’s Westminster Abbey with the eyes of England and the world upon them.  And as with each of these generational royal weddings – 1947 Elizabeth and Philip, 1981 Charles and Diana – the good and worthy media has informed us that the throngs lining the processional route from the Abbey to Buckingham Palace swelled to, verily, one million strong to witness the drenched opulence of it all.

Indeed, such bold estimates echo those made during our very own major marathons as they stretch and wind through the 26.2 miles of our lordly cities.  But how faithful are such estimates, truly?  Let’s do the math. 

Each mile constitutes 5280 feet, therefore,

When considering both sides of the street we have 10,560 total roadside viewing feet per mile.

Assigning each person standing street-side 2 feet of shoulder width, means

Each mile can hold 5280 people watching shoulder to shoulder along a single row.

For William & Catherine’s royal wedding, therefore, it would necessitate 189+ rows of onlookers along both sides of the street to fit one million spectators into that single mile corridor.

For the recently run 115th Boston Marathon, where Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 – the fastest time ever run over the marathon distance – captured so much attention, sparking debate as the effects of wind and downhill gradients, the Boston Athletic Association offered 500,000 as the estimated number of spectators.  The New York Road Runners claims their ING New York City Marathon draws 2.5 million spectators through the five boroughs each November!

After careful consideration and consultation with the IAAF, the international governing body of the sport, the BAA this week withdrew its petition for Geoffrey Mutai’s performance on April 18th for world record status. Downhill and downwind, evidently, does make a difference.

Upon further review, which shows that it would necessitate 3.6 rows deep of spectators standing shoulder-to-shoulder along both sides of the route through all 26.2 miles in Boston to reach half a million spectators, and 18 rows deep in New York City including over the Verrazano Narrows and all other bridges linking the boroughs in order to accumulate 2.5 million, perhaps we can now reconsider the number of onlookers in the pursuit of ontological veracity.

For a sport which is so attentive to the precision of time, distance, and the correlation between the two, which wheels courses multiple times to within an inch of their lives to make for an engineered exactitude, such inflated crowd estimates would make even William & Catherine Windsor blanche (not that you could tell).



  1. Gross (false) spectator claims are made by the sales & marketing teams from the respective events. The greater the number of perceived spectators, the greater $ events can garner from sponsors.

  2. I have long been suspicious of crowd counts, but with the marathon, people may come and go so that in a given spot you might have several people occupy that spot over the several hours of the race.

    In a marathon if a single person occupied each spot, that would be 138K+ people. I could see 4 people occupying each space (and in some spots the crowds are a few rows deep).

    As for NYC, wouldn’t just about anything attract a lot of people?

    1. In Boston you also have a lot of people in apt windows and rooftop parties during the last few miles watching the race, but you make a good point.

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