With yesterday’s announcement that men’s marathon world record holder, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya will run the Boston Marathon for the first time next April, I went over the history of the nine previous men who were, or would become, the marathon world record holder who also competed at the Boston Marathon. 

The column only tangentially mentioned any women, when newly named BAA President and CEO, Jack Fleming, likened Kipchoge’s Boston appearance to Ethiopia’s 1960 Olympic champion (and world record holder), Abebe Bikila, coming to Boston in 1963, and women’s world record holder Grete Waitz of Norway running in 1982. 

Jack’s point being, notwithstanding their favored status, neither Bikila nor Waitz managed to win in Boston. That puts Kipchoge’s attempt in historic context. With no pacers, ill-defined weather, and treacherously placed undulations, Boston presents very particular problems to pure time-trialers.

A cold easterly headwind ruined Bikila’s chances, as he stiffened and finished in fifth place in `63. In 1982, though well trained for the marathon distance, three-time world record holder Grete Waitz did not train specifically for the downhills of Boston. By the time she came down Beacon Street toward Coolidge Corner in the final stages of the race, her quads had seized up and she had to drop out, never to return.

Well, yesterday the BAA announced World Marathon Champion Gotytom Gebreslase of Ethiopia and former Boston champs Edna Kiplagat (2017) and Des Linden (2018) as the women headliners for the 2023 Boston race. Today, just to even the deck, here’s the background on the seven other women, like Grete, who came to Boston as either the world record holder or the soon-to-be world record holder. Let’s see how they fared over the Boston rollers. 

2022 World Marathon Champion Gotytom Gebreslase.
GETTING IT DONE: Des Linden Wins Boston 2018
Edna Kiplagat winning her first of two World Championships.

Of course, the history of women’s marathon running is far less advanced than men’s, as women had to fight for the right to compete. But in 1972, the BAA officially welcomed women into the fold of the historic race. 

December 2, 1973, California’s Miki Gorman set the world record 2:46:36, at the Culver City Marathon in California. She later won Boston on April 15, 1974, producing a course record 2:47:11. She took second in the brutal heat of 1976, five minutes behind Wisconsin’s, Kim Merritt. Miki won again in 1977, in 2:48:33.

December 1, 1974, another Californian, Jacqueline Hansen, broke Gorman‘s Culver City course and world record with a clocking of 2:43:54. That followed her win in Boston 1973 where she clocked a course record 3:05:59. Jaqi later became history’s first sub 2:40 women’s marathoner with her 2:38:19 world record at the September 1975 Nike/OTC Marathon in Eugene.

The record she broke was set by West Germany’s Christa Vahlensieck in Dülmen, Germany, on May 3, 1975. Her 2:40:16 WR broke countrywoman Liane Winter‘s 2:42:24 set at the 1975 Boston Marathon two weeks earlier. Liane was only the second person, and first woman, to set a world record on the Boston course. (Korea’s Yun Buk Suh produced a 225:39 Wr in Boston 1947)

Next up was Bowdoin College student Joan Benoit from Maine. In 1979, the women’s favorite was Quincy, Massachusetts native Patti Lyons. And in fact, Patti held the lead until the bottom of Heartbreak Hill at 20 miles. That’s where Joanie caught her. They ran together for another mile before Joanie pulled away as Patti suffered to take second with a foot injury. Wearing her black, Bowdoin singlet and a backwards-facing Red Sox cap, Joanie hit the line in 2:35:15, a new course record. Patti was second three minutes and seven seconds back. Joannie would, famously, smash the world record with her second Boston victory four years later in 1983 when she ran an eye-popping 2:22:43, ripping 2:46 off the world record, set by another soon-to-be Boston champion.

In 1981, a tall, blond Athena-like figure from Auckland, New Zealand, came to Boston. Though a marketer’s delight with a personality to match your looks, and strength and speed to spare, the Kiwi was not the race favorite, far from it. Her PR at the time was only 2:34:29 run at the Nike/OTC marathon in 1981.

We, in the media, had already decided that this would be another showdown between Joannie and Patti, who had since married her coach, Joe Catalano, a Boston State grad who had run for famed Coach Bill Squires, picking up many of his lessons. 

Patti had been on a tear coming into Boston 1981, holding every American record, from 5 miles to the marathon. Only the great Grete Waitz had beaten Patti over the last 30 some races. But Grete wasn’t running Boston until the following year. So it was Patti who we picked to become the first local champion since Bill Rodgers

Turns out, Patti battled North Carolina State star Julie Shea for much of the race, as Joanie held back. But after Patti dispatched Shea over the Boston hills, she heard somebody charging up from behind as she started coming down into Cleveland Circle near 23 miles. But it wasn’t Joannie. Instead, it was the tall Kiwi in the black kit and flowing blond hair who was suddenly on her. 

Roe went on to win in a course record 2:26:46. Patti had to settle for second place again, consoled by an American record 2:27:51. Joanie never became a factor, finishing a dispirited third in 2:30:16.

We have documented Grete’s ruinous DNF of 1982. One year later, Joan Benoit returned to Boston as the American record holder and third fastest woman in history off her 2:26:11 victory at the September 1982 Nike / OTC Marathon. 

Running against the defending champion and current co-record holder Allison Roe of New Zealand, who broke Grete’s world mark at the 1981 New York City Marathon at 2:25:28 – a time Grete matched the day before Boston in London – Joanie flew out of Hopkinton like a Peregrine falcon. She hit half-way in 1:08:22 on her way to a magical 2:22:43, 2:46 under the record.

The next two years were down years at Boston, as the BAA steadfastly held off modernizing the race by offering prize money. The elite fields simply disappeared.

In 1986, John Hancock Financial Services came on board as the first actual sponsor of the race. They invited the elite fields as well. Things turned on the dime. Both races were stacked. Leading the women’s field was Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen, who came in as the women’s world record holder from London 1985. There, she broke Joannie’s record with a 2:21:06 clocking. She also held the world record at 5000m and 10,000m, the first and only woman to hold all three simultaneously (could we see #2 this Sunday in Valencia, Spain? See below). Ingrid came to Boston 1986 to break 2:20, nothing more, nothing less. That was the goal. And she lit out with just such an intention, running early splits faster than Joanie did in her 1983 record year. But you have to get lucky in a marathon. 

Though she passed the half in 1:09:44, this was a warm one, not good for times, just for placing. Special K won by 2 1/2 minutes over Carla Beurskens of the Netherlands in 2:24:55, but she wasn’t happy. Winning was almost a given. Her goal was to set that sub 2:20.

She returned in 1989 for another record attempt. But again, the conditions conspired. Temperatures reaching over 70°F (21.1°C). Once again, she clocked a sub 1:10 halfway split, on the way to 2:24:33 finish. She won by five minutes, but for the second time, she carried disappointment home along with her trophy and olive wreath. 

1989 was the last year Boston was eligible for world record recognition, as in 1990 the sport’s governing body ruled that courses with net elevation drops over 1m/km average and going point-to-point rather than over a loop,would no longer be recognized for record purposes.

On April 19, 1998, Kenya’s Tegla Loroupe ran 2:20:47 in Rotterdam to break Ingrid Kristiansen‘s world record from 1985. One year later in Berlin, Tegla snatched another four seconds from her own record. But at Boston’s 100th running in 1996, she finished second behind Germany’s Uta Pippig’s third straight win. 

The most prolific winner in the Boston Marathon women’s division has been Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba, Catherine, “The Great”, as she came to be known. A four-time Boston champion:2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, on October 7, 2001, Catherine ran 2:18:47 at the Chicago Marathon just one week after Japan’s Naoko Takahashi became history‘s first sub 2:20 women’s marathoner with her 2:19:46 win in Berlin.

The last name on this list is another Kenyan, not surprisingly, Brigid Kosgei. On Patriots’ Day 2017, she finished eighth at Boston in 2:31:48, by far in the slowest marathon of her career, which includes two wins in London, and two more in Chicago. 2017 was Edna Kiplagat‘s winning year, 2:21:52.

On October 13, 2019, Brigid shocked the world by running 2:14:04 to break Paula Radcliffe’s seemingly insurmountable world record of 2:15:25, which he set in London in 2003. But the way records are falling these days with the new shoe technology and aggressive training…

Ethiopia‘s Letesenbet Gidey is preparing to run Sunday’s Valencia Marathon in Spain. It’s the town where she ran her 10,000m and half-marathon world records. There are many who believe that this thoroughbred, world record holder at 5000m, 10,000m, and half marathon – is more than prepared to set another record over 42.2 kilometers, despite this being her debut at the distance. Is it possible she might even demolish the current mark like Joanie did in Boston in 1983, when she ripped 2:46 off the old mark. Jonathan Gault at Letsrun.com has an excellent preview

The old rule-of-thumb we used to apply to women for the marathon was their half-marathon PB X 2, plus four minutes. For instance: Joan Samuelson’s half-marathon PB was 1:08:34. Times two equals 2:17:08. Plus 4:00 gives us 2:21:08. Doesn’t always compute, because Ingrid’s Half PB was 1:06:40. Times two is 2:13:20. Plus 4:00 equals 2:17:20. But she also never got the right day on the right course, either. With Gidey’s half WR at 1:02:52, that would add up to roughly 2:10. Pretty heady.

Will we ever see Gidey in Boston? World Athletics doesn’t make it easy with their rules, but you never know. Hope you enjoyed today’s history lesson. Class dismissed.


As always:


  1. Always can and do benefit from a history lesson, Toni. Thanks for taking the time to research it, write it and present it. Thanks also for the follow-up to the prior day’s news. Very much appreciate the attention to the women’s race this early on and the inclusion of Gotytom’s picture from Wellesley Hills (15 miles on the course, just beyond Route 9 crossover on Washington Street/Route 16). Photos of Des and Edna are classic! She was surprised that was along the Boston Marathon course, but seemed to find it interesting. Looking forward to more history from you. Jack

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