After the announcement that men’s marathon GOAT and world record holder, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, would be coming to run the Boston Marathon for the first time on April 17, 2023, I flipped through Tom Derderian’s epic Boston Marathon: History of The World’s Premier Running Event to reacquaint myself with the ten men and eight women who were or would become the marathon world record holder who also competed at the Boston Marathon. 

First, only once when Boston remained a record-eligible course did it yield a men’s marathon world record, that in 1947 when Korea’s Yun Bok Sun ran 2:25:39. Though the current Boston course record, 2:03:02, set in windswept 2011 by Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai, was the fastest marathon ever run, to date, it did not meet the World Athletics record criteria, due to Boston’s net-elevation drop and point-to-point course. Notwithstanding, that’s the mark Kipchoge has set his sights on a week from Monday.

First year BAA President and CEO, Jack Fleming, likened Olympic Marathon champion and world record holder Kipchoge‘s Boston arrival in 2023 to Ethiopia’s Olympic champion (and world record holder), Abebe Bikila coming in 1963, and women’s world record holder Grete Waitz of Norway running in 1982. 

Jack’s point being, notwithstanding their favorite status, neither Bikila nor Waitz managed to win in Boston.

(L-R) Ethiopian runners, Abebe Bikila & Mamo Wolde, competing in the Boston Marathon. (Photo by Ted Russell/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

A cold easterly headwind ruined Bikila’s chances, as he and countryman Mamo Wolde (1968 Olympic Marathon champion) were on course record pace until they stiffened in the last miles, finishing in fifth and 12th places, respectively.

In 1982, though well trained for the distance, three-time world record holder Grete Waitz did not train specifically for the downhills of Boston. On record pace early, by the time she rolled down Beacon Street toward Coolidge Corner in the final stages of the race, her quads seized up and she had to drop out, never to return. 

Seven more women, like Grete, came to Boston as either the world record holder or the soon-to-be world record holder. Let’s break down that list and see how they fared.

Of course, the history of women’s marathon running is far less advanced than the 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 an unofficial world record 2:46:36 at the Western Hemisphere (Culver City) Marathon in California. She later won Boston in 1974 on April 15th, running 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.

1973 Boston Marathon champion Jacqueline Hansen with BAA legend Gloria Ratti and BAA board member Joann Flaminio

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

In 1975, West Germany’s Liane Winter ran Boston in a world record 2:42:24, becoming only the second person, and first woman, to set a world record on the old course.

Next up was Bowdoin College student Joan Benoit from Maine in 1979. The favorite that year was Quincy, Massachusetts native Patti Lyons (now Dillon). In fact, Patti held the lead until the bottom of Heartbreak Hill at 20 miles. That’s where Joan caught her. They ran together for another mile before Joanie pulled away as Patti was suffering with a foot injury. 

Boston, MA – 4/16/1979: Joan Benoit runs through the finish line of the Boston Marathon, April 16, 1979. (Janet Knott/Globe Staff)

Wearing her black Bowdoin singlet and backwards-facing Boston Red Sox cap, Joanie hit the line in 2:35:15, a new course record. Patti was second three minutes and seven seconds back. 

Joanie would, famously, smash the world record with her second Boston victory four years later in 1983 when she blitzed 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, and strength and speed to spare, Allison Roe 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 Joanie and Patti, who had since married her coach, Joe Catalano, a Boston State grad, who had run for Coach Bill Squires, picking up many of his lessons 

Patti came into the race with a firm grip on every American road 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 was touted to become the first local champion since Bill Rodgers in 1980.

North Carolina’s Julie Shea battled Patti for much of the race, as Joanie held back. But after Patti pulled away from Shea on the Newton hills, looking every bit the eventual champion, when she turned right onto Chestnut Hill Ave. coming down into Cleveland Circle two miles later, the tall Kiwi in the black singlet with the red and white stripe was suddenly upon her. 

Allison Roe winning Boston 1981, with author Derderian #385 right behind

Roe went on to win in a course record 2:26:11. Patti had to settle for second place in 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, a rejuvenated 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 in Eugene, Oregon. 

Running against defending champion and current co-record holder Allison Roe, 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 ‘83 in London – Joanie flew out of Hopkinton like a Peregrine falcon on the hunt. She blew passed half-way in 1:08:43 on her way to a magical 2:22:43, 2:46 under the standing record. For the first time, a sub-2:20 for women had come into view. 

The next two were deeply troubled years in Boston, as the BAA embroiled itself in a controversy with lawyer Marshall Medoff, who longtime race director Will Cloney had secretly contracted to sign sponsorships for the marathon. The notoriously amateur-leaning organization pulled back, chastened by the controversy, and barnacled to its history of amateurism. as the sport changed all around it, the BAA steadfastly refused to modernize by offering prize money. Notwithstanding Boston’s historic position, the elite fields went elsewhere in search of paydays.

It took Boston Mayor Ray Flynn to drag the BAA into the 20th century by threatening city permits if they didn’t upgrade. Soon thereafter, Boston corporate blue blood John Hancock Financial Services signed on as the first actual sponsor of the race.

Seeing the lay of the land, and moving to protect their investment, JH took on inviting the elite fields, and addressing the press in their regard. Things turned on a dime. 

Ingrid winning Boston

Headlining the women’s field in 1986 was Ingrid Christiansen. The Norwegian star had broken Benoit-Samuelson’s world record in London in the spring of 1985 with a 2:21:06 clocking. Special K also held the world records on the track over 5000m and 10,000m, the first, and to date only, woman to hold all three distance marks simultaneously.

In Boston 1986, Ingrid had in mind to break 2:20, nothing more, nothing less. She and Joanie had dueled in Chicago the previous fall with the same goal in mind, with Joanie coming out on top in that slugfest in a then-American record 2:21:21. Ingrid finished second in 2:23:05, with Portugal’s Rosa Mota closing fast in third at 2:23:29. 

With no Joan in Boston ‘86 as she recovered from Achilles tendon surgery, Ingrid lit out of Hopkinton with no competitive governor. She ran faster through the early miles than Joanie did in her 1983 record year. 

But you have to get lucky in any marathon, especially in Boston. Though she passed the half in a tidy 1:09:44, the day was a warm one, not amenable to records. Though I.K. won by 2 1/2 minutes over Carla Beurskens of the Netherlands, running 2:24:55, she wasn’t happy. Winning was never in jeopardy. In fact, it was all but taken for granted. Her goal was to run that sub-2:20. 

Ingrid returned in 1989 for yet another world record attempt. But again, the conditions conspired against her. Temperatures reached over 70°F (21C). Once again, she clocked a sub-1:10 halfway split, on the way to 2:24:33 finish. She won by five minutes this time, but experienced another disappointment when sub-2:20 eluded her for the second time, when her fitness was at the ready. 

1989 was also the last year Boston was eligible for record recognition. In 1990, the sport’s governing body ruled that courses with net elevation drops more than 1m/km average and with a start-finish distance more than 50% of the race distance (13.1 miles) would not meet record standards. Boston’s Hopkinton-to-Back-Bay layout is 23.8 miles apart, start to finish, while the course drops 452 feet. Record-eligible marathons can drop only 131 feet.

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. Overall, she won four times in Boston (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005), but on October 7, 2001, less than a month after 9/11, Catherine ran 2:18:47 at the Chicago Marathon just one week after Japan’s Naoko Takahashi became history‘s first sub-2:20 woman marathoner with her 2:19:46 win in Berlin.

The last name on this list is another Kenyan, Brigid Kosgei. The current women’s world record holder, 2:14:04 in Chicago 2019, has an afterthought memory from Boston. Understandable, because on Patriots’ Day 2017, she finished eighth in the Hub in 2:31:48, by far the slowest marathon of her career, which includes two wins in London, and two more in Chicago.

Brigid Kosgei blows away the women’s marathon world record in Chicago 2019

But 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.

The way distance event records are falling with the new shoe technology, aggressive training (and we know what else), four years is a long-standing distance record these days.

Ethiopia‘s Letesenbet Gidey is a name to watch. Many believe she could become the next marathon world record holder. At present, Gidey holds records at 5000m, 10,000m, and the half-marathon. Perhaps she can even demolish the current mark today like Joanie did in Boston in 1983, when JB ripped 2:46 off the old mark.

Will we ever see Gidey in Boston? World Athletics doesn’t make it easy with their rules eliminating Boston from record consideration, but you never know.

The early long-range forecast for Monday, April 17th, shows a low of 50°F (10C) and a high of 71° (21.67C), not ideal, but not debilitating, either. There’s a 60% chance of rain, meaning the skies might well be overcast, which could be a break, as Boston’s course is notoriously uncovered from the sun. 

Kipchoge‘s goal is Mutai’s 2011 course record, 2:03:02. Even though Boston doesn’t officially have pacers, it would not be unusual for Eliud to have an unofficial pacemaker in the field, a circumstance that has come to pass before in Boston.

As always, we all await with great anticipation.  


As always,


  1. I love reading these histories of Boston.
    Today I read in The Boston Globe about those bleak years in the 1980’s when The Marathon was in trouble. I never really knew anything about that. I wasn’t into running back then.
    I still remember Joanie Bennoit from Portland. I’m from Bangor, Maine so she was our girl!

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