As we continue the week-long countdown to the 127th Boston Marathon, we offer something new to augment something old.

First, we welcome back to the blog the Marathon Professor, himself, Sean Hartnett, who offers a fascinating new look at the old course using the latest measuring technology. Then we return to the dusty bins of the Runners Digest Radio show archives, as we explore the unique layout and specific charms and challenges that make up the world’s oldest marathon course.

This morning, old friend and colleague, retired geography Professor Sean Hartnett, Ph.D., from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, sent a new generation of elevation and slope profiles of the famously hilly 42.195 kilometer, or 26.2-mile Boston Marathon course.

“This was a bit of a rush job,” admitted Sean, who is among the most highly respected members of the running cognoscenti. “Just three weeks ago, I received an inquiry from the Boston course surveyor Justin Kuo and in the process discovered that LIDAR elevation data had recently become available for the Boston area on Google Earth.”

Lidar is a technology that uses laser beams to measure distances and create 3D maps of the Earth’s surface or objects. According to Sean, LIDAR data is accurate enough to determine that the marathon starting line across East Main Street in Hopkinton actually slopes slightly to the north, dropping from 470’ to 469’.

Sean determined the percent slopes on the course by calculating the change in elevation (rise) over a given distance (run), then multiply by 100 to express the data as a percent. Uphill slopes have a positive percent, such as +5.2%, while downhill slopes are negative, such as -4.6

To go along with Sean’s new course chart, I offer a SoundCloud clip I put together for my old Runner’s Digest Radio Show in the late 1970s before the finish line got moved from Ring Road onto adjacent Boylston Street.

The piece features some of the best known runners from the Boom era: Bill Rodgers, Dick Mahoney, Amby Burfoot, Thom Gilligan, Patti Dillon, Vinnie Fleming, Bob Hodge, Johnny Kelley (The Elder), Dr. Kent Smith, and Fred Brown of the North Medford Club.

The records and checkpoint locations listed have all changed over the years, but not the actual stretch of roads that make up the grand old course.

Hit the Orange Arrow to play the piece.

Toni Reavis · Boston Marathon Course Piece


As always, please consider:


  1. Toni, I’m so sorry to read that you won’t be in town. I was hoping we could catch up. Will I see you at Beach to Beacon and Falmouth?

    I loved this piece, bringing the excitement of the glory days and Golden Age alive. I especially enjoyed your Runner’s Digest Radio Clip. Outstanding!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.