In the world of marathon running, there is one race that trumps them all: the Boston Marathon. People train for years to qualify and spend thousands of dollars to attend it, and nothing give you more instant street cred than saying you "did Boston." Some people even get their Boston time tattooed on their bodies! Yet with 693 marathons scheduled for 2013, there are plenty of opportunities to get your 26.2. So what is it about the Boston Marathon?
1. The prize purse. The male and female winner each get a hefty $150,000, plus an extra $25,000 if they set a course record. Compare that to the measly $20,000 purse offered to the winner of the New York City Marathon. Sure, most of us probably won't win, but dreaming about what you could do with all that money could certainly help you get through those last few miles.
2. The crowd. More than 500,000 screaming spectators line the course—upwards of 80 percent of the entire population of Boston—making it one of the best-attended races in the country. It even boasts a "scream tunnel" where local college students give extra encouragement to runners. Thousands of people shouting your name is guaranteed to make you feel like a rock star.
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3. The exclusive admission policy. Unlike most races, paying the entry fee does not guarantee you a spot. You have to run one of the USATF-approved marathons earlier in the season and meet a certain minimum standard, based on your age and gender, to "qualify" for Boston. (Charitable groups are exempt from this.) Just gaining an entry is considered a huge honor, and because only the best runners get to enter, any win (even if it's just passing that guy in front of you in the last quarter-mile) is that much sweeter.
4. Heartbreak Hill. While it's not the most difficult marathon in the U.S., the Boston Marathon course is known for being tough thanks to a series of four hills, with the last one coming between miles 20 and 21. This is right at the point where many marathoners "hit the wall," so it's said there's more "heartbreak" on that hill from lost or uncompleted races than any other spot. But if you can power up the 88-foot climb and finish, it feels like a serious mental and physical accomplishment.
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5. The history. Started in 1897, Boston is the world's oldest annual marathon. In 2011, Geoffrey Mutai set the record for the world's fastest marathon by running the Boston course in 2:03:02 (although this time was not recognized by the IAFF because the course is not certified as a world-record qualifier). Since then many of the sport's top athletes have run at Boston. In addition to athletes, you may also see some high-profile faces, as celebs including Will Ferrell, Mario Lopez, and Lisa Ling have all crossed the famous finish line.