PART TWO: RETURN TO NORMALCY: THE JOYOUS ODDS
1. ANYONE CAN PLAY
Based on last year's run, there were runners from every U.S. state and territory and 96 nations. Fifty-seven percent of the runners were men and 43 percent women. Marathons are not just for the young. The odds a runner last year was over 40 was 1 in 1.7, or 58 percent. These include 212 runners 70 or over and 15 runners 80 and over. Impediments did not impede: 75 covered the course in wheelchairs or hand-cycles.
Every runner is remarkable, but the visually impaired seem to stand out even among these heroic thousands. How do they do it? Most are paired with sighted guides, the fastest using two to four, who switch off during the race. Some use no guides but simply trail a dimly seen stranger running at the desired pace. The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MAB) has fielded a team of athletes for 20 years. These are true athletes, capable of personal achievements but also remarkable records. Last year's women's winner in the visually-impaired division, Amy C. McDonaugh, ran a 2:52.05 and men's winner, Aaron Scheidies, ran a 2:44:31. Both ran for MAB's "Team with a Vision," which plans for 26 visually-impaired runners this year. Here is a video of Chad Carr, who will be running part of the distance tethered as a guide to Aaron Scheidies..
2. WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF FINISHING THE MARATHON?
Of all runners in 2013, about 75 percent completed the course. Those who complete the course have earned their bragging rights. These odds, 1 in 1.3, are the same that a man exaggerates his sexual exploits when speaking to his friends. (One imagines Don Juan bragging about Rosie Ruiz, or more likely the reverse.) Let this comparison inspire more marathoners, whose staying power cannot be denied, to cross the finish line.
3. WHICH NATIONALITY WILL PRODUCE THE WINNERS?
What the past reveals depends on the time frame you use. If you start counting from the first Boston Marathon in 1897, with its field of 15 and a winner who walked part of the way, you find Americans having won most often in all categories. If you pick a later starting year, say, 1975 when Bill Rogers set a course record, breaking the 2-hour 10 minute barrier, the modern pattern emerges.
The odds a Kenyan will win the Boston Marathon based on the period 1975-2013 are 1 in 1.95, 20 of 39 wins. The US is next with 7, the most recent in 1983. Ethiopia comes next with 4 wins.
The current dominance of Kenya and Ethiopia is almost absolute. Of the men's all-time top 50 performances, 49 are from one or the other (32 for Kenya and 17 from Ethiopia). The American, Ryan Hall, made the list, having run the 37th fastest marathon in the tailwind-aided 2011 Boston Marathon, at which Geoffrey Mutai and Moses Mosop of Kenya ran the two fastest ever Boston Marathons.
4. HOW MUCH MEDIA COVERAGE DOES THE BOSTON MARATHON GET?
In ordinary times the media coverage is enormous, the second largest "single-day sporting event in the world" after the Super Bowl, according to its sponsors. They give media credentials to more than 1,100 media representatives each year.
Last year's bombing, lockdown, and the hunt for the bomber through the suburbs of Boston drew massive viewership. The last hour of the manhunt for the second suspect was watched by nearly 42 million people, or 1 in 7.5 Americans.
ARE THERE ADVANTAGES TO RUNNING THE MARATHON BAREFOOT?
Sales of running shoes are big business, $3.04 billion in 2012, a record high. The chief competitor to Adidas and Nike may be the same as competes with pajamas: nothing at all. In 1960 the Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, the first Black African Olympic gold medalist, won the marathon running barefoot. American, "Barefoot Rick" Roeber did it his third Boston race, until the hot asphalt made it impractical. He continues to run barefoot in a ministry which saves souls and soles.
Does training barefoot, as many African runners are said to do, provide benefits to the runner? According to a January 2010 Harvard study, the ones who do may indeed earn themselves an edge, as well as a longer athletic career. Being "unshod" is found to be easier on the joints, as it forces a runner to run on the balls of his or her feet, instead of thudding down on the heels.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF SURVIVING THE BOSTON MARATHON?
The first marathon was a success but hard on the runner. Pheidippides ran 26 hot, waterless miles from Marathon, where the Persians were defeated miraculously, to Athens to convey the news. Reaching the capital, the soldier-messenger burst into the assembly yelling Nenikēkamen! ("We were victorious!"), and promptly dropped dead.
The odds a person will die from overexertion or strenuous activity in a year are a small: 1 in 193,000. (1)
Only elite runners have a shot of winning, but all 36,000 entrants can dream, can't they? By this Walter Mitty standard, each entrant is more than five times more likely to win the Boston Marathon than to die running it.
(1) Source: Book of Odds query of CDC ICD-10 Cause of Death data 1999-2005, which showed 89 instances or 12.7/yr. and 2003 total US deaths of 2,4448,248.