26.2 facts about the Boston Marathon

The race draws more than 500,000 spectators -- or 80 percent of the city's population -- each year. AP Photo/Stew Milne

Sharpen your Beantown knowledge and floss your running wisdom with 26.2 facts to impress your marathoning friends.

1- The Boston Marathon is iconic for a reason—it's both the oldest (dating back to 1897) and the fastest (median time of 3:44) marathon in the country.

2- Racers pick up their bibs and chips at the John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo, the largest running expo in the world. With more than 200 exhibitors, each brand strives to outdo the rest. In 2012, the pageantry included harpists dressed as angels and elite athletes attempting to break the treadmill marathon record as curious runners looked on.

3- Perhaps the most famous incline in running, Heartbreak Hill has a reputation for being a doozie. However, the highest point on the course (by far) is actually the starting line, at 463 feet above sea level. Heartbreak crests to only 263 feet, but it’s located at mile 20 -- when even a molehill feels like a mountain.

4- One of the only 26.2 milers held on a weekday, Boston coincides with Patriots' Day, a civic holiday celebrated only in Massachusetts and Maine commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

5- Approximately 500,000 spectators line the marathon's course each year --that's 80 percent of Boston’s total population!

6- Women were officially excluded from the race until 1972. Kathrine Switzer famously entered as "KV Switzer" in 1967 and was nearly stopped by official Jock Semple. Our swift sister dodged his grabby hands and ran on to cross the finish in 4 hours and 20 minutes.

7- In 1951, Korean-American runners were denied entry. The logic was that these citizens should be supporting U.S. troops in the Korean War. Walter A. Brown, then-president of the Boston Athletic Association, stated, "Every Korean should be fighting to protect his country instead of training for marathons."

8- Runners gunning to qualify for Boston (or BQ) often look for fast, flat courses to up their chances. However, the majority of qualifiers, once they get their foot in the door, earn their BQ from Boston itself by running the famous marathon year after year.

9- As the final finishers run through the line, race director Dave McGillivray heads back to Hopkinton to run the 26.2-mile course in memory of his grandfather, as he's done for 39 straight years.

10- More than 1,000 media credentials are issued for outlets around the world. Writers, photographers and announcers are handed a cheat sheet with descriptions of the elite runners’ outfits and phonetic pronunciations of their names.

11- It takes a village! From water-stop duties to Porta-Potty patrol, more than 8,000 volunteers are on hand to ensure a seamless event.

12- The start is located at One Ash Street in Hopkinton, Mass. The pretty building adjacent to the line also serves as registration headquarters for the Boston Athletic Association. The organizations’ symbol, a unicorn, peers down from the window watching the runners embark on their journey.

13- In 1987, the rope preventing the runners from crossing the start line early was accidentally left in place as the gun went off, tripping one elite athlete. This rope has since been replaced with a human chain of volunteers who part just before the pistol fires.

14- Boston girls always battle. For the last five years, the first and second finishers in the women's race have been separated by three seconds or less—a crazy-close margin for a 26.2-mile race. In 2009, the winner, Salina Kosgei, nipped runner-up Dire Tune by one second for the closest finish in the race’s history.

15- Aside from the traditional olive wreath made from leaves picked in Greece, the first-place winner snags a prize purse of $150,000 -- and an additional $25,000 if she sets the course record. Not too shabby for a few hours of work!

16- The marathon's not only about Monday -- the whole weekend is a running celebration. On Sunday morning, the BAA 5k and Invitational Mile take over downtown Boston as Olympic speedsters (runners from previous years include Morgan Uceny, Anna Pierce and Kim Smith) hit the streets.

17- The little suburb of Hopkinton, which hosts Boston's starting line, may seem unassuming—but in the 19th century it was a premier spa destination. Mineral springs thought to have healing powers lured visitors seeking rejuvenation for 25 cents a bath.

18- The oldest baseball stadium in the world, Fenway Park, gets in on the tradition every year with a Marathon Monday home game. After the game, Red Sox fans (and players!) stream out into Kenmore Square to cheer.

19- Runners must be 18 years old to enter the marathon, but there are no upper age limits. In 2012, Maddona Buder finished in 5:38 at the age of 81!

20- Sunday evening, Boston's City Hall Plaza welcomes hungry runners who chow down on 11,300 pounds of pasta and unlimited beer.

21- Qualifying for the race isn't the only way you can get into Boston. Special exceptions are made for a limited number of media and select friends of race staff, as well as nearly 2,000 charity runners who raise over $15 million dollars each year.

22- Thirty-eight years ago, the first official wheelchair participant, polio survivor Bob Hall, finished the race in 2:58. In 2012, Shirley Reilly won the women’s division in 1:37.

23- The loudest cheers on the course echo from Wellesley College's campus. The all-girls school shows up in force, with coeds lining the streets in what runners affectionately call the "Scream Tunnel." Hollers can be heard from hundreds of yards away—but runners have to get close to make good on the dozens of "Kiss me!" signs.

24- Like a beacon in the night, Kenmore Square's 73-year-old Citgo sign lights the way for tired runners. When racers can see the red triangle, there’s just one mile left in their marathon journey.

25- The beautiful starting line is created from a unique stencil designed by Jack Leduc. The Hopkinton local spends up to 30 hours crafting his one-of-a-kind stencil and transferring his art to the pavement—only for it to be destroyed in seconds by thousands of stomping feet.

26- After receiving their finisher's medal, satisfied runners stumble through the corral, where volunteers wrap the racers in Mylar thermal blankets (35,000 are ordered for race day). The shiny sheets prevent post-race chills—and make the racers look like superheroes.

26.2- We predict the 2014 Boston Marathon will be one of the biggest and best celebrations of the runner’s strength in the history of race events!