The Boston Marathon: A Gold Standard Reputation Case Study

April 18, 2011 - a breezy, record-breaking Marathon

The Boston Marathon is a story often told by the numbers. This 115th running of the world’s oldest continuous marathon is already in the record books as the finishers set world record paces thanks to ideal weather and a welcome tail wind (although the record won’t be certified as a world record because of the nature of the course and the tail wind).

The other number that impresses is the purse of cash for top finishers, this year a total of $806,000 that will help the best of the best nurse those throbbing muscles and post-race camps. Prize money, first introduced 25 years ago, wasn’t universally embraced for one of the most popular amateur marathons in the world, but sponsor John Hancock’s infusion of more than $13 million in prize money has transformed the Boston Marathon into one of the most elite races in the world, as well as one of the most popular races for pure amateurs.

Marathon fans cheer on the runners in Wellesley (Photo courtesy of Boston.com)

But the gold-standard reputation that the Boston Marathon has built over the past century isn’t so much about elite runners, prize money or running equipment endorsements. What endures year after year are the stories that have built this race’s reputation and made it the most hallowed annual event in New England. They are stories about the triumph of cancer patients now cancer-free running to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute so that others might be cured. It is a race where thousands of spectators stretch across the 26.2 mile course willing suffering runners along to the finish line, the first contingent at Wellesley College as runners near the half-way mark. It is about the guy who threw on a pair of ratty tennis sneakers one year and today ran as an elite runner.

And it is about all the women who weren’t even allowed in this race 40 years ago and who are now finishing under 2:30. The crowd favorite, Kara Goucher out of Portland Oregon, had a baby just over six months ago (training even the day she delivered the baby) and finished 5th at 2:24:52. She reminds us men who the superior sex really is when she gives birth and then turns in that performance at 32-years-old. Whew!

Kenya's Caroline Kilel, 2011 Boston Marathon women's winner (Image courtesy of Boston.com)

As our own reputation guru Peter Morrissey might say, the Boston Marathon reputation has been carefully built and managed over time, remarkably scandal free for an institution that has been around for more than a century. Peter, a longtime Governor of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) which owns and manages the Boston Marathon, was one of the first people to greet women’s winner, Kenyan Caroline Kilel, who collapsed after her two-second margin victory.

The numbers for this event are remarkable, but the stories that have built this institution are even more so, and are the brick and mortar that built its reputation.

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