Drama of marathon stretches back 43 years

  • Looking for a victory repeat: Bryan Morseman celebrates winning the marathon last year. The American is back to defend his title (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Unmatched performance: Andy Holden on his way to his famous 1980 win in the Bermuda Marathon, when he set the event record of 2:15:20, which still stands
  • Going strong: Olympic legend Joan Benoit Samuelson completes the Bermuda Triangle Half Challenge in 2014. She was the women’s runner-up that year, and again last year. In 1979 she was the first women’s champion in the Bermuda 10K, and ran the marathon the following day
  • How it began: the seven runners who started the 1975 Bermuda Marathon. Eventual winner Andrew Boychuk, of Canada, is furthest from the camera. Nearest the camera is Bermuda’s Ray Swan, who came third
  • Record-breaker: Elena Makolova, of Belarus, in 2002 on her way to setting the women’s event record in the Bermuda Marathon. She ran 2:40:32

American marathoner Bryan Morseman will be out to defend his marathon title on Sunday.

A prolific competitor at the 26.2-mile event, Morseman, 32, won the 2017 race in 2hr 29min 11sec, with more than 17 minutes to spare over his nearest rival. He has a marathon best of 2:19:57.

Sunday’s marathon race is the oldest component of the Bermuda Marathon Weekend. It was first held in January 1975 when a field of only seven runners lined up at the National Stadium (now the National Sports Centre).

There were two Americans, two Canadians and three Bermuda residents. The race was delayed for a few seconds after the starter’s gun failed to go off.

The original course was very different than todays. The runners headed east along Middle Road and then onto North Shore Road at Flatts. On the way back they ran clockwise around Harrington Sound before turning onto South Shore at Devil’s Hole and eventually returning to the stadium.

Andrew Boychuk, of Canada, who finished 10th in the marathon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, led from the start and won in 2hr 25min 14sec, almost ten minutes clear of fellow Canadian Doug Sourar.

As he ran along South Shore, Boychuk, who was the 1967 Pan-American Marathon champion, was seen to admire the sights. Afterwards he said: “I was enjoying myself and I was looking at the scenery all the way around. You have a beautiful island here.”

The third finisher was Bermudian running legend Ray Swan in 2:43:14. Only five of the seven runners completed the course.

There was no event the following year, however, the marathon has taken place every year since 1977.

The event record was set by the late Andy Holden, of Great Britain, in 1980. A three-time winner, Holden ran 2:15:20. At the time he was in the middle of a 200-day training spell that consisted of running 15 miles each and every day — including the day before the race.

Holden competed in the Commonwealth Games, European Championships, and in the 3,000m steeplechase in the Munich Olympics of 1972.

Legend has it that Holden drank many pints of beer at the Henry VIII restaurant in Southampton the evening before his record breaking run in 1980. When asked to verify that story in 2010, Holden said he had drunk “quite a few” and noted that a buddy who was with him drank so much that he ended up ordering two suppers because he couldn’t remember eating the first one.

Holden’s event record is now 38 years old. The closest any runner has come to matching it was in 1990 when Russia’s Vladimir Katov ran 2:17:00.

Women have competed in the Bermuda marathon since 1978. The first winner was Bermuda’s Debbie Butterfield in 3:00:16.

Joan Benoit, who would become the first women’s Olympic Marathon champion in 1984, ran the marathon for the first time in Bermuda when she tagged along with the 1979 race. The day before she had become the first woman’s champion in the Bermuda 10K, and she decided to run some of the marathon race as “a recovery run”.

However, that’s not how things turned out. When she reached the halfway point she was told by a race marshall that the pick-up vehicle for runners who wanted a ride back to the stadium would not be arriving until all the runners had gone through. Benoit decided it would be quicker to keep on running and completed the full course in 2:50:54. Her American compatriot, Julie Shea, won the women’s title in 2:46:42.

Benoit Samuelson, as she is now, returned to Bermuda in 2014 and again last year to compete in the Bermuda Triangle Half Challenge, running the mile, 10K and half-marathon on consecutive days. She finished overall runner-up in the women’s field on both occasions.

The Bermuda Marathon women’s event record is 2:40:32, set in 2002 by Elena Makolova, of Belarus.