The Story of Clarence DeMar

About the Race

The Clarence DeMar Marathon was established in 1978 to honor former Keene resident Clarence DeMar. The marathon has operated consecutively for 38 years. We currently offer two competitive races, a Full Marathon and Half Marathon, and two community wellness programs: the DeMar Kids Marathon and DeMar Super Senior Marathon.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Clarence DeMar comes in eighteenth in 1932 marathon.
Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Clarence DeMar was born into an impoverished childhood. He overcame health troubles, hardship, and World War I to become a seven-time B.A.A. Boston Marathon champion, an Olympic medalist, and an international running icon. No one has ever broken his record number of Boston wins.

We are inspired by Clarence DeMar’s pure love of the sport, his stature in the distance running community, and his particularly New England character—stern, principled, humble, and wry. At the DeMar Marathon, we follow his example. Anyone who wants to run can run. We’ll make sure you have an world-class experience. All you have to do is start. Here’s how Clarence DeMar did.

The Legend of Clarence DeMar

Clarence DeMar ran every day of his life. He ran to work. He ran on weekends. He ran 110 miles to get to a 10-mile race. He ran to get milk and bread.

But he didn’t start out a runner—far from it. He ran because he discovered the truth: Running brought him joy.

Born in 1888, DeMar grew up poor in a little town north of Cincinnati, OH. He was 10 when his father died. His mother moved the family of six kids to Massachusetts, and sent DeMar to a school for orphans in Boston Harbor.

He hated the school, later calling it “a hard and somewhat squelched life.” Yet he was was bright and independent, and eventually earned a spot at the University of Vermont. He had no aptitude for football, baseball, or boxing, so he started cross-country running.

DeMarvelous Mr. DeMarathon

In 1910, DeMar decided to run the Boston Marathon. He came in second. A few months later, his doctor detected a murmur in DeMar’s heart.

“You have bad heart,” the doctor said. “You shouldn’t even walk up stairs.”

In 1911, DeMar found a place on the Boston Marathon starting line again. The race doctors listened to his heart. “You have a murmur,” they told him. “We must recommend that you drop out if you feel fatigued. And you really must stop running any more races.”*

Two hours, 21 minutes, 39 seconds later, Clarence DeMar won. “I’ve often wondered if that doctor wasn’t listening to his own heart by mistake,” he said.

After several years away from marathoning, DeMar ran the 1917 Boston Marathon (he came in third). When he returned from serving in the Army during World War I, he kept racing.

He won the Boston Marathon in 1922. And in 1923. And in 1924. And from 1926 through 1928. The press called him DeMarvelous and Mr. DeMarathon. In addition to his Boston streak, he won a bronze medal in marathoning at the French 1924 Summer Olympics. No other American won an Olympic marathon medal until 1976.

“His legs may not be as shapely as Claudette Colbert’s,’’ wrote the Boston Globe, “but they are equally famous.’’

Spectators cheered for him wildly along his many routes. He was like Charles Lindbergh without the wings. But the truth was, DeMar hated the noise and attention. Once in Boston, he punched a drunken spectator who jumped out to shake his hand. At another race, a driver grazed the heels of a fellow runner. DeMar memorized the driver’s license plate number and reported her to the police.

Clarence DeMar and family in Keene, NH Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Clarence DeMar and family in Keene, NH
Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Never Give Up

DeMar won his last Boston in 1930 at the age of 41. His record of seven wins has never been broken, and he remains the oldest winner of the event ever.

He lived in Keene by then, and taught in the Industrial Engineering department at the Keene Normal School, now called Keene State College. He trained the school’s cross-country team on a cinder track not far from today’s DeMar Marathon finish line.

Over the next 28 years, DeMar ran and ran and ran. As the Globe wrote in 2011, “at 49, he finished seventh at Boston. At 54, he still was in the top 20; at 61, in the top 45. In his final appearance in 1954, the 65-year-old DeMar still broke four hours.”

He was a legend. His running buddies called him Old Man DeMar. He was 69 when he ran his last race, a 15k in 1958. He came in 14th.

Clarence DeMar died of stomach cancer not long after. A day or so before his death, he left his sickbed and headed for the door.

His widow recalled the story many years later. “Clarence crawled into the backyard and planted a garden. He simply refused to give up.”

***

In DeMar’s honor, we create for you this marathon filled with beauty, challenge, and joy. We’ll never give up.

Sources

A key mile marker in DeMar story came 100 years ago,” The Boston Globe, April 2011
Flashback Photo: Clarence DeMar Wins the Boston Marathon, Changes Medicine,” New England Historical Society,

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