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Spotting The Quirky Characters Along The Marathon Route

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Heartbreak Bill poses with a fan at Heartbreak Hill.
Courtesy of Heartbreak Bill

Whether you’re competing in the Boston Marathon or rooting for runners from the sidelines, see how many of these iconic marathon characters you can spot. 

The Wellesley Scream Tunnel

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Wellesley students decorate signs.
Scream Tunnel Signs Facebook Page via the Courtesy of Munger Hall House Council

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Students offer kisses to runners passing through.
Scream Tunnel Signs Facebook Page via the Courtesy of Munger Hall House Council

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Signs cover the barricades lining the Wellesley Scream Tunnel.
: Scream Tunnel Signs Facebook Page via the Courtesy of Munger Hall House Council

Where to find them: Around Mile 13 of the route, near Wellesley College

Runners must brace themselves as they enter the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, its walls made of the cacophony of cheering Wellesley College students and spectator barricades draped in hundreds of colorful signs made by the students. The signs are made upon request; Wellesley’s Munger Hall House Council takes sign submissions from runners’ families and friends for one month prior to the marathon, and then invite the student body to help them create the signs. This year, they received 570 sign requests. What was Munger House President Rebecca Weitzel’s response when asked if they would be able to make all 570 signs in time for the marathon? “Absolutely.”

Heartbreak Bill

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Heartbreak Bill poses with a fan at Heartbreak Hill.
Courtesy of Heartbreak Bill

Where to find him: start of Heartbreak Hill, Mile 20

Heartbreak Bill is a gorilla that cheers on runners at the start of Heartbreak Hill. High-fives from runners fuel his enthusiasm for the race and its competitors. The Heartbreak Hill Running Company hired him in 2012 when they opened their store in Newton. At the time, Bill had just been let out of the zoo and was in need of a job. Justin Burdon of the Running Company explained that they were a little hesitant to hire him because his communication skills left something to be desired. But Bill was so passionate about running and people at the office loved him so much, they decided to give him a shot. Ever since then, Heartbreak Bill has been a cherished team member of the Running Company and a beacon for runners who know that they’re starting the homestretch to the finish line when they see their furry friend. Burdon spoke on Bill’s behalf, saying that Bill wishes the best of luck to all the runners this weekend.

John Casey the Orange Guy

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John Casey hands out oranges along the route.
Courtesy of John Deputy

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A spectator gladly accepts John Casey's refreshments.
Courtesy of John Deputy

Where to find him: Around Mile 18, across the street from Brae Burn Country Club in Newton during the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk on Sept. 24

John Casey, a.k.a. the Orange Guy, has been a fixture of the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk for twenty-one years. He sets up camp about two miles before the start of Heartbreak Hill and hands out orange slices to anyone in need of a pick-me-up during the walk. Throughout the day of the walk, Casey goes through 350-400 oranges. His favorite part of the walk? “Seeing all the returning walkers. Some of them have been walking since before I started slicing,” Casey said. In 2015, he was awarded Volunteer of the Year by the Jimmy Fund, and has received numerous offers to run for public office and plenty of marriage proposals.

The Boston Midnight Marathon Bike Ride

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Boston Midnight Marathon bikers get ready to roll.
Courtesy of Amy Leung

Where to find them: the whole route, the midnight before the Marathon on April 16

If Paul Revere can do it on horseback, these people can do it on a bike. Started by Boston University student Greg Hum in 2009, this will be the ninth year that over a thousand cyclists will gather at or near the starting line to hit the route at midnight. Unlike the actual Boston Marathon, this one isn’t a race, but rather a group bike ride. The ride is also "unsupported and show-and-go," meaning there is no official ride registration, ride leaders, road support, nor any official start or finish time, according to the Ride’s website. In fact, it’s not even technically a marathon; the two routes cyclists can choose from are 30.6 and 27.3 miles in length, each meeting up with the official Boston Marathon route within the first few miles.

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Old John A. Kelley and young John A. Kelley.
Lorianne DiSabato via Flickr Creative Commons

Where to find him: Around Mile 19, just before Heartbreak Hill

John A. Kelley is a legendary Boston Marathon competitor. He ran the Marathon 61 times and completed it 58 times, came in first place twice and took second place seven times, and he placed in the top 10 finishers 18 times. Kelley passed away in 2004 at the age of 96, but he remains forever young and old with a statue that depicts an elderly Kelley running alongside a younger version of himself, one grasping the hand of the other and raising it in triumph. On the day of the marathon, the statue can often be seen adorned in hats, bibs, medals and other quirky attire.

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Police Commissioner Bill Evans completes 26.2.
Courtesy of Aram Boghosian

Where to find him: Along the route

Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans has finished 51 marathons, 18 of which being the Boston Marathon. Last month, Evans spoke with BPR about the role running plays in his life, saying, “It’s an important part of my life. It releases some of the stress of my job.”

He gets up at quarter to five every morning to take a six-mile run. The fastest marathon he ever ran was his second one. “My first marathon I ran a 2:53. The next year I came back and ran a 2:51. But I could never break that 2:50,” said Evans. Nowadays, he says he’s slowing down, completing the race in times closer to the 3:40 mark. But regardless of his speed on Monday, this year’s race will be a special one for Evans because he’ll get to run alongside his 23-year-old son John, who will be running his first marathon. He hopes that someday his other two kids will take up running, as well.

“Hopefully, if they have anything good from me, it’s my running!” Evans said.

Be sure to take a look at Craving Boston’s list of the best places to eat along the Boston Marathon route.

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