Ronald MacDonald (athlete)

Ronald MacDonald (Ronald John MacDonald; September 19, 1874[1] - September 3, 1947[2]) was a Canadian runner and winner of the second Boston Marathon in 1898.[note 1]

Ronald J. MacDonald
MacDonald-Evan Nappen,Esq. Collection.jpg
BornSeptember 19, 1874
Fraser's Grant, Antigonish County, Nova Scotia
OccupationAthlete, Runner, Physician

Early lifeEdit

MacDonald was born in Fraser's Grant, Antigonish County, Nova Scotia. His father died at sea when MacDonald was twelve years old, after which his mother relocated the family to Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, where relatives were living. MacDonald worked as a telephone lineman, and later in the family lunch store on Cambridge Street. In 1897, he enrolled at Boston College as a special student.[2]

First marathonEdit

On April 19, 1898, Ronald MacDonald joined 25 other runners in Ashland at the start line of the Boston Marathon. He was 5’6" and weighed 142 lb (64 kg), and had curly light hair. It was his first marathon and he raced in bicycle shoes. MacDonald ran the race conservatively waiting for the leaders to fall off the pace. Till the half-way mark, he raced 2-3 miles (4.8 km) behind the leaders, then he started pushing the pace. He chased Hamilton Gray, the New York cross-country champion, through the downhills in the later part of the race and passed him in the last couple of miles. MacDonald ran the whole way without taking any fluids. He ended up finishing in 2:42, the fastest of 15 finishers, three minutes faster than Gray, 13 minutes faster than the previous year’s time, and a time considered a world best at the time for a distance of about 25 miles (40 km). MacDonald and Gray shook hands after the race.

Olympic representationEdit

Ronald MacDonald represented Canada at the 1900 Olympic Summer Games held in Paris, France. MacDonald ran the marathon, but finished the last of 7 finishers. He complained that the top 3 runners, who were French, had cut the course, and that only he and an American actually completed the whole course.

In 1901, MacDonald returned to the Boston Marathon with confidence stating that he would win and break the record of Jack Caffery, another Canadian, who had run 2:39:44 the previous year. MacDonald joined 37 other runners that day and ran as part of the top 4 for most of the race. Unfortunately, MacDonald was seized with cramps and had to retire from the race, reported to be due to a sponge soaked with chloroform he unknowingly accepted from a spectator.[3]

MacDonald returned to the Boston Marathon in 1902. He and Sammy Mellor were favoured; MacDonald had finished 10 seconds faster than Mellor in the previous year’s Thanksgiving Day 19-mile (31 km) Around-the-Bay Race in Hamilton, Ontario.[4] MacDonald and Mellor ran side by side in Boston until the 12th mile. Unfortunately, after the half-way mark, in the Newton Hills, MacDonald had difficulties, walked for a while and retired from the race, which was won by Mellor in a time of 2:43:12.

In 1905, MacDonald was a handler for Boston Marathon runner Robert Fowler who ended up finishing in 3rd. Fowler blamed his handlers (presumably including MacDonald) for advising him to stay with Olympic gold medalist Tom Hicks who ended up having a bad day.[5]

Enrollment in universityEdit

MacDonald returned to Nova Scotia in 1901 where he enrolled at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish as a pre-med student. He continued winning many races and setting Canadian and World Records. In 1902, he organized the first indoor meet ever held in Eastern Canada. MacDonald also raced in the meet, winning the 3-mile (4.8 km) race in a time of 15:38, a new Canadian indoor record, and defeating John Lorden, a teammate from the Cambridgeport Gymnasium Association who would win the Boston Marathon a year later. In 1903, he beat the winner of the 1899 Boston Marathon, Lawrence Brignolia, in a 5-mile (8.0 km) race. Later that year, he entered medical school at Tufts Medical College, graduating in 1907. After a year of postgraduate work at Harvard University, he accepted a position as a general practice physician in the Port au Port Peninsula of Newfoundland and he would become a successful doctor practicing there and in Nova Scotia.

On August 18, 1909, Ronald MacDonald raced and won his last marathon in St. John’s, Newfoundland against his former teammate John Lorden on a six-lap-to-the-mile track at St. Bonaventure's College before 3,000 spectators. MacDonald was four laps behind at the twenty mile mark when Lorden "hit the wall." At the end, MacDonald finished 40 yards and ten seconds ahead of Lorden, in a time of 3:07:50 over 25 miles (40 km).[6]

MacDonald lived and practiced on the Port au Port Peninsula for thirty years. When the limestone quarry at Aguathuna opened up, he accepted a position as doctor for the workers at the facility. In 1913 he married Ada Pieroway of St. Georges, Newfoundland, and they had five children. In 1938 he returned to Antigonish with his family to retire; he had gained a lot of weight due to diabetes, and his health had deteriorated. In 1942 he suffered a severe stroke; five years later he died at Antigonish. He is buried at Heatherton, Nova Scotia, a short distance from his birthplace.[2]

MacDonald was part of the original inductees in the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame for Track and Field in 1979.


  • Winner of 135 prizes for running
  • Winner of 1st Newton 1-mile (1.6 km) handicap run - 1896
  • Winner of 7-Mile U.S. Cross-country Championship – 1897
  • Second in the N. E. A. A. A. U. championship 3-mile (4.8 km) run – 1897
  • Winner – Newton 1-mile (1.6 km) handicap race - 1898
  • Winner – 3-mile (4.8 km) New England Championship - 1898
  • World Record in 11-Mile Cross-country – 1898
  • Winner B.A.A. 10-mile (16 km) Cross-country – 1898
  • Winner 2nd Boston Marathon – 2:42 – 1898
  • Canadian Record – 3-mile (4.8 km)
  • Canadian Record – 5-mile (8.0 km)
  • World Record – indoor 1-mile (1.6 km)
  • Winner St. John’s Marathon - 1909

See alsoEdit


1.^ The date of birth is obtained from the record of birth registrations compiled by the Government of Nova Scotia. Elsewhere -- specifically on his 1898 petition for US naturalization and also on his headstone -- the birth date is given as September 27, 1874. On his death certificate it is stated as September 27, 1875.


  1. ^ "Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics". Registration Year 1874, Book 1802, Page 171, Registration Number 309. Retrieved 11 Nov 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Ludlow, Peter (2007). "Racing for Home: Culture, Ethnicity, and Sport in the Athletic Life of Marathoner Ronald John MacDonald" (PDF). Sport History Review. Human Kinetics. 38 (2): 147–161. doi:10.1123/shr.38.2.148. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  3. ^ "John Caffrey Again Wins the Marathon Race, Cuts 10 Minutes From the Record He Made Last Year: Davis, the Indian, Second; Mellor of Yonkers Third -- Man From Sparta Makes Poor Showing -- Ronald McDonald Collapses After Plucky Race -- Ugly Rumors As To Cause". The Boston Globe. Boston. April 20, 1901. Retrieved February 6, 2011.
  4. ^ "Twenty-Mile Road Race". Damocrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. November 30, 1901. p. 19. Retrieved May 22, 2016.
  5. ^ Derderian, Tom (1994). Boston Marathon: The History of the World's Premier Running Event. Champaign IL USA: Human Kinetics. pp. 35. ISBN 0-87322-491-4.
  6. ^ "Marathon Race! McDonald Defeats Lorden. A Close Contest After the 20th Mile -- Thousands Witness the Event". St. John's Evening Telegram. August 19, 1909. p. 7. Retrieved May 21, 2016.

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