What is a Marathon Run and Its Origin. Marathons Are 26.2 Mile (42.2 Km) Long Distance Running Races. Marathon races are always 26.2 miles long and originated when Pheiddipides ran from the Plains of Marathon to Athens to proclaim the Greek victory in battle. A runner, flush with pride over having finished a marathon, can become disheartened when well meaning friends ask, “How long was your marathon?”
What is a Marathon Run
The term marathon is occasionally used to describe any long event that requires a certain amount of endurance. In running, however, the marathon is a very specific distance event.
For runners, a marathon run is a race that is 26.2 miles (equal to 26 miles 385 yards, or 42.2 kilometers) long. Any other race distance may be a long run, but it is not a marathon.
Some races of other distances are occasionally called marathons, but only the 26.2 mile distance is properly a marathon. For example the famous Comrades Marathon in South Africa is actually an ultramarathon rather than a marathon because it is about 55 miles. An ultramarathon is any race longer than the standard 26.2 mile marathon distance.
Origin of the Marathon Run
The details are lost in the mists of time, but according to historical legend a Greek runner named Pheidippides ran the first marathon in 490 BC. According to Olympic Marathon by Charlie Lovett, the historic legend, like most legends, is probably a mixture of truth and exaggeration. The legend however is an interesting story.
The Persian army landed at the Plains of Marathon intending to conquer the Greeks. Lacking modern cell phone service, people of the time sent important messages with runners. Pheidippides was sent from Athens to Sparta to ask for reinforcements, and ran the 150 mile distance in less than two days. The modern 150 mile Spartathalon race commemorates Pheidippides’ run to Sparta.
After a hard battle, the Athenian army, without waiting for reinforcements, defeated the Persian army. Then according to the legend Pheidippides ran about 20 to 25 miles from the Plains of Marathon to Athens. If it was indeed the same runner, he obviously must have also run back from Sparta making his total running distance well over 300 miles. Upon reaching Athens, Pheidippides announced the victory and collapsed dead.
The Olympics and the Modern Marathon
A marathon race was included in the 1896 revival of the Olympic games. The Olympics have included marathons ever since and the popularity of the marathon race has continued to grow.
A group of Bostonians returned from the 1896 Olympics and started a marathon in their home town. Hence the Boston Marathon is the most established annual modern marathon.
Originally the Olympic marathon distance was not standardized. However in the 1908 London Olympics the distance was adjusted so that the marathon course started at Windsor Castle and ended right at the Queen’s royal spectator box, so she could watch the finish. The distance required was 26 miles and 385 yards. This 26.2 mile marathon distance has become the standard marathon distance.
Many runners want to run a marathon because the marathon distance has a mystique possessed by no other race distance. Part of this mystique stems from the challenge of the 26.2 mile distance, but the Pheidippides legend certainly adds to the marathon mystique.