Marathon History

Marathon history is full of rich meaning, defeating the odds, regular people doing amazing things. The marathon has become one of the most fascinating and widely participated sporting events in recent years. However the history of the marathon goes a long way back, over 2,000 years! It has taken so many men and women, so many miles run to shape the marathon into what it is today.

A Greek man name Phidippedes started it all when he ran about 25 miles from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. to announce that the Greeks had unexpectedly won the battle against the Persians. Upon his announcement, Phidippedes fell to the ground and died from exhaustion.

It wasn’t until the 1896 Olympics held in Greece that the “marathon” was introduced as an official Olympic sport. The distance of this first official marathon was 24 miles and was won by a native Greek named Spyridon Lewis, in 2 hours 58 minutes. It is speculated though that if this first marathon had not been won by a Greek it would have died out and not gone on to become the event it has become.

Why 26.2 Miles?

The marathon had varying lengths over the next few years but usually were at or under 25 miles. At the 1908 Olympic marathon the marathon was extended to 26 miles 385 yards so that the race could begin at the front of Windsor castle allowing the British royals to see the start of the race.

So with this adjustment, the history of the marathon changed and the standard distance became 26 miles 385 yards (26.2 miles).

The marathon has always been an achievement to accomplish, requiring physical and mental toughness. More and more people every year though step up to the challenge and train for one of the 800 marathons offered worldwide. Last year (2011) about half a million people crossed the finish line of a marathon compared to only 25,000 in 1976.

Marathon History Mile Markers 

Here are some interesting facts about marathon history:

The current men’s marathon world record is 2:03:38 held by Patrick Makau from Kenya in the 2011 Berlin Marathon.

The current women's marathon world record is 2:15:25 held by Paula Radcliffe in the 2003 London Marathon.

The first women’s Olympics Marathon was held in 1984 in Los Angeles. In a stunning victory, Joan Benoit Samuelson won gold in 2:24:52.

The first Boston Marathon (considered to be one of the oldest and most prestigious marathon races in the world) was held on April 19, 1897, a year after the first marathon at the Olympics. John McDermott won the then 24.5 mile race in 2:55:10.

Women were banned from the marathon until Kathy Switzer secretly signed up for the 1967 Boston Marathon and fought her way (almost literally!) to the finish.

Abebe Bikila ran the 1960 men’s Olympic Marathon in Rome barefoot and set a world record of 2:15:16.

The marathon can tap into unknown human strengths. Let marathon history inspire you and become a part of it!


Return from Marathon History to Homepage

Paula Radcliffe: Woman's Fastest Marathoner

Joan Benoit Samuelson: An Inspiration For Us All

How long is a Marathon? & Why that long?

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