Marathon racing has a deep history with its origin reaching back all the way to 490BC. It’s a right of passage for many runners and is universally known as 26.2 miles or 42.2 km race.
The name marathon comes from the legend of Philippides or Pheidippides.
Philippides was a Greek messenger from 490BC. Pheidippides was employed as a day runner, referred to as hemerodrome, by the Athenian military. These ancient couriers were responsible for running for days at a time to deliverer important messages.
Their job was to ensure messages arrived in a timely manner. They trained extensively, and were capable of running great distances.
In this instance, Pheidippides’ job was to run to Athens, from the battlefield in the city of Marathon, to deliver a message informing the Greek council that the Persian army had been defeated.
It is said that Philippides ran the whole length from the battlefield in Marathon to Athens and burst into the hall to tell the Council they had won the battle. He ran the whole distance non-stop and died from exhaustion after declaring victory.
The reason the marathon became the gruelling 26 miles distance is because Philippides took the slightly longer route from Marathon.
The legend is that he had first run to Sparta and back which was 140 miles to ask the Spartans for help in the battle against the Persians. However, they refused based on an ancient law.
Philippides then ran another 140 miles back to Athens to inform them of this news. After arriving, he and the small Athenian army marched to Marathon to battle.
After fighting in heavy armour all morning in Marathon he was then requested to run to Athens to inform them of their victory. Where he shortly died after from the exhaustion.
Centuries later the “marathon” race was held in the Olympic games. The distance was 40,000 meters, or 24.85 miles. Later in the 1908 London Olympics it was made a little longer to accommodate a lap of the Olympic stadium at the end of the 25 miles. This then became the 26.2 race we know today.
In 1921 it was cemented as 26.2 miles as the standard marathon distance by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).