The Marathon Origin Story
While inspired by centuries of Greek tradition, the history of the marathon race is actually more of a modern invention. Roman Emperor Theodosius I had banned the Olympic Games in 393 AD in a bid to promote Christianity, claiming the sports were a form of paganism. And only in 1896, 1,500 years later were they reintroduced according to the history of the marathon. As the final event in the Olympic Games, marathon running became a display of pure grit and determination to push the body to extreme distances.
Re-introduced by King Georgios I of Greece who welcomed a crowd of 60,000 spectators and 280 athletes from 13 different nations, the Olympic Games as we now know them was born. And rightly so, since Greeks are well known throughout history for being competitive and excellent athletes. But the marathon origin story dates as far back as 776BC when the first form of the Olympic Games was held in Olympia. Even the word ‘marathon’ stems from the Greek word for fennel, which was abundant in Ancient Greece.
The Influence Of Pheidippides
Whilst the marathon certainly has ancient roots, the length of a modern marathon (the 26.2-mile race) wasn’t established until as recently as the 20th century. In 1898, the race featured the legendary run of greek soldier Pheidippides 25-mile route that was previously run by the Greek soldier in 490 B.C. Running from the battle of Marathon to a citadel in Athens to declare Greek Victory over the invading Persian army, Pheidippides sadly died from complete exhaustion (so the legend goes). The route took the soldier two days to complete and put his body under such extreme pressure that it just shut down. Pheidippides had worked for the Athenian military as a day runner, or a hemerodrome, as they were known in Ancient Greek. Yet despite running on a regular basis in order to deliver important messages, the 25-mile sprint was just too much for him to handle. Although this didn’t put off French linguist Michel Bréal from recommending Pheidippides 25 mile sprint as the distance required for the Olympic Games long-distance running competition.
And according to the marathon origin story, on the afternoon of April 10, 1896, 17 runners gathered near the ancient battlefield in the area of the Marathon to race the 24.8 miles to the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
Why Is A Marathon 26.2 Miles?
Over the years, the history of the marathon, particularly race length has changed. For a while, the marathon remained close to 25 mile distance, but at the 1908 Games in London, the course was slightly extended, allegedly to accommodate the British Royal Family ’s request. The Royals wanted the starting line at Windsor Castle and finish line at the Olympic Stadium royal box, which spanned a total distance of 26.2 miles. This unintentional boost in race length stuck around, with 26.2 miles becoming the standardized the marathon-length in the early 1920s.
So, there you have it; the marathon origin story from Ancient Greece to Windsor Castle. So if you’re thinking of taking part in a marathon this year, make sure not to end up like poor Pheidippides and practice for several months before pushing your body to the ultimate test of endurance.
Some other Fun facts about the Marathon Distance