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History of Marathon

Updated on January 16, 2014

About the History of Marathon

The current Olympic Marathon has its roots set firmly in myth. From the earliest days of Greece to the Current history of the Boston Marathon, the history of this event is exciting both in fact and fantasy.

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A marathon is an endurance foot race which covers 26 miles, 385 yards (42.2 kilometers). It is named after the Greek Battle of Marathon, which occurred in 490 BCE. In addition to being an Olympic event for both men and women, marathons are run all over the world on a variety of terrain types by athletes at various skill levels.

The traditional story relates that Pheidippides (530 BC-490 BC), an Athenian herald, was sent to Sparta to request help when the Persians landed at Marathon, Greece. He ran 240 km (150 miles) in two days. He then ran the 40 km (26 miles) from the battlefield by the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) with the word (Nenikékamen, 'We have won' or 'We are victorious') and died on the spot. Most accounts incorrectly attribute this story to the historian Herodotus, who wrote the history of the Persian Wars in his Histories (composed about 440 BC).

So, when Persia was dust, all cried, "To Acropolis!

Run, Pheidippides, one race more! the meed is thy due!

Athens is saved, thank Pan, go shout!" He flung down his shield

Ran like fire once more: and the space 'twixt the fennel-field

And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through,

Till in he broke: "Rejoice, we conquer!" Like wine through clay,

Joy in his blood bursting his heart, - the bliss!

Modern History of Marathon

As plans took shape for the first modern Olympics at Athens in 1896, French historian and linguist Michele Breal proposed re-enacting Phidippides' legendary run. He even offered to put up a silver trophy for the winner.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, embraced the idea enthusiastically, as did the Athenian organizers. So a 40-kilometer (24.8-mile) race called the marathon was the final, climactic event at the 1896 Olympics.

The current official marathon distance of 26 miles, 385 yards was established purely by accident at the 1908 Olympics in London. The course was originally laid out to be 26 miles long from Windsor Castle to the finish line in the stadium. However, it was then decided to add 385 yards so that the race would finish at the royal box. In 1924, Olympic officials formally adopted the distance as official.

The Marathon Today

The annual Boston event and the quadrennial Olympic run were the only regularly-scheduled marathons for more than a quarter of a century, although other marathons were run from time to time.

The jogging and running boom of the 1960s led to a marathon boom in the 1970s, when many recreational runners became interested in running the distance. The New York Marathon, established in 1970, quickly became a major rival of the Boston Marathon. Other annual marathons sprang up throughout the world.

In 2006, five major marathons-Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, and New York-established the World Marathon Majors competition, offering $500,000 bonuses to the male and female runners who accumulate the most points running in those races during 2006 and 2007. Runners get 25 points for winning a race, 15 for second place, 10 for third, 5 for fourth and 1 point for fifth.

So You Want To Run A Marathon

Running a Marathon is far more than just putting on a pair of shorts and running shoes and running. It is even more than signing up and paying your fee to enter the local marathon.

I admit that there are hundreds of people every week that do the above and enter marathons, just to say they have. There are shorter versions like the 5K races, 10K races and half marathons.

When I speak of running a Marathon, I am speaking of doing it to truly succeed. To train for the distance you want to enter and then being able to give it your all.

If you are interested in running a marathon or any of the smaller events I suggest you start by reading my squidoo Lens: A Guide to Running a Marathon


The First Boston Marathon

After experiencing the spirit and majesty of the Olympic Marathon, B.A.A. member and inaugural US Olympic Team Manager John Graham was inspired to organize and conduct a marathon in the Boston area. With the assistance of Boston businessman Herbert H. Holton, various routes were considered, before a measured distance of 24.5 miles from the Irvington Oval in Boston to Metcalf's Mill in Ashland was eventually selected. On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York, emerged from a 15-member starting field and captured the first B.A.A. Marathon in 2:55:10, and, in the process, forever secured his name in sports history.

In 1924, the B.A.A. moved the starting line from Ashland to Hopkinton. In 1927, the Boston Marathon course was lengthened to the full distance of 26 miles, 385 yards to conform to Olympic standards.

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The New York City Marathon

The first New York City Marathon was held in 1970, organized by New York Road Runners Club president Vince Chiappetta and Fred Lebow, with 127 competitors running several loops around the Park Drive of Central Park.

Only about one-hundred spectators watched Gary Muhrcke win the race in 2:31:38. In fact, a total of only 55 runners crossed the finish line.

Over the years, the marathon grew larger and larger. In order to accommodate the growing number of participants, co-founder Fred Lebow redrew the course in 1976 to incorporate all five boroughs of New York City.

The marathon grew in popularity two years later when Norwegian Grete Waitz broke the women's world record, finishing in 2:32:30. She would go on to win the race an unprecedented nine times.

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Bay to Breakers 12K run

San Francisco California

At 5:13am on April 18, 1906, a devastating earthquake - that would become one of history's most notorious natural disasters - rocked San Francisco. The subsequent fire and destruction were unimaginable, and many feared the City would be gone forever. But San Franciscans, displaying their typical fortitude and innovation, immediately began rebuilding the city and producing events to lift their morale.

One of those events, the Cross City Race - known better today as ING Bay to Breakers - was first run in 1912 as a precursor to the world-class athletic events planned for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.

There were less than 200 participants that first year and Robert Jackson Vlught was the first person to ever cross the finish line, with a finishing time of 44:10.

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Portland Marathon

Portland Oregon

For many years the Portland Marathon has been rated as one of the premier marathon events in the United States. It has been ranked as one of the top 10 local road race events in the U.S, and one of the top 40 races of all types and distances.

Runner's World has called the Portland Marathon "the best people's marathon in the West" and for the past ten years has ranked it as one of the top 10 or 15 marathons in the country. Runner's World also states that "perhaps more than any other running event in the country, this race keeps evolving, keeps getting better". Runner's World has chosen the Portland Marathon as the "Race of the Month" and said the event is one of the "friendliest, best organized, most family-oriented races in the country."

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