Ever wondered why am arathon is 26.2 miles? Here’s a bit of history behind the race. The story of the marathon stretches back to the dawn of recorded history. To discover the origin of the race, we have to go back to ancient Greece, where, around 400 BC, a massive Persian army moved to conquer the Greek city-states. Athens prepared to defend itself, and sent a runner named Phidipedes to ask Sparta and the other city-states for assistance. No help was offered. Finally, a band of some 300 Athenians marched out alone to the plains of Marathon to meet the Persians and certain death. But miraculously, the Athenians triumphed.
Afterwards, Phidipedes raced home 25 miles to give the good news to the worried Athenians. Upon arriving, legend has it, Phidipedes shouted out “We are victorious!” and then fell down dead.
Is this all really true? Well, the battle certainly happened. And runners were certainly used as messengers. But was there a Phidipedes who ran and died? We may never know.
Flash forward: the modern Olympic games were created in 1896. Among the events was a race called a marathon, which was to be 25 miles long, in commemoration of Phidipedes’s run from the plains of Marathon to Athens. Witnessing the first Olympic games was a young Bostonian. He was so impressed with the marathon that upon returning home, he convinced his athletic club to host a marathon race as well. Thus was born the Boston Marathon, the oldest annual marathon in the world. (You might notice that the Olympic marathon pre-datesBoston, but that race is of course held only every fourth year.)
By 1908 the Olympics were firmly established, and were being held inLondon. The royal family, apparently impressed by the fortitude of the distance runners, wanted to watch the marathoners cross the finish line from the royal box. This added another mile and 385 yards to the 25 mile race distance, which is how we ended up with the strange distance of 26.2 miles for the marathon. So when you’re at mile 25 and are wishing the race was over, you can blame those crazy royal Brits!