History of the Marathon

What is the origin of the marathon? Many cultures have histories of incredible running feats but the story of the marathon is a unique series of events that has been clouded by folklore.


The story begins with Pheidippides, an Athenian who in 490 BC reportedly ran 40km (24 miles) from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens. He announced the victory, collapsed and died. A closer look at the history produces a slightly different story. Pheidippides was more likely named Philippides or Phidippus. He ran not only to Athens but continued to Sparta to solicit military aid and then returned to Athens, a journey of nearly 300 miles and probably survived. The confusion arises from the mixing of the marathon story with that of a runner named Eucles who 50 years later also ran to Athens to announce victory and died.


So where did our standard 26.2 miles come from? The marathon was reinstated to the Olympic Games in 1896 with varying distances between 40k and 42.5k. In 1908 the Olympic marathon was hosted in London. The event started at the Windsor Castle to accommodate viewing for the royal family and finished at the recently completed White City Stadium. The distance from Windsor to White Stadium was 42,195 m or 26.219 miles. Sixteen years later this became the official Olympic Marathon distance.

Now you know the rest of the story.


Thompson P. Historical Concepts of the Athlete’s Heart. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise36:363-370,2004


Bryan Whitesides MPT, OCS

Physical Therapist


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