History of the Marathon and Why It’s 26.2 Miles

In 1896, the first modern Olympic was held in Athens and this is where the first organized marathon took place. Even the Olympics occurred in ancient history between the years 776 B.C. to A.D. 393, long races such as the marathon was not documented to be included in the games. So where did the marathon come from and why was it part of the first Olympics?

The marathon race is actually based on a Greek myth. The legend states that a messenger named Phedidippides ran from the ancient Greek town of Marathon all the way to Athens to deliver the news of the Greek victory over the Persian Army in 490 B.C. The distance is approximately 40 kilometers. The legend also states the messenger delivered his message and collapsed and subsequently died. The first marathon race in 1896 was in honor of this messenger. Out of the 25 participants, only 9 of them crossed the finish line.

For those who are not great at conversion, 40 kilometers is roughly 25 miles. So how did the marathon become 26.2 miles? It all started in the 1908 London Games. Queen Alexandra requested that the start of the race begin on the Windsor Castle lawn and finish at the Royal Box at the Olympic Stadium. And this distance happened to be 26.2 miles. This ended up sticking and in 1921 the 26.2 miles became the standard length of a marathon race.

Originally the marathon race was only open to athletes. In the late 1970s, several city marathons opened the doors to female athlete participation. K.V. Switzer, a female runner, won the NYC marathon in 1974.  When the 1984 Olympic games were held in Los Angeles, since female marathon runners were popular in the United States, the Olympic Committed allowed female athletes were allowed to participate in the Olympic games.