A History of the Marathon

In ancient Greece, a soldier named Pheidippides ran about 25 miles to deliver news to Athens, from which town?

And the answer: Marathon.

Photo credit: http://cc.nphoto.net/view/2008/12259.shtml

According to legend, in the year 490 B.C.E., Pheidippides ran 25 miles from the town of Marathon, to Athens, to announce that the Greeks had defeated the Persians. He apparently announced "Victory!" and then collapsed from over-exertion.

Though ancient, this Athenian race as we know it is a far more recent development: the modern form of the marathon came as an early 20th century invention. Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, organized the first marathon at the 1896 Olympics, the first modern iteration of the games. This inspired the creation of the first Boston Marathon the following year, an event that now attracts some 30,000 runners every year. Across the United States, that number climbs to over 540,000 per year. More than 800 marathons are held throughout the world every year.

Interestingly, the official length of 26.2 miles was a later addition to the Greek race. As the story goes, the British royal family requested an amendment to the course so that the family could watch the race as it passed by Buckingham Palace's nursery window. The length stuck, and in 1921 the marathon was standardized at 26.2 miles.

To get a better look of what it takes to run this grueling race (and perhaps to better understand the toll of the race on novice runner Pheidippides), check out the video below.


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