The origin of…Marathon

“When you run the marathon, you run against the distance, not against the other runners and not against the time.” Haile Gebrselassie

Post 61 Marathon

In 490 BC a massive army from Persia crossed the Aegean Sea and landed at Marathon, a city in Greece. The Persians wanted to capture Marathon and then move on to Athens. It is not known how many warriors came from Persia, but the Greeks were far outnumbered by them. One of the Greek generals, Miltiades, ordered the Greek soldiers to line up in battle formation and attack the Persians. It is estimated that in the battle that followed 6,400 Persians were killed, against 192 of the Greeks. One of the soldiers that fought in the battle, Pheidippides (or Philippides), ran from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens (a distance of approximately 26 miles) to bring news of the Greek victory over the Persians. He ran the entire distance without stopping and shouted the message νενικήκαμεν, nenikekamen (we have wοn) and then died shortly thereafter from exhaustion.
The story of the run from Marathon to Athens was first told in “On the Glory of Athens” by Plutarch in the 1st century AD. He quoted from Heraclides Ponticus´s lost work, , in which the runner´s name was Thersipus, Erchius or Eucles Lucian of Samosata names the runner Philippides in the 2nd century.

When the modern Olympic games were inaugurated in 1896 in Athens, the legend of Pheidippides´ run was revived by a 24.85 mile (40 km) run from Marathon Bridge to the Olympic Stadium. At those Olympics a Greek from Marusi, Spiridon Louis, won the marathon with a time of 2.58.50.
The 26.2 miles that the distance of a marathon now is, we owe to the British royal family. In 1908 the Olympic Games were held in London and the royal family wanted the finish line to be in front of the family´s viewing box, so the course was lengthened to 26.2 miles (42.16 km). This distance was established in 1924 at the Olympics in Paris as the official marathon distance.
The women’s marathon wasn´t introduced until the 1984 Olympic Games at Los Angeles and was won by Joan Benoit of the US with a time of 2.24.52.
The current world record for men is 2.02.57, run by Dennis Kimetto (Kenya) in Berlin in September 2014. The women´s world record is held by Paula Redcliffe (UK) with a time of 2.15.25 that she ran in April 2003 in London.

The youngest marathon runner in history is the Indian boy Budhia Singh (born 2002), who at the age of three ran his first marathon and by the age of four had completed 48 marathons. In 2006 the Orissa government banned him from long distance running, after his coach had been accused of exploiting the boy. Budhia Singh appears in the documentary “Marathon Boy” released in 2010.


  1. a running race that is about 26 miles (42 kilometers) long
  2. something (such as an event or activity) that lasts an extremely long time or that requires great effort
  3. a contest in which people compete with each other to see who can do something for the longest amount of time (source: Merriam Webster).

Marathon in other languages:
Dutch: de marathon
Spanish: la maratón
Italian: la maratona


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