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The Marathon Race

The Marathon race takes its name from the district of Marathon and the Battle of 490BC that was fought there. The Greeks were victorious against a Persian enemy, whose forces at the time were considered invincible. This victory was particularly important not only for the preservation of Greek culture but for European civilization as a whole. It marked the beginning of the end for what became an all out attempt at the conquest of Greece and the expansion of the Persian Empire. Legend has it that after the battle a soldier ran from Marathon to Athens, carrying the news of the momentous victory to the waiting citizens. Presenting himself before the Senate, he immediately exclaimed, “We have won” then, it is said, he collapsed and died.


The Marathon event was introduced at the first modern Olympic Games, in Athens in 1896.

The Marathon race, the idea of Michel Breal, was introduced at the first modern Olympic Games, of Athens in 1896. Breal was a French philosopher philhellene and friend of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. The first Olympic Marathon was held on April 10, 1896, and appropriately the winner was a Greek, Spyros Louis, who was a water-carrier by trade. He ran the distance of 40kms in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds, despite stopping on the way for a glass of wine offered him by his uncle, waiting near the village of Chalandri.

The first women’s Marathon was introduced at the 1984 Los Angeles summer Olympics and was won by Joan Benoit from USA, with a time of 2 hours 24 minutes and 52 seconds.


Since the modern Games were founded, it has become a tradition for the men's Olympic marathon to be the last event of the athletics programme, with the finish taking place inside the Olympic stadium, often just before the official closing ceremony and at Athens incorporated into it.

Today, more than 800 marathons are organized worldwide. Many of these come under the authority of the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), which was founded in 1982 and has 238 member events in 82 countries. Five of the largest and most prestigious races take place in Boston, New York City, Chicago, London and Berlin.

The distance of 42,195 meters

To begin with there was no fixed distance for the marathon and it varied between 40 and 42 km. It was at the 1908 Summer Olympics of London that the standard distance was set. At these Games, the start point for the race was the east terrace of Windsor Castle and the route took the runners through the grounds of Windsor Park before leading them onto the streets beyond and eventually to the finish in the White City Stadium; a total distance of 26 miles (roughly 42km). Awaiting the arrival of the runners, among thousands of other spectators, was Queen Alexandra and members of the royal party occupying the Royal Box, part way round the track. The organisers decided that it was fitting the finish line should be drawn just below the Royal Box and so 385 yds was added to the total distance which then became 26miles 385yds or 42Kms 195m.

Following the 1908 Olympics in London, an annual event, the Polytechnic Marathon, was instituted and run over the 1908 distance of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km). It was largely due to the prestige of the Polytechnic Marathon, a marathon with a long and famous history, that in 1921 42.195 km was adopted, by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), as the official marathon distance (Rule 240 of their Competition Rules).