History of the Marathon

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History of the marathon History of the Marathon www.runnerclick.com

Running is more than just a sport, it’s a lifestyle. The daily impacts that running has on people is truly remarkable. It’s more than just physical. It’s mental and emotional too. Marathons are a huge staple in the running world. I mean what could truly be better than running a marathon? It takes weeks and months to properly train for a marathon. Runners watch what they eat, what activities they take place in, ruthlessly train, and set-in-to-motion the mental mindset all in preparation for 26.2 miles. Marathons are an amazing way to set a goal and progress towards beating that goal.

Warsaw Marathon 2014, Photo Courtesy of Adrian Grycuk

Did you know the marathon wasn’t always 26.2 miles? How about that the marathon actually started in memory of a Greek messenger who died? What about the fact that over the last 50 years, the number of marathon finishers in the United States has increased by over 500,000? The marathon has evolved quite a bit since its beginnings. It has a pretty interesting history, for sure.

Athens is said to be the birth-place of the marathon. It is here where the first organized marathon took place in 1896 at the Olympics. As legend goes, in 490 B.C, a Greek messenger ran nearly 25 miles (40 kilometers) with news of a victorious battle for the Greeks against the Persians. After delivering the message, it is said that the Greek messenger died from exhaustion. To honor the Greek messenger’s run and sacrifice, the 1896 Olympic marathon was established at 40 kilometers (prior to this time running events were not as long in distance).

The marathon distance we know today of 26.2 miles didn’t actually come into official standardized running until 1921. According to the book, “Athens to Athens: The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC, 1894-2004”, after attending the unofficial 1906 Olympic games, the Princess of Wales, wanted her children to be able to watch the 1908 Marathon. To accommodate this, the beginning of the marathon took place on the Windsor Castle lawn and finished at the Olympic Stadium. This distance was 26.2 miles.

Participation in marathon running has seen one of the highest growth spurts compared to almost any other sport. Marathon finishes in the United States, as well as other parts of the world, has sky rocketed over the last 50 years. Roughly 1.2 million marathon finishes took place in 2006. In 2011, it was closer to 1.6 million and in 2015, it was closer to 2.3 million. That’s over double the number of finishes over a nine year period.

The number of marathons held each year has also dramatically increased. According to Runner’s World, in 1966 in the Unites States there were only 29 marathons held. In 2015, there were 1175. Fifteen of the original 29 marathons are still actively run to this day.

Aside from just the number of participants and the number of marathons held each year, how else has the marathon changed over the years? For almost 100 years, only male runners were allowed to participate in marathons. For example, the first Boston Marathon was held in 1897. However, the first female runner wasn’t allowed to participate in the Boston Marathon until 1972. Another great example is the year 1984. Why is that year significant in the marathon’s history? This is the first year in which women were allowed to compete in the Olympic Marathon. That was 88 years after the very first Olympic Marathon took place.

According to Race Navigator the following statistics are true of US Marathons in 2016:

  • 9 million miles were cumulatively run in marathons
  • $57 million was spent on entry fees
  • $86 million was spent on running shoes
  • 48,500 runners qualified for the Boston Marathon
  • 56% of marathon runners were men and 44% were women
  • 935 marathons were classified as road marathons while 550 were classified as Out-n-Back
  • 150 Marathons took place in October with over 120,000 finishers, making October one of the busiest months for marathons

Marathons are pretty much an essential part of the running world. More and more runners are becoming involved in marathons. This creates the need for more marathons. Today, a runner can choose to participate in marathons anywhere across the United States or almost any place in the world. Marathons are taking place on the plains of Africa, on the streets of London, and even across the Great Wall of China. Regardless of what level of runner you are, marathons play a role in the wide world of running. They are a fun way to learn about yourself, learn what you’re capable of, and even learn some history while you’re bouncing from place to place completing races.

Sources

  1. Nixon, Elizabeth, Why is a marathon 26.2 miles?, Oct 29, 2014
  2. Miller, David, PhD, Oct 01, 2003
  3. Hutchinson, Alex, How Has The Marathon Changed Over Time?, Oct 20, 2016
  4. Race Navigator, 2016 Annual Report for US Marathons, Jan 15, 2017
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