So Many Marathons, So Little Time (Or a Very Brief History of the Marathon)



The Boston Marathon is right around the corner. Everyday, I hear of someone training for that event. All that running got me thinking about the history and popularity of marathons. states that each year more than 540,000 people participate in 1,100 marathons around the world. That means, on average, three marathons take place every day of the year. Amazing.

Many of us know the legend of the Greek soldier Pheidippides and the origin of the modern marathon. If not, here’s the story.

According to legend, in 490BC Pheidippides raced 25 miles from the battlefields of Marathon to Athens to announce Persia’s defeat. Upon entering the city he shouted, “Greetings, we win,” and then dropped dead.

Now that’s commitment.

Even after that dramatic finish, it still took another 2,000 years before the idea of running 25 miles (in a row) caught on. In 1896, a marathon took place at the first Olympic games in Greece, and it proved just as grueling as Pheidippides’ ill-fated run. Many of the competitors dropped out and one was disqualified for hoping a ride on a passing horse carriage (a very early Rosie Ruiz). The winner was an unknown Greek villager named Spiridon Louis, who never ran before and who never ran competitively again.

Today, all competitive marathons are 26.2 miles long. The race grew from its original 25 miles because of some spoiled British Royalty.

In 1908, the Olympic games took place in London. Queen Alexandra wanted her children to see the start of the race. Instead of bringing them to the games, the starting line was moved to the lawn of Windsor Castle – 26 miles and 385 yards from London’s Olympic Stadium. Everyone must have liked the change, because it stuck and marathons have been 26.2 miles ever since.

The Boston Marathon kicked off in 1897 and nothing has been the same since. Today, runners participate in marathons on all seven continents and all 50 states. In fact, belonging to a Seven Continent or 50 State Club is huge source of pride for many.

IllumiNITE just visited Virginia Beach for the Shamrock Marathon, and we’ll head to Vermont next month for the Burlington Marathon. We meet so many people taking the marathon challenge, and we think that’s awesome. Best of luck to all those training for Boston, Burlington, Cleveland, New York…

For those considering a marathon – you can do it! It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

“The greater the difficulty, more the glory in surmounting it.” – Epicurus (an ancient Greek philosopher)

One comment

  1. Thanks for the interesting story about the history of the Marathon and thanks for helping to keep all of us runners safe in the sport that we all love !

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