The Interesting History of Marathons

Origin of the word “Marathon.”

According to the Greek Legend, the word “Marathon” came after Philippides’ legend. Philippides was the Greek messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of their victory against Persians on the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Philippides was said to run the first marathon without stopping and died right after he gave his last words: “We have won.” 

Contrary to this historical record, the Greek legend about Philippides contradicts what Herodotus had written about the Greco-Persian Wars. According to Herodotus, Philippides was a messenger who ran a total of 240 kilometers (149 Miles) from Athens to Sparta and back to Athens to ask for help—making no mention of Philippides running from Marathon to Athens. 

Nevertheless, Philippides’ first run of victory and the commemoration of the successful Battle in Marathon against the Persians, inspired and embodied the name “Marathon.”

As a result, every month of September, a Sparthlon in Greece is made to honor Philippides –a figure that inspired the marathon race. 

The Modern Marathon

The Modern Marathon

In the year 1896 of the Modern Olympics, a French Philogist named Michel Breal suggested the idea of the Marathon Race. The idea of having a Marathon Race, as indicated by Breal, was supported by the Greeks and the founder of the International Olympic Committee, also the father of Modern Olympics –Pierre de Coubertin. The staged Olympic Marathon was held on the 10th of April, 1896, covering 24.85 miles (39.99 kilometers), with initially twenty-five all-male participants. Out of the nine runners who made it to the finish line, Spyridon “Spy” Louis –A Greek water-carrier and a former soldier, won first with two hours and fifty-eight minutes and fifty seconds.

In the 1984 Summer Olympics, also known as the Games of the XXIII Olympiad held in Los Angeles, USA, the woman’s marathon was won by Joan Benoit with a time of two hours, twenty-four minutes, and fifty-two seconds.

Although the 1896 Olympic Marathon had a standard running distance of 24.85 miles (39.99 kilometers), the 1908 London Olympics ran a distance of 26 miles (41.84 kilometers) from Windsor castle up to the White City Stadium. The 26 miles was added up by 385  yards (0.032 kilometers) as per the Queen’s request to enable runners to pass the royal box at the stadium in accommodation to the British royal family, making the total running distance a 26. 2 miles (42.195 kilometers). Thirteen years after this, the marathon race’s official running distance became 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers)

As the marathon gained popularity in the 1970s, Marathon Mania became a craze that slowly took shape after the 1896 Summer Olympics. Amateur marathons rise with about thousands of people joining for a cause.

Top Seven Oldest Marathons in the World


1. Boston Marathon




Boston Marathon, organized by the Boston Athlete Association in 1897, is the world’s oldest known road-racing marathon held annually on Greater Boston, in Eastern Massachusetts. This marathon event was attended by approximately 30,000 participants yearly every third Monday of April, during Patriot’s Day.  


2. Yonker’s Marathon


Yonker’s marathon is a challenging and hilly marathon race founded by Fred Lebow. This marathon is held annually every third Sunday of October in Yonkers, New York. The marathon began in the year 1907 and was considered one of the oldest marathon race and the Boston Marathon. 


3. Comrades Marathon


Comrades Marathon is a long-distance marathon of about 89 kilometers (55.30 miles), founded on the 24th of March, 1921 by Vic Clapham, where he runs over a thousand miles to honor his comrades and co-soldiers that died during the World War 1. This annual marathon is held in Durban to Pietermaritzburg, in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. This Ultramarathon is one of the longest and largest marathons of about 18,000 participants.


4. Košice Peace Marathon


Košice Peace Marathon is a marathon that held every first Sunday of October every year. It was established in 1924 and started by a Journalist named Vojtech Braun Bukovský, who was inspired by the 1924 Olympics in Paris. This marathon had approximately 10,000 participants at their annual marathon.


5. Seoul International Marathon (Dong-A Ilbo Seoul Marathon)


The Seoul International Marathon or Dong-A Ilbo Seoul Marathon held its first Marathon in March 1931, which took place in Seoul, South Korea. Organized by Koryo Track Association, the Seoul Marathon is now the third longest-running competition alongside ‘Chugoku Yamaguchi Ekiden’ and ‘Hakone Ekiden’ in Japan. Currently, Seoul International Marathon is held annually in the middle of March, with approximately 35,000 people.


6. Lake Biwa Marathon


Lake Biwa Marathon or also known as Biwako Mainichi  Marathon, was a marathon first organized by Japan Association of Athletics Federation and Mainichi Newspaper. Their first held marathon was on the 20th of October, 1946, to rebuild their country after it was devastated by World War II.  

Held annually in Otsu, Shiga, Japan at the Ojiyama Stadium, this all-male Marathon is Japan’s oldest marathon held conducted annually.


7. Chuncheon Marathon


Chuncheon Marathon, or Chosun Ilbo Marathon, is a South Korean Marathon held every late October at Chuncheon, South Korea. It first started in 1946, after the country was liberated from the Japanese occupation. It was sponsored by the Chosun Ilbo –A leading Newspaper in South Korea. 

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