The word “marathon” especially when it comes to running gets bandied around pretty freely. While the marathon distance itself is 26.2 miles, I’ve heard people refer to races as 3K marathon, 5k marathon etc which does not make sense. Contrary to what people might think, the Olympics in Ancient Greece did not feature long-distance races. It was instituted in 1896 at the first modern Olympics which were fittingly held in Greece.
Most people are familiar with the story of the messenger Philippides who ran approximately 25 miles (40 km) from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens to announce the victory of the Greeks over the Persians. Accounts of what he said vary but a version has him announcing “Nike! Nike! Nenikekiam” (Victory! Victory! Rejoice we conquer). Philippides is said to have then collapsed and died. Prior to this, he is reputed to have run 150 miles (240 km) to Sparta and back to enlist the help of the Spartans for the battle. If the word “Nike” sounds familiar, yes, it is the name of the shoe company once called “Blue Ribbon Sports”. Nike is the Greek goddess of Victory.
When the Olympics were resurrected, Pierre De Coubertin, the founder of the Olympic Committee thought it would be appropriate to include an event called “marathon” as a tribute to Philippides and Greek history in general. The first marathon was approximately 25 miles and was won by a Greek called Spyridon Louis. He is said to have stopped at an inn to drink a glass of wine en route to the finish line.
The next two Olympics maintained the same distance but in the 1908 Olympics, it was decided that the race would start at Windsor Castle and end at the White City stadium in London, a distance of 26 miles. In order to have the runners finish right below the royal box, a further 385 yards were added and the runners hence ran a distance of 26.2 miles. This was later adopted as the standard distance for the marathon and is the distance that is covered by runners today. So, the next time you run a marathon and you huff and puff the last 385 yards after running a grueling 26 miles, you know whom you can blame. I have, on more than occasion!