The first time a friend suggested that we train for a marathon, I tried to be as non-committal as possible, but I casually asked, “So, how long do you think this race will be?” to her surprise. Every marathon is precisely 26.2 miles, which seems pretty random. A marathon is 26.2 miles because, in Ancient Greece, the traveling distance from Marathon to Athens was 26.2 miles.
The origins of the 26.2-mile race go all the way back to Ancient Greece. In 490 BC, during a war with the Persians, a messenger raced from Marathon to Athens to tell of victory over the Persian army. Because the Persian army was moving to take over the city of Athens, it was imperative that the messenger reached the city before the Persian army could gather there and demand the city’s surrender.
The distance between the two cities was believed to be around 25 miles, but the exact route that the runner was thought to have taken was exactly 26.2 miles. According to the story, the messenger was able to tell the leadership of the city that the Greeks had won the battle, therefore preventing the Persian army from lying and saying that they had won. Shortly after delivering the message, however, the runner died.
Check out our guide on how long do I need to train for a marathon.
Marathons were not held as races in Ancient Greece. Most likely, this is because it would have been a rather boring spectator sport. In an era before modern transportation, observers would have only been able to see one part of the race, and ensuring that everyone stayed on a prescribed path would have been much more difficult than it is today.
Marathons became popular after their inclusion in the Modern Olympic Games. At first, they were considered to be something of a novelty, and few people were able to devote their time and energy to training for one. Today, however, these races are run by millions of people every year.
You might also be interested in our guide on is running marathons healthy.
FAQs About Why Marathons Are 26.2 Miles
How Many Kilometers Is 26.2 Miles?
A typical marathon is 42 kilometers long.
Has Anyone Ever Died During A Marathon?
Over the years, multiple people have died during marathon races, causing many race organizers to ensure that paramedics are on hand at every one of these events.
When Was The First Marathon?
To honor the messenger (and create deeper ties to Greece), the first marathon race was held during the 1896 Olympic Games. Before this, there was no record of a marathon being held, even during the Ancient Greek Olympics.