The marathon is a long-distance foot race with an official distance of 42.195 kilometers (26 miles 385 yards) that is usually run as a road race. The event is named after the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens. The historical accuracy of this legend is in doubt, contradicted by accounts given by Herodotus, in particular.
The marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921. More than 800 marathons are contested throughout the world each year, with the vast majority of competitors being recreational athletes. Larger marathons can have tens of thousands of participants.
There is debate about the historical accuracy of this legend. The Greek historian Herodotus, the main source for the Greco-Persian Wars, mentions Pheidippides as the messenger who ran from Athens to Sparta asking for help, and then ran back, a distance of over 240 kilometres each way. In some Herodotus manuscripts the name of the runner between Athens and Sparta is given as Philippides. Herodotus makes no mention of a messenger sent from Marathon to Athens, and relates that the main part of the Athenian army, having already fought and won the grueling battle, and fearing a naval raid by the Persian fleet against an undefended Athens, marched quickly back from the battle to Athens, arriving the same day.
In 1876, Robert Browning wrote the poem "Pheidippides". Browning's poem, his composite story, became part of late-19th century popular culture and was accepted as a historic legend.
When the idea of a modern Olympics became a reality at the end of the 19th century, the initiators and organizers were looking for a great popularizing event, recalling the ancient glory of Greece. The idea of organizing a marathon race came from Michel Bréal, who wanted the event to feature in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. This idea was heavily supported by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, as well as the Greeks. The Greeks staged a selection race for the Olympic marathon, and this first marathon was won by Charilaos Vasilakos in 3 hours and 18 minutes (with the future winner of the introductory Olympic Games marathon coming in fifth). The winner of the first Olympic Marathon in 1896 (a male-only race) was Spiridon "Spiros" Louis, a Greek water-carrier. He won at the Olympics in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds.
Since the modern games were founded, it has become a tradition for the men's Olympic marathon to be the last event of the athletics calendar with a finish inside the Olympic stadium, often within hours of, or even incorporated into, the closing ceremonies. The marathon of the 2004 Summer Olympics revived the traditional route from Marathon to Athens ending at Panathinaiko Stadium, the venue for the 1896 Summer Olympics.
|1896 and 1904||40||24.85|
|1908 and 1924 onward||42.195||26.22|
The length of a marathon was not fixed at first, since the only important factor was that all athletes competed on the same course. The marathon races in the first few Olympic Games were not of a set length, but were approximately 40 km, roughly the distance from Marathon to Athens by the longer, flatter route. The exact length of the Olympic marathon varied depending on the route established for each venue.
The standard distance for the marathon race was determined by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) in 1921 (Rule 240 of their Competition Rules), at a distance of 26 miles 385 yards, or 42.195 km. This seemingly arbitrary distance was that adopted for the marathon at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. Contrary to popular stories, the British Royal Family had no direct influence on the distance. At a meeting of the International Olympic Committee in The Hague in May 1907 it was agreed with the British Olympic Association that the 1908 Olympics would include a marathon of about 25 miles or 40 kilometres. In November 1907 a route of about that distance was published in the newspapers, starting at Windsor Castle and finishing at the Olympic Stadium, the Great White City Stadium in Shepherd's Bush in London. There were protests about the final few miles because of tram-lines and cobbles, so the route was revised to cross the rough ground of Wormwood Scrubs. This lengthened the route, as did plans to make the start 700 yards from Queen Victoria's statue by Windsor Castle, and it was decided to fix the distance at 26 miles to the stadium, plus a lap of the track (586 yards, 2 feet), using the Royal Entrance as the marathon tunnel, and finishing in front of the Royal Box. For the official Trial Marathon on 25 April 1908, organized by the Polytechnic Harriers, the start was on ‘The Long Walk’ – a magnificent avenue leading up to Windsor Castle in the grounds of Windsor Great Park. For the Olympic Marathon itself the start was on the private East Terrace of Windsor Castle, with the permission of King Edward VII, so that the public would not interfere with the start. The Princess of Wales and her children drove from their home at Frogmore on the far side of Windsor Great Park to watch the start of the race. (The children did not watch the race from the nursery). Shortly before the Games opened it was realized that the Royal Entrance could not be used as the marathon entrance - it was raised to permit easy descent by the royal party from their carriages, and did not open onto the track - so an alternative entrance was chosen, diagonally opposite the Royal Box. A special path was made just outside the Franco British Exhibition ground so that the distance to the stadium remained 26 miles. The finishing line was left unchanged, but in order that the spectators, including Queen Alexandra could have the best view of the final yards, the direction of running was changed to "right-hand inside" (i.e. clockwise). This meant the distance in the stadium was shortened to 385 yards, and the total distance became 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km).
For the next Olympics in 1912, the length was changed to 40.2 km (24.98 miles), and changed again to 42.75 km (26.56 miles) for the 1920 Olympics, until it was fixed at the 1908 distance for the 1924 Olympics. In fact, of the first seven Olympic Games, there were six different marathon distances between 40 and 42.75 km (40 km being used twice).
However, the dramatic finish of the 1908 Olympic marathon led to world-wide marathon fever. In a postcard sent at the time, an American spectator said he had "just seen the greatest race of the century." The huge crowd, including Queen Alexandra, watched as the little Italian, Dorando Pietri, staggered round the final 385 yards, falling several times, and eventually being propelled by officials over the line as Irish-American Johnny Hayes got ever closer. Dorando was disqualified and Hayes was awarded the Gold Medal. However, Queen Alexandra was so moved by his plight that the very next day she presented Dorando with a silver-gilt cup.
Dorando and Hayes both turned professional and there were several re-matches, which had of course to be over the 26 miles 385 yards. Many other marathons were also held at that distance, including the important Polytechnic Marathon. The IAAF minutes are reportedly silent as to the reason the 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km) was chosen in 1921, so any conclusion must be speculative, but emotional attachment to the distance of the "race of the century" was clearly strong.
The 42.195 km and 26 miles 385 yards distances are identical to within half an inch (1.2 cm). The difference between the standard distance and the rounded figure frequently employed (as in the table), 26.22 miles, is slightly over two metres.
Marathon races usually use the starting format called mass start, though larger races may use a wave start, where different genders or abilities may begin at different times.
The world record time for men over the distance is 2 hours 3 minutes and 59 seconds, set in the Berlin Marathon by Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia on September 28, 2008, an improvement of 21 minutes and 40 seconds since 1947 (Marathon world best progression). The men's world record represents an average pace of under 2:57 per kilometer (4:44 per mile), average speed of over 20.4 km/hr (12.6 mi/hr). The world record for women was set by Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain in the London Marathon on April 13, 2003, in 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. This time was set using male pacesetters; the fastest time by a woman without using a male pacesetter ("woman-only") was also set by Paula Radcliffe, again during the London Marathon, with a time of 2 hours 17 minutes and 42 seconds, on April 17, 2005.
|2h03:59||Haile Gebrselassie||28 September 2008||Berlin|
|2h04:55||Paul Tergat||28 September 2003||Berlin|
|2h04:56||Sammy Korir||28 September 2003||Berlin|
|2h05:15||Martin Lel||13 April 2008||London|
|2h05:24||Samuel Wanjiru||13 April 2008||London|
|2h05:30||Abderrahim Goumri||13 April 2008||London|
|2h05:36||James Kwambai||28 September 2008||Berlin|
|2h05:38||Khalid Khannouchi||14 April 2002||London|
|2h05:49||William Kipsang||13 April 2008||Rotterdam|
|2h05:50||Evans Rutto||12 October 2003||Chicago|
|2h15:25||Paula Radcliffe||13 April 2003||London|
|2h18:47||Catherine Ndereba||7 October 2001||Chicago|
|2h19:12||Mizuki Noguchi||25 September 2005||Berlin|
|2h19:19||Irina Mikitenko||28 September 2008||Berlin|
|2h19:36||Deena Kastor||23 April 2006||London|
|2h19:39||Sun Yingjie||19 October 2003||Beijing|
|2h19:41||Yoko Shibui||26 September 2004||Berlin|
|2h19:46||Naoko Takahashi||30 September 2001||Berlin|
|2h19:51||Zhou Chunxiu||12 March 2006||Seoul|
|2h20:42||Berhane Adere||22 October 2006||Chicago|
This is a list of elite athletes notable for their performance in marathoning. For a list of people notable in other fields who have also run marathons, see list of marathoners.
Another goal is to break certain time barriers. For example, recreational first-timers often try to run the marathon under four hours; more competitive runners may attempt to finish under three hours. Other benchmarks are the qualifying times for major marathons. The Boston Marathon, the oldest marathon in the United States, requires a qualifying time for all non-professional runners. The New York City marathon also requires a qualifying time for guaranteed entry, at a pace slightly faster than Boston's. A qualifying time is also needed for Washington D.C.'s National Marathon. However, unlike Boston, where the qualifying times serve to attract a more talented field and limit participation, the National Marathon is motivated more by the need to reopen city streets in a limited amount of time.
Many training programs last a minimum of five or six months, with a gradual increase (every two weeks) in the distance run and finally a little decrease (1 to 3 weeks) for recovery. The decrease, commonly called the taper, should last a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of three weeks, according to most trainers. For beginners wishing to merely finish a marathon, a minimum of 4 months of running 4 days a week is recommended. Many trainers recommend a weekly increase in mileage of no more than 10%. It is also often advised to maintain a consistent running program for six weeks or so before beginning a marathon training program to allow the body to adapt to the new stresses.
Training programs may be found at Runner's World, Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, Boston Athletic Association and from numerous other sources.
Overtraining is a condition that results from not getting enough rest to allow the body to recover from stressful training. It can result in lowered endurance and speed and place a runner at a greater risk of injury.
Immediately before the race, many runners will refrain from eating solid food to avoid digestive problems. They will also ensure that they are fully hydrated beforehand. Light stretching before the race is believed by many to help keep muscles limber. Some runners will wear an ice vest before the race to reduce their core temperature so as to avoid overheating later in the race.
Typically, there is a maximum allowed time of about six hours after which the marathon route is closed, although some larger marathons (such as Myrtle Beach, Marine Corps and Honolulu) keep the course open considerably longer (eight hours or more).
A 4+ hour runner can drink about 4-6 ounces (120-170 ml) of fluids every 20-30 minutes without fear of hyponatremia. It is not clear if consuming sports drinks or salty snacks reduces risk. A patient suffering hyponatremia can be given a small volume of a concentrated salt solution intravenously to raise sodium concentrations in blood. Some runners weigh themselves before running and write the results on their bibs. If anything goes wrong, first aid workers can use the weight information to tell if the patient had consumed too much water.
Carbohydrate-based "energy" gels are used by runners to avoid or reduce the effect of "hitting the wall", as they provide easy to digest energy during the run. Energy gels usually contain varying amounts of sodium and potassium and some also contain caffeine. They need to be consumed with a certain amount of water. Some people recommend taking an energy gel every 45-60 minutes during the race.
Alternatives to gels are solid candy, cookies, other forms of concentrated sugars, or any food high in simple carbohydrates which can be digested easily by the individual runner. Many runners experiment with consuming energy supplements during training runs to determine what works best for them. Consumption of food while running sometimes makes the runner sick. Runners are advised to not ingest a new food or medicine just prior to or during a race. It's also important to refrain from taking any of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory class of pain relievers (i.e., aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxyn) as these drugs change the way the kidneys regulate their blood flow and may lead to serious kidney problems, especially in cases involving moderate to severe dehydration.
The immune system is reportedly suppressed for a short time. Studies have indicated that an increase in vitamin C in a runner's post-race diet decreases the chance of sinus infections, a relatively common condition, especially in ultramarathons. Changes to the blood chemistry may lead physicians to mistakenly diagnose heart malfunction.
It is relatively common to only come to realize that there are injuries to the feet and knees after the marathon has finished. Blisters on the feet and toes commonly only become painful after the race is over. Some runners may experience toenails which turn black and subsequently detach from the toe. This is from the toenails being too long, or the shoes being too tight and repeatedly impacting on the front of the shoe.
Gentle exercise in the week after the marathon can aid muscle recovery. Many runners receive a sports massage from a licensed massage therapist approximately 24-48 hours after finishing a marathon.
After long training runs and the marathon itself, consuming carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores and protein to aid muscle recovery is commonly recommended. In addition, soaking the lower half of the body for 20 minutes or so in cold or ice water may force blood through the leg muscles to speed recovery.
Runners in groups are encouraged not to block the entire street, preventing other runners from passing them. Two or three runners abreast is recommended. Large groups may consider single or double files.
Spectators should remain on the curbs, instead of crowding onto the street and condensing participants into an even smaller space.
A study published in 1996 found that the risk of having a fatal heart attack during, or in the period 24 hours after a marathon, was approximately 1 in 50,000 over an athlete's racing career - which the authors characterised as an "extremely small" risk. The paper went on to say that since the risk was so small, cardiac screening programs for marathons were not warranted. However, this study was not an attempt to assess the overall benefit or risk to cardiac health of marathon running.
In 2006, a study of 60 non-elite marathon participants tested runners for certain proteins (see Troponin) which indicate heart damage or dysfunction after they had completed the marathon, and gave them ultrasound scans before and after the race. The study revealed that, in that sample of 60 people, runners who had done less than 35 miles per week training before the race were most likely to show some heart damage or dysfunction, while runners who had done more than 45 miles per week training beforehand showed few or no heart problems.
It should be emphasized that regular exercise in general provides a range of health benefits, including a substantially reduced risk of heart attacks. Moreover, these studies only relate to marathons, not to other forms of running. It has been suggested that as marathon running is a test of endurance, it stresses the heart more than shorter running activities, and this may be the reason for the reported findings.
In 2007, Ryan Shay, a 28 year-old elite long-distance runner, died after collapsing early in the US Olympic marathon trials. His death was reported as probably due to a pre-existing heart abnormality.
Other goals are to attempt to run marathons in a series of consecutive weekends (Richard Worley on 159 weekends), or to run the most marathons during a particular year (e.g. Larry Macon ran 93 in 2007), or the most in a lifetime. As of June 30, 2007, Horst Preisler of Germany had successfully completed 1157 marathons plus 343 ultramarathons, a total of 1500 events at marathon distance or longer. Norm Frank of the United States is credited with 945 marathons. There are even clubs for people who have run 100 or more marathons; one such club has at least 45 members.
Some runners compete to run the same marathons for the most consecutive years. For example, Johnny Kelley completed 58 Boston Marathons. Four runners dubbed the "ground pounders" (Will Brown, Mattew Jaffe, Alfred Richmond, and Mel Williams) have completed all 32 US Marine Corps Marathons. Another mention for most consecutive marathons is Jerald Fenske, who has completed every Paavo Nurmi Marathon he has entered since his first in 1978 at age 17, a total of 30 through 2007.