Why is a marathon 26.2 miles?

A marathon length is very specific. Most people associate it with Greece and its main city, Athens. The long distance footrace term, “Marathon” was coined to signify the general distance between the town of Marathon and the Greek metropolis of Athens.  Pheidippides, an Athenian day runner/courier/soldier was tasked with the job of delivering news to the big city of Greece’s victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon (490BC).  He was said to have shouted “Nikomen” (we win) and then collapsed and died.  His death was tragic but he completed the transfer information which was of paramount military strategy importance.

The actual distance traveled by Pheidippides was never verified but is estimated to have been between 24 and 26 miles- a general run between the Marathon battlefield and the middle of Athens.  When the first Modern Olympic Games were planned out in 1896 the first Marathon was run as an homage to Pheidippides and his fateful journey approximately two and a half millennia earlier.   The first official Marathon route was from Marathon Bridge to Olympic Stadium in Athens, a distance of 40,000 meters/24.85 miles.  This first official race was won by a Greek postal worker named Spiridon Louis.   He crushed the other 24 competitors by finishing the race in just under three hours (2:58:50).  He was seven minutes ahead of the pack and only 9 runners (36%) completed the entire route!

The first handful of marathons were run at slightly different distances with the idea that as long as all of the runners in that particular race were running the same course, there was no need for an exact uniform distance (as long as the race was generally as long as the distance between the two cities.) 

The official distance of the marathon as it is run today comes from the 1908 London Olympics.  This was a course laid out through the city that ran from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium (26 miles).  An extra 385 yards or approximately two tenths of a mile were added to the course inside the stadium in order for the finish line to be right in front of the royal family’s viewing box.  This also began the tradition of singing “God Save The Queen” during the last mile of the race.  This distance was officially adopted in 1921 by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, thus ending the slight variance in marathon lengths (the first seven modern Olympics actually had six different total distances). Here are the names of the recent winner’s of my favorite road race, the Boston Marathon.

2019 Boston Marathon Winners

Less than ideal conditions at the Boston Marathon for a second straight year but adverse conditions can be a godsend to some runners.  Last years winter conditions led to a victory by Japanese citizen Yuki Kawauchi, who specialized it cold climate running and also had the rare distinction of being someone fully employed in a profession outside of running.  The average runners worst weather is his marathon dream day.

2019 brought better conditions with temps ranging 40s-50s and only a little precipitation.  The highlight of the day was a near photo finish in the mens group between Lawrence Cherono of Kenya barely edging out Lelisa Desisa Benti of Ethipia by a little over one second.  This was actually tied for the third closest Boston Marathon finish ever.  Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia won the womens race in her first ever Boston Marathon attempt.  This is an amazing feat as the course is known to be one of the most difficult in the major marathon circuit.

20 year old Daniel Romanchuk became the youngest wheelchair winner in that category ever and also the first American to win it since 1993.  In the womens wheelchair it was Switzerlands Manuela Schar taking her second Boston victory (she also won in 2017). 

Here are the top 5 winners lists for the main four categories.  It is important to note that the top 25 finishers win prize money in the mens and womens fields while the top ten win prize money in the two main wheelchair races (this mostly has to do with the much larger numbers of participants in the two foot races).

Men’s Race

  1. Lawrence Cherono: 2:07:57
  2. Lelisa Desisa Benti: 2:07:59
  3. Kenneth Kipkemoi: 2:08:07
  4. Felix Kandie: 2:08:54
  5. Geoffrey Kirui: 2:08:55

Women’s Race

  1. Worknesh Degefa: 2:23:31
  2. Edna Kiplagat: 2:24:13
  3. Jordan Hasay: 2:25:20
  4. Meskerem Assefa: 2:25:40
  5. Des Linden: 2:27:00

Men’s Wheelchair

  1. Daniel Romanchuk: 1:21:36
  2. Masazumi Soejima: 1:24:30
  3. Marcel Hug: 1:26:42
  4. Aaron Pike: 1:27:09
  5. Ernst van Dyk: 1:27:23

Women’s Wheelchair

  1. Manuela Schár: 1:34:19
  2. Tatyana McFadden: 1:41:35
  3. Madison de Rozario: 1:41:36
  4. Eliza Ault-Connell: 1:41:46
  5. Susannah Scaroni: 1:42:34

My 2002 Run


2002 was the year I trained to run in the Boston Marathon.  With half marathon times of a little under two hours I felt ready to at least finish the great race.  Suddenly, on April fools day of that year I had a serious injury on stage during a performance of The Three Musketeers in Chicago.  In a fight scene where I played the hero, (D’Artagnon) I received an actual punch from the villian (Rochfort).  I managed to break all three bones in my right cheek in the fist fight sequence that followed a very enjoyable sword fight.  I received a level three concussion and had the pleasure of having an ambulance greet me backstage at the conclusion of the show. 

As far as injuries I’ve incurred it was about the best.  In fact, after being released from the hospital I was rushed back again after getting air pockets under my eye from the release of air through the cheek bone into my skin.  A pretty site resembling a baseball on top of an already black eye.  By the time I got back to the East Coast I was fortunate to be at least through the worst of the ordeal (luckily the injury happened at the very end of our two month tour).

About two weeks later I was getting anxious at the midway point of the Boston Marathon and decided I had to join the fun.  Standing with loved ones on the side lines I handed over my loose belongings (including a sweathshirt and wallet).  I had to run. A couldn’t let an untimed setback keep me from at least being somewhat involved in the greatest Marathon on Earth.  In the end it was a good move because my body was extremely rested in some ways and I ran very steady into town in well under two hours. 

I ran as a scab and only halfway but it represented a huge milestone in my recovery.  I could actually still feel the bones rattling at some point during every mile but had one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

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