Marathon History: From Origin to Inclusion of Women

Overview of Marathon

Marathon HistoryLegend has it that the Olympics started in Greece in the town of marathon. A soldier known as Phidippides ran from the town of marathon to Athens with the news that the Greeks had defeated the Persians. Pheidippides collapsed immediately after delivering the news and died. There have been many versions to this story, some documented and some not. Robert Browning is one person who documented this legend. He wrote a poem called pheidippides and was largely accepted in the 19th century.

The Marathon and the Modern Olympics

The legend of the Pheidippides was revived during the Olympic games held in Greece in 1896. The organizers were looking for something to make the event popular. Michael Breal was the person who came up with the idea of a marathon race. He wanted the marathon to be part of the first modern Olympic games that were held in Greece in 1896. The race was 40km with the course going from the marathon bridge to the Olympic stadium in Athens.

The very first Olympic marathon race was won Spiridon Louis in April 1896. He finished the race in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds in that 40 km race. Nine people managed to finish that race with eight of them being Greeks. The marathon was born. The United States was among the nine countries that participated in the 1896 Olympics.

Arthur Blake was the only American to participate in that inaugural marathon. However, he had participated in the 1500 metres three days before and won silver. Due to the exhaustion from that race, he could not manage to finish the marathon and pulled out after fourteen miles.

The 1908 Olympics games in London saw the alteration of the marathon distance with the additional of 2 miles. This was mainly done to make the race finish in front of the royal family’s viewing box. After much deliberation for a period of almost sixteen years, the 26.2 miles was fixed as the official distance in Paris in 1921 by the international amateur athletic foundation (IAAF).

Inclusion of Women

Long distance races for women were not available before the 1980s. The longest distances the women had covered was 1500 which occurred during the Olympic games held in Moscow. The first woman to be officially timed was Violet Piercy who clocked 3 hours, 40 minutes and 22 seconds.

The first official women’s race sanctioned by the IAAF was the Tokyo international which took place in 1979. The first Olympic women’s marathon was held in 1984. This race was won by Joan Benoit from United States, who clocked 2 hours, 24 minutes and 52 seconds. The world record holder for the women’s marathon is Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain who set the record in the 2003 London marathon.

Marathon History

Marathon Races

More than 500 marathons are held worldwide every year. The World Marathon Majors Series features Chicago, Berlin, Boston, Tokyo and New York City. The World Marathon Major Series awards $500,000 annually to the best overall male and female participants.


With such a rich history, the marathon has grown to become a very popular event in modern times. It involves participants from all over the globe where people put behind their language, cultural, and racial differences and unite as one.