The History of the Marathon
Marathons have become a popular hobby, competition and charity event in the recent past. However, most people don’t know that marathons have been a tradition ever since 490 B.C.. The first runner was a Greek soldier, who ran 26.2 miles from the site of a battlefield at Marathon, Greece to Athens, Greece. The Greek soldier, Pheidippides, was bringing news of a victory to his people. When he arrived, he yelled “Niki!” (victory) and then collapsed to his death. The dramatic conclusions to the marathons today are precedented by that legend.
The Marathon at the First Olympics
The first Olympic Games made this event, the marathon, a special event. They thought to revive the legend of Pheidippides with a 24.85 mile run from Marathon Bridge to Olympic Stadium in Athens. This 40,000 meter run was traditionally the final event during the Olympics, but this first organized marathon was very important to the Greeks. The Greeks hadn’t won any medals in the Games until this event and it was their last chance to get one. As the host nation, it would be very disappointing to go home without a medal.
However, on April 10, 1896, something incredible happened. Twenty-five runners lined up at Marathon Bridge. After listening to the starter mumble a couple words, he fired the gun and the runners began the long journey to Olympic Stadium. With joy and excitement from the big crowd waiting at Olympic Stadium, the first runner crossed the line just 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds after starting. Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker from the village of Marusi, finished a whole seven seconds in front of everyone else.
Greece Retains Glory
At the end of the marathon, only nine runners had finished all together. Of those nine runners, a total of eight of them were Greek. In the end, the host nation held their own when it mattered most and it filled their nation with joy and excitement.
North America’s Part in the History of the Marathon
The United States had a big part in this as well. They were one of the nine nations that attended the first Olympic Games. Sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association, USA competitors were able to make the trip and take part in the games. There was only one United States runner that lined up for the famous marathon. After earning a silver medal in the 1500m run three days before, Arthur Blake found himself more exhausted than he expected. Blake ended up calling it quits after about 14.5 miles.
North American Marathon
On the boat ride back to the United States from Greece, plans started to be made for North America’s first marathon. It ended up being held in Boston, with the first annual Boston Athletic Association marathon being held on April 19, 1897. The date was specifically chosen to commemorate Paul Revere’s famous ride to alarm that the British were coming.
In 1921, the official distance of a marathon was changed to 26.2 miles. It was first changed to allow the royal family to watch the start of the race at Windsor Castle in 1908. In 1926, the first finish by a woman was reached. Violet Percy finished with a time of 3 hours 40 minutes and 22 seconds. In 1984, Joan Benoit won the first women’s Olympic marathon with a time of 2 hours 24 minutes and 52 seconds.
In 2010, the number of U.S. marathon finishers tops 500,000 for the first time. One year later, Brit Fauja Singh becomes the first person over 100 years of age to finish a marathon. The finished time was 8 hours 11 minutes and 6 seconds.
Today, marathons are held often. Around the world, you’ll see competitive marathons, charity event marathons as well as the Olympic Games. However, nothing is more traditional and exciting than the annual Marathon at Athens. 1996 marked their 100th Annual Marathon at Athens. On that day, over 3,000 runners lined up to follow the steps of Pheidippides.