How the Marathon has Become so Popular


We felt the need to take a look at how the popularity of the marathon has grown over the years to become largest athletic sporting event in the world.

How The Popularity of Marathons Has Grown

Interestingly, Marathon (the area) is a municipality in Greece with an estimated 2011 population of over 33,000. In 490 BC, a man ran from what was then the town of Marathon all the way to Athens to proclaim the victory of Greece over Persia in the Battle of Marathon in spite of being outnumbered 1 is to 6. The distance covered has been estimated to be 280 miles and took 10 days.

Marathon fun fact..

The town of Marathon was named after the fennel herb which grew abundantly in the area. In fact, the meaning of marathon in the Greek language is “a place full of fennels.”

The marathon became an official sport in 1896 after it was included as an Olympic event in Greece and has grown slowly and steadily up to the mid 2000s when its popularity suddenly skyrocketed to unexpected levels. From 300 marathon events held every year up to year 2000, there are now 1,100 across the USA. In 2010, another milestone was reached when a record 500,000 people finished a marathon run in the United States for the first time.

In 2011, over 551,000 participants finished their marathon events in the United States alone. The 115th Boston Marathon held in 2011 was also a monumental year for the Boston Marathon as a new record was set at 2:03:59 hours by Geoffrey Mutai but more interesting is that there were 4 who finished under the 12 month old record and 16 others with times under2:09. It was a very special day even if the number of participants decreased dramatically by 45% for all marathon events held that year.

The year 2013 was another extraordinary year for marathon runners in the United States as the number of finishers were 57% males and 43% females. However, of the number of finishers, 47% were over 40 years old which is equivalent to 245,300 participants! These results are astonishing considering that 2013 was also the year of the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy and 2 cancellations of marathon events in Dallas and Memphis because of bad weather.

The origins of the London Marathon

London Marathon pall mall

In the 2012 UK’s London Marathon, there were over 31,500 participants from 85 different countries around the world. The most number of participants were from the Great Britain and Northern Island but there was also a big contingent from the US, Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Belgium, and Australia.

Marathon running in the UK has been around for over 100 years. What was originally known as the London Marathon and became the Polytechnic Marathon began in 1909 and was the first marathon event with a distance of 26.385 miles – now the standard marathon distance. The reason behind the choice of distance was because the royal family wanted the race to start from Windsor Castle and end in the White City Stadium. The extra 385 yards was added because the 26 miles only took the runners to the entrance to the stadium. The added yards would take the finishers to the front of the royal box.

The Polytechnic Marathon

Polytechnic marathon from 1969

The Polytechnic Marathon had a regular run almost every year up to 1996. There is a total of 68 Poly Marathons with some of marathon’s most historical moments. For instance, Jim Peters who set world records and won the Poly 3 times from 1952 to 1954, wore cheap running shoes and was known to swap his left and right shoes to save on rubber wear and tear. He died in 1999 but left a legacy as one of the world greatest marathon runners.

Paula Radcliffe winning the 2005 London Marathon

The London Marathon, which started in 1981, is still the most popular running races in the UK. It is the fifth largest in the world in terms of number of participants. In 2012, there were more than 37,000 participants with over 36,500 finishers. In 2013, the number of finishers dropped slightly to 34,200. As of today, no one has beaten the 2002 world’s men record of 2:05:30 set by Khalid Khannouchi and the 2003 world’s women record of 2:15:25 set by Paula Radcliffe.

The reason for the popularity of marathon events in the US, UK and other countries is the focus to raise funds for charity. There are multiple charities from medical to animal welfare that have benefited from marathons. However. aside from being charity events, marathons in the UK offer awe-inspiring scenery like the Purbeck Marathon which is considered as the world’s most scenic route, the Snowdonia Marathon in Wales which is the world’s toughest and voted the best in Britain in 2011 and the UK’s flattest marathon which is the Greater Manchester Marathon.

1 Comment

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