Why Is a Marathon Running Race 26 Miles Long?

In 490 B.C., an army from Persia invaded Greece, landing on the plain of Marathon, near Athens. The soldiers from Athens wanted to inform their allies in Sparta of the invasion, so they sent a young man named Pheidippides with the message. Pheidippides ran all the way from Marathon to Sparta, a distance of 140 miles, then ran back to rejoin the Greek army at Marathon!

A few days later, after the Greeks had defeated the Persians at Marathon, Pheidippides was sent to deliver the news of the victory to Athens. He raced almost 23 miles to the city in just a few hours, shouted “Victory!” with his last breath, and died of exhaustion.

Several years later, the Athenians established a series of running events in honor of Pheidippides.

Then in 1896, when the Olympic Games were revived, a long-distance race called the marathon was established. It covered about the same 23-mile distance that Pheidippides had run between Marathon and Athens.

In 1924, this distance was changed to 26 miles, 385 yards, the length of all Olympic marathon races today.