If you have ever run a marathon, chances are this thought has crossed your mind:
“Who the heck came up with the distance of 26.2 miles?”
26.2 miles is such an arbitrary number. Who came up with it?
A couple of years ago I read the memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami. I fell in love with the book and it sits as a permanent fixture on my nightstand. Murakami writes as a “middle of the pack” runner, like myself, and his thoughts on running, which seem to mirror mine.
Murakami started running at the age of 33 in 1982. When he decided to tackle the marathon, he tackled the original marathon, and ran a solo event from Athens to Marathon, Greece.
According to the ancient story, the original marathon was ran following the battle of Marathon in 490 BC. A Greek messenger named Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens on foot to announce the Greeks had defeated the Persians in this battle. In one version of this legend, I read that once Pheidippides announced his joyous message, he collapsed and died. This event was the inspiration for the marathon event we know today.
When Murakami ran the original marathon, he realized the distance between Athens and Marathon was only 25 miles. When the actual yearly Athens Marathon takes place, the course does take you off the original direct course to account for the extra 1.2 miles needed.
As a marathon runner, why did anyone add another 1.2 miles? I would be very happy calling a marathon 25 miles.
For this answer, I asked History.com. The marathon was run as a 25 mile event for many years. Then in 1908 London Olympic games, Queen Alexandra requested the event start at the lawn of Windsor Castle (so the little royals could watch the start of the race from their nursery) and then finish in front of the Olympic stadium. The extra distance for this request caused the total length of the race to be 26.2 miles. The random excess miles ended up sticking, and this became the official set miles for the marathon in 1921. (Thanks a lot, Queen Alexandra!)
The marathon has been run for many years. In the United States, the Boston Marathon was the original marathon starting in 1892. Women were not officially allowed to run the marathon until 1972, and women were not allowed to run the marathon in the Olympic games until 1984. Wowza! I don’t realize how fortunate I am.
Yes, I would be completely happy if the marathon was only 25 miles. But being able to complete 26.2 miles is a bigger challenge that I am happy to have been able to accomplish. I just hope that no one else decides to change the event for personal preferences and the distance changes again to something like 27.4 miles. Although, I still would probably register and run!