Why Is A Marathon 26.2 Miles Long? 

If you have ever run a marathon or a half marathon, or even just been interested in marathons, you will be aware of their strange length. 26.2 miles (or 13.1 miles for a half marathon) feels like it has been plucked out of thin air. 

Why is a Marathon 26.2 Miles Long? 

But really, marathons have a complex and deep history behind them.

Let’s find out more about marathons below.

Why Are Marathons 26.2 Miles Long? 

One of the first “modern” marathons (26.2-mile distance) was held on May 6, 1896, at the Olympics, in Athens, Greece. After this event, the marathon’s length stayed around 26 miles in length for the next few years.

The 26.2 mile length was established as the official length in 1908, when the Olympics were held in London. The 25-mile course was extended to account for the demands of the British Royal Family.

In fact, the original Olympic Marathon had started at Windsor Castle (so that the royal children could watch the set off out of the window) and finished right in front of the royal box in the Olympic stadium. 

This race established the marathon length, and we haven’t deviated from this length since – in fact, it was standardized in 1921, so that all Olympics (and now, all marathon events around the world) use this number. 

There was another race at the forefront of modern long distance running too, before the first modern Olympics – this race was organized by the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA).

The AAA had previously held an amateur race called the “Great Eastern Run” which started from Liverpool Street Station to Mile End Park.

This event was won by William Penny Brookes who ran the course in 2 hours 15 minutes.

Dr Penny Brooks then went on to become a vocal and important figure in the marathon running community, founding the Wenlock Olympian Games, which preceded the modern Olympic Games.

One of the London 2012 Olympic mascots was even called Wenlock, to show how significant this tournament has been in British and global sporting history. 

Wait… I Thought Marathons Were From the Ancient Olympics? 

If you assumed the 26.2 mile running event had roots in Ancient Greece, you are kind of correct, though not in the sense that you might expect.

There was not a long distance running event in the ancient Olympics, but rather a legend in Greek mythology. 

In 490 B.C., a messenger in Ancient Greece raced from the site of Marathon to Athens, which is a distance of about 40 kilometers (nearly 25 miles), carrying the news of an important Greek victory over an invading Persian army.

After making the announcement of victory, the messenger collapsed and later died from exhaustion.

In the 1896 Olympics, the first marathon was run to commemorate him.

In fact, the word ‘marathon’ comes from the ancient Greek word meaning ‘to go around’, and refers to the mythological story of Heracles running a circuit around Mount Oeta in Greece – so there is a rich mythological history to the marathon.

How to Train for a Long Distance Run?

So if you want to run a marathon, you need to get your body used to long distances. It is very easy to underestimate the amount of time required to prepare for a marathon.

If you think you can simply turn up on race day and run 26.2 miles, then you are going to be disappointed! You need to start training for a marathon well before race day.

You should aim to build up gradually over a period of months, with a gradual increase in mileage every week or two. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Start slowly, and build up gradually.

You will also need to make sure that you have enough rest between runs. So don’t just jump straight into running more than 10 miles per week.

Instead, take a couple of weeks to ease yourself back into running after any injury.

It is also worth taking some time to prepare mentally. Try to find something else to keep you interested during those long runs. Perhaps join a club.

Or even better, why not volunteer to run a sponsored marathon for a charity like the Leukemia Foundation? They really appreciate volunteers, and it will give you a great experience while helping others.

Finally, remember that the most important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing. Running isn’t always fun, but when you’re enjoying it, you’ll feel less likely to stop.

And if you do decide to quit, at least you’ll know you did it because you enjoyed it.

How Long Does it Take to Run a Marathon? 

Why is a Marathon 26.2 Miles Long? 

A marathon is a long distance race. To run a marathon, you must train for many months.

While training, you should try to improve your performance. You may want to compare your time to others who ran a similar race. 

Most people run marathons in 4 to 5 hours, with an average mile speed of 9 to 11.4 minutes. You can finish a marathon in less than four hours if you train hard.

But most people walk some parts of the race to preserve stamina, so they finish in six or seven hours.

Training for a long distance race improves your fitness levels and boosts your overall health. You may also improve your self-discipline and self-confidence.

How is the Distance of a Marathon Measured out? 

AIMS works in conjunction to certify that its road race courses are accurate. Races must be measured by an accredited AIMS/IAF course measurer.

Races must not be downhill by more than 1 m/km of length. Separation between start and finish must be less than 50% of the total distance – so it can’t just be a straight line!

The second condition ensures that a course isn’t designed in such a way as to allow a tail wind to boost times unfairly. 

Final Thoughts 

In conclusion, we hope that this article has helped you to learn about the origins and history of the marathon race, and explained it’s oddly specific length.

There’s no doubt about it: running a marathon takes dedication, commitment, and lots of practice.

However, once you’ve trained properly, you can expect to see improvements in your physical fitness, mental strength, and general wellbeing.

Megan Rinzel
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