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Marathon (sport)
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Marathon (sport)

Although marathon sometimes refers to any athletic event requiring great endurance, more specifically it refers to a long-distance track event of 42,195 m (26 miles and 385 yards).

The name comes from the legend of Phidippides, a Greek soldier who, according to one story, ran from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated, and died shortly after. Although this is now the most popular version of the story, the true details of Phidippides' run were probably different (see Phidippides (Marathon runner) and Battle of Marathon). The International Olympic Committee estimates the distance Phidippides ran as 34.5 km (21.4 miles). [1]

Table of contents
1 Distance
2 History
3 World records and "world's best"
4 Olympic traditions
5 Running a marathon
6 Famous marathon races
7 See also


Year Distance (km)
1896 40
1900 40.26
1904 40
1906 41.86
1908 42.195
1912 40.2
1920 42.75
The length of a marathon was not originally standardized, since all that was important was that all athletes competed on the same course. The exact length of an Olympic marathon varied depending on the route established for each venue. In the early years, the distance of the marathon was about 40 km (25 miles), the distance between Marathon and Athens.

The 1908 Olympic marathon in London was originally set to start at Windsor Castle and end at Olympic Stadium, but the race organizers added 385 yards to the course in order to have the runners finish in front of the Royal Box. This distance was 42.195 km. One source gives 6 variations of distance, including 2 new distances after the famous British Royal Family variation in 1908.

A fixed distance of 42.195 km was adopted in 1921 by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) as the official marathon distance.


The idea of organising the race came from Michel Bréal;, who wanted to put the event on the program of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. This idea was heavily supported by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, as well as the Greeks. The Greeks staged a selection race for the Olympic marathon, and this first marathon was won by Charilaos Vasilakos in 3 hours and 18 minutes. Spiridon "Spiros" Louis came fifth in this race but won at the Olympics in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds, despite stopping on the way for a glass of wine at a local inn.

World records and "world's best"

World records were not officially recognised by the IAAF until the 1st of January 2004; previously, the best times for the Marathon were referred to as the 'world best'. Courses must conform to IAAF standards for a record to be recognised. However, marathon routes still vary greatly in elevation, course, and surface, making exact comparisons impossible. Typically, the fastest times are set over relatively flat courses near sea level, during good weather conditions and with the assistance of pacesetters.

The world record time for men over the distance is 2 hours 4 minutes and 55 seconds, set in the Berlin Marathon by Paul Tergat on September 28, 2003 (ratified as the world record by the IAAF on 1st January 2004), an improvement of 20 minutes and 44 second since 1947 (Marathon world best progression). The world record for women was set by Paula Radcliffe in the London Marathon on 13 April 2003, in 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds.

Olympic traditions

Since the modern games were founded, it has become a tradition for the men's Olympic marathon to be the last event of the athletics calendar, with a finish inside the Olympic stadium, often within hours of the closing ceremonies.

This tradition will be replaced by a much older tradition in the 2004 Summer Olympics, as the long-established route from Marathon to Athens will end at Panathinaiko Stadium, the venue for the 1896 Summer Olympics.

Running a marathon

Completing a marathon is often considered to be a superhuman effort, but many coaches believe that it is possible for anyone willing to put in the time and effort. Many people who complete a marathon walk part or all of the distance.

Glycogen and "the wall"

Carbohydrates that a person eats are converted by the liver and muscles into glycogen for storage. Glycogen burns quickly to provide quick energy. Runners can store about 2,000 kcal worth of glycogen in their bodies, enough for about 20 miles (32 km) of running. Many runners report that running becomes noticeably more difficult at that point. When glycogen runs low, the body must then burn stored fat for energy, which does not burn as efficiently. When this happens, the runner will experience dramatic fatigue. This phenomenon is called bonking or hitting the wall. The aim of training for the marathon, according to many coaches, is to maximize the limited glycogen available so that the fatigue of the "wall" is not as dramatic.


For most runners, the marathon is the longest run they have ever attempted. Many coaches believe that the most important element in marathon training is the long run. Usually recreational runners try to reach a maximum of about 20 miles (approx. 32 km) at one time and about 40 miles (64 km) a week when training for the marathon. More experienced marathoners may run a longer distance, and more miles or kilometers during the week.

A good training program lasts five or six months, with a gradual increase in the distance run every two weeks.

During marathon training, it is important to give your body adequate recovery time. If you feel fatigue or pain, you should take a break for a couple of days to let your body heal.

Before the race

During the last two or three weeks before the marathon, runners typically reduce their weekly training (typically by as much as 50%-75% of peak distance) and take at least a couple of days of complete rest to allow their bodies to recover for a strong effort. Many marathoners carbo-load (increase their carbohydrate intake) during the week before the marathon to allow their bodies to store more glycogen. This phase of training is also called tapering.

Immediately before the race, many runners will refrain from eating solid food to avoid digestive problems. They will also ensure that they are fully hydrated and that they urinate and defecate beforehand. Many races will have portable toilet facilities, but lines can be long, especially at larger marathons. Light stretching before the race helps keep muscles limber.

During the race

Coaches recommend trying to maintain as steady a pace as possible when running a marathon. Water and light sports drinks such as Gatorade offered along the race course should be consumed regularly. Carbohydrate-based gels such as PowerGel are also a good way to get more energy, but these should be diluted with water when taken; otherwise they can cause nausea and vomiting.

Typically, there is a maximum allowed time of about six hours after which the route is closed, although some larger marathons keep the course open considerably longer. For those running just for a hobby, times under four hours can be considered good. Having a target time makes it easier to keep a steady pace.

After the marathon

It is normal to experience muscle soreness after the marathon. Most runners will take about a week to recover from the marathon.

Famous marathon races

Many cities around the world organise an annual marathon run, including:

See also