The world’s first marathon was run in 490 BC by a Greek soldier, Pheidippides, who ran the 26 miles (41.84 kilometres) from the battlefield in Marathon in ancient Greece to the rulers’ court in Athens. He said one word — “Nike” — and dropped dead. Pheidippides wasn’t talking about the brand of training shoes, but rather that a force of 100,000 marauding Persians had been defeated by the 6,000 Athenian forces. Nike means victory.
When the Olympics were revived in 1896 as an international sporting and cultural festival in Athens, the Marathon became more formal. On that occasion, 17 runners ran 40km, or 24.8 miles. Records show Greek runner Spyridon Louis won gold with a time of 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds. Most regular or seasoned runners could expect to beat this time today.
The city of Boston was inspired by the Athens event, and organised its first race over a similar distance the next year, 1897. It’s still the oldest annual marathon event in the world.
It’s 26 miles and 385 yards — 42.195 kilometres — from the spot where the Princess of Wales and her children saw off the runners from Windsor Castle, to the finishing line at White City for the 1908 Olympics. In 1924, athletics officials finally settled on that distance as the length of the race and remains the standard length to this day.
Today’s Dubai Marathon is just one of some 800 that are staged around the world every year. Events in Boston, New York, London, Sydney and Paris have at least 10,000 finishers.
The Great Tibetan Marathon is held on a course that’s at an average of 4,000 metres above sea level, with the thin air causing extreme difficulties for runners.
The summers in Greenland are short, but the Polar Circle Marathon, is held around the community of Thule on the Greenland ice cap. There’s also a marathon between the Innuit community of Arctic Bay and the mining camp at Nanasivik on the northwestern corner of Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic.
The Boston Marathon in 1972 became the first major distance race to allow women to compete — the thinking was that the distance was just too severe for females. The women’s Marathon became an Olympic event at the 1984 games. According to official statistics, more than 41 per cent of Marathon runners are women.
In 1980 Rosie Ruiz won the Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 31 minutes and 56 seconds. The only trouble was that witnesses saw her jump out from a bunch of onlookers and join the race more than half-way through.
At the 1904 Olympics in St Louis, Fred Lorz was greeted as the winner by US President Theodore Roosevelt. Too bad Lorz rode 11 miles (17.70km) in an official’s car and broke the tape as a joke. Thomas Hicks, who finished second, was disqualified too because he took performance-enhancing substances — egg whites laced with strychnine.