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A Short History of the Marathon

In the 21st century running a Marathon has become many people's passion. It's quite challenging and requires a lot of preparation - but in the end it's something to be proud of and a sign of strength and willpower. But many of us might stumble upon the slightly odd distance of 42.195 kilometers which raises the question if it couldn't have been just an even number. And where does the name Marathon come from anyway? Delving into the origins of one of the most popular activities of recent years reveals an inspiring story of determination and devotion.

A long time ago...

Don't worry if history wasn't your favorite subject at school - we will keep it simple. In the 5th century B.C. Ancient Greece was merely a country but more of a collection of city states rivaling each other for dominance on the peninsula. Among these were the mighty cities of Sparta and Athens.

There was one cause though that frequently forced the quarreling neighbors to cooperate - their common enemy Persia...

A professional Runner

The story we're about to tell is about Philippides, a young Greek man that had the job to - well - run most of the time since he was a messenger by profession. Since humanity back then didn't have the commodity to send messages via SMS or WhatsApp, rulers and kings had to employ - preferably young - couriers, that would run across Greece to bring messages to their counterparts.

Men like Philippides were quite trained long-distance-runners. When the Athenians desperately needed help from the Spartans against the invading forces of the Persians, he ran the 240 kilometers between the two cities in just 2 days. After delivering the message he returned the same way, just to discover that the Persians had already arrived at the city of Marathon, where the battle of the same name took place. Eager to find out what was happening there he took off from Athens to the battlefield where he discovered that the Greeks had won a decisive victory over their enemies.

Philippides knew that back home everyone was anxiously awaiting the outcome of the battle - so despite his exhaustion he took no rest, instead running all the way back to spread word about the victory of his countrymen - the distance was told to be about 40km. The moment he arrived in Athens, he announced the victory with the word "Nikomen" meaning "We won" before he collapsed and died, thus becoming a legend.

So why...

...the distance of 42.195 kilometers? Neither do we know if Philippides story has actually happened as it was told by the Greek scholars Herodotus and Plutarch nor the exact distance young Philippides ran that day. The shortest distance between Athens and Marathons is 36 kilometers anyway.

The most likely explanation is a very different one. When the Olympic Games were reinstalled in the year 1896 the Marathon Run was one of the original parts of the competition though the distance has not yet been standardized. In the year 1908 the Games were being held in London where a new stadium has been built for this purpose. The Marathon should start at Windsor Castle and finish at White City stadium at a length of 25 miles (approximately 40 kilometers). Due to a miscalculation, it was found out later that the distance was actually 42.195 kilometers and because people wanted the competition to be comparable, it has been standardized in the year 1921 and remained the same until today.

But even if the story did not occur like the ancient sources tell us - the legacy of Philippides and the Marathon continues to inspire people all around the world to overcome themselves and keep running.




June 26th - 27th 2021 - Toronto Skyline Run

 The wonderful city of Toronto is calling! Together with our friends from the Canadian metropolis, we invite you to the Skyline Run. Participate wherever you live. Run the 5K, 10K, half marathon or your marathon and get to know the highlights of Toronto and runners from our Canadian community and receive your beautiful Maple Leaf medal!


Picture 1 : Sherise VD via unsplash
Picture 2 : Miguel A. Amutio via unsplash
Picture 3 : Mārtiņš Zemlickis via unsplash
Picture 4 : Miguel A. Amutio via unsplash