A brief history of Marathons: How it all started, the first women-inclusive marathon, and more.

Surbhi DhawanMarathons and Races

490 BC – As we can say about a lot of things, it all started with the Greeks! It all started with Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who elated after a victory against Persia in the battle of Marathon, ran 24.5 miles to bear the news to the anxious city state of Athens. Legend has him yelling ‘Victory!’ in jubilee before keeling over and dying. Some would call his death preventable, tragic, almost silly. (too soon?) But today, hundreds of thousands of people around the world run the same race, in different parts of the world, for some reason.

1896 – The International Olympic Committee is founded, and the marathon is one of the original competitions in the Original modern Olympics. The distance wouldn’t get standardized for a while. Only 9 out of 25 participants finish the race. Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker, won that first race in 2 hours, 58 minutes, 50 seconds, finishing seven minutes ahead of the pack.

1897 – The first Boston Marathon is inaugurated. It is now the oldest marathon in the world.

1897 – 1908 – Marathons of different lengths are held during Olympics. The logic is that if the distance shouldn’t matter and doesn’t need standardization if everyone is running the same distance.

1908 – The first London marathon is held. The runners run from Windsor Castle to Whitecastle Stadium. The distance is close to 26 miles. However, as is characteristic in monarchy’s tradition, an extra 385 yards is added so that the royal family can witness the finish line from their box, giving rise to the British tradition of yelling ‘God Save The Queen!’ in the last mile. Now we’re not saying that it would be positively infuriating to have to run an extra quarter mile basically for the queen’s amusement. But of course, it can be assumed that the chant is the best instance of British sarcasm and humor.

1924 – The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) adopts the 1908 distance as the official marathon. In fact, of the first seven modern Olympics, there were six different distances. The official length of the marathon is now 26 miles and 385 yards. God Save The Queen!

1966-67 – We have to understand that for the longest time, women weren’t welcome in the marathons, which doesn’t mean that they didn’t participate anyway. In 1966, Roberta Gibb hid in bushes near the start of the Boston Marathon and then jumped into the race shortly after the starting gun fired, finishing (unofficially) in 3 hr. 21 min. 40 sec. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer signed up as KV Switzer and unknown to the administration ran the marathon, being harassed by an official on noticing that she’s a woman.

1970 – The New York marathon is first held. 127 runners compete for the race which is held completely inside Central Park. 55 runners cross the finish line. Modern NYC Marathons attract over forty thousand participants.

1972 – The Boston Marathon becomes the first major race to allow women to compete. About damn time!

1984 – Women are welcomed into the Olympic marathon!

2003 – On April 23, Paula Radcliffe ran the 26 miles and 385 yards in an unbroken 2:15:25 record time, setting a new precedent and a new standard to which women everywhere can aspire to.

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