Living in Boston, it’s exciting to get caught up in the hype of the annual Boston Marathon. Granted, I’ve never run it (and don’t ever plan to), but the city crowds with athletes and their families and the atmosphere is electric. Walking down to the finish line and watching the winners cross is exciting! Of course, I only ever venture to the finish line -- everything before that is too far away when you're based downtown. About 26.2 miles too far, to be precise.
In the weeks leading up to a marathon, those numbers are plastered everywhere, as if organizers want to remind everyone that they signed up for 26.2 DAMN MILES.
Who decided this?! Why couldn’t we just say a marathon is one mile? I bet more people would sign up.
We have to go back to ancient times to figure it out. In the first Olympic Games in 1897, the marathon event was created to mimic the run by a Greek courier named Pheidippides in 490 B.C. when he sprinted to deliver news that the Greeks had beat the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. History says that Pheidippides ran all the way from Marathon (hence the name) to Athens, Greece...and subsequently dropped dead on the spot, so the story goes. That distance, though, was only 25 miles. Roughly.
It’s always been inconsistent. During that first marathon, for example, runners covered the same route as Pheidippides, but it clocked in at 24.85 miles. The next Games set the run at just a hair over 25 miles, and the distance just kind of floated around there in subsequent years.
When the Olympics went to London in 1908, though, they had to accommodate the royal family. Obviously. The rumor was that the royal children at the time demanded to see the very beginning of the race, meaning it had to start right outside Windsor Castle, in view from the nursery. The finish line was at White City Stadium in London, and the royals again demanded that it finish directly in front of their viewing box -- exactly 26.2 miles away.
While the distance still fluctuated following London, the idea is that writings by a journalist who documented the race that year, Arthur Conan Doyle, glorified the 26.2-mile mark as a breaking point that only the most elite could bypass. That’s just a theory, but the International Amateur Athletic Federation standardized the length of a marathon in 1921 to that exact distance that had only been run in London.
So, it’s the British royal family we have to thank (or loathe) for this very specific, very grueling, run.
I bet Prince Harry would look decent running a marathon. 🤔