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Marathon (sport)

Although the name marathon is sometimes used to describe any athletic event of great length, or requiring great endurance, the word is most often used to describe a running race (long-distance track event) of 42,195 m (26 miles and 385 yards). The name of the race commemorates an incident in which Phidippides, a Greek soldier who, according to Herodotus (book IV, 105) ran from the town of Marathon to Sparta for aid, a distance of about 230 km (140 miles).

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 and the Greeks. The Greeks staged a selection race for the Olympic marathon, and this first marathon was won by Charilaos Vasilakos. In the early years, the distance of the marathon was about 40 km, the distance between Marathon and Athens. The 1908 Olympic marathon in London was originally set for 26 miles, but the race organizers added 385 yards to the course in order to have the runners start in front of Windsor Castle. This distance (42.195 km) was adopted in 1921 by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) as the official marathon distance.

The world best 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, an improvement of 20 minutes and 44 second since 1947 (Marathon world best progression). Note, however, that marathon routes vary greatly in elevation changes, course, and surface, making comparisons somewhat difficult.

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. 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 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.

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 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.

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. It is not a good idea to take carbohydrates in concentrated form, as they can cause nausea and vomiting.

Many runners report that running becomes noticeably more difficult around the 20 mile (30 kilometer) mark. In larger marathons, the cheers of the crowd along the course help runners keep their spirits up.

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: