So then, why is the marathon 26.2 miles? Or ‘26.2 gruelling miles’ as almost everything I read about the London marathon puts it. Gruelling – not a word I like the sound of. Scenic, yes. Awe-inspiring, yes. Beautiful, yes. Downhill, yes. Short, yes. Gruelling, no thank you. Gruelling – it sounds like it should be the name of a wicked witch from a fairy tale, or the scientific term for a baby lizard or something.
Anyway, back to the distance of the marathon – who knows why it is what it is?
It commemorates the run of the soldier Pheidippides (or similar name depending where you look it up), who according to legend ran 24 miles from a battlefield in the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C. On his arrival he delivered the message “Niki!”, meaning victory… then collapsed and died.
That bit of the story I knew (although had to look up all the names, places and date so I won’t have it as my Mastermind specialist subject). This I did not know though: at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, the marathon distance was changed to 26.2 miles to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City stadium, with 2.2 miles added on so the race could finish in front of royal family’s viewing box. This is the origin of the Marathon tradition of shouting “God save the Queen!” (or other words relating to the Queen) as mile post 24 is passed. After 16 years of extremely heated discussion, this 26.2 mile distance was established at the 1924 Olympics in Paris as the official marathon distance. (1)
Huh! I’m not sure what I’ll be shouting at mile 24 – any suggestions? Send me your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll use the best one, assuming I have enough energy to speak…
(1) copied and pasted with a few changes from http://www.athensmarathon.com/marathon/history.html