A Brief History of Marathon Running and the Akron Marathon

by Claude Christensen

07/12/2018

26 miles and 385 yards. That’s the length of a marathon.

The story of that strange distance and why people run it all over the U.S. and the world is convoluted. But it is fascinating.

It begins with the legend of Pheidippides.

In 490 BCE, Pheidippides, a messenger-runner in ancient Greece, ran the approximately 40 kilometers (24.8548 miles) from the town of Marathon to Athens to bring news of the Athenian army’s stunning defeat of the much larger invading Persian force. According to the legend, he fell dead shortly after delivering his message.

Dig a little further into the history of the Battle of Marathon, and you’ll learn that before his fateful run from Marathon to Athens, Pheidippides is said to have also run the 280 miles there-and-back to Sparta to ask for aid. All in as little as 10 days. The Spartans declined.

Roughly 2,386 years later in 1896, the first modern marathon was run at the first modern Olympics in Athens. Honoring the Pheidippides legend, that marathon was 40 kilometers (almost 25 miles) long.

Curious why today’s marathon has an extra mile and 385 yards? Answer: the British royals. At the 1908 London Games, their majesties wanted a better view of the beginning and end of the race. Lengthening the route made this possible, thus, the Brits settled on our odd modern length of 26 miles 385 yards.

 

Running in the U.S.A.

Although the Boston Marathon began in 1897, a year after the Athens Olympics marathon, neither long distance running nor marathons kicked off in the U.S until the 1970s. It was when Frank Shorter won the marathon gold in the Summer Olympics in Munich with a time of two hours, 12 minutes, and 19 seconds (2:12.19) that America got interested. Maybe even a little obsessed.

Soon thereafter, Bill Bowerman, who went on to co-found Nike, began hand-making running shoes using his wife’s waffle iron.

The women’s marathon in the Olympic Games debuted in 1985. At that first-ever women’s Olympic marathon, American Joan Benoit Samuelson took the gold with a time of 2:24.52.

 

The Akron Marathon

The Akron Marathon is the brainchild of two experienced marathoners, Steve and Jeannine Marks, who wondered why Akron couldn’t have a marathon too. They presented their idea and quickly garnered support from the mayor and local businesses in 2002. Months later, the Akron Marathon was born.

“It was the work of a lot of volunteers and local sponsors that brought us that first marathon in 2003,” says Anne Bitong, executive director of the Akron Marathon Charitable Corporation. The inaugural marathon had 3,775 competitors.

In 2013, the marathon had an $8.2 million economic impact in the Greater Akron area. In 2017, the number of competitors in all three races in the Akron Marathon Race Series exceeded 13,000.

“One of the things we hear the most from runners who’ve never been in an Akron race before is how surprised they are by the overwhelming support from spectators along the route,” says Anne. “That and our numerous aid and refueling stations really impress runners who haven’t been to Akron before.”

Continuing this tradition of supporting the runners, the 2018 Akron Marathon will feature a large number of block parties on the route. Some of the block parties will host local bands that will perform during the race.

And in the third year of its partnership with Akron Children’s Hospital, the marathon will feature sponsored “Hero Zones.” These are dedicated sections along the route where patients from Akron Children’s will cheer on runners.

Want to run a race, but not quite ready to run 26 miles and 385 yards? Or, if you’re training for the marathon, want to get used to the feel of a big race before marathon day?

The Akron Marathon Race Series offers two race events leading up to the First Energy Akron Marathon on September 29th: the National Interstate 8k & 1 mile on June 30 and the Goodyear Half-Marathon & 10k on August 11.

Both these races and the Akron Marathon are still open for registration.

You don’t have to train like Pheidippides (really, really, really not recommended), but consider signing up for one of these races and hitting Akron’s amazing trails to train. You’ll be supporting a good cause while getting to know Akron in a new way.

Click here for more on Pheidippides’ story and The Battle of Marathon.

The Akron Marathon will be held on Saturday, September 29.

For more details, visit akronmarathon.org

 

Elite marathoners run 140 miles a week. Claude Christensen’s hoping he can do less than half that. Baby steps. 

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