Why is the Official Marathon Distance a seemingly arbitrary 42.195 Kilometers long?

The Ten Miles, Antwerp’s iconic annual running event, is less than a week away. On Sunday, April 23rd 2017, some 35,000 runners will take to the street to complete the sixteen kilometers through the Antwerp inner city, with as the final major obstacle the dreaded long steep climb (3.7 percent) out of the Waaslandtunnel, (also known as the “Rabbit Hole”) under the River Scheldt.

Runners emerging from the Waasland tunnel (source HLN)

The Antwerp Ten Miles is so popular that people often forget that there are also other running events that day such as the “Chiquita Kids Run (1.4K)“, the “DVV Insurance Short Run (5K)” and for some 2,500 people who are true gluttons for punishment, the full Marathon. The Marathon takes you through the cities suburbs such as Hoboken, Wilrijk, Berchem, and Deurne, to then finish on the historic “Grote Markt” in the city center. This year, I will be competing in the Marathon for the second time.

You might also be interested in my blog post titled: Running through the Streets of Lisbon with a Local.

In honor of the “DVV Insurance Antwerp Marathon”, I decided to dedicate the rest of this blog to some of my favorite examples of Marathon running humor and to dispel one commonly sited myth about the origin of the Marathon. Let me start with the myth. There is a common belief that the reason the length of a marathon is set somewhat arbitrary at 42.195 kilometers, is because this was the distance the Athenian runner Pheidippides allegedly ran in 490 BC to announce the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.

This story might explain where the name of this long-distance race comes from, but it does not provide an answer for the exact distance. In fact, before 1921, there was no exact marathon distance, it was just a long race of around 40 kilometers. This changed in 1921, when the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) set the official distance at 42.195 meters. For this, it based itself on the length of the 1908 London Marathon, which is often referred to as the “Race of the Century” because of its dramatic and controversial finish.

The story of the 1908 Marathon is truly larger than life. The Italian Dorando Pietri had been the first to enter the Olympic stadium for his final lap with a significant lead. However, by that time he had been so dehydrated due to the extremely hot conditions that he had started running in the wrong direction. When officials had finally convinced him to turn around, he collapsed. For the next ten minutes or so, some 75,000 spectators witnessed how umpires helped him up and guided him towards the finish line. Pietri did eventually cross the finish first, before the American Johnny Hayes, but eventually Hayes was named the winner, as Pietri had been disqualified for having been helped by officials.

Because the race had been so legendary, and because Hayes and Pietri had subsequently run a number of rematches at the same distance in front of large crowds, the IAAF decided to set the Marathon distance at 42.195 kilometers – the London distance. The official marathon distance has remained the same ever since.

This article on quora.com gives a good summary of the history behind the marathon distance

To conclude this post, I would like to add a few of my favorite videos and images about Marathon running that I came across in recent years.

This video is one of my personal favorites. If you run a marathon and nobody has heard about it, did it really happen? Would anybody still run marathons if they could not brag about it?

I could not describe it better myself!

So True! (source: kehoephysio.me)

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