Why Is A Marathon 26.2

When it comes to running, marathons are the ultimate test of endurance and strength. Many people wonder why a marathon is specifically 26.2 miles long, and it’s a question I’ve pondered myself as a passionate runner. Join me as we dive deep into the fascinating history and reasons behind the exact distance of a marathon.

The Origins of the Marathon

The marathon distance can be traced back to ancient Greece, where according to legend, a messenger named Pheidippides ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of a military victory. The distance he covered was approximately 26 miles, which became the basis for the modern-day marathon.

This iconic race made its official debut at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, where the course was extended to allow the race to pass by the royal family’s viewing box. The distance was set at 26.2 miles, starting from Windsor Castle and ending at the Olympic Stadium.

The Influence of the 1908 Olympic Games

The 1908 Olympic Games played a significant role in solidifying the marathon distance as 26.2 miles. The race captured the imagination of the spectators and organizers, who were awe-inspired by the athletes’ determination and resilience.

Following the 1908 Olympic Games, the distance of marathons varied from race to race until 1921 when the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) officially adopted the 1908 distance as the standard for all future marathons.

Practical Considerations

While the historical significance and tradition play a role in the marathon’s distance, there are also practical reasons behind the 26.2-mile mark. At the 1908 Olympic Games, the marathon course was altered to accommodate the royal family’s request, extending the distance from the usual 24.85 miles to 26.2 miles.

Since then, marathon races have maintained the same distance for practical reasons. Organizers found it logistically easier to plan courses and establish standardized training programs for runners when the distance remained consistent.

Optimal Distance for Human Performance

Another factor in adopting the 26.2-mile distance is the optimal performance level for human endurance. Studies have shown that the human body can efficiently store and utilize glycogen, the body’s primary fuel source, for a distance of around 20 miles. Beyond this point, the body begins to rely more heavily on fat stores to provide energy.

The final 6.2 miles of a marathon push runners to tap into their fat reserves, which can be physically and mentally challenging. This distance tests not only physical endurance but also mental resilience and the ability to push through the infamous “wall.”


So, why is a marathon 26.2 miles long? It’s a combination of historical significance, practical considerations, and the optimal performance level for human endurance. The distance has stood the test of time and has become a symbol of strength and achievement for runners worldwide. Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or aspire to conquer the distance, the marathon will forever remain an enduring challenge and a testament to the indomitable spirit of the human body and mind.