AskDefine | Define marathon

Dictionary Definition



1 any long and arduous undertaking [syn: endurance contest]
2 a footrace of 26 miles 385 yards
3 a battle in 490 BC in which the Athenians and their allies defeated the Persians [syn: battle of Marathon]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Marathon



Ancient Greek Μαραθών, Marathōn, a town northeast of Athens. Phidippides the Greek ran the distance from Marathon to Athens to deliver a message regarding the Battle of Marathon. The modern sport of marathon running is based on a run approximately the same distance.


Extensive Definition

The marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometers (26 miles 385 yards) that is usually run as a road race. The event is named after the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens. It was one of the original Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921. More than 800 marathons are contested throughout the world each year, with the vast majority of competitors being recreational athletes. The larger marathons can have tens of thousands of participants.


The name marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the Senate, exclaiming "" (Nenikékamen, 'We have won') before collapsing and dying of a heart attack. The account of the run from Marathon to Athens first appears in Plutarch's On the Glory of Athens in the 1st century AD who quotes from Heraclides Ponticus's lost work, giving the runner's name as either Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles. Lucian of Samosata (2nd century AD) also gives the story but names the runner Philippides (not Pheidippides).
There is debate about the historical accuracy of this legend. The Greek historian Herodotus, the main source for the Greco-Persian Wars, mentions Pheidippides as the messenger who ran from Athens to Sparta asking for help, and then ran back, a distance of over 240 kilometres each way. In some Herodotus manuscripts the name of the runner between Athens and Sparta is given as Philippides. Herodotus makes no mention of a messenger sent from Marathon to Athens, and relates that the main part of the Athenian army, having already fought and won the grueling battle, and fearing a naval raid by the Persian fleet against an undefended Athens, marched quickly back from the battle to Athens, arriving the same day.
In 1876, Robert Browning wrote the poem "Pheidippides". Browning's poem, his composite story, became part of late 19th century popular culture and was accepted as a historic legend.

Modern Olympics marathon

When the idea of a modern Olympics became a reality at the end of the 19th century, the initiators and organizers were looking for a great popularizing event, recalling the ancient glory of Greece. The idea of organizing a marathon race came from Michel Bréal, who wanted the event to feature in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. This idea was heavily supported by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, as well as the Greeks. The Greeks staged a selection race for the Olympic marathon, and this first marathon was won by Charilaos Vasilakos in 3 hours and 18 minutes (with the future winner of the introductory Olympic Games marathon coming in fifth). The winner of the first Olympic Marathon in 1896 (a male only race) was Spiridon "Spiros" Louis, a Greek water-carrier. He won at the Olympics in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds, despite stopping on the way for a glass of wine from his uncle waiting near the village of Chalandri.
The women's marathon was introduced at the 1984 Summer Olympics (Los Angeles, USA) and was won by Joan Benoit of the United States with a time of 2 hours 24 minutes and 52 seconds.
Since the modern games were founded, it has become a tradition for the men's Olympic marathon to be the last event of the athletics calendar, with a finish inside the Olympic stadium, often within hours of, or even incorporated into, the closing ceremonies. The marathon of the 2004 Summer Olympics revived the long-established route from Marathon to Athens ending at Panathinaiko Stadium, the venue for the 1896 Summer Olympics.


The length of a marathon was not fixed at first, since the only important factor was that all athletes competed on the same course. The marathon races in the first few Olympic Games were not of a set length, but were approximately 40 km, roughly the distance from Marathon to Athens by the longer, flatter route. The exact length of the Olympic marathon varied depending on the route established for each venue.
The marathon at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London was set to measure about and to start on ‘The Long Walk’ – a magnificent avenue leading up to Windsor Castle in the grounds of Windsor Great Park. The Princess of Wales wanted her children to watch the start of the race, so the start of the race was moved to the east lawn of Windsor Castle, increasing its length to . The world record for women was set by Paula Radcliffe of United Kingdom in the London Marathon on April 13, 2003, in 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. This time was set using male pacesetters; the fastest time by a woman without using a male pacesetter ("woman-only") was also set by Paula Radcliffe, again during the London Marathon, with a time of 2 hours 17 minutes and 42 seconds, on April 17, 2005.

World all times list (men)

Time Athlete Country Date Place

World all times list (women)

Time Athlete Country Date Place

Other notable marathon runners

This is a list of elite athletes notable for their performance in marathoning. For a list of people notable in other fields who have also run marathons, see list of marathoners.
Men Women

Running a marathon


Most participants do not run a marathon to win. More important for most runners is their personal finish time and their placement within their specific gender and age group, though some runners want just to finish. Strategies for completing a marathon include running the whole distance
Another goal is to break certain time barriers. For example, recreational first-timers often try to run the marathon under four hours; more competitive runners may attempt to finish under three hours. Other benchmarks are the qualifying times for major marathons. The Boston Marathon, the oldest marathon in the United States, requires a qualifying time for all non-professional runners. The New York City marathon also requires a qualifying time for guaranteed entry, at a pace slightly faster than Boston's. A qualifying time is also needed for Washington D.C.'s National Marathon. However, unlike Boston, where the qualifying times serve to attract a more talented field and limit participation, the National Marathon is motivated more by the need to reopen city streets in a limited amount of time.


Most coaches believe that the most important element in marathon training is the long run. Recreational runners commonly try to reach a maximum of about 20 miles (32 kilometres) in their longest weekly run and a total of about 40 miles (64 kilometres) a week when training for the marathon, but wide variability exists in practice and in recommendations. More experienced marathoners may run a longer distance, and more miles or kilometres during the week. Greater weekly training mileages can offer greater results in terms of distance and endurance, but also carry a greater risk of training injury. Most male elite marathon runners will have weekly mileages of over 100 miles (160 kilometres).
Many training programs last a minimum of five or six months, with a gradual increase (every two weeks) in the distance run and finally a little decrease (1 to 3 weeks) for recovery. The decrease, commonly called the taper, should last a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of three weeks, according to most trainers. For beginners looking to merely finish a marathon, a minimum of 4 months of running 4 days a week is recommended. Many trainers recommend a weekly increase in mileage of no more than 10%. It is also often advised to maintain a consistent running program for six weeks or so before beginning a marathon training program to allow the body to adapt to the new stresses.
Some training programs may be found at Runner's World, Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, and many others.
Overtraining is a condition that results from not getting enough rest to allow the body to recover from stressful training. It can result in lowered endurance and speed and place a runner at a greater risk of injury. Eating salt packets during a race possibly can help with this problem. The International Marathon Medical Directors Association issued a warning in 2001 that urged runners only to drink when they are thirsty, rather than "drinking ahead of their thirst."
Women are more prone to hyponatremia than men. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 13% of runners completing the 2002 Boston Marathon had hyponatremia.
A 4+ hour runner can drink about 4-6 ounces (120-170 ml) of fluids every 20-30 minutes without fear of hyponatremia. It is not clear if consuming sports drinks or salty snacks reduces risk. A patient suffering hyponatremia can be given a small volume of a concentrated salt solution intravenously to raise sodium concentrations in blood. Some runners weigh themselves before running and write the results on their bibs. If anything goes wrong, first aid workers can use the weight information to tell if the patient had consumed too much water.

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 8 MJ or 2,000 kcal worth of glycogen in their bodies, enough for about 30 km or 18-20 miles of running. Many runners report that running becomes noticeably more difficult at that point. When glycogen runs low, the body must then burn stored fat for energy, which does not burn as readily. 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. This is in part accomplished by utilizing a higher percentage of energy from burned fat even during the early phase of the race, thus conserving glycogen.
Carbohydrate-based "energy" gels are used by runners to avoid or reduce the effect of "hitting the wall" as they provide easy to digest energy during the run. Energy gels usually contain varying amounts of sodium and potassium and some also contain caffeine. They need to be consumed with a certain amount of water. Some people recommend taking an energy gel every 45-60 minutes during the race.
Alternatives to gels are solid candy, cookies, other forms of concentrated sugars, or any food high in simple carbohydrates which can be digested easily by the individual runner. Many runners experiment with consuming energy supplements during training runs to determine what works best for them.

After a marathon

Muscle soreness after a marathon is usually attributed to microscopic tears in the muscles. This soreness usually abates within a week, but most runners will take about three weeks to completely recover to pre-race condition depending on recovery rate.
The immune system is reportedly suppressed for a short time. Studies have indicated that an increase in vitamin C in a runner's post-race diet decreases the chance of sinus infections, a relatively common condition, especially in ultramarathons. Changes to the blood chemistry may lead physicians to mistakenly diagnose heart malfunction.
Due to the stress on the body during a marathon, a person's kidneys can shut down, leading to the accumulation of toxins in the blood. This is especially dangerous if the runner has consumed any medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuerofen) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol).
It is relatively common to only come to realize that there are injuries to the feet and knees after the marathon has finished. Blisters on the feet and toes commonly only become painful after the race is over. Some runners may experience toenails which turn black and subsequently detach from the toe. This is from the toenails being too long, or the shoes being too tight and repeatedly impacting on the front of the shoe.
Gentle exercise in the week after the marathon can aid muscle recovery. Many runners receive a sports massage from a licensed massage therapist approximately 24-48 hours after finishing a marathon.
After long training runs and the marathon itself, consuming carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores and protein to aid muscle recovery is commonly recommended. In addition, soaking the lower half of the body for 20 minutes or so in cold or ice water may force blood through the leg muscles to speed recovery.


Modern marathons such as New York, Chicago, London, and Berlin have tens of thousands of runners and millions of spectators. Common courtesy for other runners becomes necessary when running in a densely packed crowd. Those employing a walk/run strategy or who are simply walking are encouraged to stay to one side, leaving the middle of the street for faster runners.
Runners in groups are encouraged not to block the entire street, preventing other runners from passing them. Two or three runners abreast is recommended. Large groups may consider single or double files.
Spectators should remain on the curbs, instead of crowding onto the street and condensing participants into an even smaller space.

Cardiac risks

A study published in 1996 found that the risk of having a fatal heart attack during, or in the period 24 hours after, a marathon, was approximately 1 in 50,000 over an athlete's racing career - which the authors characterised as an "extremely small" risk. The paper went on to say that since the risk was so small, cardiac screening programs for marathons were not warranted. However, this study was not an attempt to assess the overall benefit or risk to cardiac health of marathon running.
In 2006, a study of 60 non-elite marathon participants tested runners for certain proteins which indicate heart damage or dysfunction after they had completed the marathon, and gave them ultrasound scans before and after the race. The study revealed that, in that sample of 60 people, runners who had done less than 35 miles per week training before the race were most likely to show some heart damage or dysfunction, while runners who had done more than 45 miles per week training beforehand showed few or no heart problems.
It should be emphasized that regular exercise in general provides a range of health benefits, including a substantially reduced risk of heart attacks. Moreover, these studies only relate to marathons, not to other forms of running. It has been suggested that as marathon running is a test of endurance, it stresses the heart more than shorter running activities, and this may be the reason for the reported findings.
In 2007, Ryan Shay, a 28 year-old elite long-distance runner, died after collapsing early in the US Olympic marathon trials. His death was reported as probably due to a pre-existing heart abnormality.

Multiple marathons

As marathon running has become more popular, some athletes have undertaken to complete goals involving the running of a series of marathons. The most popular goal is to run a marathon in each state of the United States and the District of Columbia. Over 300 individuals have completed this circuit once and some have done it eight times. Twenty-seven people have run a marathon on each of the seven continents, and 31 people have run a marathon in each of the Canadian provinces. In 2006, two people, Sam Thompson and Dean Karnazes, ran 50 marathon distances on 50 consecutive days in 50 different states. In 1980, in what was dubbed the Marathon of Hope, Terry Fox ran the marathon distance each day for 143 consecutive days, using one artificial leg.
Other goals are to attempt to run marathons in a series of consecutive weekends (Richard Worley on 159 weekends), or to run the most marathons during a particular year (e.g. Larry Macon ran 93 in 2007), or the most in a lifetime. As of June 30, 2007, Horst Preisler of Germany had successfully completed 1157 marathons plus 343 ultramarathons, a total of 1500 events at marathon distance or longer. Norm Frank of the United States is credited with 945 marathons. There are even clubs for people who have run 100 or more marathons; one such club has at least 45 members.
Some runners compete to run the same marathons for the most consecutive years. For example, Johnny Kelley completed 58 Boston Marathons. Four runners dubbed the "ground pounders" (Will Brown, Mattew Jaffe, Alfred Richmond, and Mel Williams) have completed all 32 Marine Corps Marathons. Another mention for most consecutive marathons is Jerald Fenske, who has completed every Paavo Nurmi Marathon he has entered since his first in 1978 at age 17, a total of 30 through 2007.


External links

marathon in Afrikaans: Maraton
marathon in Arabic: ماراثون
marathon in Bosnian: Maraton
marathon in Bulgarian: Маратон
marathon in Catalan: Marató
marathon in Czech: Maratonský běh
marathon in Danish: Maratonløb
marathon in German: Marathonlauf
marathon in Estonian: Maraton
marathon in Modern Greek (1453-): Μαραθώνας
marathon in Spanish: Maratón
marathon in Esperanto: Maratono
marathon in Basque: Maratoi
marathon in French: Marathon (sport)
marathon in Western Frisian: Maraton
marathon in Galician: Maratón (atletismo)
marathon in Korean: 마라톤
marathon in Croatian: Maraton
marathon in Indonesian: Maraton
marathon in Icelandic: Maraþonhlaup
marathon in Italian: Maratona (sport)
marathon in Hebrew: ריצת מרתון
marathon in Georgian: მარათონი
marathon in Haitian: Maraton
marathon in Latvian: Maratons
marathon in Lithuanian: Maratonas
marathon in Hungarian: Maraton
marathon in Malay (macrolanguage): Maraton
marathon in Dutch: Marathon (sport)
marathon in Japanese: マラソン
marathon in Norwegian: Maraton
marathon in Polish: Bieg maratoński
marathon in Portuguese: Maratona
marathon in Russian: Марафон
marathon in Sicilian: Maratona
marathon in Simple English: Marathon
marathon in Slovak: Maratón (beh)
marathon in Serbian: Маратон (спорт)
marathon in Serbo-Croatian: Maraton (sport)
marathon in Finnish: Maraton
marathon in Swedish: Maraton
marathon in Tamil: மாரத்தான்
marathon in Turkish: Maraton
marathon in Ukrainian: Марафонський біг
marathon in Urdu: میراتھن
marathon in Chinese: 馬拉松

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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