The marathon is a long-distance road running event of 42.195 km (26.22 or 26 7/32 miles).
1896 Olympic marathon
The name "marathon" comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who, according to legend, was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been miraculously defeated in the Battle of Marathon. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping, but moments after proclaiming his message to the city, he collapsed dead. There is no evidence that any such event took place; according to the Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta. The legend that he ran from Marathon to Athens was invented by later writers and appears in Plutarch's On the Glory of Athens in the 1st century AD. The International Olympic Committee estimates the actual distance from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens is about 34.5 km (21.4 miles).
The idea of organizing the race came from Michel Bréal, who wanted to put the event on the program of 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. Spiridon "Spiros" Louis, a Greek shepherd, finished fifth in this race but 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).
The length of a marathon was at first not fixed, since all that was important was that all athletes competed on the same course. The exact length of an Olympic marathon varied depending on the route established for each venue.
The choice of distance was somewhat arbitrary. The first modern Olympics in 1896 had a marathon distance of 40 km. The starting point for the 1908 Olympic marathon in London was modified so that the Royal Family could have a good view and the length happened to be 42.195 km (26 miles 385 yards). For the next Olympics in 1912, the length was changed to 40.2 km and changed again to 42.75 km for the 1920 Olympics. Of the first 7 Olympic games, there were 6 different marathon distances between 40 and 42.75 km (40 km being used twice).
A fixed distance of 42.195 km was adopted in 1921 by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) as the official marathon distance.
World records and "world's best"
World records were not officially recognised by the IAAF until 1 January 2004; previously, the best times for the Marathon were referred to as the 'world best'. Courses must conform to IAAF standards for a record to be recognised. However, marathon routes still vary greatly in elevation, course, and surface, making exact comparisons impossible. Typically, the fastest times are set over relatively flat courses near sea level, during good weather conditions and with the assistance of pacesetters.
The world record time for men over the distance is 2 hours 4 minutes and 55 seconds, set in the Berlin Marathon by Paul Tergat of Kenya on September 28, 2003 (ratified as the world record by the IAAF on 1st January 2004), an improvement of 20 minutes and 44 seconds since 1947 (Marathon world best progression). The world record for women was set by Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain in the London Marathon on 13 April 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 set on 17 April 2005.
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. This tradition was further enhanced by a much older tradition in the 2004 Summer Olympics, as the long-established route from Marathon to Athens ended at Panathinaiko Stadium, the venue for the 1896 Summer Olympics.
Running a marathon
Completing a marathon is often considered to be a superhuman effort, but many coaches believe that it is possible for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort.
For most runners, the marathon is the longest run they have ever attempted. Many coaches believe that the most important element in marathon training is the long run. Usually recreational runners try to reach a maximum of about 20 miles (32.2 km) in their longest weekly run and about 40 miles (64.4 km) a week in total, when training for the marathon. 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 carries a greater risk of training injury. Most male elite marathon runners will have weekly mileages of over 100 miles (160.9 km).
Many training programs last a minimum of five or six months, with a gradual increase (every two weeks) in the distance run. For beginners looking to finish a marathon, rather than compete, a minimum of 4 months, running 4 days a week is recommended (Whitsett et al. 1998). Many trainers, including Dr. Daniels, recommend a weekly increase in mileage of no more than 10%. It is also often advised to maintain a consistent running program for six months or so before beginning a marathon training program to allow the body to adapt to the new stresses.
During marathon training, it is considered important to give your body adequate recovery time. If fatigue or pain is felt, it is recommended to take a break for a couple of days or more to let your body heal. Overtraining is a condition that results from not getting enough rest to allow the body to recover from difficult training. It can actually result in a lower endurance and speed and place a runner at a greater risk of injury.
Before the race
During the last two or three weeks before the marathon, runners typically reduce their weekly training (typically by as much as 50%-75% of peak distance) and take at least a couple of days of complete rest to allow their bodies to recover for a strong effort. This is a phase of training known as tapering. Many marathoners also carbo-load (increase their carbohydrate intake while holding total caloric intake constant) during the week before the marathon to allow their bodies to store more glycogen.
Immediately before the race, many runners will refrain from eating solid food to avoid digestive problems. They will also ensure that they are fully hydrated beforehand. Light stretching before the race is believed by many to help keep muscles limber.
During the race
Coaches recommend trying to maintain as steady a pace as possible when running a marathon. Many novice runners make the mistake of trying to "bank time" early in the race by starting with a quicker pace than they can actually hope to maintain for the entire race. This strategy inevitably results in the runner bonking before completing the race.
Carbohydrate-based "energy" gels such as PowerGel, Gu, Accel, and Clif Shot are also a good way to get more energy, but these should be taken along with water; otherwise they can cause nausea and vomiting. Most experts recommend taking an energy gel every 45-60 minutes during the race. Energy gels usually contain varying amounts of sodium and potassium to replenish what is lost while running. Some energy gels contain caffeine, which is proven to enhance performance, but cannot be tolerated by some runners. Most energy gel brands offer caffeine-free versions of their products. Honey is a natural, economical substitute for energy gels.
Typically, there is a maximum allowed time of about six hours after which the marathon route is closed, although some larger marathons (such as Myrtle Beach and Marine Corps) keep the course open considerably longer (eight hours or more). Runners still on the course at that time are picked up by a truck and carried to the finish line. Finishing a marathon at all is a worthy accomplishment, but for those running just as a hobby, times under four hours (9:10 per mile) are considered a superior achievement. Having a target time makes it easier to keep a steady pace.
Water consumption dangers
Water and light sports drinks offered along the race course are sometimes consumed regularly in order to avoid dehydration. Drinking more fluid than one loses during a race can decrease the amount of sodium in the blood (a condition called hyponatremia) that may result in vomiting, seizures, coma and even death . 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."
An elite runner never has the time to drink too much water. However, a slower runner can easily drink too much water during the four or more hours during and immediately after a race. Water overconsumption typically occurs when a runner is overly concerned about being dehydrated and overdoes the effort to drink enough. The amount of water required to cause complications from drinking too much may be only 3 liters or even less, depending on the person. Women are more prone to hyponatremia than men. A recent 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 of fluids every 20-30 minutes without fear of hyponatremia. It is not clear that 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. Sports drinks are not administered and can actually worsen the problem. Since taking and testing a blood sample takes time, runners should weigh themselves before running and put the numbers on their bibs. If anything goes wrong, the 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 20 miles (32.2 km) 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 efficiently. When this happens, the runner will experience dramatic fatigue. This phenomenon is called bonking or 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.
After a marathon
It is normal to experience muscle soreness after a marathon. This is usually attributed to microscopic tears in the muscles. It causes a characteristic awkward walking style that is immediately recognizable by other runners. Muscle soreness usually abates within a week, but most runners will take about three weeks to completely recover to pre-race condition.
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.
It is still possible to overdrink water after the race has finished, and runners should take care to not overconsume water in the immediate hours after finishing the race.
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) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). If a runner has not urinated within 4-6 hours after the marathon despite consuming adequate fluids, he or she should seek medical attention.
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 sometimes subsequently detatch from the foot. The lost toenail may or may not grow back.
Some sports doctors advise that gentle exercise in the week after the marathon can aid muscle recovery, but obviously this must be tailored to the individual situations. Receiving a sports massage from a licensed massage therapist is a good idea within 24-48 hours after finishing the marathon. Massage has been shown to have less benefit if received immediately after the race.
A variety of devices are available from manufacturers such as Timex, Polar, and Garmin, which provide pace and distance feedback during the race, allowing the runner to constantly know the exact pace and distance travelled. These devices employ two types of technologies: GPS (Global Positioning System) and pedometer. GPS devices calculate pace and distance by repeatedly triangulating their positions relative to a network of GPS satellites. They tend to be more expensive and more accurate. Pedometers employ a device which clips to the runner's shoe and wirelessly transmits pace data to a paired wristwatch. Pedometer technology has the advantages of being cheaper, and functional when there is no line of sight to a GPS satellite (due to tall buildings, trees, clouds, etc.)
A heart rate monitor is another device which straps around the runner's chest and wirelessly transmits data to a paired wristwatch. During the race, the runner can view his or her heart rate in beats per minute, which can give the runner objective feedback about his or her level of running intensity.
Some devices combine pace/distance technology and heart rate monitoring technology into one unit.
More than 800 annual marathons are organized in most countries of the world. Some of the largest and most prestigious races, in Boston, New York City, Chicago, London, and Berlin, form the biannual World Marathon Majors series, a world cup for elite runners. Other notable large marathons include Washington, D.C., Honolulu, Los Angeles, Rome and Paris.
Marathon races usually use the format of start called mass start.
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 ran marathons, see list of marathoners.
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