This month, on Sunday 23 April, thousands of runners will head to the capital to take part in the iconic London marathon. This will be the 43rd year that the event has taken place, and so to mark the occasion, we are taking a look at the history of this world-famous race and the origins of the marathon itself.
According to legend, the origins of the marathon can be traced back to Ancient Greece in 490BC. The Battle of Marathon had just taken place, in which the Athenians had successfully defeated an invasion by the Persian fleet. A messenger called Pheidippides was summoned to run from Marathon to Athens to relay the news – a distance of around 40km or 25 miles. Exhausted by his efforts, Pheidippides collapsed and died shortly after delivering the news.
Commemorating an epic run
It was this legendary story that inspired the creation of the modern marathon, which was first held in 1896 during the Olympic games in Athens. The distance was set at 25 miles, to commemorate Pheidippides’ incredible run. A group of 17 runners took part in the event, which began near the ancient battlefield in Marathon and finished at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, which had been restored for the Summer Games. Towards the end of the marathon one of the competitors, Spyridon Louis, reportedly stopped to drink a glass of wine before overtaking the race leader and winning the event.
For the next two Olympic Games, the marathon distance remained at around 25 miles. However, it was extended at the 1908 Games in London, reportedly at the behest of the British royal family. Queen Alexandra is said to have requested that the race begin on the lawn of Windsor Castle, so that the young royals could watch the start, and finish in front of the royal box at the Olympic stadium. The resulting distance was 26.2 miles, or 42.195 km, and this figure was made official in 1921.
A joint effort
Fast forward several decades and the first London marathon took place on 29 March 1981 involving 7,741 runners. The event was founded by athletes Chris Brasher and John Disley who had run the 1979 New York Marathon and were inspired to bring a similar event to London. The inaugural London marathon was won jointly by American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen who crossed the finish line holding hands in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 48 seconds. It was the only time that the race would have a joint winner.
Since then, the event has grown exponentially, with over 40,000 runners set to take to the streets during this year’s race. Traditionally the event begins at Greenwich Park and finishes at The Mall near to Buckingham Palace. Many people run on behalf of a charity, and as a result, the London marathon is now the biggest annual one-day fundraising event in the world.
From the legend of an exhausted messenger and his epic run, to an event that draws thousands of participants, the London marathon has certainly become one of the most famous sporting events in modern times.
Personal to Rose Calendars
Members of the Rose team are keen runners, with one colleague running in the London Marathon on Sunday. Managing Director Michael Rose is running the Royal Parks Half Marathon in London later this year, joining daughter Florence.