marathon race, long-distance foot race deriving its name from Marathon, Greece. According to legend, in 490 B.C., Pheidippides, a runner from Marathon, carried news of victory over the Persians to Athens. In the first modern Olympics of 1896, a commemorative event retraced his route. The race soon became an Olympic event, its distance standardized in 1908 at 26 mi, 385 yd (42.195 km). The popularity of running as part of a physical fitness boom in the 1970s engendered a proliferation of marathons, some of them televised. Races in Tokyo, New York City, Chicago, London, Berlin, and elsewhere joined the famed Boston Marathon (begun in 1897). Tens of thousands of runners entered these and less celebrated marathons seeking to achieve personal records and to test their endurance. One of the most influential male runners was Bill Rodgers, who won the Boston and New York City marathons four times each between 1975 and 1980. Until the 1970s, women were largely ignored in (or excluded from, as at Boston) marathon racing, but in 1984, American Joan Benoit won the first Olympic race for women, and Grete Waitz won the New York City marathon nine times in 1978–88. Confronting the limits of endurance, some athletes enter ultramarathons, races of 50 miles or more, or of periods like 24 hours. The current marathon record for men is 2:03:23, set by Kenya's Wilson Kipsang (Berlin, 2013); for women it is 2:15:25, set by Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe (London, 2003).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.