A Measure of Royal Influence

We've all heard the story describing the origin of the marathon: the Greek hero Pheidippides runs from the battlefield at Marathon all the way to Athens to announce to the Greek victory, dying promptly after delivering the news. And the distance from that battlefield to Athens? Not 26.2 miles.

The distance from the battlefield to Athens was approximately 25 miles. The distances of the marathons at the first few Olympic games were based on this distance but actually varied, from just under 25 miles to 26.5 miles. So where did the 26.2 mile distance that we all know originate?


The 1908 Olympic games were held in London. The course originally laid out was 24 miles, running from the lawn at Windsor Castle - so the royal children could watch the start of the race - to White City Stadium, including a lap around the track at the stadium. It was later changed to only a half lap, ending in front of the royal viewing area. The distance from the lawn at Windsor Castle to the royal box at White City Stadium: 26.22 miles.

26.2 miles became the official standard for marathons (according to the International Amateur Athletic Federation) in 1921. Almost 100 years later everybody knows that number, and everybody knows the story of Pheidippides. Yet I wonder how many people know that the standard distance for the legendary Greek race is British.

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