How Far Is a Marathon?

Mo Farah of Great Britain starts the Virgin London Marathon on April 13, 2014 in London, England
Stephen Pond/Getty Images

A marathon is 26.2 miles or 42 kilometers. Although marathons differ in their terrain and degree of difficulty, how far a marathon is has been standard since 1908. The distance of a full marathon is always 26.2 miles. Races that are shorter or longer in distance include the 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6 .2 miles), half-marathon (13.1 miles), or ultra-marathon (anything over 26.2 miles).

Before you attempt to run a marathon, it's a good idea to be running for at least 6 months and run at least 3 times a week. If you've never run a race before, you probably want to start with a shorter race, such as a 5K, 10K, or half-marathon. Once you've completed a shorter race distance, you'll be in a better position to decide if you want to take on the challenge of running or walking 26.2 miles.

History of the 26-Mile Marathon Distance

The legend goes that Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, ran 25 miles from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of the Athenians' victory over the Persians in 490 B.C. He arrived to declare "Nikomen," which is "We win" in Greek. The word is derived from the name of the goddess Nike (Victory). Today, you might run a marathon wearing Nikes on your feet.

The modern marathon distance became 26.2 miles at the 1908 Olympics, where the marathon course was designed so that it could start at Windsor Castle and finish at the Olympic stadium. Today, all official marathons are 26.2 miles.

The oldest marathon in the U.S. is the Boston Marathon, which has been run continually since 1897. Other marathons ensure their courses are certified so runners can use their times to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

The marathon has been an Olympic event since 1896, when it began as a men's medal competition. It took nearly a century for a women's marathon to be added to the Olympics; the women's competition did not begin until 1984.

Preparing to Run a Marathon

If you want to train for a marathon, it's important to follow a training schedule so you're properly prepared for the race, avoid getting injured, and feel confident when you get to the starting line.

Having a training schedule to follow will also keep you motivated during the 4 to 5 months that you'll need to prepare for the race. With a well-designed plan, you will steadily increase the distance of your long run of the week, then taper your mileage in the last couple of weeks.

This training period also allows you to practice good race hydration and snacks to keep your energy up during the race. You will also learn what shoes, socks, and other running equipment you need to avoid blisters and chafing and feel more comfortable during long runs.

Marathon Training Plans

These training plans can help you prepare to complete those 26.2 marathon miles. Remember to consult your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen.

  • Beginner marathon training plan: This 20-week schedule is geared toward first-time marathoners. To start this training plan, you should have a running base mileage of 12 to 15 miles per week.
  • 22-week beginner marathon training plan: This marathon training plan gives beginners a couple more weeks of training.
  • Advanced beginner marathon training plan: This 20-week marathon training schedule is for runners who can run 4 miles comfortably and can run four to five days per week.
  • Intermediate marathon training plan: This 18-week marathon training schedule can be used by intermediate runners who have already run a marathon, currently run five days a week, and can run up to 6 miles at a time.
  • Advanced marathon training plan: This 18-week marathon training schedule is designed for advanced runners with marathon experience who can run up to 8 miles comfortably and are running at least 5 days a week.
  • Marathon walking training plan: Marathons aren't just for runners. If you plan to walk the distance, you can use this 19-week training plan.
  • Run/walk marathon training plan: Many first-time marathoners use a run/walk strategy, alternating intervals of running and walking. This 20-week marathon training program is designed to help you run/walk to the finish line of your marathon.

 To estimate what time you can expect for your marathon, use a pace calculator.

1 Source
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  1. History. Why is a marathon 26.2 miles?

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.