How Long is a Marathon?

How long is a marathon?

The Comprehensive Guide to Marathon Distances

Marathons have long been a symbol of endurance, determination, and athletic prowess. For many, completing a marathon is a significant achievement, a testament to months, if not years, of training and preparation. In this guide, we delve deep into the specifics of marathon distances, offering insights that both beginners and seasoned runners will find invaluable.

Understanding the Marathon: A Historical Perspective

The marathon’s origins can be traced back to Ancient Greece and a legendary tale of determination, endurance, and sacrifice. The story is deeply rooted in the historical events surrounding the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE.

The Battle of Marathon

In 490 BCE, the city-states of Greece faced an invasion from the Persian Empire. The Persians landed on the plains of Marathon, approximately 26 miles northeast of Athens. The Athenians, although outnumbered, decided to engage the Persians in battle. Against the odds, the Athenians emerged victorious.

The Legend of Pheidippides

Following the Athenian victory, according to legend, a messenger named Pheidippides was dispatched to deliver the news of the triumph to the citizens of Athens. Pheidippides ran from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens without stopping. Upon arriving in Athens, he is said to have exclaimed “Nenikēkamen!” (meaning “We have won!”) before collapsing and dying from exhaustion.
This run from Marathon to Athens, covering a distance of approximately 26 miles, is the basis for the modern marathon race. It’s worth noting that while the story of Pheidippides is famous, its historical accuracy is debated among scholars. Some ancient sources suggest that Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta before the battle, seeking assistance, which is a much longer distance.
How long is a marathon?

Standardization of the Marathon Distance

The marathon as a competitive race was revived during the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, held in Athens. The initial distance of the race varied, but it was approximately the distance from Marathon to Athens. The exact length of 26.2 miles (or 42.195 kilometers) was standardized at the 1908 London Olympics. This distance was chosen to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium, with the finish line in front of the royal box.
Since then, the marathon has become a staple in athletic competitions worldwide, symbolizing endurance, determination, and the human spirit’s ability to overcome challenges.
The marathon is not just a test of physical endurance but also carries with it a rich historical legacy that dates back over two millennia. The tale of Pheidippides and his heroic run serves as a testament to the lengths humans will go to in the face of adversity.

The Standard Marathon Distance: 26.2 Miles

The official distance of a marathon is 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers. This distance was standardized at the 1908 London Olympics. It’s essential to understand this specific length when training for a marathon to ensure you’re adequately prepared for the challenge ahead.

Training for the 26.2 Mile Journey

Training for a marathon requires dedication, discipline, and a well-structured plan. Here are some key components to consider:

Develop a Plan

Creating a training plan is essential to any marathon journey. When it comes to marathon training, it’s wise to consult with an experienced running coach to design an individualized program that meets your goals and takes into account any limitations or injuries you may have.

That said, even those without a coach can benefit by following some basic principles when establishing a plan. A good starting point is to start with short runs in the first week, and gradually increase both the length and frequency of runs in ensuing weeks.

It’s important to aim for consistency when it comes to training runs; try to run at least three times per week and give yourself at least one rest day each week. Additionally, aim for at least one long run and one speed session each week once you’ve built up your mileage.

The Importance of Long Runs in Marathon Training

Long runs are a cornerstone of marathon training. They play a pivotal role in preparing both the body and mind for the demands of covering 26.2 miles. Here’s a closer look at their significance and how to effectively incorporate them into a training regimen.

Why Long Runs are Crucial

1. Building Endurance: The primary purpose of long runs is to increase your aerobic capacity. As you run longer distances, your heart becomes stronger, pumping more blood (and therefore more oxygen) to your muscles. This helps in improving stamina and endurance.
2. Muscle Adaptation: Long runs stimulate physiological adaptations in the muscles. They become more efficient at using energy and handling the wear and tear of extended periods of running.
3. Mental Preparation: Completing a long run boosts confidence. It mentally prepares runners for the challenge of the marathon, teaching them to cope with discomfort and to stay mentally focused over long periods.
4. Fatigue Resistance: Running long distances teaches the body to run efficiently when tired, a skill that’s invaluable in the latter stages of a marathon.
5. Practicing Fueling Strategies: Long runs provide an opportunity to test nutrition and hydration strategies, which are crucial for race day.

Incorporating Long Runs into Your Training

1. Start Slowly: If you’re new to marathon training, your long run might be as short as 5-6 miles. That’s okay. The key is to gradually increase the distance over time.
2. Increase Gradually: A common rule is the 10% rule, which suggests that you shouldn’t increase your weekly mileage (or the distance of your long run) by more than 10% from one week to the next.
3. Pace Yourself: Long runs aren’t about speed; they’re about distance and time on your feet. Aim to run at a comfortable pace where you can hold a conversation. This is often 60-90 seconds slower per mile than your target marathon pace.
4. Schedule Recovery: After a long run, your muscles need time to repair and adapt. Ensure you have rest days or easy running days following your long runs.
5. Stay Hydrated and Fueled: For runs longer than 60-75 minutes, consider taking along hydration and energy gels or chews. This will help you practice for race day and ensure you stay energized during your run.
6. Vary Your Routes: To keep things interesting and to simulate different race terrains, change up your long run routes. Incorporate hills, trails, and flat roads.
7. Listen to Your Body: If you’re feeling particularly fatigued, unwell, or if you have niggling pains, consider adjusting your training. It might mean shortening a long run or even skipping it altogether. Remember, it’s better to arrive at the marathon start line slightly undertrained but healthy than overtrained and injured.
Long runs are an indispensable component of marathon training. They lay the foundation upon which successful marathon performance is built. By approaching them with respect, understanding their purpose, and incorporating them wisely into your training, you set the stage for a successful and enjoyable marathon experience.

Speed Work

Intervals and tempo runs can help improve your pace and cardiovascular fitness. Speed work should be incorporated into any marathon training plan in order to boost performance during race day. Speed sessions can include tempo runs (sustained efforts at faster paces), intervals (run fast/walk/run fast intervals repeated several times), hill sprints (either sprinting up hills or walking/jogging down them), fartleks (short bursts of varying intensity/duration at different points during a run), or drills (plyometric exercises such as high knees, butt kicks, side shuffles) if local terrain allows it. And joining races—whether 5Ks or longer distance races—is also beneficial; not only will they give you valuable experience racing in crowds with adrenaline pumping, but they’ll also add another source of motivation while in training mode!

Rest and Recovery

Cross-training is also important when it comes to marathon training; incorporating other activities such as swimming, yoga, or biking will help build strength, improve flexibility, and reduce the risk of overuse injuries from too much running. Rest days are also critical; taking at least one day off from running each week will help prevent injury and give your body time to recover from all that hard work!


A balanced diet fuels your training and aids in recovery. Fuelling your body properly before (and after) every run is key in getting the most out of each session. Aim for meals that are high in carbohydrates but low in fibre – think oatmeal with fruit, rice with chicken, or toast with peanut butter – about an hour before each run. You should also hydrate regularly throughout the day (aim for six–eight glasses of water), and drink fluids before, during, and after runs (electrolyte drinks on runs over 60 minutes). 
How long is a marathon?

Warm Up & Cool Down

Another key part of any running program is the warm-up and cool down. Warming up before each run helps prepare your body for exercise by raising your heart rate, loosening muscles, getting your blood flowing, and getting your mind ready for action. A warm-up can include dynamic stretches (such as leg swings), light jogging, or walking with torso twists.

Cooling down after each run is just as important; it helps to gradually lower your heart rate and helps reduce fatigue by flushing lactic acid out of your muscles. Cooling down can include walking or slow jogging followed by static stretches (hold each stretch for 15–30 seconds).

Marathon World Records

Ethiopia’s Tigst Assefa shattered the women’s marathon world record in Berlin on Sunday 24th September 2023, taking off more than two minutes from the previous best to clock an official time of two hours 11 minutes and 53 seconds.  Eluid Kipchoge, currently has world record of 2:01:09.


Top 10 Marathon Races Around the World

Barkley Marathons

Held in Frozen Head State Park in Morgan County, Tennessee, this ultramarathon trail race is known for its extreme difficulty and many peculiarities. The race consists of five loops of a 20+ mile off-trail course for a total of 100 miles. [More about Barkley Marathons]

Berlin Marathon

This marathon is renowned for its fast course, and many world records have been set here, including the men’s world record by Eliud Kipchoge in 2022. [More about Berlin MarathonBMW BERLIN-MARATHON:

World Marathon Majors

This is a championship-style competition for marathon runners that started in 2006. The series comprises annual races for the cities of Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York. [More about World Marathon Majors] Abbott World Marathon Majors

Boston Marathon

 One of the oldest and most prestigious marathons in the world. It’s part of the World Marathon Majors. Boston Marathon | Boston Athletic Association (

London Marathon

Another major marathon that attracts elite runners from all over the world. Home – TCS London Marathon – TCS London Marathon

Chicago Marathon

Known for its flat and fast course, it’s a favorite for many runners aiming for personal bests. Bank of America Chicago Marathon

New York City Marathon

This marathon takes runners through all five boroughs of New York City and is known for its enthusiastic crowds. TCS New York City Marathon (

Tokyo Marathon

The newest addition to the World Marathon Majors, it offers a unique opportunity to run in one of the world’s largest cities. Top Page | TOKYO MARATHON 2024

Rotterdam Marathon

Held in Rotterdam, Netherlands, this marathon is known for its flat course, making it one of the fastest marathons in the world. Many elite runners choose the Rotterdam Marathon to attempt personal bests or even world records. The scenic route takes participants through the heart of the city, showcasing Rotterdam’s modern architecture and its historic harbor. The enthusiastic crowds and well-organized event make it a favorite among both elite and amateur runners.
For more information and to apply, you can visit the official Rotterdam Marathon website NN Marathon Rotterdam

Athens Classic Marathon

This marathon traces the route said to be run by the ancient Greek messenger Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens. Marathon | Athens Marathon

Virtual Marathon Training

Virtual Training

If you’re unable to access a coach, there are several virtual marathon training programs available online that can guide you through your marathon journey. Here are some options:
1. New York Road Runners (NYRR) Virtual Training: NYRR offers a virtual training program tailored to your fitness level and schedule. The program adjusts based on your progress and feedback. More details can be found on the NYRR website New York Road Runners (
2. My ASICS Run Training: This app creates a personalized training plan based on your current ability and your race goals. It adjusts your plan as you progress.
3. Hal Higdon’s Marathon Training Guide: Hal Higdon is a renowned running coach, and his website offers various marathon training plans ranging from novice to advanced levels.
4. Nike Run Club: This app provides guided runs, coaching expertise, and a training plan that adapts to your schedule and progress.
5. Strava: While primarily known as a social network for athletes, Strava also offers training plans for marathons.
6. McMillan Running: Founded by coach Greg McMillan, this platform provides personalized training plans based on your goals and current fitness level.
7. Runner’s World Training Plans: Runner’s World offers a variety of training plans for different distances and skill levels.
8. Garmin Coach: If you own a Garmin watch, the Garmin Connect app offers adaptive training plans with guidance from expert coaches.
9. BAA Virtual Coach: The Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Boston Marathon, offers a virtual coaching program to guide runners in their training.
10. Endomondo: This app offers personalized training plans and tracks your runs, giving you feedback to help you improve.

Half-Marathon: The 13.1 Mile Challenge

For those not ready to tackle the full marathon, the half-marathon, at 13.1 miles or 21.0975 kilometers, offers a formidable yet more accessible challenge.

 Preparing for a Half-Marathon

1. Build a Base: Start with 3-4 days of running per week, covering short to moderate distances.
2. Long Runs: Incorporate a weekly long run, starting with 5-6 miles and gradually increasing by a mile each week until you reach 10-12 miles.
3. Speed Work: Add interval training or tempo runs once a week to improve pace and cardiovascular fitness.
4. Cross-Training: Engage in low-impact activities like cycling or swimming once a week to enhance overall fitness without added running stress.
5. Rest and Recovery: Ensure at least 1-2 days of rest or easy activity to allow muscles to recover.
6. Strength Training: Incorporate 1-2 days of full-body strength exercises to support running muscles and prevent injury.
7. Nutrition: Maintain a balanced diet to fuel your runs and aid recovery.
8. Stay Hydrated: Drink water throughout the day and consider sports drinks during longer runs.
9. Taper: Reduce mileage in the week leading up to the race to ensure you’re fresh on race day.
10. Listen to Your Body: Adjust training based on how you feel, ensuring you avoid overtraining or injury.
Remember, consistency is key, and it’s essential to find a training balance that suits your individual needs and fitness level.
Marathons, in all their variations, offer runners the chance to push their limits and achieve personal milestones. Whether you’re aiming for the standard 26.2 miles or the half-marathon, embrace the challenge and enjoy the journey!


1. What is the official distance of a marathon?  
A marathon is officially 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers long.
2. Why is a marathon 26.2 miles?
The distance was standardized at the 1908 London Olympics. The marathon distance was set to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium, with the finish line in front of the royal box.
3. How did the marathon get its name? 
The marathon is named after the ancient Greek city of Marathon. According to legend, a messenger named Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a military victory, covering a distance close to the modern marathon length.
4. Is there a difference between a marathon and a half marathon?  
Yes, a half marathon is half the distance of a full marathon, measuring 13.1 miles or 21.0975 kilometers.
5. How long does it typically take to run a marathon? 
Finishing times vary based on fitness levels and training. Elite runners can complete a marathon in just over 2 hours, while recreational runners might take 4-6 hours or more.
6. How should I train for my first marathon?
Training should include a mix of long runs, speed work, cross-training, and rest days. It’s essential to gradually increase mileage, stay hydrated, and follow a balanced nutrition plan.
7. Are there marathons longer than 26.2 miles?  
Yes, races longer than a marathon are called ultramarathons. They can range from 50 kilometers to several hundred miles.
8. Why do some people “hit the wall” during a marathon?  
“Hitting the wall” refers to a point where a runner’s glycogen stores deplete, leading to fatigue. Proper training, pacing, and nutrition can help avoid this.
9. Do I need special shoes for a marathon?
It’s advisable to wear running shoes that are comfortable, well-fitted, and broken in. Many runners opt for shoes specifically designed for long distances.
10. Can anyone run a marathon? 
While most people can train for and complete a marathon with proper preparation, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any rigorous training program.

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