History of The London Marathon

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Marathon History – Greece

The ancient games, which took place in Greece from around 776 B.C. to A.D. 393, never included long-distance races, and the first modern marathon was held in Athens at the 1896 Olympics.

The idea for the modern marathon was inspired by the legend of an ancient Greek messenger who raced 25 miles from a place called Marathon to Athens, with the news of a Greek victory over an invading army of Persians in 490 B.C.

After making his announcement, the exhausted messenger collapsed and died. To commemorate his dramatic run, the 1896 Olympic marathon was set at about 25 miles, or 40 kilometres.

So why is the Distance 26.2 Miles now?

The marathon’s official length of 26.2 miles wasn’t established until the 20th century. For the next few Olympics, the marathon remained close to 25 miles, but at the 1908 Games in London the course was extended because of the British royal family. As the story goes, Queen Alexandra wanted the race start on the lawn of Windsor Castle (so the youngest royals could watch from the window of their nursery) and finish in front of the royal box at the Olympic stadium. The distance happened to be 26.2 miles. The distance stuck, and in 1921 the length of the marathon was formally standardized at 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometres).


John Disley and Chris Brasher co-founded the London Marathon after hearing
about the New York Marathon, which they later entered, and completed, in 1979. They saw how wonderful a big marathon could be.

Brasher wondered whether London could stage such a festival.  

In early 1980 Brasher and Disley met with the Greater London Council, the police, the Amateur Athletics Association and the London Tourist Board to talk about organizing a London Marathon.

The tourist board were happy because the course passed so many of London’s famous sights like Tower Bridge, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

Gillette became the Marathon’s first sponsor with a deal of £75,000 a year for three years.

Charity Status
The event received Charitable Status, and Brasher and Disley listed six aims for the London Marathon:

  • To improve the overall standard and status of British marathon running by providing a fast course and strong international competition.
  • To show mankind that, on occasions, they can be united.
  • To raise money for sporting and recreational facilities in London.
  • To help boost London’s tourism.
  • To prove that ‘Britain is best’ when it comes to organising major events.
  • To have fun, and provide some happiness and sense of achievement in a troubled world

First London Marathon

On 29 March 1981, the first race was held. 20,000 people wanted to run but only 7,747 were accepted and 6,255 finished, including the American Dick Beardsley, Norwegian Inge Simonsen and 43 year-old old mother of two Joyce Smith, who broke the British record to win the women’s race.

Thousands of spectators lined the course, and it was watched on the television. The next race in 1982 received more than 90,000 applications from around the world. And 18,059 were accepted.

It’s now a major event, and is shown on television in nearly 200 countries around the world.

Over one million runners have completed the London Marathon since that first race in1981.

Fund Raising                                                                                                        
Since the London Marathon began in 1981, its runners have raised over £700 million for charity, making it officially the largest single annual fundraising event in the world.