So, where did the 26.2 mile distance originate from, exactly? (I'm sure this question has just been BURNING in your minds the whole time).
Greek legend states that the distance originated when the messenger Pheidippides (think they called him Dip for short?) was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Persians' defeat in the Battle of Athens. The accuracy of this story is in debate, with contradictions stating that he actually went from Athens to Sparta and back again, which would have been over 240 km, not 42. I still like the story. Except for that little part where he collapsed and died after running it (who doesn't feel like that?) but whatever. Details.
The marathon didn't become an Olympic sport until 1896 (women's wasn't introduced until 1984) and the distance that we know today to be the actual marathon (26.2 miles) wasn't finalized until 1921.
This is my favorite part: in 1907, the Olympics were held in London, and the original course had been set and published in the newspaper. The final distance: 25 miles. Then came protests because the last few miles contained tram lines and cobbled streets, so they re-routed those areas and the distance was increased to 26 miles, 586 yards. Then the Royal Family wanted the finish line to be in their immediate view, so the reversed that final lap around the track (you know, when they enter the Olympic Stadium and then run around the track?) to clockwise, and that made the race 25 miles, 385 yards.
Coach Brian told me this story, and how at mile 25, you can hear people shout "God save the Queen!!" because (although as we know now, it's not the *real* reason) if the original course had remained, they would be done by now.
I was SO EXCITED to get to mile 25 when I was running PF Chang's, so that I would get my chance to take part in tradition. And wouldn't you know it- I was so tired at that point, I don't even remember seeing the sign, let alone hearing people shout the salutation. Oh well, maybe next time, right?
Either way, it's a fun story and it's an interesting history.