© 2020 Participation Sport Ltd

London's Original Marathon

January 3, 2019


The London Marathon began on Sunday 29 March 1981. However, marathon running in London did not start with this first London Marathon event. There is a great and rich history of marathons in the capital which extends back to the 1908 Olympic Games (the first of three Olympic Games in the capital).

 Although the (reported) first marathon dates back to 490BC, with ancient history's own version of a courier, Pheidippides' exertions in delivering news of the successful battle of Marathon, modern marathon running can trace its roots back to the late 19th Century. Spyridon Louis of Greece claimed the first ever marathon gold in the first ever Olympics in Athens 1896. However at the time there was no set distance for the event...


Enter stage left - London. The London Olympic Games of 1908 was staged at the White City stadium in west London. The marathon, a blue ribband event of the Games, was to be started within the grounds of Windsor Castle. The finish line was in the White City stadium, some 26 mile, 385 yards away. From this moment on this distance became THE marathon distance.


The marathon event captured the world's attention due to a diminutive Italian named Dorando Pietri. The Italian was ahead in first place as he entered the stadium, but extreme fatigue and instability led to him being assisted by some over-helpful officials over the line. Despite crossing the finish line in first place, was Dorando was duly disqualified for receiving assistance. Dorando captured the hearts of Londoners and was awarded a special commemorative trophy (right) instead. Marathon running had its first superstar.


Some marathons resisted the 26.2 mile standard. The Boston Marathon, which had been inspired by the 1896 Olympics, started that same year, but it wasn't until 1956 that the event fell into line with the now official distance.



Similar to Boston, there was a legacy to the London 1908 Olympic Games with the marathon route being established as an annual event. It was known as the Polytechnic Marathon (or Poly Marathon) and ran between 1909 and 1996. The Polytechnic Harriers, the running club of the Polytechnic (now Westminster University) staged the event, but through ownership changes between clubs, route changes and the challenges of staging an event on closed roads in the later part of the Twentieth Century, the event hung its final medal in 1996.


So, sadly, a part of our nation's sporting history has been lost. The story of the Poly Marathon is one of the inspirations for us in creating XMarathon. We want to bring a marathon event back to the people, re-capture some of that early pioneering spirit and ensure London retains its place as the innovation epicentre of running and of course continue to be the greatest marathon running city in the world.


Register your interest in XMarathon London.

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