1. Town in Greece, the site of the Battle of Marathon in 490BC, in which the Athenian army defeated the Persians.
2. Athletic event: Although sometimes used for any athletic event of great length, or requiring great endurance, the word "marathon" is most often used to describe a foot race of 26 miles and 385 yards (42,195 metres). The race was named for the legend Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who, according to Herodotus (see book IV, 105) ran from Marathon to Sparta for aid. The distance for a modern marathon, however, is based on the distance from Marathon to Athens (Marathon to Sparta is about 140 miles).
The first modern marathon was held in Athens, as part of the first modern Summer Olympic Games in 1896, although the distance was not fixed at its present level until the 1908 Olympics, when the course was extended so that the finish would be in front of the royal party.