[ mar-uh-thon, -thuhn ]
/ ˈmær əˌθɒn, -θən /
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a footrace or wheelchair race over a course measuring 26 miles 385 yards (42 kilometers 195 meters).
any long-distance race.
any contest, event, or the like, of great, or greater than normal, length or duration or requiring exceptional endurance: a dance marathon;a sales marathon.
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Origin of marathon

First recorded in 1895–1900; allusion to Pheidippides' 26-mile (42-kilometer) run from Marathon to Athens to carry news of the Greek victory over the Persians in 490 b.c.

Other definitions for marathon (2 of 2)

[ mar-uh-thon ]
/ ˈmær əˌθɒn /

a plain in SE Greece, in Attica: the Athenians defeated the Persians here 490 b.c.
an ancient village that is near this plain.
Classical Mythology. a son of Epopeus and the father of Corinthus.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does marathon mean?

A marathon is a 26.22-mile (42.2-kilometer) long-distance race. Technically, the exact length of a marathon is 26 miles 385 yards (42 kilometers 195 meters). But the length is mostly commonly stated as 26.2 miles.

Marathons are most commonly running races, but some people complete marathons in wheelchairs. Marathon courses are typically on roadways, often those in or around a city.

The marathon is an event in the Summer Olympic Games. Major marathons are also held internationally in many major cities. Prominent events include the Boston Marathon, the New York Marathon, and the London Marathon.

A marathon runner can be called a marathoner.

A running race of 13.1 miles is known as a half-marathon. The term ultramarathon refers to a race of 50 miles or more.

The word marathon is also often used in a more general way to refer to a contest or event that takes a particularly long time and requires endurance, such as a dance marathon. A movie marathon involves several movies played consecutively. Sometimes, the word is used in a more figurative way to refer to a task or undertaking that takes a long time and requires patience, as in Be patient—learning karate is a marathon, not a sprint.

Example: I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, so I started training today.

Where does marathon come from?

The first records of the word marathon in English in reference to the race come from the 1890s. It comes from the name of a plain in Greece known as Marathon, where the Athenians defeated the Persians in 490 b.c.e. According to legend, an Athenian messenger named Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the Athenian victory—a distance of around 26 miles. Pheidippides is also said to have run to Sparta before the battle to secure aid from the Spartans.

Due to its ancient Greek origins, the marathon was included as an Olympic event at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 1896. The first marathon at the modern Olympics was 24.8548 miles (40 kilometers). The distance was increased to 26.22 miles (42.20 kilometers) at the 1908 Olympics. This distance was standardized for all major marathons in the 1920s.

The endings -thon and -athon are taken from marathon and used in the names of events involving a specific activity being done for a particularly long time and for a specific purpose, often as a contest or to raise money or both. Examples include walkathon, telethon, and dance-a-thon.

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What are some other forms related to marathon?

What are some words that often get used in discussing marathon?

How is marathon used in real life?

There are longer races, but marathons are the perhaps most popular long-distance race. Many people list running a marathon as a life goal. The 26.2-mile length of the marathon is well-known. When you see a sticker on a car that says “26.2,” it usually indicates that the person runs marathons or has completed a marathon.

Due to its association with long length and endurance, the word marathon is commonly used in more general and figurative ways.

Try using marathon!

In the Greek legend that inspired the marathon, the messenger was running from Marathon to what place?

A. Corinth
B. Athens
C. Sparta
D. Thebes

How to use marathon in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for marathon (1 of 2)

/ (ˈmærəθən) /

a race on foot of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 kilometres): an event in the modern Olympics
  1. any long or arduous task, assignment, etc
  2. (as modifier)a marathon effort

Word Origin for marathon

referring to the feat of the messenger who ran more than 20 miles from Marathon to Athens to bring the news of victory in 490 bc

British Dictionary definitions for marathon (2 of 2)

/ (ˈmærəθən) /

a plain in Attica northeast of Athens: site of a victory of the Athenians and Plataeans over the Persians (490 bc)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012