The marathon is seen today as grueling long-distance, usually over 26 mile race. The battle of Marathon, fought between the Greek and Persian armies, and the resulting run by a Greek warrior to tell the victory is usually cited as the origin of this sport. While there is truth in this story, the history of the marathon is complex and its presence in many major world cities shows it still stands as one of the great events that tests human will and skill.
The earliest history of the marathon is likely legend based on some facts. The story of the legend states that the Greek messenger Pheidippides ran back to Athens in August/September 490 BCE, a distance of almost 26 miles, to inform the Athenian assembly that the Achaemenid army fighting at the battle of Marathon had been defeated. Very likely this story did not occur this way, as contemporary accounts do not corroborate this story and the story of Pheidippides’ famous run only emerged in the 1st century CE. Plutarch in his work, On the Glory of Athens, mentions this famous event. Potentially more likely, although it is still unclear, there was a runner, perhaps called Pheidippides, who ran to Sparta from Athens to seek assistance from the Spartans as the Achaemenid army advanced.
Whatever the accuracy of the story, what we do know is that the ancient Greeks loved running sports and very likely there would have been athletes who trained to run long-distances. Ancient Greek sources discuss training and the use of complicated regimes to train athletes for the ancient Olympics. The origin of many events, including the pentathlon, developed from this.