9 Oldest Marathons in the World

Contrary to popular belief, the marathon as we know it today was first established in 1896 at the first modern Olympic Games. The ancient Olympics ran from 776 BCE to 261 CE and never had a foot race even close to as long as a marathon, which is 26.2 mi (42.195 km). The longest race at the original Olympics was only 5 km (3.1 mi).

While the ancient Olympics didn’t have a marathon, the organizers of the first modern Olympics were inspired mythic run of Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens. Pheidippides was a professional messenger and back in those days that meant he had to run to deliver the message that the Greek Army had won a crucial battle against the Persian Army. Although Pheidippides did make it to his destination, he dropped dead upon its delivery.

Following the first marathon event at the 1896 Olympics, many of the competitors and coaches were so inspired by the Games that they decided to start their own marathon races in their hometowns. Many of these early marathons are still being held today.

9. Calgary Marathon

Year Established: 1963
Location:  Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Date Held:  May
Number of Participants:  about 10,000 annually

Calgary Marathonphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons

The first Calgary Marathon was held on August 10, 1963 with only 19 male participants. It was the first marathon to ever be run in Western Canada and the Calgary Marathon is now the longest running marathon in all of Canada.

The Calgary Marathon’s founder was Doug Kyle, who was the fastest runner in Canada at the time. Kyle had competed at the 1956 and 1960 Summer Olympics in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races. Near the end of his professional career, Kyle entered a marathon for the first time at 1959 Pan American Games and placed seventh. After this, Kyle decided he would start his own marathon event in Calgary so that the Olympic trials could be held there instead of in Ontario. Kyle got his wish at the second Calgary Marathon.


8. Fukuoka International Marathon

Year Established: 1947
Location:  Fukuoka, Japan
Date Held:  First Sunday in December
Number of Participants:  Unspecified

Fukuoka International Marathonphoto source:  Fukuoka Now

The Fukuoka International Marathon is the third oldest marathon in Japan and was started in 1947. The marathon was initially called the Asahi marathon and took place not long after World War II. The inaugural race was held in Kumomoto, which was the hometown of Shizo Kanaguri, the father of marathon running in Japan.

For the first few years, the Asahi marathon was held at different venues and only Japanese runners were allowed to participate. In 1954, the first international athletes were invited to compete at the marathon, which was a first for any marathon in Japan. The following year, the marathon changed its name to the Asahi International Marathon – the name was changed to the Fukuoka International Marathon sometime in the 1960s.


7. Chuncheon Marathon (Chosun Ilbo Marathon)

Year Established: 1946
Location:  Chuncheon, South Korea
Date Held:  Late October
Number of Participants:  Unspecified

photo source:  My BEST Runs

The Chuncheon Marathon is the second oldest marathon in South Korea and was inspired by the events of the 1936 Summer Olympics. At that year’s Olympics, two Koreans took home medals during the marathon event: Ki-Jung Son won gold and Seung-Ryoung Nam came in third. Son set an Olympic record with a time of 2 hours 29 minutes and 19 seconds.

After Korea was liberated from Japanese rule in 1945, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper wanted to unify and strengthen the people and they decided to hold a new marathon event in 1946. That first race was a shortened marathon and the following the Chosun Ilbo Marathon was a full race. It was held on August 9th 1947, the 11th anniversary of Ki-Jung Son’s victory at the Summer Olympics.


6. Lake Biwa Marathon (Biwako Mainichi Marathon)

Year Established: 1946
Location:  Otsu, Shiga, Japan
Date Held:  Early March
Number of Participants:  Unspecified

photo source:  Wikimedia Commons

The Lake Biwa Marathon or Biwako Manichi Marathon was founded in 1946 as a way to encourage the people of Japan to rebuild their country following the devastating aftermath of World War II. The Mainichi Newspapers and Japan Association of Athletics Federation organized the first marathon and held it on October 20, 1946. The Lake Biwa Marathon is the oldest annual marathon in Japan.

The Japanese were first introduced to marathon races in 1909 after the Mainichi newspapers featured a story about marathons in the U.S. and Europe. Japan sent their first marathon runner to the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1921. Today, the Lake Biwa Marathon serves a qualifying event for the Olympics, World Championships in Athletics, the World University Games, and Asian Games.


5. Seoul International Marathon (Dong-A Ilbo Seoul Marathon)

Year Established: 1931
Location:  Seoul, South Korea
Date Held:  mid-March
Number of Participants:  about 20,000 annually

photo source:  Wikimedia Commons

The first Seoul International Marathon, also called Dong-A Ilbo Seoul Marathon, was held on March 21, 1931. The marathon was originally organized by the Koryo Track Sports Association and co-sponsored by the Dong-A Ilbo and Chosen Athletic Association.

For the first couple of years the Seoul International Marathon was not a true marathon (42.195 km (26.219 mi)). It was on a looped course that was only about 23.3 km (14.5 mi). The Seoul International Marathon finally became a full course race in 1964.

During the Japanese occupation in Korea, the Seoul International Marathon was suspended on and off for a few years. Following a long period of no races, the Seoul International Marathon was finally revived in 1954.


4. Košice Peace Marathon

Year Established: 1924
Location:  Košice, Slovakia
Date Held:  October
Number of Participants:  about 10,000 annually

Kosice Peace Marathonphoto source:  Wikimeda Commons

The Košice Peace Marathon has been held annually since 1924 and is the oldest marathon in Europe. The marathon was started by Vojtech Braun Bukovský, a journalist, who had watched the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris and loved the marathon event. When Bukovský returned home to Košice, he decided to organize his own marathon.

The first Košice Peace Marathon was on October 28, 1924, which was also the 6th anniversary of founding of Czechoslovakia. The first race only had eight runners and by the next year, the Košice Peace Marathon had attracted its first international participants from Germany. The Košice Peace Marathon has never stopped since and attracts about 10,000 participants every year.


3. Comrades Marathon

Year Established: 1921
Location:  between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Date Held:  May or June (date isn’t set)
Number of Participants:  capped at 18,000

Comrades Marathonphoto source:  Flickr via IIP Photo Archive

The Comrades Marathon was founded by World War I veteran Vic Clapham on May 24, 1921. During the War, Clapham had marched over 1700 miles through East Africa and wanted to honor his comrades who died during that time.

Clapham asked the League of Comrades of the Great War to help him put together the Comrades Marathon. The League of Comrades turned Clapham down two times before finally relenting. At over 89 km, the Comrades Marathon is the world’s oldest and longest running ultramarathon.


2. Yonkers Marathon

Year Established: 1907
Location:  Yonkers, New York
Date Held:  Third Sunday in October
Number of Participants:  Unspecified

Yonkers Marathonphoto source:  Runner’s World

The Yonkers Marathon bills itself as the second oldest marathon the in United States, after the Boston Marathon. First started in 1907, the Yonkers Marathon is known for being a challenging and hilly course.

Although the Yonkers Marathon has been held annually since 1907, for awhile the future of the race was uncertain. In 2016, NYCRUNS, who had organized the marathon for five years, announced that it would not hold the race for that year. The following year, the City of Yonkers Department of Parks, Recreation & Conservation hosted the Yonkers Marathon and as it looks like the race is being held again in 2018 (as of the time of this writing, the official Yonkers Marathon site is down but that is the link to the official Yonkers Marathon sign up sheet).


1. Boston Marathon

Year Established: 1897
Location:  Eastern Massachusetts, ending in Boston, USA
Date Held:  Third Monday of April (Patriot’s Day)
Number of Participants:  about 30,000 annually

Boston Marathonphoto source:  Wikimedia Commons

The very first Boston Marathon was held on April 19, 1897, one year after the first modern Olympics debuted in 1896. The founders of the Boston Marathon were inspired by the revived marathon event at the inaugural Olympic Games and wanted to have a marathon in the Boston area. The Boston Marathon has been run every year since on the third Monday of April (Patriot’s Day), making it the oldest marathon in the world.

In 2013, the Boston Marathon was tragically affected by a terrorist attack. The attack, now known as the Boston Marathon Bombing, killed three people and injured more than 260 others. Despite many fears, the Boston Marathon was held the following year and the 5,633 runners who were prevented from completing the marathon after the bombing were guaranteed a spot in the 2014 race.

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