The first marathon was a life-or-death mission. According to ancient Greek legend, a messenger was sent to Athens from the frontlines of the Battle of Marathon — a journey of 25 miles — to deliver the news of the Greeks’ victory in battle. It would be millennia before the first organized “marathon” — gaining its name from the ancient battle — was held in 1896 as part of the first modern Olympic Games in Athens. Over time (and by some accounts, thanks to the eccentricities of the British monarchy), the symbolic 25 miles was extended to the familiar 26.2 miles now marked on the race route.
To run a marathon is an extreme feat of athleticism and determination. It requires months of consistent training, a firm foundation of motivation, and the will to push through pain. The way we move through life is not dissimilar to a marathon: a long, steady course, with obstacles along the way and moments of victory.
Cities all over the world now host their own marathons, from Boston and Paris to Los Angeles and Tokyo. Though it’s still a competition, with medals and winners, the race also presents an opportunity to see humanity come together, as individuals from all walks of life push the limits of their own strength and endurance — often just to prove they were able to achieve the challenge.
From great runners to great thinkers, all of us can benefit from the marathon mindset. Here, we’ve gathered quotes from past marathon winners, Olympic athletes, and ultrarunners that can apply not just to a physical race, but also to our most difficult goals. By shoring up our discipline and self-belief, we can reach past what we thought possible for ourselves.
Anyone can start a marathon. Only the strongest will finish it, even after they fall.
— Gena Showalter, author
Running is a transformative experience in mind, body, and spirit for so many. It helps us face inner demons and shush the naysayers — especially when those naysayers are ourselves.
— Susan Lacke, professor and endurance athlete
I decided to stop thinking about each day so much, and just keep showing up. Like, whatever the day gave me, just show up.
— Desiree Linden, winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon
Often a marathon is a test of patience… you have to listen to your spirit, to your intuition.
— Meb Keflezighi, winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon
The key for the marathon is just to be able to go to that Zen place where you're at peace with the knowledge that you're going to be really uncomfortable for a really long period of time.
— Molly Seidel, 2021 Olympic marathon runner
There are injuries, there is falling down. I ... keep on going and trust myself. I don’t know to fear anything.
— Hellen Obiri, world record holder for 5000 meters
Don’t second-guess yourself or your process. Be friendly, act on advice that feels right for you and leave the rest.
— Gina Greenlee, author of “The Whole Person Guide to Your First Marathon”
Communal and wild and a gigantic challenge. Finishing that marathon means I can do more than I think.
— Michael Weatherly, actor
I ran, and kept running, because I had learned that once you started something you didn’t quit… In life, much like in an ultramarathon, you have to keep pressing forward.
— Scott Jurek, ultramarathoner
It really comes down to what’s left inside you. To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.
— Rob de Castella, world champion marathon runner
If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.
— Kathrine Switzer, first woman to run the Boston Marathon
Ask yourself: “Can I give more?” The answer is usually: “Yes.”
— Paul Tergat, long-distance runner
The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.
— Juma Inkangaa, 1989 winner of the New York Marathon
The marathon is an opportunity for redemption. Opportunity, because the outcome is uncertain. Opportunity, because it is up to you, and only you, to make it happen.
— Dean Karnazes, author and ultramarathoner
Photo credit: davidclode/ Unsplash