How Long Is A Marathon?

As someone who runs a fair amount, I’m often asked “How long is a marathon?” Here are three answers to that question.

First, the strictly factual. A marathon is 26.2 miles. That’s 26 miles plus 385 yards, or just over 42 kilometers. And to dispel a couple misunderstandings …

— If it’s not called a marathon, aka “full marathon”, it’s not one. People sometimes say things like “My cousin ran a 5K marathon.” Nope. A 5K is 3.1 miles; a 10K, 6.2; half marathon, 13.1. While those are all respectable events, they’re not marathons.

— All official full marathons are the same length. Whether it’s world-famous Boston or one raising money for a local charity, they’re equal in mileage: 26.2.

A less literal reply to the question “How long is a marathon?”, is what I’ll call Response Two: A marathon is far. Really, really far. In fact it might be best not to think about it.

Out of curiosity, I once decided to clock the distance in my car. I reset the trip odometer and took off. The results haunt me to this day. Whether you’re prone to marathon running, or don’t think you ever will be, you might try this just for kicks. It will surely bring perspective to the sport.

(For those familiar with south Florida – Starting on Hollywood Boulevard, two blocks west of Dixie Highway, I went west on Hollywood Boulevard to I-95. North to 595. West to State Road 27. Then 3.1 miles further north before the odometer hit 26.2. Yikes!)

The third response is philosophical. How long is a marathon? It’s the figurative space between two intangible points: The degree to which a person is living life now; and the realization of that person’s potential. Let me explain:

To complete a full marathon, you must first sign up. That takes courage. Next come several months of discipline, usually involving getting out of bed way before you want to. Pre-dawn workouts, some glorious, others torturous. Denial of comfort foods. Sore muscles. Oh, and the actual act of running for quite some time – close to five hours for a mere mortal like me.

Crossing the finish line is euphoric. It’s also transformative, because according to, you’re now in the one half of one percent – that’s .005 – of the U.S. population who’ve ever done so. You feel like you can achieve anything to which you commit. And maybe you can. (This of course isn’t the only human feat with the same outcome. Many other pursuits will get you there as well.)

How long is a marathon? It’s 26.2 miles. It so far that it might be best not to think about it. And it’s a journey from mediocrity to a life without limits. That makes it long enough for me.



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