2008 Chicago Marathon.
In 490 BC, a Greek soldier named Pheidippides was sent as a messenger from Marathon to Athens to announce the Persians had been defeated during the Battle of Marathon. Pheidippides ran approximately 24 miles, and according to legend, after announcing the victory he dropped dead. No one really knows if this is a true story, in fact there are several versions of the story that abound,  but there is no doubt it is one of the more popular accounts of the famous run that resulted in the modern marathon.
First Official Olympic Marathon
In 1896, the first official mens marathon took place during the modern Olympic games in Athens. There were 15 participants, and Spiridon “Spiros” Louis won in 2:58:50, even though he stopped for a glass of wine along the way.
In 1908, 2.2 miles were added onto the original distance of 24 miles so the race could finish in front of the viewing box of the British royal family. This distance of 26.2 miles became the official marathon distance during the 1924 Olympics in Paris.
First Official Olympic Marathon for Women
The first official womens' marathon took place during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Joan Benoit crossed the finish line in 2:24:52 - faster than the winning time in 13 of the past 20 Olympic marathons.
The Boston Marathon is the longest running annual marathon. The first race took place in 1897 with 15 participants. The winner was John J. McDermott with a time of 2:55:10. In 1927, the Boston Maraton officially lengthened its course to match the Olympic course of 26.2 miles, and in 2007 there were over 20,000 participants in the race.
The first female to run the Boston Marathon was Roberta Gibb in 1966. Gibb did not run with an official bib/race number, and hid in the bushes until the race began so she couldn't be pulled from the starting line. She finished the race with a time of 3:21:40 (126th overall). In 1967, Kathrine Switzer entered the race as K.V. Switzer. There was no place on the official entry form to designate she was female, and officials assumed K.V. Switzer was male. Switzer was assigned a bib/race number, and was the first female with an official number to cross the finish line, even though officials tried to physically remove her from the race. Switzer crossed the finish line with a time of 4:20:00. It wasn't until 1971 that women were allowed entry in sanctioned marathons. The first "official" female participant was Nina Kuscsik with a time of 3:10:26.
Fundraising and Charity
Marathons have become a popular way to raise community awareness and facilitate fundraising efforts for different organizations and causes.