What does the royal wedding have to do with marathons? Everything!

Nearly everyone knows the marathon is 26 miles, 385 yards long. But why the random distance?

Surely everyone knows by now that there’s a royal wedding—you’ve heard of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?—taking place tomorrow at Windsor Castle, about 22 miles west of London.

Few realise, however, that the very same Windsor Castle is responsible for the marathon’s now-classic distance. It was the starting point for the 1908 London Olympic Marathon.

Prior to the London Olympics, marathon races, beginning with the first marathon at the inaugural modern Olympics of 1896, covered approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles). This was the distance from the Plains of Marathon to the Panathinaiko Stadium in downtown Greece that Pheidippides covered in 490 B.C. while carrying word that Athens had defeated the invading Persians. According to legend—and Pheidippides himself was likely a mythical artifact—he collapsed and died after delivering the good news.

Subsequent Olympic cities—Paris, 1900; St. Louis, 1904—followed suit in selecting the length of their marathon courses, though no one bothered to micro-measure them. Similarly, early versions of the Boston Marathon, run continuously since 1897, started in Ashland, not Hopkinton. The course measured about 24.5 miles.

According to some stories, the 1908 Olympic course was extended to Windsor Castle—26 miles, 385 yards from the Royal Box in White City Stadium—because the Royal Family wanted several young princes and princesses to see the valiant marathon runners. It seems more likely that London Olympic organisers had always wanted a Windsor Castle start, and eventually succeeded.

While the 1908 London Olympic Marathon established the now-traditional race distance, this distance wasn’t ratified and made official until 1921. Beginning with the 1924 Paris Olympics, all Olympic marathons and other official marathons have covered 26 miles, 385 yards (42 kilometers, 195 meters).

The British Royal Family also played a role in last month’s London Marathon on Sunday 22nd April. The marathon was started by 92-year-old Queen Elizabeth. She stood on the lawn in front of Windsor Castle’s Round Tower, and at 10 a.m. depressed a button that sounded horns at the London Marathon start line in Greenwich Park.

Related: London Marathon 2018 - the highlights 

Runners there were able to see the Queen on large video monitors. One hundred and 10 years earlier, Elizabeth’s grandmother, Princess Mary, had started the 1908 Olympic Marathon from the East Terrace of Windsor Castle.

Groom-to-be Prince Harry attended the London Marathon finish for the third year in a row, and presented awards to the winners of various divisions.

 

There’s another parallel between the Royal Wedding and the 1908 Olympic Marathon. Americans played a key role in both. As has been widely noted, Prince Harry’s wife-to-be, Meghan Markle, will become the first American to marry into the British royal family. Similarly, the 1908 Olympic Marathon was won by a U.S. runner, Johnny Hayes.

Hayes’s victory was shrouded in controversy, as he was actually the second runner across the finish line. Italian Dorando Pietri was first across. Pietri, however, apparently suffered from heat stroke at the end of a race that began at 2:33 p.m. on a warm, humid 24th July. After entering White City Stadium with a huge lead, he turned and ran the wrong way on the track, requiring re-direction. He then faltered and fell five times in full view of 100,000 spectators.

A small gaggle of officials followed his painfully slow progress, and assisted him back to his feet on several occasions. They knew they were doing wrong but had other concerns. “It was impossible to leave him there, for it looked as if he might die in the very presence of the Queen [Queen Alexandra],” they later reported.

It’s believed that it took Pietri 10 minutes to cover the marathon’s final 350 meters. He reached the finish in 2:54:46.

Johnny Hayes finished second in 2:55:18, but U.S. team managers immediately protested the aid given Pietri. Olympic officials agreed, and Hayes was awarded the gold medal. Nevertheless, Pietri became a worldwide hero for the courage he had shown in stumbling to the finish.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, covered the London Olympics as a daily journalist, and became one of Pietri’s biggest fans. After watching the marathon finish, Conan Doyle wrote (in part): “Thank God, he is on his feet again—the little red legs going incoherently, but drumming hard, driven by a supreme will within. There is a groan as he falls once more, and a cheer as he staggers again to his feet. It is horrible, and yet fascinating, this struggle between a set purpose and an utterly exhausted frame.”

A version of this article originally appeared on Runnersworld.com