How Was The Length Of A Marathon Determined?

I will probably never run a marathon, but I can definitely appreciate how difficult a marathon must be. I have a hard enough time running 6.2 miles, that I can imagine how long 26.2 miles must feel like.

I’ve always wondered how they came up with that length, 26.2 miles. Why not 26 or 27? And what is that distance in kilometers? Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

How Was The Length Of A Marathon Determined?

Before I started researching this topic, I figured that a marathon was such an odd number of miles because it was a whole number of kilometers.

I was wrong. A marathon is 42.195 kilometers. So if it isn’t a whole number of miles or kilometers, where did the distance come from?

First some history…

The name “marathon” comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, who ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to deliver the message that the Greeks had defeated the Persians in the 490 BC Battle of Marathon.

The most common route and the one Pheidippides would have used on his journey, is roughly 26 miles.

The marathon has been an Olympic event since the birth of the Modern Olympics in 1896. However, from the first Modern Olympics through 1920, a span of seven Olympics, a total of six different distances were used in the marathon.

  • 24.85 miles in 1896 and 1904
  • 25.02 miles in 1900
  • 26.01 miles in 1906
  • 26.22 miles in 1908
  • 24.98 miles in 1912
  • 26.56 miles in 1920

In 1921, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) figured it was time to determine an official distance for the marathon. They chose the 1908 Olympic distance of 26.22 miles (or 26 miles and 385 yards) which has been the official distance for the marathon ever since.

The course for the 1908 Olympic marathon was set to begin at the Windsor Castle and end with a lap inside White City Stadium. In order to have the race finish in front of the Queen of England and her Royal Box, the final lap was shortened to a partial lap. The distance from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium was 26 miles and the shortened lap was 385 yards. Thus the official length of the marathon was set.

Why did they pick the 1908 distance, you ask?

Because the 1908 Olympic marathon was one of the most famous marathons ever. Italian Dorando Pietri led as he entered the Olympic Stadium. He was well ahead of the competition but because the temperature was so hot, he was dehydrated and could barely walk. In fact, he was woozy that he fell numerous times on the final lap and even started running the wrong direction. As the other runners entered the stadium, Pietri was so close, but it was clear he could not finish on his own. Olympic officials decided to help him across the finish line.

Johnny Hayes from the United Stated finished second. The US protested the assisted finish and Pietri was disqualified. Hayes was awarded the Gold Medalist.

So there you have it. A controversial finish, an altered route and the Queen of England all helped determined the length of the marathon. And that length is still going strong 100+ years later.

Here are some fun marathon facts:

  • Fastest time by a female – 2:15:25 by Paula Radcliffe of Kenya on September 29, 2013
  • Fastest time by a male – 2:02:57 by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya on September 28, 2014
  • On September 28, 2014, not only did Dennis Kimetto break the record, but Emmanuel Mutai, also of Kenya, also broke the old record of 2:03:23, with his finish of 2:03:13. He broke the record but had to settle for 2nd place.
  • Oldest finisher – Fauja Singh was 100 years old when he finished in 2011. But he could not produce an official birth certificate from India, so his record is not accepted by the official governing body.
  • Youngest finisher – Budhia Singh from India finished at just 3 years. His coach was later arrested for exploiting and being cruel to the child. Shocker.
  • There are approximately 500 marathons organized worldwide with roughly 550,000 finishers every year.



Sources: LA Times & Wikipedia


Why Is There Traffic?

Picture this…

You are cruising down the freeway, minding your own business and rocking out to the latest Taylor Swift song. Just a nice, casual drive to the mall. Everything is going great until you notice some traffic up ahead.

“Uh oh,” you think, “there must be an accident.”

Five Taylor Swift songs later, you are still inching along through the traffic. This accident must be big.

All of a sudden, cars start to move. Poof! The traffic jam is over. But wait. There was no major accident. No police cars. Not even a fender-bender.

“What? How could that happen?” you ask T-Swift. She just tells you to shake it off.

But you can’t just shake it off. You want answers! What the heck just happened? How was there no accident? What caused that traffic?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. I will answer those questions and more in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday.

Why is There Traffic When There’s No Accident?

Has the above scenario happened to you? I’m guessing it has. According to The Atlantic, Americans spend 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. With all that time spent in traffic, we are bound to run into a few instances where the traffic appears to have no cause.

But actually, the cause is quite easy to explain.

To answer this question, a Japanese research group set up circular track with a circumference of 230m. They put 22 cars on the road and asked the drivers to go steadily at 30km/h around the track. Initially, there were no problems. But as soon as a driver altered his speed, things changed and led to brief standstills.

Yuki Sugiyama, physicist from Nagoya University, said, “Although the emerging jam in our experiment is small, its behavior is not different from large ones on highways. When a large number of vehicles, beyond the road capacity, are successively injected into the road, the density exceeds the critical value and the free flow state becomes unstable.”

So basically, traffic jams that are not caused by accidents are simply the result of there being too many cars on the road. calls these types traffic jams, “network overload.” They echo the findings of the Japanese researchers and explain that it boils down to demand outweighing capacity. Just as your computer slows down when you have too many programs open at once, highways and roads are slowed down because of too many drivers.

The site breaks down the occurrences of traffic in two areas: network overload and traffic disturbances.

Traffic disturbances are the accidents, collisions, and breakdowns. According to the 2007 Urban Mobility Report from the Texas Transportation Institute, this type of traffic accounts for between 52 and 58 percent of the delays motorists experience

So the other 42 to 48 percent, or roughly 17 hours of the year you spend in traffic is caused by network overload.

17 hours of year sitting in phantom traffic. That is a lot of Taylor Swift songs to listen to. Don’t worry. Shake it off.

How Big Is A Rainbow?

Rainbows are pretty amazing things. We have urban legends about them, viral videos featuring them, and even cereals based on them.

But how much do we really know about rainbows?

I, for one, know very little. I know they are colorful (kinda like hipsters) and they like to come out in the rain (kinda like hipsters).  But, honestly, I don’t spend much time thinking about them (unlike hipsters, apparently).

Until now.

Wonder Why Wednesday: How Big Is A Rainbow?

Before I could figure out if it is possible to measure a rainbow, I had to determine just exactly what a rainbow is. Here’s what I learned,

Rainbows appear when light originating from the sun is refracted and reflected by small water droplets suspended in the air.”

Next, I had to look up what refracted means.

After that, I learned that the size of a rainbow has more to do with how we see it than actual length. The size we see depends on three things: how many particles there are for light to refract off, the angle in which it reaches the eye, and any objects that obscure the view of the rainbow.

Finally, after much searching on the Internet, I learned that measuring the actual size of a rainbow is very, very difficult. One site puts it this way:

It’s probably not impossible, but it is difficult. A rainbow looks circular because it’s basically the circle where a cloud of rain droplets intersects with your cone of vision, like the circle on the end of an ice-cream cone. Imagine said ice-cream cone with the point in your eye (don’t actually try this experiment unless you’re looking for a career in piracy). Now make the cone bigger and bigger until the round end hits the cloud of raindrops that are reflecting the sun’s light. The big circle on the end of that cone is where the rainbow appears to be — as someone else pointed out, you can only see the top half of it (because the other half is below the surface of the earth). The raindrops reflect light at about a 40 degree angle, so you can calculate the diameter of the circle if you also know the height of the cone (because the height of the cone, the radius of the circle, and the 40 degree angle are all part of a right angled triangle). The challenge is knowing the height of the cone, which is how far away the cloud of raindrops is from you. If you can work that out then, yes, you can measure the diameter of the rainbow (diameter = (2*distanceToCloud) / tan 40).”

Now, if you are anything like me, your mind started to wander after you read ice cream cone. But he’s what I think we learned:

  • we only see half of a rainbow, the other half is underground
  • we can determine the size of a rainbow if we can figure out its height
  • to find out the height, we need to know how far we are from the cloud of raindrops
  • not sure how you do that, but if you can, then you use the following equation: diameter = (2*distanceToCloud) / tan 40

Got all that?

In short, rainbows are really complicated and figuring out their size is probably not worth our brainpower.


Sources: Scientific AmericanAsk


Why Do We Call Them the ‘Dog Days’ of Summer?

Recently, in my discussion of why schools have summer break I wrote, “There was no extra work to be found in the dog days of summer.” As soon as I wrote that, I wondered, “why do we call them the ‘dog days’ of summer?”

Here’s the answer…

Wonder Why Wednesday: Why Do We Call Them the ‘Dog Days’ of Summer?

According to National Geographic, the term “dog days of summer” has nothing to do with dogs lying around in the heat. The phrase stems from ancient Greek astrology.

As Wonderopolis confirms, the ancient Romans called the hottest, most humiddays of summer “diēs caniculārēs” or “dog days.” The star Sirius is associated with the hottest days of summer, and Sirius is known as the “Dog Star” because it was the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). Sirius also happens to be the brightest star in the night sky.

Because it is the brightest star, Romans thought it radiated an extra amount of heat toward Earth, causing hotter temperatures.

Romans considered from about July 24 to around August 24 to be the dog days of summer. Today, The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional timing of the dog days of summer as being July 3 until August 11.

Where is Sesame Street Located?

I’ve always been terrible with directions. If not for the GPS on my phone, I doubt I’d ever get anywhere. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember.

Once in junior high, my parents were late to pick me up from basketball practice and my coach offered to take me home. Only one problem. For the life of me, I could not describe how to get to my house.

Outside of knowing the city, I could not provide any other important facts, like crossroads or even zip code. It was not as if we had just moved houses. I had been driven to that same house for years but was unable to recall how to get there.

In my defense, I was just a kid. At that point in my life, the only place I had asked to locate was how to get to Sesame Street. And I didn’t know how to get there either.

Eventually I learned my crossroads, my zip code and figured out where the heck I lived.

The other day I was watching this Kid President video featuring Grover from Sesame Street and it got me thinking…where is Sesame Street? I realized that although I had figured out how to locate my own home, I had never uncovered the answer that the show’s intro asks, “can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”

Luckily that is what Wonder Why Wednesday is for.

Where is Sesame Street Located?

According to Wikipedia, the fictional Sesame Street is set to represent a Manhattan street in a neighborhood of New York City. However, the show’s creators disagree on the specific neighborhood where you can find Big Bird, Bert and Ernie.

Art director Victor DiNapoli thinks that it is supposed to be located on the Upper West Side. The show’s founder, Joan Ganz Cooney, stated in 1994 that she originally wanted to call the show 123 Avenue B, after the Alphabet City area of the Lower East Side and East Village.

So the exact location is undetermined.

My 12-year old self would be able to relate to that.

Who Invented The Chair?

Last month, I answered the question: What are nooks & crannies? In the course of finding the answer one thing really stood out…Nooks and crannies are old. Nooks have been round since the mid-1300s & crannies date back to around 1440.

That got me thinking about other house hold items and wondering how old they are. I didn’t have to look too far around the house before I started wondering something different. It is something I have never thought about before, but it may just be the most important question ever asked during a Wonder Why Wednesday post.

You might want to sit down before you hear read this…

Sitting down? Okay, good.

Today I am going to answer that very important question…Who invented the chair?

We just established that you were sitting down. I can’t confirm where you are sitting. You may be on a couch. You may be on your bed. You may be sitting criss-cross apple sauce. But if by chance you are sitting on a chair, wouldn’t you like to know who you have to thank for that chair?

Let’s see if we can find out…

According to Quora, “chairs were first invented way back in caveman times, when someone took a rock and sat on it.”

Thanks a lot, Quora, but I am looking for a little better answer. provides a little more information:

The ancient Egyptians are believed to be the first to invent a four-legged seat with a back, better known to most as a chair. The earliest examples have been found in tombs dating as far back as 2680 B.C”

Wow! Chairs are old.

I guess it makes sense that ancient Egyptians invented chairs, but I’d be lying if I said I am not a little sad by that simplistic answer. I was hoping it was some guy named Mr. Chair (perhaps his name was Charlie & Chadwick) who hated sitting in mud so he built something to sit on. I was looking forward to reading all about the family fortune and how it ripped the Chair family apart.

Oh well.

If you are interested in learning more about chairs and how they have changed throughout the years, check out this great History of Chairs on Wikipedia.

How To Pronounce GIF?

WARNING: This post is going to expose how non-tech savvy I am. If you want to continue to picture me as someone who is smart and knows a lot about technology, you might want to stop reading.

Have you ever seen a GIF? Maybe you didn’t know it was called a gif, but I am sure you’ve seen one. Perhaps it was on the internet. It is one of those moving picture thingys. No, not like a Casablanca. It is like an image that moves? No, not like the portraits of dead people in Harry Potter.

It is a picture that moves. At least that is how Yahoo Answers defines it:

A GIF is a picture format that can hold multiple frames, thus creating a slideshow or animation. GIF stands for ‘Graphic Interchange Format’.”

Okay, so now we know what it is, but how do I pronounce it? I have heard both jif like the peanut butter and gif like first half of Kathy Lee’s last name. Let’s settle this once and for all in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

How To Pronounce GIF?

Jif, like the peanut butter. Why, you ask. Because that is what Steve Wilhite, the person responsible for creating Graphics Interchange Format, or GIFs, while working for Compuserve in 1987, says.

Good enough for me.


What Are Nooks and Crannies?

Have you ever searched all around your house looking for something? Perhaps you lost your keys or your wallet. Did you turn over the entire house? Did you look in every nook and cranny?

Did you?

Does your house even have a nook? And a cranny?

I am not sure if mine does, because I don’t know what those words mean. But that changes today…

What Are Nooks and Crannies?

Wow. Nooks and crannies are old. Especially nooks.

Nook, which refer to “an out-of-the-way corner” have been round since the mid-1300s. Crannies aren’t quite as old, but the word, which has meant “a crack or crevice” date back to around 1440.

So how did two things that didn’t grow up in the same era end up together (that is known as the Catherine Zeta-Jones / Michael Douglas question)? We have a man by the name of James Cririe to thank for that.

In 1803 Cririe published Scottish Scenery, Or, Sketches in Verse, Descriptive of Scenes Chiefly in the Highlands of Scotland : Accompanied with Notes and Illustrations : and Ornamented with Engravings by W. Byrne from Views Painted by G. Walker (yes, that is the full title), where he said:

Nook and cranny

Of all the words in that quote, I am surprised “nook and cranny” was the one that became a famous saying? My money would have been on “the dread artillery of God.”


Sources: &

Why Is 1000 Called A Grand?

If you are Mark Zuckerberg, it is a piece of cake to give away one thousand dollars. But if you are broke, one thousand dollars is better than cake.

How great $1000 is depends on how much money you have, but either way we call it a grand. Why is that?

Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

Why Is 1000 Called A Grand?

According to Word Detective, the use of “grand” in reference to money dates back to around 1915. It came from American underworld slang, as in a grand sum of money.

So there we have it. At the time $1000 was a lot of money. If you had it, you were feeling grand. But it wasn’t the only slang for a specific amount of money. Here are a few others:

  • C-note (or century note) – one-hundred dollar bill, from the Roman numeral “C,” which is 100.
  • Sawbuck – a ten-dollar bill, from the resemblance of the Roman numeral “X” (ten) that once appeared thereon to a sawhorse
  • Double sawbuck – a twenty-dollar bill


Why Do We Say “Cup of Joe”?

One of the most common ways to encourage someone to save money or donate to a charity is to use the phrase, “for just the cost of a cup of coffee…” You’ve heard that right? You’ve probably even said it yourself. This works because we are so connected to coffee that our brains don’t have to think much to easily summon up the price of the steaming beverage.

While the phrase works, it is a little wordy. If they ever wanted to shorten it to fit on bumper sticker I would recommend the tagline, “say no to Joe!”

Other than sounding like a 1950s presidential campaign slogan, the phase would work because any coffee drinker knows that their beverage is commonly referred to as a cup of Joe.

Everyone has heard of a cup of Joe, but who knows where that phrase came from? Who is this legendary Joe?

Let’s find out in today’s Wonder Why Wednesday

In order to find our answer, we need to flash back to the 1914 U.S. Navy. At the time, Josephus Daniels was secretary to the Navy under president Woodrow Wilson. Apparently, the Navy was a mess back then.

In order to clean things up, Daniels decided to increase the number of chaplains and reduce the number of prostitutes (yes, you read that correctly). In addition to all that, Daniels also banned alcohol.

The service men and women were none too happy about the ban of booze (no mention of how they felt about the chaplains or prostitutes). To replace their missing wine, they started drinking the next strongest drink they could find…coffee.

The sailors nicknamed the drink after the one responsible for forcing everyone to change. They started calling it a “cup of Joe” in regards to their chief Josephus Daniels.

Now we know where the phrase “cup of Joe” comes from. We also know that the Navy used to be full or drunk philanderers.

Learn something new (and discouraging) every day.