Marathon History Pt. I   2 comments

In 490 BCE a soldier named Pheidippedes ran from the battle at Marathon to Athens, announced an Athenian victory and dropped dead.  “Brilliant!” someone thought.  “Let’s do it again and call it a sport!  There’s got to be someone crazy enough to do it.”  And there was.  And there continues to be.

The first official marathon race was run at the 1896 Olympics in Athens.  Twenty-five runners started the 24.85 mile race.  Nine finished.  Nine.  Eight of them Greek.  I can only imagine what those who didn’t finish were thinking.  Kill me now, comes to mind.  The US runner withdrew his name from the race after exhausting himself winning silver in the 1500 meter event.  Remember those words — exhausting and 1500 meters.  The US team was sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association (more about them in future blog posts) which held its own marathon on April 19, 1897.  The date was chosen in honor of Paul Revere’s 1775 midnight ride, starting a tradition that continues to this day.  An interesting side note is that Revere never actually finished his ride; perhaps the BAA was making a statement about runners who DNF (Do Not Finish) their race.  Hmmm.

At the 1908 London Olympics, the marathon distance was lengthened to the 26.2 miles runners torture themselves with today.  “Why?”  you may ask.  “Did someone mismeasure the distance between Marathon and Athens?  Did it change due to shifting plates in the earth?”  No.  Organizers thought it would be nice for the race to end at the royal viewing box, and as the location of the King and Queen couldn’t be moved, it was decided the runners could just suck it up and run a little farther.  Twenty-four miles, twenty-six miles.  Once you’ve gone that far is there really that much of a difference?  Apparently, yes, there is, and runners have been saying rude things about the British monarchy at mile twenty-four ever since.  (As a side note, my husband says he’s never heard of this tradition; perhaps it is mainly European.)  The 26.2 mile distance was established as official at the 1924 Olympic games in Paris, that of Chariots of Fire fame.  (More on that in future posts as well).

Runners, serious runners, relish the 26.2 mile distance.  Some of them use marathons as warm-up runs for ultra-marathons, races of 50 or more miles that can go on for two days where the runners start as some ungodly hour and run until they hit the finish line.  No beds.  No lights except for headlamps.  No bathrooms.  I shudder just thinking about it.  Fortunately for me, my husband only flirts with the idea of an ultra.  Primarily, he is a marathoner — 14 and counting.  And me, I’m a marathon widow.

What is a marathon widow?  I’m sure you’ve heard of football, baseball, or golf widows, people whose spouses park themselves in front of the television during insert-favorite-sport-here season and don’t move for months.  They drink beer, eat snacks, and yell at the television as if the players can hear them.  My father continued to yell even after I explained the Red Sox couldn’t hear him through the box.  The fact that they were in California and we were in Massachusetts didn’t help, either.  Actually, golfers might not yell.  I have no experience with that sport so I really can’t say.  Most others do.

My husband’s sport — running — has no season.  He has run when it is ninety and humid and when it is ten and snowing.  Football widows at least have the comfort of knowing where their husband is, even if it is hard to vacuum around him.  Mine could be anywhere within a twenty-plus mile radius of our house.  In any direction.  It can be unnerving at times, especially in winter.  One particularly cold morning he decided that while ten below was too cold for a run, five below wasn’t.  Let me repeat that:  five below zero wasn’t too cold for a run.  He grabbed a cell phone “just in case,” bundled up, and left.  He ran seventeen relatively thirsty miles that morning.  Apparently Gatorade slushies don’t flow easily through the small holes of most drink containers.  Funny that.

(Historical facts come from


Posted June 23, 2010 by wordsaremylife in marathons

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2 responses to “Marathon History Pt. I

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  1. Nice blog! When is the next entry???

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