The year was 490 BC when Pheidippides, a Greek soldier, ran the distance from a battlefield near Marathon, Greece to Athens proclaiming the defeat of the Persian army by the Athenians. The story, as written by Plutarch, recounts how Pheidippides shouted, “Rejoice. We conquer!” and with that, fell dead from overexertion.
The marathon did not resurface again until 1896, at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens. It was here that the tale of Pheidippide’s long-distance run was commemorated by staging a race between the Marathon Bridge and the Olympic Panathenaic Stadium , a distance of 24.85 miles (40,000m). Only twenty-five runners participated, it was the last event of the Olympic Games. As a native Greek from the village of Marusi, Spiridon Louis did his country proud that day, crossing the finish line in first place with a time of two hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds. In the spirit of their predecessor, Pheidippides, eight of the nine runners who completed the marathon were Greek.
The length of a marathon has varied from place to place throughout the years, but the current distance is 26 miles and 385 yards. This length was set in 1908 during the London Olympics. It was the distance between Windsor Castle and the front of the Royal Box. In 1921, this became the official distance of the Marathon.
In 1897, the marathon came to the United States. The first marathon run in the states was in Boston. The Boston Marathon is now recognized as the oldest annual marathon in the world. Other extremely popular marathons include the London Marathon held in April, the Berlin Marathon, run in September, the New York City Marathon in November, and the Chicago Marathon held in October. Every marathon has its own unique characteristics and terrain.
Training for marathons is based on which marathon a person is running, does it have a lot of hills or is it flat? Is it prone to wind gusts and gales or is it calm? Will the weather be at an extreme hot or cold temperature? Each marathon will have its own training strategy that runners follow to get ready for the race. The thing that all marathons have in common, however, is the enormous amount of practice and training that is needed to get the body ready for 26 miles of continuous running.
Although the original marathon was a running event, there are now a multitude of marathon types. They include half marathons, walking marathons, and even special Olympic marathons. Some runners engage in marathon running for the competition, others for the challenge and enjoyment, and still others run for fundraising events for donations to be used in treating specific diseases, health problems and even for disaster relief.
Running 26 miles and then some in less than three hours seems like a lot of fast running for people who aren’t marathoners. The truth, though, is that the current world records in marathon running are almost an hour less than Spiridon Louis’ time back in 1896. The men’s world record is currently held by Paul Tergat of Kenya, set in September of 2003, with a time of two hours, four minutes and 55 seconds. For women, Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain took over the world record in April 2003 with a running time of two hours, fifteen minutes and 25 seconds.
Before starting any exercise program, always be sure to first consult your physician.