Marathon Man

Tuned in: Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

With the summer heat upon us, and the Olympics soon to begin, my thoughts travel to the runners that I know and the Marathon.

The name Marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger and soldier.  The story claims that he was sent from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens in 490 BC to announce the Greek victory over the Persians.  He ran the entire distance without stopping, after having fought in the battle as well, and burst into the assembly and delivered the message “Niki!” (Victory), then collapsed and died. The historical accuracy of this legend is debated.  The account of the run from Marathon to Athens first appeared in the 1st century work of Plutarch, but the main source for the Greco-Persian wars is Herodotus.  He mentions that a Pheidippides (or Philippides) ran from Athens to Sparta and then ran back.

If Pheidippides did make his heroic run from Marathon to Athens, he would have had to run around Mount Penteli, either from the north or south.  The southern route almost matches the modern Marathon-Athens highway.  When the Olympics were first revived in 1896, this route was 25 miles, but later it was extended to 26.22 miles, the current standard.

The modern Olympic games inaugurated in Greece in 1896 revived the legend of Pheidippides.  As the host country, Greece had yet to earn a medal.  “Twenty-five runners assembled on the Marathon Bridge.  The starter mumbled a few words and fired the gun, and the race was on.”  A Greek postal worker and war veteran, Spiridon Louis finished the 24.85 mile race in 2 hours, 58 minutes, 50 seconds, a full seven minutes ahead of the rest.  Greece won the gold, and for the world—the marathon was born.

Buon Compleanno! Ryan

About cinzia8

Published writer and teacher.
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