HISTORY OF THE MARATHON
(Sorta…)

by Elaine Doll-Dunn

"Rejoice! We Conquer!" The famous last words of one Phidippides, the Greek soldier who carried the news of the conquest of the Persians by the Greek army twenty miles to the women of Athens. His message imperative in that the women's directive was to kill themselves if the Athenians lost the battle.
And then history has it he collapsed to the ground and died. At twenty miles? Well, yes, that is where many hit the notorious wall, it is indeed where glycogens are depleted and the athlete's next 6.2 are done on hope. (Twenty miles of training, 6.2 miles of hope) and it is where we often say, "I died at 20…" But actually? No, the real story is that Phidippides made his historic run only after running to Sparta in an attempt to enlist their aid and then a return run after they turned him down because it was a holiday. (I get this from my son Tom who teaches history or something very closely related to it in Norfolk, NE. I choose to believe it, he's six foot six and weighs 220 pounds… YOU argue with him!)

The trip to Sparta has been estimated at 150 miles, so if he ran there to get help, then ran back after refusal, discovered on his return that they had won the battle and then ran on to inform the women not to kill themselves…he actually ran a 300 round trip to Sparta and then 20 miles to Athens! Now that could be a killer. As legend has it, the first marathon was run by this Athenian soldier in 490 BC, so it is understandable that some of the facts could be lost along the way. While this account is almost certainly fictionalized, it has inspired a great international sporting event.

When the Olympic Games were revived in 1894, Michel Breal, a philologist at the Sorbonne, thought it would be a good idea to have a race commemorating the Phidippides legend. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, embraced the idea enthusiastically, as did the Athenian organizers. So a 40-kilometer (24.8 mile) race called the marathon was the final, climatic event at the 1896 Olympics.
The Annual Boston event and the quadrennial Olympic run were the only regularly-scheduled marathons for more than a quarter of a century, then the New York Marathon, established in 1970, quickly became a major rival of the Boston Marathon, and now every state in the union has at least one. South Dakota has three. At 35 years old, The Longest Day Marathon in Brookings has grandfather status, the Mount Rushmore Marathon in Rapid City is a robust 25 years old, and the fledgling Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon in Deadwood is bursting into its third year.

The current official marathon distance of 26 miles, 385 yards was established at the 1908 Olympics in London. The course was originally laid out to be 26 miles long from Windsor Castle to the finish line in the stadium. However, the Queen of England wanted to have her children watch the winners cross the finish line so it was then decided to add 385 yards so that the race would finish at the royal box in front of the Tower of London. I've always kinda held that against her.

So as you Welcome the Weary to the Banner by the Bullock, remember that these people have become part of a legend, furthered a myth, and most importantly, that they have labored longer than they would have had to but for the whims of a foreign sovereign.

This information was gleaned from the internet, Tom Olson, conversations with runners for 26 years, and a memory bank teeming with 66 years of stories. Don't write an important term-paper on it… just enjoy the legend.
ED3

Elaine's book on her 26.2 Marathons in 2000 is available!
Email Elaine for more details: edoll@rushmore.com


"I noticed her at seventeen miles. Running strong, powering up the hill from the fire station, cute little body shapely in black running tights and top... Soft silver hair haloed her head as she ran smoothly through the chill Boston air. I pulled up beside her and settled into her pace, "Hi, you're running well..." "Thanks, I feel good." "I'm doing research on women who began marathoning after the age of forty, do you mind if I ask how old you are when you started running?" "Not at all, I was sixty-eight when I started running and began marathoning soon after that." I did a quick double-take, thought for a moment then looked sideways at her. We had crested the hill and were moving at a comfortable talk/run pace. She grinned back at me impishly and said, "I'm seventy-five now, and... I'm a Catholic nun!""
- taken from Chapter 9 of Gotta Run... by Elaine Doll-Dunn.

To book Elaine for a speaking engagement: edoll@rushmore.com

 


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