Sundays are break days in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge but today is no break for those brave enough to face the Paris Marathon. I’m not taking on the long-distance endurance running competition of just over 26 miles myself mind; I am neither fit nor foolish enough for that. But I am in Paris supporting my boyfriend.
Most of us already know the rough origin of marathon: it comes from a legend about a Greek town of the same name. According to the story, a Greek messenger was sent from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens to declare that the Persians had been defeated. He ran. He arrived. He exclaimed nenikekamen, ‘we have won’, then, exhausted, he collapsed and died.
However, as often happens in history, the story has drifted over time. The legendary feat supposedly happened in 490 BC but it wasn’t recorded until the first century AD so it’s no wonder that the accounts vary. Some name the messenger Therspius, others Philippides and others Pheidippides. Some reference a longer journey, from Athens to Sparta, requesting help rather than announcing victory. The version we accept now is perhaps influenced by Robert Browning’s poem Pheidippides from 1879.
Regardless of historical reliability, it has been presumed that the journey the messenger would have taken from Marathon to Athens went south, around Mount Penteli and along the coast. The route is 25 miles long and is the basis of the modern marathon. The idea of the race was suggested for the first modern Olympics in 1896 as a way to recall the ancient glory of Greece and popularize the Games.
Ask any marathon runner how long a marathon is and they will probably reply with exactly 26 miles 385 yards, a very specific distance. This was not always so. The first marathon races were always somewhere around the 25 mile mark but would vary depending on the chosen route.
It was in 1908 at the Olympic Games in London that the distance of 26.2 miles was first set, to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium. This was so that the competition would finish in front of the royal family’s viewing box. This figure was officially set as the length of the marathon by the International Amateur Athletic Federation in May 1921.
With or without the extra 385 yards, it’s still an amazingly long distance to cover so good luck to everyone running the Paris Marathon today.