Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pheidippides and Boston Marathon


“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”  EMIL ZATOPEK

Many of us saw the actual video on the internet when the two blasts occurred near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon (117th edition) on Monday (Tuesady morning in the Philippines), and it was evident the real targets of the bombers weren’t really the 23,181 participants in the world’s most prestigious full marathon (42.195 kilometers). 

The bombs exploded and killed three people in a crowded area where cheering fans and passersby converged just minutes after Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa breasted the tape in the men’s race in three-way sprint down Boylston Street to finish in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 22 seconds.

Marathon, the most dramatic event in the Olympics (because it is traditionally held in the penultimate day of Olympic Games), became a sports event in honor of Greek soldier Pheidippides who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce Greece’s victory in a battle against Persia.

The defeat at Marathon marked the end of the first Persian invasion of Greece, and the Persian force retreated to Asia. The Battle of Marathon was a watershed in the Greco-Persian wars, showing the Greeks that the Persians could be beaten; the eventual Greek triumph in these wars can be seen to begin at Marathon


From the poem of Robert Browning detailing Pheidippides’ heroism, Baron Pierre de Coubertin and other founders of the modern Olympic Games invented a running race of 42 kilometers called the Marathon. Below is Browning’s poem entitled “Pheidippides” written in 1879:

So, when Persia was dust, all cried, “To Acropolis!

Run, Pheidippides, one race more! the meed is thy due!
Athens is saved, thank Pan, go shout!” He flung down his shield. 

Ran like fire once more: and the space ‘twixt the fennel-field
And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through,

Till in he broke: “Rejoice, we conquer!” Like wine through clay,

Joy in his blood bursting his heart, - the bliss!

The definitive distance for the marathon race was determined in 1921 by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF). The distance chosen was the one ran in London in 1908 : 26 miles 385 yards or 42.195 km, according to Ahotu Marathons.

It is commonly said that the distance was set to 26 miles 385 yards because of the Royal family, added the Ahotu Marathons. During the preparation of the summer Olympiads, it had been agreed that the organizers would include a marathon of about 40 kilometers or 25 miles. The British officials, desirous to accommodate the King of England, started the race at Windsor Castle and finished at the Royal box in the Olympic Stadium—a distance of precisely 26 miles 385 yards.

But that only explains why the London marathon’s distance was 42. 195 kilometers It doesn’t tell us why this distance was chosen as the definitive marathon distance.


The Boston Marathon is the United States’ oldest marathon, and the most important and iconic race that started in 1897 with 18 runners.

In order to join the race, you have to qualify, according to New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson.  

“A New York Marathon shirt means someone got lucky in a race lottery. A Boston Marathon shirt means they’ve run fast. The finish line today was one of the saddest, most terrible athletic scenes ever. But in an ordinary year, it’s extraordinary. Well-trained amateurs from all over the world: sweating, straining, slowing, sprinting,” Thompson said.

“The course was chosen to humble you. You start way off in Hopkinton, a town so far out on the Massachusetts Turnpike that it seems like it must be farmland. Then you run east. There are cheers at the beginning, and then it falls quiet for a spell. Families sit in lawn chairs clapping for the runners and listening to the Red Sox on the radio. At Wellesley College, at mile fourteen, the students come out en masse and cheer.” /MP

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