Tag Archives: Michel Bréal

Καλημέρα, Marathon!

Καλημέρα, Marathon!

(Good morning, Marathon!)

At the time this post is being published, two friends (Jose and Juan), my brother and I are starting the Athens Classic Marathon; the marathon starting in the town of Marathon, in the East of Attica region, and finishing in Athens.

Today, there are hundreds of marathon-distance (and longer) races organized around the globe all along the year. The trend is growing. The numbers of people running such races is increasing year by year. But it all started here, in Attica.

Pheidippides, the legend

The basic traces of the legend are widely known: a courier named Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the result of the battle and perished after the arrival. However, there are some confusions in relation to the legend, as it is well explained in the respective Wikipedia article.

The first record from the legend comes in a text from Lucian:

… The modern use of the word dates back to Philippides the dispatch-runner. Bringing the news of Marathon, he found the archons seated, in suspense regarding the issue of the battle. ‘Joy, we win!’ he said, and died upon his message, breathing his last in the word Joy … – Lucian Pro lapsu inter salutandum (translated by F.G. and H.W. Fowler, 1905) 

Statue of Pheidippides along the Marathon Road (picture by Hammer of the Gods27).

What is less known is that according to the story Pheidippides (530 BC–490 BC) was first sent to Sparta to request help from the Spartans when the Persians landed at Marathon. Thus, he already had run 240km to Sparta (and back). Right afterwards, he was sent from Marathon to Athens (another 40km) to announce the victory in the battle.

To the ones having completed a marathon race this makes sense, as: how it can be that it all started with the one supposed gifted runner collapsing after completing the 40km if thousands (about half a million) people each year complete a marathon? The catch is that Pheidippides had come from twice running what today is known as the Spartathlon, a 246km ultramarathon race which is also organized yearly in Greece, between Athens and Sparta.

Thus, the feats of Pheidippides have yielded two modern running race distances and hundreds of events.

The Olympic Games

Spyridon Louis entering the Panathinaiko stadium at the end of the marathon (public domain image, author Albert Meyer).

More than two thousand years passed until the sport of marathon was established on the occasion of the first modern Olympic Games held in 1896 in Athens.

The idea of including such a race in the programme of sport events was from Michel Bréal, a friend of Pierre de Coubertin. The proposal was accepted by the Olympic committee and that first marathon race had a distance of 40,000m (the current 42,195 distance for marathons was established years later, in 1924 , based on the distance of the 1908 London Games).

That first marathon was run on April 10th of 1986.  Only 17 runners took part in that race; of which only 9 of them finished, one being disqualified after his arrival (as he had completed part of the race on a carriage) and the other 8 retired at different points of the route. The race was won by the Greek Spyridon Louis with a time of  2:58:50.

Athens Classic Marathon

From 1972, the Athens Classic Marathon is organized yearly following the route of that first marathon race in 1896 and the legend of Pheidippides (490 BC).

Today in 2013, 117 years after those first 17 runners and 2503 years after Pheidippides, the 4 of us will try to cover the distance between Marathon and Athens, to say ‘Joy, we win!’ at our arrival and this time, not to collapse.

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