The topic for this week is the marathon, so let me give you some information about the past and present of the race, as well as some of its features.
The marathon race was inspired by the legend of an ancient Greek messenger who in 490 BCE ran from the town of Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles, with news of an important Greek victory over the invading Persian army. After proclaiming “Niki!” (Victory!), he collapsed and died. At the first modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896, his dramatic run was commemorated with a race named for its starting point, and set at 40 kilometers.
For the next several Olympics, the length of the marathon was not standardized, but remained around 25 miles until the 1908 Games in London. Although versions of the story vary, one account says that Queen Alexandra wanted the race to start on the grounds of Windsor Castle (supposedly so that the smallest members of the royal family could watch from the window of their nursery) and finish in front of the royal box in the Olympic stadium. This distance was 26.2 miles (26 miles and 385 yards), or 42.195 kilometers, which became the official standard length of the race in 1921. (A race of 21.1 kilometers is known as a half marathon.)
Soon after the first marathon at the Olympics, cities began to organize their own marathons. In the century and a quarter of the race’s history up to the present, the number of events and runners has increased exponentially, with hundreds of marathons held around the globe.
Today, six important marathons – London, Chicago, Tokyo, Berlin, Boston and New York – make up the biennial World Marathon Majors series. To participate in one of these races, a runner must either win a lottery or qualify by running under a certain time in any marathon they have participated in during the preceding two years. That time is decreasing every year; the qualification time for men to race in Tokyo this year is 2 hours and 45 minutes.
I have talked about the past and present of marathon races, but how does it feel to run in one? Please consider what it must be like to run nonstop for two to five or even six hours. You eat and drink while running. You have to train for months, because it’s really hard to achieve such a goal. During the race, you run with your brain, not just with your feet and legs, because your body will be asking you to stop. But if you’re focused enough, your brain silences your body and takes over. And when you get to the finish line, having succeeded in completing the race and perhaps even winning a medal, all the pain passes, and you start planning for your next marathon.
One more interesting bit of information: The Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge, considered by some the greatest marathoner ever, showed us how important mindset is by running a marathon in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds (an average pace of 2:50 min/km, or 4:34.5 min/mile). It was an unofficial world record, and the first time the distance had been run in under two hours. What an effort! Kipchoge also holds the official marathon world record of 2:01:39.
The topic of my next column will be trail running.