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The marathon is one of the most popular running race distances in the world. Most runners know where the term “marathon” comes from – it’s the story of the ancient Greek runner Pheidippides. In 490 B.C., Pheidippides ran 24.85 miles from the town of Marathon to Athens to tell the Athenians of the incredible victory over Darius and the invading Persian Empire. Once he completed the arduous run, he shouted “victory” and collapsed from exhaustion.
This story was repeated throughout antiquity and survived to the modern day. In the late 20th century, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin had the idea of reviving the ancient Olympic Games of Greece. The original Olympics, which had started in 776 B.C., had not taken place since 393 A.D. when the Roman Emperor Theodosius outlawed them.
It was decided that the first modern Olympics would be held in 1896, nearly 1500 years after the final ancient Olympics, the first modern Games would also take place at their original home – Athens, Greece. In honor of the great runner Pheidippides, the final event of these modern Games would be the “marathon” race – a foot race from Marathon to Athens.
Because of the pride that the modern Greek people had in the story of the run of Pheidippides and their role in founding the ancient Olympics, the marathon race was a very important event for them – it was also their last chance to win an Olympic medal. After 2 hours and 58 minutes of racing, they got their wish as Greek runner Spiridon Louis won the race by over seven minutes.
Although there was only one American runner in the race, the United States public became fascinated with the idea of the “marathon.” This interest was so great that, one year later in 1897, the first Boston Marathon was run, which was the first official marathon in the United States. The growth in popularity of the marathon in the last 115 years has been astounding, and a tribute to the powerful story of Pheidippides and the human desire to challenge their minds and bodies in this great test of endurance.
Photo courtesy of Tetraktys