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Origin of The Marathon

The children started back to school and that means the fall marathon season is close.  Living on the East coast this means Marine Corp, New York and Philadelphia marathons are around the corner. This blog is part of Marathon Mondays- a 10 part series about Marathons.

The name Marathon comes for the legend of the Greek messenger Pheidippides.  The legend says he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon.  Pheidippides fought in the battle that took place in August or September 490 B.C.  The legend says he ran the entire distance without stopping, burst into the assembly yelling; “We have won” before collapsing and dying.

There is a debate about the historical accuracy of the legend.  A Greek historian Herdotus says Pheidippides was a messenger that ran from Athens to Sparta asking for help and ran back to Athens.  The distance covered was 150 miles (240 kilometers) one way.  In some of his writings the name of the runner between Athens and Sparta is Phillippides.  Herdotus doesn’t say anything about a messenger going from Marathon to Athens.

Between Marathon and Athens is Mount Penteli.  This means if Pheidippides made the famous run from the battlefield he had to run around the mountain.  He would have had to come from the north or the south.  The southern route is the more obvious route today the Marathon-Athens highway follows the route.  The route is about 26 miles (42 kilometers) and helped set the standard for the marathon distance.  Others think Pheidippides took another route along Mount Penteli.  The second route would only be 22 miles (35 kilometers) but started out as a very steep climb of more than 3 miles.

Next week’s Marathon Monday feature will be about the distance of the marathon and how the International Amateur Athletic Federation came up with the 26 miles 385 yards as the standard marathon distance in 1921.


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