The Marathon: less talk, more run

Marathons. There’s something legendary about them, which is probably why they appeal fascinating to so many. Of course, there’s the story of Pheidippides to feed the legend. There are the amazing images of thousands & thousands of people at the start of the big city marathons, not to mention the stories they tell afterwards. But let’s cut the crap, shall we?

First of all, the story of Pheidippides might not even be true. There’s a lot of ambiguity about where that tale came from, and the first mentions of a run from Marathon to Athens only appear about 500 years after the actual event, and originally don’t mention Pheidippides but another runner. There is, however, more evidence about Pheidippides running from Sparta to Athens, so if it’s repeating the impressive feat Pheidippides pulled off you’re after, have fun running the 246k long Spartathlon!

With that out of the way, let’s destroy another myth: The marathon was originally not 42k (26.2 mi) but somewhere between 35 and 40k (22 and 25 mi). In the modern Olympics, the distance was always around 40k, trying to mimic what was believed to be the original distance. It wasn’t until the London Olympics of 1908 that the distance of 42.195k or 26.2 mi was introduced. The reason for this? They wanted the marathon to go from Windsor castle to the stadium and then, after one final lap around the track, have the finish right in front of the royal box. Not all that mythical, is it?

As for the people seeking to “find themselves” by running the marathon. Well, the feeling of “meeting yourself” is actually a wrongly interpreted feeling of “realising you didn’t prepare properly for this”. You don’t get any wiser by running the marathon. Or maybe you do. If the only time you take time off from your busy schedule is the time you’re running, then running a marathon means a few hours of thinking and in a way that definitely makes you wiser. Of course, you could also go sit in the woods and think for a few hours.

The marathon then is no magic portal to self-knowledge. And there’s not much mythical about it. These days, there’s far more extreme quests one can take: a Triathlon, the Spartathlon, one of the many 100 mile races out there,… And if you think that’s extreme: there used to be a lot of 6-day races, the winner being the one that did the most miles in 6 days…

So why on earth would you want to run a marathon? Maybe because you want to stay in shape. Or because it’s a tribute to the human body, one of the few that is able to keep running for so long. You could run one because it’s cheaper than therapy and while running there’s little else one can do than thinking. Or maybe just because you love running…

The marathon then, is a beautiful thing. As long as you don’t expect it to be what it’s not. It’s just a distance that needs to be run. But that’s not such a bad thing if you’re into running…

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