Monday March 22, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Marathon
On this Day:
In 1896, Charilaos Vasilakos of Greece won the 1st modern marathon in 3:18 at the Panhellenic Games. But the marathon has a much longer history.
The marathon is a long-distance race with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres (26 miles 385 yards), usually run as a road race. The event was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, who reported the victory. The marathon can be completed by running or with a run/walk strategy. There are also wheelchair divisions.
The marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921. More than 800 marathons are held throughout the world each year, with the vast majority of competitors being recreational athletes, as larger marathons can have tens of thousands of participants.
The name Marathon comes from the legend of Philippides (or Pheidippides), the Greek messenger. The legend states that, while he was taking part in the battle of Marathon, which took place in August or September, 490 BC, he witnessed a Persian vessel changing its course towards Athens as the battle was near a victorious end for the Greek army. He interpreted this as an attempt by the defeated Persians to rush into the Greek capital and claim a false victory, hence claiming their authority over Greek land. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping, discarding his weapons and even clothes to lose as much weight as possible, and burst into the assembly, exclaiming νενικήκαμεν (nenikēkamen, “we have won!”), before collapsing and dying. The account of the run from Marathon to Athens first appears in Plutarch’s On the Glory of Athens in the 1st century AD, which quotes from Heraclides Ponticus’s lost work, giving the runner’s name as either Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles. Satirist Lucian of Samosata (2nd century AD) first gives an account closest to the modern version of the story, but is writing tongue-in-cheek and also names the runner Philippides (not Pheidippides).
There is debate about the historical accuracy of this legend. The Greek historian Herodotus, the main source for the Greco-Persian Wars, mentions Philippides as the messenger who ran from Athens to Sparta asking for help, and then ran back, a distance of over 240 kilometres (150 mi) each way. In some Herodotus manuscripts, the name of the runner between Athens and Sparta is given as Philippides. Herodotus makes no mention of a messenger sent from Marathon to Athens, and relates that the main part of the Athenian army, having fought and won the grueling battle, and fearing a naval raid by the Persian fleet against an undefended Athens, marched quickly back from the battle to Athens, arriving the same day.
In 1879, Robert Browning wrote the poem Pheidippides. Browning’s poem, his composite story, became part of late 19th century popular culture and was accepted as a historic legend.
Mount Pentelicus stands between Marathon and Athens, which means that if Philippides actually made his famous run after the battle, he had to run around the mountain, either to the north or to the south. The latter and more obvious route matches almost exactly the modern Marathon-Athens highway, which follows the lay of the land southwards from Marathon Bay and along the coast, then takes a gentle but protracted climb westwards towards the eastern approach to Athens, between the foothills of Mounts Hymettus and Penteli, and then gently downhill to Athens proper. This route, as it existed when the Olympics were revived in 1896, was approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) long, and this was the approximate distance originally used for marathon races. However, there have been suggestions that Philippides might have followed another route: a westward climb along the eastern and northern slopes of Mount Penteli to the pass of Dionysos, and then a straight southward downhill path to Athens. This route is a bit shorter, 35 kilometres (22 mi), but includes a very steep initial climb of more than 5 kilometres (3.1 mi).
When the modern Olympics began in 1896, the initiators and organizers were looking for a great popularizing event, recalling the glory of ancient Greece. The idea of a marathon race came from Michel Bréal, who wanted the event to feature in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. This idea was heavily supported by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, as well as by the Greeks. The Greeks staged a selection race for the Olympic marathon on 22 March 1896 (Gregorian) that was won by Charilaos Vasilakos in 3 hours and 18 minutes.
The winner of the first Olympic marathon, on 10 April 1896 (a male-only race), was Spyridon Louis, a Greek water-carrier, in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds. The marathon of the 2004 Summer Olympics was run on the traditional route from Marathon to Athens, ending at Panathinaiko Stadium, the venue for the 1896 Summer Olympics. That men’s marathon was won by Italian Stefano Baldini in 2 hours 10 minutes and 55 seconds, a record time for this route until the non-Olympics Athens Classic Marathon of 2014, when Felix Kandie lowered the course record to 2 hours 10 minutes and 37 seconds.
The women’s marathon was introduced at the 1984 Summer Olympics (Los Angeles, USA) and was won by Joan Benoit of the United States with a time of 2 hours 24 minutes and 52 seconds.
It has become a tradition for the men’s Olympic marathon to be the last event of the athletics calendar, on the final day of the Olympics. For many years the race finished inside the Olympic stadium; however, at the 2012 Summer Olympics (London), the start and finish were on The Mall, and at the 2016 Summer Olympics (Rio de Janeiro), the start and finish were in the Sambódromo, the parade area that serves as a spectator mall for Carnival.
Often, the men’s marathon medals are awarded during the closing ceremony (including the 2004 games, 2012 games and 2016 games).
The Olympic men’s record is 2:06:32, set at the 2008 Summer Olympics by Samuel Kamau Wanjiru of Kenya (average speed about 20.01 kilometres per hour or 12.43 miles per hour). The Olympic women’s record is 2:23:07, set at the 2012 Summer Olympics by Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia. The men’s London 2012 Summer Olympic marathon winner was Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda (2:08:01). Per capita, the Kalenjin ethnic group of Rift Valley Province in Kenya has produced a highly disproportionate share of marathon and track-and-field winners. However the Olympic records are not the world’s record times for the Marathon.
World records in the marathon are now ratified by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the international governing body for the sport of athletics.
Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge set an official world record for men of 2:01:39 on September 16, 2018, at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. His run broke the previous world record by 1 minute and 18 seconds, the greatest improvement over a previous record since 1967.
The IAAF recognizes two world records for women, a time of 2:14:04 set by Brigid Kosgei on October 13, 2019 during the Chicago Marathon which was ran by men and women together; and a “Women Only” record of 2:17:01, set by Mary Keitany, on April 23, 2017 at the London Marathon for women only (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Did you hear who won the Bangkok Marathon? Turns out it was a Thai.
Second, a Song:
Iron Maiden are an English heavy metal band formed in Leyton, East London, in 1975 by bassist and primary songwriter Steve Harris. The band’s discography has grown to 40 albums, including 16 studio albums, 13 live albums, four EPs, and seven compilations.
Pioneers of the new wave of British heavy metal, Iron Maiden achieved initial success during the early 1980s. After several line-up changes, the band went on to release a series of UK and US platinum and gold albums, including 1982’s The Number of the Beast, 1983’s Piece of Mind, 1984’s Powerslave, 1985’s live release Live After Death, 1986’s Somewhere in Time, 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, 1990’s No Prayer for the Dying, and 1992’s Fear of the Dark. Since the return of lead vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith in 1999, the band has undergone a resurgence in popularity, with a series of new albums and tours. Their 2010 studio offering, The Final Frontier, peaked at No. 1 in 28 countries and received widespread critical acclaim. The sixteenth studio album, The Book of Souls, was released on 4 September 2015 to similar success, topping the charts in 24 countries.
Iron Maiden are considered one of the most influential and successful heavy metal bands in history, with The Sunday Times reporting in 2017 that the band have sold over 100 million copies of their albums worldwide, despite little radio or television support. The band won the Ivor Novello Award for international achievement in 2002. As of October 2013, the band have played over 2000 live shows throughout their career. For 40 years, the band have been supported by their famous mascot, “Eddie”, who has appeared on almost all of their album and single covers, as well as in their live shows.
Somewhere in Time is the sixth studio album by English heavy metal band Iron Maiden. It was released on 29 September 1986 in the United Kingdom by EMI Records and in the United States by Capitol Records. It was the band’s first album to feature guitar synthesisers.
Since its release, Somewhere in Time has been certified platinum by the RIAA, having sold over one million copies in the US. Somewhere on Tour was the album’s supporting tour.
The album Somewhere in Time features the song: “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. Here is a mash up of videos of runners, both male and female (watch for Paula Radcliffe, Haile Gebrselassie and many others), in runs from all corners of the globe set to The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Iron Maiden. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“The world is full of people who have dreams of playing at Carnegie Hall, of running a marathon, and of owning their own business. The difference between the people who make it across the finish line and everyone else is one simple thing: an action plan.” – John Tesh
Have a great day!
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky