Legends of Marathon

My home town is a place rich in traditions. Some traditions date back over a century in the “old country” while others are more modern. One such tradition is hosting the starting line for the Steamtown Marathon. It’s a big deal to kick off such a beloved local event. We love cheering on all the runners. Our marathon is known for being a fast qualifier for Boston and having the best crowd participation. 

First, we start off with a literal bang, as an antique canon serves for the starting gun. Then you’ll see the streets lined with people cheering, ringing cowbells, waving flags, and holding signs. It’s like a local holiday.

Local Marathon Legends

While many runners gather from far and wide to participate, we have some local people in the annals of the Steamtown Marathon. I looked up a few of them on the website. The all-time fastest man Luke Watson completed it in 2:16:41 in 2010. The all-time fastest woman Jen Rock holds the record at 2:39:47 in 2014. I also want to mention Heidi Peoples who holds three spots in the women’s top ten list at second, fifth, and tenth. 

The Legend Begins

The story that birthed the modern marathon goes something like this. The Greek messenger Philippides, during the battle of Marathon, spotted a Persian ship turn toward Athens. Thinking that the Persians were about to walk into Athens claiming a false victory, he took off running to get there first. He ran the entire distance from Marathon to Athens, burst into the assembly, and declared victory for the Greeks at Marathon. He promptly fell down dead from the exertion.

That’s the short version. There is historical evidence for much of the story. One version of the story is recorded in Plutarch’s On the Glory of Athens, hundreds of years later. It’s likely just a legend springing from a real messenger as told by Herodotus. Philippides ran from Athens to Sparta seeking help in the war effort. He then ran back making about a 300 mile round trip. That’s a much more impressive feat than the 25ish mile trip between Athens and Marathon. 

The Marathon Revived

The organizers of the modern Olympic Games in 1896 wanted to include a centralizing event hailing back to the Greek roots. They settled on the Marathon. Since then, the final event of the summer games is the men’s marathon. The women’s marathon was added at the 1984 Los Angeles summer games. 

The distance of the Olympic marathon fluctuated a bit over the years. It was typically between 25 and 26 miles depending on the venue. The International Amateur Athletic Federation standardized the distance of 26.2 after it was used at the 1908 Olympics in London. That’s what we know as the marathon today, and what those bumper stickers mean. 

Olympic Marathon Legends

The winner of the 1896 marathon was a Greek, which seems oddly appropriate. His name was Spyridon “Spyros” Louis. The first winner of the women’s marathon was Joan Benoit of the USA.

Samuel Kamau Wanjiru of Kenya currently holds the men’s record at 2:06:32. He captured the title at the 2008 Summer games. Tiki Galena from Ethiopia ran the fastest women’s marathon at the 2012 games by finishing at 2:23:07.

Not a Marathon Legend

Here we are at the finish line. We made it!

Having once run the Steamtown Marathon and lived to tell the tale, I’m in awe of hard core runners like Heidi Peoples and professional athletes. I barely finished before the race committee packed away all the finish line apparatus. A marathon is an amazing event that I encourage everyone to get involved in. You can run, cheer, hand out water, and celebrate some local legends.

Categories goals, Health and fitness, running, Trail townTags , , , ,

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