The magical Marathon

The marathon – most fabled of all running events.

As most of you will know, the marathon, a long distance running event of 42.195 kilometers, was instituted to commemorate the fabled and heroic run of the Greek soldier-messenger Pheidippides, from the Battle of Marathon (hence the name) to Athens.

The story goes that brave Pheidippides ran the entire distance without stopping, exclaiming ‘We have won!’ when he finally reached his destination, and then promptly collapsed and died.


Thinking about it now, a couple of things could’ve contributed to his fate. He may have been over- or undertrained. If it was a case of overtraining, he obviously didn’t taper enough before the big run. Did he do any quality sessions, tempo runs or hill training as part of his build-up? One also can’t help wondering whether he did enough carbo-loading in the days leading up to the run. What was his hydration programme like – did he perhaps suffer from dehydration in the heat? Or did he make the mistake many runners make, of actually overhydrating during the run – something that some experts say may be even more dangerous to your health. Not having the luxury of the latest Polar heart-rate monitor, another problem may have been that he pushed too close to maximum heart rate for too long. Or who knows, running alone without any company, without even a trusty ipod to keep him entertained, he may have simply died of boredom – a marathon is a long way to be stuck with only your own thoughts…

One thing is for sure – it being the first marathon and all, he obviously did not have what us runners like to refer to as our ‘running memory’. Take for instance the Mountain to Surf marathon that Wouna and I did with our good old running buddy Willie. Over the past decade or so, Willie has run loads of marathons, and many ultras including quite a few Comrades marathons. So, despite not getting around to much training, and having a bout of the flu also keeping him off the road, Willie finished the marathon, fairly comfortably. He did it on a total training distance of less than the length of a marathon. And he didn’t even collapse or die!

Anyway, the point I actually want to get to is that the marathon really is a magical thing – no matter how many you’ve done, each marathon conquered remains a special occasion. Well worthy of a good bottle of bubbly. Or two…

During our running days in South Africa, we somehow never got around to doing as many marathons as we would’ve liked. There was always some excuse of being too busy, or not being ready, or some old lame excuse. Now that we’ve moved to New Zealand, we realise how many amazing SA marathons, big and small, we missed. Hopefully we can plan our future SA visits to coincide with some of the iconic events we still want to do.

On the flipside, as relative newbies on the New Zealand running scene, we are positively giddy with excitement about all the running events in general, and marathons in particular, that we want to do on the twin isles. Both on- and off-road. As far as on-road marathons go, we’ve done the Mountain to Surf twice, as well as the iconic Auckland marathon – the biggest marathon in New Zealand. Off-road, we were lucky enough to do the Dual and the T42, both challenging but very memorable outings.

But the to-do list is still as long as ever – there’s the popular Rotorua marathon (a must-do event, and one of the biggest marathons in New Zealand) and the Wellington marathon, both already penciled into our running diary for 2014. And then there’s still the Christchurch marathon, the Dunedin Marathon, the West Coaster, the Wairarapa Country marathon and even the Great Barrier Island marathon, to mention just a few!

Wonder what poor old Pheidippides would’ve thought about all that!?

Talking about our Greek friend, I should mention that the story of him running himself to death over the course of just over 42km is just one version of the story. And its not the one that paints him in the most impressive light.

According to another legend from the Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides’ heroic run was actually from Athens to Sparta during the Greco-Persian wars, to ask for help, and then back again – a distance of more than 240 kilometers each way.

And according to this legend he didn’t even collapse and die after this super-ultra marathon. Now THAT’s impressive.

But personally I’m glad the 42km Marathon-to-Athens legend is the one that stuck in the popular conscience. Because otherwise we may never have had the privilege of experiencing the grueling joy of conquering our own magical marathons.

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