Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Running (or cheering at) a marathon this year?

Then know your history. Runner's World takes a break from advising on training plans, shoes, hydration techniques and general running-cheerleading to look at why people run the specific 26.2 mile distance. Below, their article, which draws on MARATHON: HOW ONE BATTLED CHANGED WESTERN CIVILIZATION, by Professor Richard Billows.

Read the article in its entirety here!

When Was the Battle of Marathon?

On or around August 11th, 490 B.C.E., 2,500 years ago. Experts have chosen the 11th after consulting historical lunar calendars. Fellow Greek city state Sparta would have contributed troops to the fight, but for religious reasons couldn’t march until the next full moon, which would have been several days later in mid-August. Previous estimates put the battle in early September.

Did Pheidippides Exist? Did He Run Anywhere?

Most likely yes, on both counts. Ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote the definitive account of the battle some 40 or 50 years after it took place, says that a messenger named Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta, asked for help, then ran back with the bad news. That’s a round trip of close to 280 miles over mountainous terrain, and it took him four or five days. Greek messengers routinely ran similar distances for similar reasons. That’s how information generally traveled among Greek city states, says Richard Billows, a professor of Greek and Roman history at Columbia University in New York and author of Marathon: The Battle That Changed Western Civilization.

Did Pheidippides Die?

Well, sure—all of us do eventually—but there’s nothing in the historical record to suggest that Pheidippides died upon completing his Athens/Sparta run, or any other run.

Did Anybody Run from Marathon to Athens?

Yes, but a messenger would have taken a horse. The road between the cities was smooth, and a horse would have been faster and more efficient. The trip from Athens to Sparta, by contrast, was too treacherous for horses, which is why Pheidippides most likely went by foot. That means that the famous scene, whereby a messenger announces victory and collapses, is almost certainly fictional.

Billows, however, believes that thousands of Athenian soldiers were forced to march double time to Athens from Marathon after vanquishing the Persian invaders. During the battle, Athens was left largely undefended, and Billows suspects that Persian war ships were en route to the city and looking for trouble. If true, that means that the first marathon—thousands of people hustling for 25 miles—may have taken place following the Battle of Marathon after all. Just not the way we imagined it.

While this might not motivate you to go run 26.2 miles (which we don't recommend without months of training anyways!) it's interesting to see how events 2,500 years ago still affect both our culture and our traditions today.

Thanks, Runner's World!

No comments: