The History of the Marathon
It was the year 490 BC and against great odds, the Greeks had defeated the Persians in the battle of Marathon.
While the Persians were packing up what was left of their army and heading home, a young messenger, bronzed from the sun, taught muscles rippling from his steady movements, was running to deliver the news of victory to the people of Athens. The distance was just over twenty-five miles, and upon reaching the city, he ran through the streets proclaiming, "Rejoice, we conquer!"
The legend goes on to say that upon delivering the news, the messenger collapsed dead from his exertion. Though it seems unlikely that a professional foot courier from ancient Greece would have perished after such a run, the legend took hold, and from this man’s achievement, grew the modern-day marathon.
The long-distance race was fittingly one of the events in the very first 1896 Olympic Games in Athens, despite the fact that medical experts warned that such a race would be extremely dangerous to runners.
Interestingly, the current marathon distance of twenty-six miles, or forty-two point two kilometers, was set during the 1908 London Olympics by the Queen to ensure that she could witness the start of the race from the comfort of Windsor Castle, and the finish in front of The Royal Box.
Why run a Marathon?
There is something in us that seeks out a challenge. A personal challenge that only your own drive, desire, and ego will allow you to accomplish. But more than anything else, the attraction of running your first Marathon is to seek out the challenge of the unknown.
Starting is the Scary Part
I was on the verge of a monumental birthday, and decided to do something to remember it by. My friend Amy went to her favourite boutique and spent $1000 on clothes to remember hers, I decided to run a marathon.
Ever since I knew what it was, the race had been creeping into the back of my mind. It was my Everest, a mountain that I had to conquer in order to move forward in my life. Hillary went against all odds to climb his Everest, and I intended to do the same to overcome mine.
I had spent many Sunday afternoons curled up on my overstuffed green chair, glued to the latest marathon race being broadcasted on TV. The athletes exuded confidence and determination, while their bodies were reminiscent of Michelangelo’s David with strong, curved legs, rock hard abs, and perfectly sculpted arms. The elation on their faces when they crossed the finish line, and their look of delerious exhaustion was an experience that I longed for.
Pen in hand, and a little bit shaky, I filled out the registration form, checked off my shirt size, and signed the waiver. My palms were sweaty (I told myself it was because I had stopped to fill out the form while I was half-way through a run) and I almost dropped the pen as I shifted to the bottom of the page to scribble my name across the thin black line marked with an ‘x’.
Was I doing the right thing?
What experience did I have that could possibly make me think I could run a marathon?!
My breathing quickened as I handed the form to the man behind the counter, obviously a runner himself judging by his toned physique. Was he looking as me and thinking that I was only kidding myself by believing that I could actually run this race?
He took the form from me and smiled, telling me that he would send the information off for me. I nodded and, in a daze, headed towards the door to continue my run.
The cold shocked me as I stepped out of the warm building, and within minutes I could already feel my breath freezing on my cheeks. I had done it, made it real. There was no turning back now. With each step down the path, each muscle contraction, he was typing my information into the computer and placing my name among the names of others brave (or crazy) enough to follow their dream.
I had transitioned from runner to racer.
Wednesday, 6:30 pm, Boudreau Hill
The hill sits silent and looming in the twilight as the snow falls lightly and cars zoom cautiously up and down the icy road.
We appear out of nowhere, our brightly coloured jackets catching in the headlights, an eerie sight to the average observer.
It’s common knowledge in our running community that if you want to run hills with a group, Wednesday evening is the time to do it. Even though I don’t know any of them by name, it is a welcome distraction from the quiet and incessent thoughts that come with solitary running.
Steadily, I begin my first ascent. Every time I turn to come back down the hill, there are new spandex clad runners running towards me. No one speaks except for the odd “Hi” or “Good job!” as I pass. The lack of conversation comes from our focus on form. If we do not keep our bodies parallel to the hill, and our arms pumping at just the right pace, we might end up going too fast or too slow and that’s just asking for an injury.
As the repititave up and down draws to a close, quads burning, we begin to disappear into the night as quickly as we came.
One by one our numbers thin until the hill lies silent again, and all that remains is our footsteps in the snow.
Fear Nothing (or, Fear Everything)
My little black book doesn’t hold phone numbers, but a list of what I eat each day. A runner needs five to eight servings of grains, fruits, and veggies, along with two to three servings of dairy and meat. Religiously, every night I sit barefoot on my bed, warm from my post-run shower, and write down what I have eaten for the day.
To make myself pay for eating something I shouldn’t, I mark red sad faces beside all of the food that would fit in the ‘junk’ category, hoping that it will prevent me from eating it again. Yesterday I had three cookies and so three red faces stare up at me today. Cookies are not to be eaten during training — which is a problem for me because of my on-going cookie addiction.
Along with studying up on nutrition, I have read a lot about hydration and the wonderfully negative effects of dehydration. As a result, my life is now centered around where the nearest washroom is. When it comes time to run the marathon, it is not the race route I will have to worry about knowing as much as where each porta-potty is located.
I am never without my water bottle, and am sure to drink at least three liters a day (an effort that is hindered when I give in to the urge to have a beer or a glass of wine at the end of a long day.)
I am addicted to my training and have developed a fear that something will prevent me from continuing it. I control the things that I can — like my calorie and water intake — but I am terrified of injuries. Walking down the street, I worry that I will step down the wrong way and twist my ankle.
Less then a year ago, I was a fearless rugby player that would take a hit without a single thought and give one back just as hard. Now, I am afraid to walk down the street in case some freak accident leaves me helpless and watching as people run by.
My clock reads 8:10 am in glowing red letters. I’ll get up in twenty more minutes.
Every ten minutes my alarm starts beeping, and I turn it off, take a sip of water, and roll over until it goes off again. This has been going on since seven. When the beep pierces my sleep again at 8:20, I look at my running clothes laid out across the room and try to remember why I am doing this on a Sunday morning.
Even the people going to church aren’t up this early.
Then I remember an ad I once saw in a running magazine. It showed an empty bed, and outside the window was the back of a woman running away. In small black letters, it read “My Bed Lost”.
I will not let my bed win today, so at 8:30 I throw back the covers, put on my contacts, and start layering on Vaseline to prevent chaffing between my parts that rub.
Running is not a glamorous sport.
It has warmed up, but not enough for shorts yet. Clad in my spandex pants, fleece top, and wind-resistant yellow jacket, I worry that I have too many layers on. It’s better to be too hot than cold though, so I’ll have to take my chances.
Grabbing the city map, I sit down to figure out the day’s route. Twenty-three kilometers today, over half a marathon, my longest run yet. I will only ever get up to thirty-two kilometers in my training run, because once you go over thirty, your risk for injury goes up about 200%. It’s scary to think that I won’t run the marathon distance until the day of the race.
Erin, my training buddy is late, so I take my time filling up my water bottle and packing my gels. I’m trying out a new gel today — a sticky sugary substance, about the texture of over-chewed gum, that is ingested halfway through the run to replace lost electrolytes. Definitely not something to look forward to despite what it does to help.
Erin finally arrives, and our nerves set in when, quetly closing the door, we head for the trail. Anxiety and adrenaline take over as I realize how far I really have to go today.
Are my shoelaces too tight? Have I drank enough water?
These thoughts dissipate as all my parts begin to move in unison and my feet pound out a soothing, steady rhythm beneath me.
At kilometer twelve, Erin leaves me. She has been out with a sprained ankle for the last two weeks, and it has left her unprepared.
I am alone with eleven kilometers of silence ahead of me.
The only way to distract my mind is to imagine that this is my last race and after this, I will never run again. That though keeps my mind focused on the task at hand and away from the weeks of training that I still have to conquer in front of me.
At around kilometer eighteen, I stop thinking altogether and just run. I am one with my movement, and the scenery that passes by me. For once, I don’t care how I look to the cars whooshing by; I just want to finish my route in one piece.
The last kilometer is always the hardest. I am so close, yet so far away and there is always the risk that I will give in to the exhaustion and stop seconds before my goal is reached. Not this time though, I dig deep, pulling every bit of strength I have to the surface.
I will not loose my self-respect today.
I leap across my imaginary finish line and stop my watch.
It reads 2:12:56.
I stare at it in disbelief. How could I have gone that fast? I’m numb from the shock, but only until I take my first step. My muscles have tightened up so quickly, that the 200-meter walk ahead of me looks like another twenty-three kilometer run.
I slowly limp home, carefully step through the door, and collapse onto my living room floor.
I am exhausted and overwhelmed as I realize that I have reached camp four of my Everest and the summit is in sight!
If I could just make it to the shower, my day would be perfect.