Going the distance: the art of the marathon

By Mark Villani

Why do people run marathons? Running is not just a means of exercise. We run to get away from our thoughts, problems and emotions. Some run for the achievement, while others simply have a passion for it.

Legend says the marathon was born in 490 BC when the legendary soldier Pheidippides of Greece brought home great news of victory over the Persians. He ran 24 miles from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to share the news. “Niki! Niki!” he yelled — meaning victory — collapsing and dying shortly after.

Over two thousand years went by before the legend of Pheidippides was revived in a 24.85 mile run from the bridge of Marathon to Athens in 1896. This run officially inaugurated the event of the marathon in the very first Olympic Games. Seventeen runners assembled at the start line and only nine crossed the finish line. The race was won by Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker, who finished with a time of 2:58:50.

Distance running has become an extremely competitive and physically demanding sport in the past 100 years. The Americans quickly became a force to be reckoned with on the pavement. Through sponsorship incentives by the Boston Athletic Association, distance running training programs slowly began to originate, offering a competitive edge for North American runners. Thus began the tradition of the most famous running event in the world — the Boston Marathon.

The modern marathon is 26.2 miles long. Originally the marathon was only 24 miles until the 1908 Olympics in London, England, where the distance was lengthened to cover the ground between Windsor Castle and White City Stadium.

The addition of another 2.2 miles allowed for the race to finish in front of the royal family’s viewing box, which is why when passing the 24 miles mark in a race runners often say ‘God Save the Queen’ for good luck before finishing. The standard distance was soon set at 26.2 miles.

For first-year kinesiology student Colton Quinn, running is almost second nature. “When I am out running, the less I think about the better. I just kind of zone out and let the miles roll by,” said Quinn, who competes for the Dinos track and field team. “I get into a rhythm that is almost hypnotic. You spend a lot of time alone training for a marathon and that alone time really gets you mentally prepared.”

Having run his first marathon before his Grade 12 graduation and qualifying this past October for the Boston Marathon, the 19-year-old adheres to an intense training program.

“Typically I try to run six times a week,” said Quinn. “Usually on Sunday I’ll go out for a long run, which are for me the most important runs. They can last anywhere from one and a half to two and a half hours.”

Quinn is thrilled for the opportunity to run in next year’s Boston Marathon. “It’s really hard to explain to someone who does not run marathons,” said Quinn. “Boston is such an exclusive race — it is the most prestigious of all marathons.”

Each year, it is estimated that approximately half a million people across the world run a marathon. It is clear that running takes extreme physical preparation, but inevitably it is a mental battle to train and finish such a demanding task. A great amount of stress is put on the body during a long run. Some push through in a battle of mind over matter while others, as the saying goes, ‘hit the wall’ and can’t go any further.

Runners continue to challenge the limits of the human body — striving to run a marathon for seven days straight, running 50 marathons in 50 states, running a marathon in every country or the legendary 7x7x7 — seven marathons in seven continents in seven days. Some marathon enthusiasts have pushed themselves to unbelievable limits. Annette Fredskov, a Danish woman with multiple sclerosis, ran 366 marathons in 365 days. Another legendary story includes a young Indian boy, Budhia Singh who ran his first marathon at 3-years-old and completed 48 marathons by the age of four.

Just this year at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 14, Wilson Kipsang of Kenya broke the world record for the fastest marathon by a male with a time of 2:03:23. On the women’s front line is Paula Radcliffe of the United Kingdom, with a record of 2:15:25, a feat that hasn’t been broken in over 10 years.

Marathon running is becoming a fitness addiction among athletes across the globe. All you have to do is pick up your feet and with each step comes another one that will continue to push you forward — so run. Run away from your fears, your worries, your relationships, from all of your disadvantages, your wants and your needs. Life is your marathon and the possibilities are endless.

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