The Tragic History of the Marathon

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Reegan von Wildenradt
BU News Service

26.2 miles of running. More commonly known as a marathon. Well over 500,000 Americans will complete a marathon in 2015. In a few days, I will join them in this endeavor as I run the 2015 Cape Cod Marathon.

After all of the pain, sweat, lost toenails, miles and countless loads of laundry, the fact that more than half a million people will run a marathon this year completely baffles me.

I have come to learn that runners are a very interesting breed of people, and I feel that I can finally count myself in their ranks. We all love to talk about the wonders of running. We could talk about running for hours. Seriously, if you don’t care about running, do not ask a runner about their sport.

However, this sport is not all post-run brunch bliss and runner’s high utopia. There is a slightly dark side to our beautiful marathon, one that many a runner is either deliberately or unintentionally ignorant of. The history of the marathon, although poetic in its tragedy, is indeed a tragedy, and perhaps something that all of us first-time marathoners should at least be aware of before we gleefully spend our precious time and money on such a daunting task.

It’s 490 B.C., ancient Greece. The Greek army has just successfully fought off an invading army of Persians, a colossal victory. It is news that is imperative to pass on to the capital, Athens, as soon as possible. The information is sitting in Marathon, a town approximately 40 kilometers from Athens, with a group of sweaty, battle-worn men.

Every single one of their mopeds has just ran out of gas, and taking the train seems impractical and boring. They sit at a table, all scratching their impressively groomed beards, occasionally glancing down at their leather sandals for some source of inspiration.

Then, in the distance, they see a beacon of light, nay, a beacon of hope, approaching them. They squint to get a better look. A small man soon comes into focus. He is unusual looking for the times. He is wearing a shirt from a 5K race that took place in 2012. His wrists are covered with various types of gadgets, blinking and flashing important information such as his step count and average caloric burn. Every few seconds, one or two of them buzz or glow a violent shade of red to remind him he has not moved in the last 15 seconds. His fuel belt is bursting with GUs, Clif Bars, quesadillas, bottles of water, and about 37 ounces of Gatorade. A tattoo, “13.1”, is located on the back of his left calf, is obscured by knee-high neon compression sleeves. The men cringe slightly at the sight of his shoes- he’s got those damn minimalist shoes, the ones that look like toe socks with laces and rubber on the bottom.

“Hello men, I am here to deliver your message!” the small man proclaims. They glance around at each other and shrug in agreement. He seems prepared, after all. He has obviously run a 5K, so this shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

The man takes off, but not before taking a GU to amp him up, followed by a quick swig of water. A little nibble of a Clif Bar shouldn’t hurt, either. Maybe half of the quesadilla. Actually, the whole thing. He needs the fuel, after all. He’s going to burn it off anyways.

The assistant to the assistant of one of the more important leaders in Athens sits on the outskirts of town, under a tree, eating a peach. He is lost in deep thought, staring at the branches of the tree, pondering how leaves decide how big they should become. He is quite certain he is onto some sort of intellectual breakthrough, so it is understandable how annoyed he becomes when his thoughts are broken by the sounds of wheezing, shuffling and sloshing water. He glances up to see a small man, his 2012 5K shirt doused in sweat, a strangely rabid and serene look in his eye.

“I think I’m on the runner’s high, man! Also, we beat the Persians.”

Then he collapses and dies.

Some parts of this story were partially fictionalized. But the gist is true.

The first person that ran a marathon died.

It goes against human nature to attempt something that someone has died doing. When the first caveman was bitten by a poisonous spider and died, humans learned that they should avoid spiders at all costs. We as a species have evolved to fear spiders. At least most of us fear spiders. Of course there’s the outliers who will do things like volunteer to come over to your house to kill the giant flesh-eating spider on the wall.

More than 500,000 of us will run a marathon this year. I will run my first in a few days’ time. At this point, I think I understand why. Why run when I could take a moped or something? Ask a runner. Or maybe don’t if you have anything less than two hours to spare.

Check back next week for more on the 2015 Cape Cod Marathon, and to see if Reegan survived.

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