Why is it that the marathon is always considered the most senior race among professional runners? It is probably because it represents the ultimate in performance, where the body, mind and spirit are all tested to the very limit. To understand the history of the marathon as a race you really have to study the Athens marathon, and why in particular this race has the accolade as the most prestigious road race in the world.
Many historians consider the Battle of Marathon one of the foremost of its kind that ever took place, but for sportsmen all over the world the name of this famous battle in 490 B C is synonymous with another kind of battle, and that is of endurance running. The Battle of Marathon was fought by free men against what they thought was oppression, it is highly significant because it was one of the foundations of democracy in its very first infancy. Perhaps if the battle would have been lost then there would not be any democracy today.
A young messenger named Pheidippides was dispatched from the victorious field of battle at Marathon to run to Athens with the victorious news. On arrival he delivered his message and then collapsed and died, his epic run inspires athletes today to replicate his ordeal. When competitors run the Athens marathon, they not only do so in the footsteps of brave Pheidippides, but also at the birthplace of freedom and democracy.
The Athens Marathon
Running the Athens marathon is to be a democratic hero, in the steps of the brave messenger from the victorious field of battle at Marathon. You are in the company of ancient Greek gods looking down at the bringer of glad tidings. The finish line is in the splendorous Olympic Stadium in the very heart of the ancient city, which just happens to be the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games.
The Athens race is said to be one of the toughest marathons that is still being staged today, it follows a course that starts at the sea quite near the battlefield of Marathon. Then it climbs the base of Mount Pendeli and finishes on the plains of Attika, which now happens to be slap bang in the centre of Athens. The race in Athens takes place in the winter, but the Greek translation of winter means not summer. So, the event is run in extremely hot temperatures which all adds to the difficulty of the event.
The Athens marathon is particularly poignant as it is dedicated to Grigoris Lambrakis who was a noble Greek peace activist. The gifted Lambrakis was a doctor, politician and a 1930’s track star. He was assassinated in 1963 and this assassination bought the demise of the then ruling government. In fact, so shocking was the event that a film was released of what happened entitled Z in 1969.
The Athens marathon is undoubtedly the father of all marathon races, it is full of the ancient history that formed marathon running, and the competitors all race around the same course that brave Pheidippides once trod to deliver the triumphant news and save democracy in 490 BC.