A marathon

Today your Geographer is running his first marathon.

By way of honoring this event, Z would like to relate the story (thanks to wikipedia, of course) of why running 26.2 miles is called a “marathon.”

The popular story goes something like this: following the battle of Marathon, the Greeks who had just defeated a Persian army, sent a runner to Athens to report the felicitous news. The battle of Marathon is acknowledged as the turning point in that first conflict between the Persian Empire and Greek city states. Athens is approximately 25 miles (about 40 kilometers) from the plain of Marathon. Upon reaching the city and shouting out the good news, the runner promptly fell over and died.

As wikipedia tells it (with a pair of sources who are second hand sources themselves) this popular story is actually a conflation of two stories surrounding the battle. There was a runner, Pheidippides, carrying a message. However, he left Athens as the Athenian army left for Marathon. Pheidippides covered 140 miles (225 km.) to reach Sparta the day after he left (otherwise known as ultrarunning) and bade the Spartans to make haste for Marathon to assist. As the heavens would have it, the Spartans were observing a religious festival requiring peace and would be unable to march until the following full moon (some days later). Following the battle, the Athenian army marched back the 25 miles back to Athens from the battlefield at Marathon. The Athenians marched quickly, they were carrying gear and were probably exhausted, in an attempt to reach Athens before the Persian fleet could Cape Sounion (to the south). If the Persians rounded the cape, they could have conceivably landed the survivors directly in Athens – since the city was undefended with the army in Marathon. As you may have guessed, the Athenians reached the city first.

Thus, our modern marathons (eventually set at 26 miles, 385 yards or 42.195 km.) commemorate the Athenian army’s march and race against the Persians.

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