(175 days to go!)
The question posed in my headline has been banging around in my head since September 28th. On that particular Tuesday morning I headed out for what was to be a standard six-mile training run for my final race of the 2010 season, the Scituate Duathlon. I came back a changed woman, a woman on a mission, one who immediately plopped down on the exercise ball that serves as her desk chair and applied for a charity race number for the Boston Marathon before the adrenaline had time to wear off and she came to her senses. So, now that I am officially committed to doing this thing called a marathon for the Children’s Hospital’s team, I figured the onus is on me to find out why it is named thusly, instead of keeping convention with its -thlon brethren that I have come to know and love so very much.
I’ve done some digging, and now I know. I gotta say, I feel pretty stupid that I didn’t know this before. OK, maybe “stupid” is a bit harsh, but “ignorant” definitely applies; I am scratching my head and wondering what Boston University was thinking when they added to my sheepskin that little line, magna cum laude.
A dash of Latin makes an excellent segue to the answer, as the name “marathon” refers to an ancient Greek city-state called, say it with me, Marathon (duh!). Apparently way back in the days before texting and IMing (think 490 B.C.-ish here), the very best way to get word from Point A to Point B was via runner-messenger. A lucky dude named Pheidippides (which is apparently pronounced fi-DIP-id-ies, so I’m heretofore nicknaming him Fi-dip) got the job of running the 25 or so rocky, mountainous miles between Marathon and Athens to announce that a rather rag-tag gang of underdog Greeks had just defeated the well-equipped mighty Persians in the Battle of Marathon.
Our hero Fi-dip did his job; apparently he did it very quickly and very well.
Here’s the clincher: upon arrival, Fi-dip gleefully yelped “Rejoice! We conquer!”
And then, as if on cue, Fi-dip collapsed.
And he died.
(Since we’re using a little Latin here, please N.B.: my family is going to be oh-so-tickled pink by this revelation, that on April 18th when I get to the start line in Hopkinton I will be reenacting a long-ago run-to-the-death. They already think I’m crazy; this will totally seal the deal!)
So our man Fi-dip ran the first marathon in 490 B.C., and we humans left well enough alone for, well, a darn long time. Then around came the first Olympic Games in 1896. Since they were being hosted by Athens, someone decided it would be a fitting tribute to Fi-dip in particular and Greek athleticism in general to add an endurance race to the agenda and call it a Marathon. A Bostonian named John Graham was apparently there that day, and it just so happens that back home he was team manager a little club named the Boston Athletic Association. He loved the Marathon concept, and once back in Beantown he pitched it to his fellow runners. Sadomasochists one and all, they apparently loved it, too. Twelve months later, a field of 15–yep, just 15!–hearty souls lined up to run the very first Boston Marathon. The rest is history, and Boston is now the oldest continuously run marathon. We’re working on #115.
So now I know why it’s a maraTHON and not a maraTHLON, and you do too. Not only is it a great story, it’s also a bit of a relief; I mean, “marathlon” just doesn’t roll off the tongue–try it and you’ll see!