Blame it on the Brits

Followers of this blog may recall our discussion of the world’s first marathoner, the fearless Fi-dip—the runner who did not rest on his laurels due to the fact that he died shortly after crossing the finish line.  You may also remember that his sprint lasted a couple dozen miles and the purpose of it was to spread the good word that the Greeks had whipped some Persian butt in a town called Marathon.

So that got me thinking—all accounts I’ve found says Fi-dip’s run lasted less than 25 miles.  So how is it that we wound up with a standard Marathon length of 26 miles and 385 yards (26.2 miles)?

As it turns out, folks, you can blame it on the Brits.  While the Brits failed to foist taxation without representation on our tea-loving colonial forefathers, they succeeded in extending the pain and suffering of Boston (and all other) marathoners by a couple extra miles and few hundred extra yards.

Here’s the scoop: 

When marathoning first gained a foothold in the sporting world, courses were designed to honor Fi-dip; they were all round-about 24-ish miles long.  (This was in the days before course certification experts existed to measure race distances to an accuracy of plus or minus a few feet…hence the “round-about” and the “-ish”).  Boston was no exception—the 15 runners of the first Boston Marathon (1897) raced from a side road in suburban Ashland to a downtown Boston finish line some 24 miles away.  The 1900 Olympic Games in Paris and the 1904 Games in St. Louis both featured marathons of this length.  But then the British got their hands on the reigns of the Games in 1908 and designed their marathon course not based on Fi-dip, not based on precedence but based on, what else, the royal fam.  Yes, the course was designed to optimize the viewing pleasure of any royal who might fancy to put down his or her tea for a minute or two and sneak a peek at the crazy people dashing around the streets of London.  It had to start at Windsor Castle, so it had to be longer than usual—a ten percent increase! 

No one challenged the longer-than-usual British design.  Then, adding insult to injury, this extended distance was adopted as the standard for all future marathons.  Perhaps still smarting from that whole tea tax trouble, Bostonians were the last holdouts; the Boston Athletic Association refused to lengthen its course to the British-prescribed 26.2 miles until 1924.  It was then that we finally acquiesced; the start line was relocated a little west, from Ashland to the nearby town of Hopkinton (where it is today) to tack on the extra mileage.

This is truly a gift that keeps on giving, so listen up at the 24-mile mark and you’ll hear runners muster up what little energy they have left to yell, “ALL HAIL THE QUEEN!”  (Sometimes, other choice words are inserted in between “the” and “Queen”…or so I am told.)

So, now you know. 

In other CJ-marathon-related training updates:

–          Fuel Belt?  Fiasco!  Remember the Fuel Belt I purchased last weekend?  It is so going back from whence it came, back to the good people at Marathon Sports so it can torture some other unsuspecting runner.  Call me a fashionista (you would be the first—so please, feel free!), but I would rather die of dehydration than wear that embarrassingly goofy thing.  Running and laughing hysterically don’t mix.

–          Marathon Training Math:  You know that math they taught you in grade school?  Apparently it does not apply to long-distance running; I love ten-mile runs, so, when this week’s training plan called for my first 12-miler I thought: no worries! That’s just 10 + 2! Piece of cake! Well, let me break it to you:  12 ≠ (10+2).  In fact, 12 > 10 + 2.  Psychologically speaking, yesterday’s 12 = 10 + 10.  I tremble to think what this math means when applied to the final miles I’ll run courtesy of Her Majesty. 

–          Fear of Four Update:  In an earlier post I wrote about how I wanted to run the Marathon at a sub-four-hour time simply because I couldn’t imagine moving my feet for any longer than that. I now have added impetus: if I finish in 3:50 or better, I will qualify to run Boston next year 🙂  So 3:50 it is.  

–          Fundraising Update:  While my official Children’s Hospital fundraising page doesn’t yet reflect all the contributions, my most excellent friends and family have thusfar pulled together $1,105 toward my $5,000 fundraising goal for Children’s Hospital.  Thank you so very much to everyone who has supported me thusfar… a big, big thank you to Kronos, Inc. of Chelmsford, Mass. for the really awesome and thoroughly appreciated $1,000 contribution.  (NB: if you suddenly find yourself in need of some workforce management software, by all means–go hook up with the good people of Kronos.)  For those who still need the information, please visit the Support My Run 🙂 page on this site.  

–          My Team: This week I got an invitation to the very first official meeting of the 2011 Boston Marathon Children’s Hospital charity team 🙂  On December 5th I will meet my coaches and teammates—the other 199 runners who are raising funds for Children’s Hospital of Boston as they train for the 115th Boston Marathon.  Sometime soon I will also be paired with a patient partner—a Children’s Hospital patient for whom my run will be dedicated.  Can’t wait to tell you about both of those events 🙂  

Do go forth and enjoy your weekend; I intend to, now that my first 12-miler is in my rearview mirror.  Perhaps tonight I will toss back an Old Speckled Hen or two and practice shouting, “ALL HAIL THE QUEEN!”

–          Christine

About garmin_girl

I'm a 40-something single mother of three--two great human girls and one four-legged Dalmatian banshee--who is hellbent on swimming, biking and running straight through my midlife crisis. Care to tag along? Crazy loves company! ;)
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