The marathon run is a modern invention designed to honor an ancient warrior. The event was introduced in 1896 at the first modern Olympic Games. The marathon commemorated the story of Phidippides (or Philippides), an Athenian who, according to legend, ran approximately 26 miles from the plains of Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. to inform the residents of an Athenian military victory over the Persian army, and to warn the city of an imminent Persian attack. The marathon’s distance was set at 26 miles, 385 yards at the 1908 Olympics, then adjusted to its metric equivalent, 42.195 kilometers, by the IAAF.
Endurance is of primary importance in running the marathon (Phidippides supposedly died from exhaustion shortly after his effort). Competitors must train their bodies and minds to prepare for a race that even the best athletes cannot complete in less than two hours. Would-be marathoners should not attempt such training without medical clearance.
What to look for:
Elite marathoners understand their abilities and pace themselves accordingly. During Haile Gebrselassie’s world-record run he averaged 4:47.71 per mile. Unlike most other distance races, marathon runners must take nourishment, especially water, during the competition. Refreshment stations are generally set up by race organizers.
Men’s world record:
Gebrselassie of Ethiopia set his mark of 2:04.26 on Sept. 30, 2007 in Berlin. Gebrselassie had his sights set on the record prior to the race and he employed five pacesetting runners to ensure he’d remain ahead of previous world record holder Paul Tergat’s pace. Gebrselassie set a fast pace but was on his own for the final 12 kilometers, when the last of his pacesetters dropped out. But he not only kept up his pace, but ran his fastest during the 35th kilometer (2:50).
Women’s world record:
Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe led from start to finish at the Flora London Marathon on April 13, 2003. She finished almost a mile ahead of her nearest competitor and topped her own world record by close to two minutes, finishing in 2:15.25. She was assisted by male pacesetters, the fastest of whom was targeting a 2:16 time. She had a bit of trouble setting a consistent early pace, running her fastest in the third mile (4:57) and her slowest in mile six (5:22), before settling into her record-shattering pace.