Monday, June 18, 2012

Runners You Should Know: Pheidippides

Pheidippides is one of those guys you've heard of even if you don't think you have. According to legend, he was an Athenian messenger who brought news of the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.  After running the 25 or 26 miles back to Athens and delivering the message, he promptly dropped dead.
His last words were "Wall" and "Bonk"
2,386 years later, the organizers of the first modern Olympic Games, remembering the legend and presumably thinking about how great it would be if a bunch of people died at their amateur sporting event, decided to include an event reproducing Pheidippides' final run.  The result was the first marathon ever raced.  After discovering (presumably to everyone's surprise) that all of the competitors survived, and standardizing the distance at 26.2 miles, more and more people started running marathons.  Eventually the event became so popular that today even relatively unathletic people regularly finish the event without any ill effect.

Which of course begs the question: just how out of shape was Pheidippides, anyway?
According to legend, this guy is a WAY better runner than Pheidippides
Of course, the legend is largely false.  Pheidippides was an Athenian messenger from that period, but his story is at once less dramatic and much more impressive than the legend.  According to Herodotus, a Greek historian writing in the fifth century B.C., instead of running from Marathon to Athens, Pheidippides in fact ran from Athens to Sparta, more than 150 miles of rocky, mountainous terrain, and arrived the day after he left.  For those of you who may have missed that last part, that was more than 150 miles in 24 to 36 hours.  Even more impressively, he managed not to die (although he did claim to have seen the god Pan along the way, which suggests he probably should have carried more water).
Actually, if I met this guy on a trail at night I would make pretty good time as well
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