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Olympic Runners and the Birth of the Marathon

Running races were among the oldest events in the Ancient Olympic Games. But the Marathon is an entirely different thing altogether.

In fact, the Marathon was never one of the Ancient Olympic events.

Its origins go back some 2,500 years, however; to a battle between the Athenians and Persians.

In the 5th century B.C. the Persians invaded Greece with 25,000 soldiers, landing at the small coastal town Marathon, some 26 miles east of Athens.

The seriously outnumbered Greek army of 10,000 men defeated the Persian army.

Tradition says that at the victory a soldier, Phidippides, was dispatched to run the distance to announce victory to Athens.

On arrival in the city square he shouted out news and promptly died on the spot.

Another version says that at their defeat a group of Persians set sail for Athens further along the coast.

The runner, Phidippides, was sent to both announce the victory and warn Athens of the impending sea-borne attack. He died on the spot, probably from heat stroke.

These stories are the basis for the modern-day Marathon, which was first run in 1896 and is 26 miles long and takes between two and six hours to complete on smooth modern road surfaces.

Phidippides had no such luxury. Come to Greece, visit Marathon and see what I mean.