Marathon is a common occurrence in the modern world. There are marathons for various causes held throughout the year in various places. Marathon is also a major event in the Olympic Games. Here are 5 interesting facts about the origin, history and tradition of the marathon as well as its health risks and the most controversial marathon.

 

#1 Origin

According to legend Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to tell the Greeks that they had won the battle of Marathon against the Persians. He ran the entire 25 miles without stopping. When he reached the assembly he shouted nikomen (we have won). Then he collapsed and died due to exhaustion. Marathon was instituted as a commemoration of this fabled run and gets its name from the place where Pheidippides started his run.

Statue of Pheidippides
Statue of Pheidippides alongside the Marathon Road

 

#2 Olympic Tradition

Since the advent of the modern Olympic Games, it has become a tradition for the men’s Olympic marathon to be the last medal event. It is slated to finish inside the Olympic stadium, often within hours of, or even incorporated into, the closing ceremony.

London 2012 Olympic Men's Marathon
London 2012 Olympic Men’s Marathon

 

#3 Distance

Abebe Bikila
Double Olympic marathon champion Abebe Bikila

During the first few modern Olympics the distance of the marathon was always approximate (nearly 25 miles because that was the distance from Marathon to Athens). In 1908 London Olympics, the British royal family requested that the marathon start at the Windsor Castle so that the royal children could witness its start. The distance from the Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium was 42,195 meters (or 26 miles and 385 yards). This distance was set as the standard distance of the marathon by the IAAF in 1921.

#4 Most Controversial Marathon

An Italian athlete named Dorando Pietri was competing in the marathon at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. After a slow start, he increased his pace to be the first man to enter the stadium. But he took a wrong turn and when the umpires redirected him, he fell down and the umpires had to help him to get up. Due to fatigue and dehydration Pietri fell four more times and each time the umpires helped him up. In the end an exhausted Dorando was able to be the first man to finish the race. The American Johnny Hayes was the person who came second. The American team immediately lodged a complaint against the help Pietri received from the umpires. The complaint was accepted and Pietri was disqualified and removed from the final standings of the race. However, Queen Alexandra, who was present in the stadium, gave Pietri a gilded silver cup as a compensation of the medal. Arthur Conan Doyle was also very impressed by the efforts of the Italian and he said – The Italian’s great performance can never be effaced from our record of sport, be the decision of the judges what it may.

Dorando Pietri finishes 1908 Controversial Marathon
Dorando Pietri crossing the line at the 1908 London Olympics marathon

 

#5 Health Risk

Over-consumption of water is the most significant concern while running a marathon. Drinking excessive amounts of fluid during a race can lead to dilution of sodium in the blood, a condition called hyponatremia, which may result in vomiting, seizures, coma and even death. Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, medical director for the New York City Marathon, has stated, “There are no reported cases of dehydration causing death in the history of world running, but there are plenty of cases of people dying of hyponatremia.

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