I’ve long wondered how the marathon run came to be 26 miles in the first place. So, I did a little research and found the history to be fascinating.
It all started, like so many other events in history, after tossing back a few beers, away back in 490 B.C.
Athenian men were holding foot races after church one Sunday there in Athens, and a really fast runner named Adonis won the final heat. They were parading him around on their shoulders when a guy in the crowd named Pheidippides turned to his girlfriend, Aphrodite, and said, “Hold my beer … watch this!”
Pheidippides ran up to Adonis, tapped him on the shoulder, and shouted, “Hey, Mister Smarty Pants, I got 100 drachmas that says I can beat you in a 100-meter dash right here and now!” Well, that was just the kind of challenge Adonis liked to hear, so they put up their drachmas, somebody clapped a couple boards together – because there was no gun handy – and off they ran.
Now, Adonis had spotted Aphrodite in the crowd, and instead of running to the finish line, he dropped out and went off with her, while everybody else carried Pheidippides around on their shoulders. When they finally let Pheidippides back down to Earth he had won the title of “World’s Fastest Man.” Of course, everybody knew that Adonis was in fact the fastest man, but everybody went home happy anyways, all except for Pheidippides, who wandered around all night looking for Aphrodite.
Then a war broke out. The Greeks slaughtered the Persians at Marathon and a Greek general wanted to send word of their victory back home to Athens, 26 miles away, but there was no telephone, no internet, no carrier pigeon handy, no nothing, except … the world’s fastest man. The Greek general summoned Pheidippides and ordered him to run the 26 miles with the news of their victory. Well, Pheidippides had never run farther than 100 meters, and besides that, he was still looking for Aphrodite. But Pheidippides obeyed the order and started running for Athens. He made it! And as he entered the gates of Athens, Pheidippides shouted out, “Rejoice! We won!” And then he dropped dead.
Of course, the Athenians were happy to hear they had won the war, but they were also concerned about how far humans could run before they dropped dead. Some really good mathematicians measured the distance between Marathon and Athens and discovered Pheidippides had run 42.2 kilometers, which converted to 26 miles, 385 yards. So, they concluded, and announced to all, that a human could run 26 miles, a marathon, but if he were to run any further, he would most certainly drop dead. And this drop-dead fact went undisputed for several centuries.
Now, you must be asking yourself, did Aphrodite and Adonis attend Pheidippides’s funeral? No. It was reported the following morning in the Daily Eros, that Adonis and Aphrodite were spotted in a hot tub at a Bacchanalian party that featured vats of Malagousia wine and platters of moussaka soaked in olive oil.
And that’s where my history of the marathon ends.
McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at GhostofTwain.com.