Difference between revisions of "The Marathon"

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*{{cite book | author=Whitsett, et al|
*Whitsett, et al,The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer Published by Master's Press 1998
title=The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer|publisher=Master's Press|
*Daniels, J. PhD Daniels' Running Formula, 2nd Ed. Published by Human Kinetics Publishing 2005 ISBN 0-7360-5492-8
== External links ==
== External links ==

Revision as of 00:12, 24 November 2006

The marathon is a long-distance road running event of 42.195 km (~26 mile 385 yd).


The name "marathon" comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who, according to legend, was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been miraculously defeated in the Battle of Marathon. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping, but moments after proclaiming his message to the city, he collapsed dead tired. There is no evidence that any such event took place; according to the Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides was a messenger who ran from Athens to Sparta. The legend that he ran from Marathon to Athens was invented by later writers and appears in Plutarch's On the Glory of Athens in the 1st century AD. The International Olympic Committee estimates the actual distance from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens is about 34.5 km (21.4 miles).

The idea of organizing the race came from Michel Bréal, who wanted to put the event on the program of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. This idea was heavily supported by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, as well as the Greeks. The Greeks staged a selection race for the Olympic marathon, and this first marathon was won by Charilaos Vasilakos in 3 hours and 18 minutes. Spiridon "Spiros" Louis, a Greek shepherd, finished fifth in this race but won at the Olympics in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds, despite stopping on the way for a glass of wine from his uncle waiting near the village of Chalandri. The women's marathon was introduced at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, USA.


Year Distance (km) Distance (mi)
1896 40 24.85
1900 40.26 25.02
1904 40 24.85
1906 41.86 26.01
1908 42.195 26.22
1912 40.2 24.98
1920 42.75 26.56
42.195 26.22

The length of a marathon was at first not fixed, since all that was important was that all athletes competed on the same course. The exact length of an Olympic marathon varied depending on the route established for each venue.

The choice of distance was somewhat arbitrary. The first modern Olympics in 1896 had a marathon distance of 40 km. The marathon distance at the 1908 Olympic Games in London was extended by 385 yards from its set 26 miles so that the runners would cross the finish line in front of the Royal family's viewing box so the length became 42.195 km (26 miles 385 yards). The distance in this 1908 Olympic Games, based in London, was calculated so that the race could begin at Windsor Castle and end in front of the Royal Box in the Olympic arena. For the next Olympics in 1912, the length was changed to 40.2 km and changed again to 42.75 km for the 1920 Olympics. Of the first 7 Olympic games, there were 6 different marathon distances between 40 and 42.75 km (40 km being used twice).

A fixed distance of 42.195 km was adopted in 1921 by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) as the official marathon distance.

World records and “world's best”

World records were not officially recognised by the IAAF until 1 January 2004; previously, the best times for the Marathon were referred to as the 'world best'. Courses must conform to IAAF standards for a record to be recognized. However, marathon routes still vary greatly in elevation, course, and surface, making exact comparisons impossible. Typically, the fastest times are set over relatively flat courses near sea level, during good weather conditions and with the assistance of pacesetters.

The world record time for men over the distance is 2 hours 4 minutes and 55 seconds, set in the Berlin Marathon by Paul Tergat of Kenya on September 28, 2003 (ratified as the world record by the IAAF on 1st January 2004), an improvement of 20 minutes and 44 seconds since 1947. The world record for women was set by Paula Radcliffe of United Kingdom in the London Marathon on 13 April] 2003, in 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. This time was set using male pacesetters - the fastest time by a woman without using a male pacesetter ('woman-only') was also set by Paula Radcliffe, again during the London Marathon, with a time of 2 hours 17 minutes and 42 seconds set on 17 April 2005.

All-time men's best marathon times under 2h 10'30"

All-time women's best marathon times under 2h 30'00"

Olympic traditions

Since the modern games were founded, it has become a tradition for the men's Olympic marathon to be the last event of the athletics calendar, with a finish inside the Olympic stadium, often within hours of, or even incorporated into, the closing ceremonies. This tradition was further enhanced by a much older tradition in the 2004 Summer Olympics, as the long-established route from Marathon, to Athens ended at Panathinaiko Stadium, the venue for the 1896 Summer Olympics

Running a marathon


Completing a marathon is considered difficult, but many coaches believe that it is possible for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. First person accounts of marathon training often appear on the Dead Runners Society.


For most runners, the marathon is the longest run they have ever attempted. Many coaches believe that the most important element in marathon training is the long run. Usually recreational runners try to reach a maximum of about 20 miles (32.2 km) in their longest weekly run and about 40 miles (64.4 km) a week in total when training for the marathon. More experienced marathoners may run a longer distance, and more miles or kilometres during the week. Greater weekly training mileages can offer greater results in terms of distance and endurance, but also carries a greater risk of training injury. Most male elite marathon runners will have weekly mileages of over 100 miles (160.9 km).

Many training programs last a minimum of five or six months, with a gradual increase (every two weeks) in the distance run and a little decrease (1 week) for recovery. For beginners looking to merely finish a marathon, a minimum of 4 months of running 4 days a week is recommended (Whitsett et al. 1998). Many trainers, including Dr. Daniels, recommend a weekly increase in mileage of no more than 10%. It is also often advised to maintain a consistent running program for six weeks or so before beginning a marathon training program to allow the body to adapt to the new stresses.

During marathon training, adequate recovery time is important. If fatigue or pain is felt, it is recommended to take a break for a couple of days or more to let the body heal. Overtraining is a condition that results from not getting enough rest to allow the body to recover from difficult training. It can actually result in a lower endurance and speed and place a runner at a greater risk of injury.

Before the race

During the last two or three weeks before the marathon, runners typically reduce their weekly training (typically by as much as 50%-75% of peak distance) and take at least a couple of days of complete rest to allow their bodies to recover for a strong effort. This is a phase of training known as tapering. Many marathoners also carbo-load (increase their carbohydrate intake while holding total caloric intake constant) during the week before the marathon to allow their bodies to store more glycogen.

Immediately before the race, many runners will refrain from eating solid food to avoid digestive problems. They will also ensure that they are fully hydrated beforehand. Light stretching before the race is believed by many to help keep muscles limber.

During the race

Coaches recommend trying to maintain as steady a pace as possible when running a marathon. Many novice runners make the mistake of trying to "bank time" early in the race by starting with a quicker pace than they can actually hope to maintain for the entire race. This strategy can backfire, leaving the runner without enough energy to complete the race or causing the runner to cramp.

Carbohydrate-based "energy" gels such as PowerGel, Gu, Accel, and Clif Shot are also a good way to get more energy, but these should be taken along with water; otherwise they can cause nausea and vomiting. Most experts recommend taking an energy gel every 45-60 minutes during the race. Energy gels usually contain varying amounts of sodium and potassium to replenish what is lost while running. Some energy gels contain caffeine, which is proven to enhance performance, but cannot be tolerated by some runners. Most energy gel brands offer caffeine-free versions of their products.

Typically, there is a maximum allowed time of about six hours after which the marathon route is closed, although some larger marathons (such as Myrtle Beach, Marine Corps and Honolulu) keep the course open considerably longer (eight hours or more). Runners still on the course at that time are picked up by a truck and carried to the finish line. Finishing a marathon at all is a worthy accomplishment, but for those running just as a hobby, times under four hours (9:10 per mile) are considered a superior achievement. Having a target time makes it easier to keep a steady pace.

Water consumption dangers

Water and light sports drinks offered along the race course are sometimes consumed regularly in order to avoid dehydration. Drinking more fluid than one loses during a race can decrease the amount of sodium in the blood (a condition called hyponatremia) that may result in vomiting, seizures, coma and even death [1]. Eating salt packets during a race can help this problem. The International Marathon Medical Directors Association issued a warning in 2001 that urged runners only to drink when they are thirsty rather than "drinking ahead of their thirst."

An elite runner never has the time to drink too much water. However, a slower runner can easily drink too much water during the four or more hours during and immediately after a race. Water overconsumption typically occurs when a runner is overly concerned about being dehydrated and overdoes the effort to drink enough. The amount of water required to cause complications from drinking too much may be only 3 liters or even less, depending on the person. Women are more prone to hyponatremia than men. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine [2] found that 13% of runners completing the 2002 Boston Marathon had hyponatremia.

A 4+ hour runner can drink about 4-6 ounces of fluids every 20-30 minutes without fear of hyponatremia. It is not clear that consuming sports drinks or salty snacks reduces risk. A patient suffering hyponatremia can be given a small volume of a concentrated salt solution intravenously to raise sodium concentrations in blood. Sports drinks are not administered and can actually worsen the problem. Since taking and testing a blood sample takes time, runners should weigh themselves before running and put the numbers on their bibs. If anything goes wrong, the first aid workers can use the weight information to tell if the patient had consumed too much water.

Glycogen and “the wall”

Carbohydrates that a person eats are converted by the liver and muscles into glycogen for storage. Glycogen burns quickly to provide quick energy. Runners can store about 8 MJ or 2,000 kcal worth of glycogen in their bodies, enough for about 30km or 20 miles of running. Many runners report that running becomes noticeably more difficult at that point.Template:Fact When glycogen runs low, the body must then burn stored fat for energy, which does not burn as efficiently. When this happens, the runner will experience dramatic fatigue. This phenomenon is called hitting the wall. The aim of training for the marathon, according to many coaches,Template:Fact is to maximize the limited glycogen available so that the fatigue of the "wall" is not as dramatic. This is in part accomplished by utilizing a higher percentage of energy from burned fat, thus conserving glycogen.

After a marathon

It is normal to experience muscle soreness after a marathon. This is usually attributed to microscopic tears in the muscles. It causes a characteristic awkward walking style that is immediately recognizable by other runners. Muscle soreness usually abates within a week, but most runners will take about three weeks to completely recover to pre-race condition.

The immune system is reportedly suppressed for a short time. Studies have indicated that an increase in vitamin C in a runner's post-race diet decreases the chance of sinus infections, a relatively common condition, especially in ultramarathons. Changes to the blood chemistry may lead physicians to mistakenly diagnose heart malfunction.

It is still possible to overdrink water after the race has finished, and runners should take care to not overconsume water in the immediate hours after finishing the race. Some runners find eating candy or sports bars immediately after a race to be useful in replenishing blood sugar levels.

Due to the stress on the body during a marathon, a person's kidneys can shut down, leading to the accumulation of toxins in the blood. This is especially dangerous if the runner has consumed any medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). If a runner has not urinated within 4-6 hours after the marathon despite consuming adequate fluids, he or she should seek medical attention.

It is relatively common to only come to realize that there are injuries to the feet and knees after the marathon has finished. Blisters on the feet and toes commonly only become painful after the race is over. Some runners may experience toenails which turn black and sometimes subsequently detach from the toe.

Some sports doctors advise that gentle exercise in the week after the marathon can aid muscle recovery, but obviously this must be tailored to the individual situations. Receiving a sports massage from a licensed massage therapist is a good idea within 24-48 hours after finishing a marathon. Massage has been shown to have less benefit if received immediately after the race.Template:Fact

Helpful devices

A variety of devices are available to assist runners with pacing, and to provide near real time data such as distance travelled, lap and total elapsed time, and calories burned. Popular manufacturers of such devices include Timex, Polar, and Garmin.

These devices typically employ one of two types of technologies: an integrated GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver, or an inertial footpod. GPS devices calculate pace and distance by periodically calculating the wearer's location relative to a network of satellites using a process known as multilateration. Inertial footpods employ a device which clips to the runner's shoe and wirelessly transmits pace data to a paired wristwatch. Inertial footpod technology has the advantages of being cheaper, and functional when there is no line of sight to a GPS satellite (due to tall buildings, trees, etc.)

A heart rate monitor is another helpful device. These typically comprise a transmitter (which is strapped around the runner's chest) and a paired wristwatch, which receives data from the transmitter and provides feedback to the runner. During a training session or race, the runner can view his or her heart rate in beats per minute, which can provide objective feedback about that session's level of running intensity.

Some devices combine pace/distance technology and heart rate monitoring technology into one unit.

Marathon races

Template:See also

More than 800 annual marathons are organized in most countries of the world. Some of the largest and most prestigious races, in Boston, New York City, Chicago, London, and Berlin, form the biannual World Marathon Majors series, a world cup for elite runners. Other notable large marathons include Washington, D.C./Virginia, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Rome and Paris.

Marathon races usually use the format of start called mass start, though larger races may use a wave start where different genders or abilities may begin at different times.

Notable marathon runners

This is a list of elite athletes notable for their performance in marathoning. For a list of people notable in other fields who have also ran marathons, see list of marathoners.



See also


  • Whitsett, et al,The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer Published by Master's Press 1998
  • Daniels, J. PhD Daniels' Running Formula, 2nd Ed. Published by Human Kinetics Publishing 2005 ISBN 0-7360-5492-8

External links