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This Sunday (27th May) I will be running the Edinburgh marathon. This will only be my second marathon, I ran my other one 30 years ago in 1982! It was the second ever Cardiff marathon. I did obtain a place in the 1983 London marathon, back in the days when it was first come, first served. I queued all night outside the post office in Sloan Square during my first few months at Imperial College.

Unfortunately I did not start the 1983 London marathon, some 6 weeks before hand I developed shin splints, probably due to overtraining. This time around, 30 years on, I have been far more sensible about my training. Apart from my training going off the rails a little during and after my holiday in Cuba, I feel my training has gone well. I’ve done three 20-mile runs, and probably another 4 or 5 runs over 15 miles. I haven’t suffered any injuries, and now with only 5 days to go before the big day I’m getting really excited (and a little nervous).

Obviously, the frequency with which I have done marathons says it all – it is not a distance I like. It is way too far.I much prefer 5ks, 10ks and half marathons. I guess we shall see whether I ever do a 3rd marathon, and if I do whether it will be in another 30 years’ time!

So who do we have to blame for this ridiculously long run of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km)?

We can blame it all on Pheidippidees, a messenger. Legend has it that he ran from the Greek city of Marathon to Athens to announce the victory in battle of the Athenians over the Persians in 490 BC. The legend also says that, upon reaching Athens and announcing the victory, Pheidippides dropped dead of exhaustion.

A painting by Luc-Oliver Merson of Pheidippidees arriving in Athens to tell of the Athenian victory over the Persians in Marathon

When the Modern Olympics were revived in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the distance from Marathon to Athens was measured at approximately 25 miles (40 km). The marathon at the 1896 Olympics was won by Spiridon (sometimes spelled Spyridon) Louis (appropriately of Greece) in a time of 2h58m50s. By today’s standards this is a pretty slow time, but it may not have been helped by Louis apparently being fuelled along the way by wine, beer, milk, orange juice and even an Easter egg!

Spiridon Louis, who won the marathon in the 1st ever modern Olympics, of 1896

Tomorrow I will give the story behind the marathon’s distance being increased to the now standard distance of 26 miles 385 yards.

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