Marathon

Marathon

I’m not a marathon runner but a great fun of it. The farthest I had run was 5 km for Refugee Week in Australia several decades ago. (I did a 10-km walk for our local Cancer Foundation two years ago and will participate in a similar one on October 10). Yet, I went an extra mile visiting Marathon, a quiet town 42 km from Athens in Greece, to see where it all started.

I took a public transport and was glad that the bus stop was only a few steps away from the museum where I enjoyed looking at photographs of amazing marathon winners in many cities of the world, like Boston, London, New York, Paris, Tokyo and, of course, Athens. I had goose pimples (goosebumps) staring at first female and oldest marathoners and the hurdles they overcame to participate. There were medals, trophies, shoes, descriptions of runners and their triumphs. It was Thursday morning and there were only my hubby, me and two Greek women in that historical place full of sporting memories.

Across the street were merchants selling clothes, household accessories and gadgets. The photo on this website is that of a seller sleeping who probably woke up at 4 AM to install his stand at a convenient spot. My thoughts are with him while writing this because I didn’t do what I should have done. Two young women got out of their car and, after a mite of looking at his merchandise, each one picked up pairs of socks to buy. They looked at the sleeping vendor then me and smiled. They were shy to wake him up, thus, after a while they put back the socks and left. For the whole time I was there (a total of two hours including the stay at the museum and waiting for bus back to Athens), he didn’t have any customer. I felt sorry for him but didn’t follow my instinct to wake him up. I’m sure he would not have been angry but thankful. If I knew to speak Greek, I would have told those women to wake him up. Would they have listened to me? I’m still sad thinking that he missed the opportunity to earn a bit of money to feed and shelter himself and those who are dependent on him.

Life is like a marathon for many men, women and children, particularly for the 734 million people in extreme poverty (roughly 1 in 10 people worldwide; based on World Bank definition of poverty – US $1.90/day or 1.74 euros/day). It’s a long-distance race for survival that involves hard work and perseverance.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, these are the historical facts about Marathon:

“Battle of Marathon, (September 490 BCE), in the Greco-Persian Wars, decisive battle fought on the Marathon plain of northeastern Attica in which the Athenians, in a single afternoon, repulsed the first Persian invasion of Greece. The Greeks could not hope to face the Persians’ cavalry contingent on the open plain, but before dawn one day the Greeks learned that the cavalry was temporarily absent from the Persian camp, whereupon Miltiades ordered a general attack upon the Persian infantry. In the ensuing battle, Miltiades led his contingent of 10,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans to victory over the Persian force of 15,000 by reinforcing his battle line’s flanks and thus decoying the Persians’ best troops into pushing back his centre, where they were surrounded by the inward-wheeling Greek wings. By the time the routed Persians reached their ships, they had lost 6,400 men; the Greeks lost 192 men.”

The Greek legend says that an Athenian messenger/day-runner/courier Pheidippides (also spelled Phidippides or Philippides), was sent from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40-42 km, to announce the Persian defeat before dying of exhaustion. This tale of running from Marathon to Athens became the basis for the modern marathon race.

Whilst I was in Marathon, I also found out that there’s an annual Spartathlon in September reviving the footsteps of Pheidippides, as he was also sent to Sparta to request help to fight against the Persians in Marathon. Sadly, I didn’t see the monument of this fit, determined, brave and patriotic man. Apparently, the statue of Pheidippides is in the port of Rafina, northeast of Athens. Though this may only be a legend, it conveys timeless and universal themes, such as dedication and perseverance, which inspire and motivate us today.

(This article also appears in my website Rolade Societal Blog - roladesocietalblog.com)

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