Running

Pheidippides and the marathon

A short story from Ancient Greece gives me the excuse to introduce my latest harebrained idea. I think I like to make life harder for myself

Photo: Mike Warren

He’d been running for hours. His legs were in continual, tortuous pain. His clothing felt like sandpaper against his body; any movement only further aggravated his tender, raw skin. His nipples were bleeding.

Unnecessary functions were shutting down: his vision was blurred, his hearing dull. In a desperate search for energy his body was burning stored fat.

He reached his destination. He could barely get the word out. Νενικήκαμεν, he said. We are victorious. And with that, he collapsed on the ground. He was dead.

The runner was Pheidippides, an Athenian herald. Under King Darius I, Persia made an attempt to conquer Greece; they were foiled by a small force of Athenians and Plataeans at the Battle of Marathon. Upon victory Pheidippides was the lucky man chosen to send the news to Athens.

On hearing the announcement the people of Athens must have been overjoyed. They had repelled the foreign invaders. Their city was safe. Celebrations probably started before Pheidippides hit the ground.

At some point someone, perhaps in the fog of drink, must have looked at the herald’s ruined body and thought: we should do that run more often.

An agreement

I must have been drunk. No, that wasn’t it. It must just have been that headiness that comes with a new idea.

Let’s run, I said. OK, he said.

So we are. My friend, Henry, and I are running. Training. For a marathon. We’re up to distances of eight miles, and we’re running twice a week. At the moment we’re still managing to fit our lives around the running, but that won’t continue for long. We’ll stop drinking alcohol, and we’ll have to skip those pizzas. We’ll forget what it was like to walk without aching.

And you know what? We can’t wait. We’ve signed up for the Reykjavik marathon on 18 August this year. We’ll be flying over to Iceland a few days before to acclimatise — and hopefully to gaze over flat, level roads.

On our most recent run, we were already talking about how delicious that first beer after the marathon will taste.