Till in he broke: "Rejoice, we conquer!" Like wine thro' clay,
Joy in his blood bursting his heart, he died, the bliss!
I have no idea whether anything like that happened, but it does make a good story. And the consequences of the eventual Greek triumph were truly spectacular. It permitted the full flowering of Greek science, art, literature, and philosophy. They had plenty of shortcomings -- but they also helped to forge the tools with which to criticize them.
You can get an idea of the significance of Marathon from the great composer of tragedy Aeschylus, one of the greatest and wisest literary artists of all time. In his long life, he probably wrote 70-90 plays, of which only seven survive and many times was awarded top honors in the drama competitions held in honor of the god Dionysus. Yet when he died, his epitaph bore no message of these honors or accomplishments.
Instead, it simply read:
"Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,
Who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;
Of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,
And the long haired Persian knows it well."
No wonder that when the Olympic Games were revived in 1896 they included a long run of 40K (24.08 miles), which was eventually adjusted to the modern distance. At the time, though I doubt that anyone expected this would become a popular sport with runners of all ages.
Even if you're not an elite athlete, running a marathon is kind of a big deal. Face it; running for more than 25 miles just isn't normal. Aside from the obvious, the body tends to run out of readily available fuel after about 20 miles. This is known as "hitting the wall." Basically, you just have to gut it out through the rest.
A "typical" person doesn't have to run 100 miles or more a week to prepare for one, although some people do. Three days a week of training, with an easy day between, are enough. Often, this involves one long run, culminating in one of at least 20 miles a few weeks before the race. Another day may involve tempo runs, which involve slow warm-up and cool down running with some distance at near race pace in between.
The day that really builds character involves interval training, which often involves pushing yourself to repeat 800-meter runs at a faster-than-race pace with a brief jog in between for six, eight, 10 or 12 times. I love/hate intervals and like to think that a good session is a kind of penance for past sins.
Then comes the race itself. I've done three, one good, one bad and one ugly. The worst was when my knee blew out half way through and I had to limp the last 13 miles.
Note: the line between endurance and idiocy is fine and I'm not always the best judge of where it is.
The best advice I've got applies pretty well to literal and metaphorical marathons: run it one mile at a time and don't worry about who you pass or who passes you. In the long run, we run against ourselves
I hadn't planned on doing any more as I get creakier and slower, but after Boston, I may have to reconsider. In fact, I'm guessing that the attacks may inspire many others as well. That's as it should be.
Rejoice, we conquer.
Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee's West Virginia Justice Project, is a Gazette contributing columnist.