Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The name "marathon" comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who, according to legend, ran from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon, and died shortly after. There is no evidence that any such event took place: according to the Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides in fact 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 distance from the Marathon battlefield to Athens as 34.5 km (21.4 miles).
The length of a marathon was not originally standardized, 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 first and third Olympic marathons were 40 km (24.85 miles).
The 1908 Olympic marathon in London was originally set to start at Windsor Castle and end at Olympic Stadium, but the race organizers chose to have the runners finish in front of the Royal Box. This made the distance 42.195 km (26.2 miles). Of the 6 Olympic games between 1900 and 1920, there were 6 different distances, including 2 new distances after the British games in 1908.
The idea of organising 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 came 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 at a local inn.
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 recognised. 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 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 (Marathon world best progression). The world record for women was set by Paula Radcliffe in the London Marathon on 13 April 2003, in 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. This time was set using male pacemakers - the fastest time by a woman without using a male pacemaker ('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.
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 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 often considered to be a superhuman effort, but many coaches believe that it is possible for anyone willing to put in the time and effort. Many people who complete a marathon walk part or all of the distance.
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 2,000 kcal worth of glycogen in their bodies, enough for about 20 miles (32 km) of running. Many runners report that running becomes noticeably more difficult at that point. 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 bonking or hitting the wall. The aim of training for the marathon, according to many coaches, is to maximize the limited glycogen available so that the fatigue of the "wall" is not as dramatic.
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 (approx. 32 km) at one time and about 40 miles (64 km) a week when training for the marathon. More experienced marathoners may run a longer distance, and more miles or kilometers during the week.
A good training program lasts five or six months, with a gradual increase in the distance run every two weeks.
During marathon training, it is important to give your body adequate recovery time. If you feel fatigue or pain, you should take a break for a couple of days to let your body heal.
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. Many marathoners carbo-load (increase their carbohydrate intake) during the week before the marathon to allow their bodies to store more glycogen. This phase of training is also called tapering.
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 and that they urinate and defecate beforehand. Many races will have portable toilet facilities, but lines can be long, especially at larger marathons. Light stretching before the race helps keep muscles limber.
During the race
Coaches recommend trying to maintain as steady a pace as possible when running a marathon.
Carbohydrate-based "energy" gels such as PowerGel are also a good way to get more energy, but these should be diluted with water when taken; otherwise they can cause nausea and vomiting. Honey is a natural, economical substitute for energy gels.
Typically, there is a maximum allowed time of about six hours after which the route is closed, although some larger marathons keep the course open considerably longer. For those running just for a hobby, times under four hours can be considered good. Having a target time makes it easier to keep a steady pace.
Water consumption issues
Water and light sports drinks such as Gatorade offered along the race course should be consumed regularly. However, at least to those amateur atheletes, over consumption of water could dangerously dilute the blood lead to hyponatremia that results in a coma and even death.
Since taking and testing of a blood sample takes time, runners shall 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 taken too much water.
An elite runner never has the time to drink too much water. However, a slower hobby runner can easily drink too much water during the four or more hours. It is now suggested that hobby runners not drink water until they begin to urinate. Stopping and drinking copious ammounts of water is also an unwise decision.
After the marathon
It is normal to experience muscle soreness after the marathon. This is usually attributed to microscopic tears in the muscles. Most runners will take about three weeks to recover to pre-race condition. The immune system is reportedly surpressed for a short time. Changes to the blood chemistry may lead physicians to mistakenly diagnose heart malfunction.
Famous marathon races
Many cities around the world organise an annual marathon run, including:
- Belgrade Marathon
- Beijing Marathon
- Berlin Marathon
- Boston Marathon
- Buenos Aires Marathon
- Chicago Marathon
- Cologne Marathon
- Dublin Marathon
- Eurasia Marathon
- Fukuoka Marathon
- Honolulu Marathon
- London Marathon
- Los Angeles Marathon
- Marine Corps Marathon
- New York City Marathon
- Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon
- Paris Marathon
- Pikes Peak Marathon
- Saint Silvester Marathon (or São Paulo Marathon)
- San Francisco Chronicle Marathon
- Singapore Marathon
- Shanghai Marathon
- Stockholm Marathon
- Tokyo Marathon
- Twin Cities Marathon
- Marathon du Médoc (France)
- Midnight Sun Marathon
Notable Marathon Runners
- Abebe Bikila
- Waldemar Cierpinski
- Derek Clayton
- Khalid Khannouchi
- Bill Rodgers
- Alberto Salazar
- Toshihiko Seko
- Frank Shorter
- Paul Tergat
- Ed Whitlock
- Hyponatremia among Runners in the Boston Marathon by Christopher S.D. Almond, M.D., M.P.H., Andrew Y. Shin, M.D., Elizabeth B. Fortescue, M.D., Rebekah C. Mannix, M.D., David Wypij, Ph.D., Bryce A. Binstadt, M.D., Ph.D., Christine N. Duncan, M.D., David P. Olson, M.D., Ph.D., Ann E. Salerno, M.D., Jane W. Newburger, M.D., M.P.H., and David S. Greenes, M.D.
- Study Cautions Runners to Limit Their Water Intake by Gina Kolata
- Brain-Dead From Sports Drinks New York Times editorial
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