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My Journey to the Marathon (5):
The Distance

Back to my Marathon training. Two weeks since my last post, but the two long runs in these two weeks were significant. Last Sunday in Gozo I managed to increase my longest run in terms of time to 3 hours and 6 minutes, trail running around the coast of Gozo from Xlendi all the way anti-clockwise to Xaghra. Today, I joined other St. Patrick's AC athletes in the Cirkewwa - Marsaxlokk 33.1km long run, my longest running distance so far. 3 hours 13 minutes in which I realized the massiveness of the Marathon distance.

26.2 miles

42.195 kilometers


The distance that separates Marathon from Athens. The starting-line from the finish-line. Man from Hero.


On the 27th kilometre today, I expressed my feeling of complete exhaustion to Ruben, who ran the whole distance with me. "The distance of the Marathon is greater than the human body", he said. He went on to highlight that there lies the great difference between running the Half and the Full Marathon. Running the Full Marathon is not just doubling the distance. It does not require twice the effort. It requires much much more. At least for a first-timer.


The last 3 kilometres today seemed endless. "I cannot understand how the hell am I going to run another 9 kilometres in this state on Marathon day?" I thought out loud. "You will never understand until you do it", was the reply I got. 


As the famous coach and author Mark Will-Weber put it: "Running is real and relatively simple…but it ain't easy". You just put on your running shoes and put a step after the other until you reach your destination. But the longer the distance, the higher the risk of boredom. The more you think about how much you have left, the higher the temptation to stop. An important part of training is learning how to squash these feelings and live with them, maybe even turn them into something positive.


The origins of the Marathon distance are quite interesting. The Marathon wasn't part of the Ancient Greek Olympic Games, the longest run featuring in the ancient games being of around 3 miles. The Marathon started in the first modern Olympic Games of 1896, when the organizers in Athens were seeking an event to recall the glory of Ancient Greece. They started the Marathon race based on the legendary story by Herodotus in his account of the Greco-Persian Wars. It recounted how the Greek soldier Pheidippides, upon the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon, ran the entire distance from Marathon to Athens to announce their victory against the Persians, and upon his arrival, burst into the Athenian Assembly exclaiming "We have won", before collapsing and dying.


Dorando Pietri finishing the 1908 Olympic Marathon


The actual distance of 42.195km was first used in the 1908 Olympic Games, which happened to be the games where the Marathon acquired its worldwide fame, after Dorando Pietri's collapse in the final lap and his disqualification due to the help received by officials (watch a video of that epic race). Why the strange distance of 26.2 miles, and not just 26 miles? That is due to the Royal Family. In that 1908 Marathon race from Windsor Park to the Great White City Stadium, Queen Alexandra wanted to have the best view of the final yards with the finish-line in front of her Royal Box. To accommodate her, the direction of running of the stadium lap at the end of that Marathon was changed, adding an extra 385 yards (0.2 miles) to the Marathon distance, leaving Marathoners from that day on cursing Queen Alexandra for those final 385 yards.


To put this distance into perspective, remember that:
27km is the length of Malta from tip-to-tip as the crow flies
36km is the distance on the road from Ċirkewwa to Delimara
44km is the distance from the south-eastern tip of Malta to the north-western tip of Gozo, as the crow flies


42.195km - in the race of the gods, it is the distance which separates the runner from the Marathoner.


I am running the Marathon for Inspire Malta (www.inspire.org.mt). To support my run and make a donation for this charitable institution, send an SMS to one of the below numbers, with the text "Mark Sammut, Malta Marathon". Thanks in advance.
50617359 - €2.33; 50618080 - €4.66; 50618926 - €6.99; 50619215 - €11.65 

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