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Doctor Curmudgeon® When a Marathon was a Marathon!

By Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D. FAAP Doctor Eisman is in Family Practice in Aventura, Florida with her partner, Dr. Eugene Eisman, an internist/cardiologist

A record has been broken. Tamirat Tola just completed the New York City marathon in an amazing two hours, four minutes and fifty eight seconds. That is 26.2 miles in a little over two hours. This gentleman broke the record for this course. This superb athlete is a hero.

My feet ache at the thought of it.

My mind wonders where the idea of running for such a great distance began.

The marathon of today is a tad over twenty six miles.

What about three hundred miles?

What about the saga of a man called Pheidippides?

Pheidippides was born a few years ago in 530 BC. The legend goes that he was a trained runner, a magnificent athlete, well known as a professional military courier.

Around 490 BC, the Persians attacked Greece, aiming to take the city state of Athens. Their battle plan was to land at Marathon which was about twenty six miles north of Athens. Athens had only a small army and so the invaders believed that they could sail around and grab the city from the south.

The Greeks needed help. Pheidippides was an obvious choice, having been a professional long distance runner. And so he was sent to Sparta to beg for assistance. The shortest distance had treacherous terrain, but this well-trained athlete was up for the rigorous journey. He couldn’t even use a horse as the terrain was mountainous and felt to be too dangerous for a horse.it was a little easier for a man on foot. As he ran, Pheidippides even removed most of his clothes in order to carry less weight.

One hundred and forty miles was the distance from Athens to Sparta…and then one hundred and forty miles back.

No Nike, New Balance or Brooks running shoes. He was most likely completely barefoot. There are accounts that say that he did carry a small sword. And I could find no accounts of any food or water that he may have carried.

According to Britannica; on-line, ”Herodotus, however, relates that a trained runner, Pheidippides(also spelled Phidippides, or Philippides), was sent from Athens to Sparta before the battle in order to request assistance from the Spartans; he is said to have covered about 150 miles (240 km) in about two days.”

The Persians were defeated and the legend goes that he then did another run from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Greeks were victorious. This distance was about forty kilometers, or 26 miles.

This is a wonderful tale, but the accuracy is in dispute. Many believe this account is true as it has been attributed to the account of the Persian Wars written by the historian Herodotus. But his account was set down many years later: about 440 BC.

I prefer to think of Pheidippides as Robert Browning wrote in his beautiful poem:

“So, when Persia was dust, all cried “To Akropolis! Run, Pheidippides, one race more! the meed is thy due!
‘Athens is saved”

Dr. Curmudgeon suggests “Bitter Medicine”, Dr. Eugene Eisman’s story of his experiences–from the humorous to the intense—as a young army doctor serving in the Vietnam War.
Bitter Medicine by Eugene H. Eisman, M.D. –on Amazon

Doctor Curmudgeon® is Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D., a physician-satirist. This column originally appeared on SERMO, the leading global social network for doctors.

SERMO www.sermo.com

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