History of Marathon Sep 25, 2015 It is from the ancient city of Marathon that Pheidippides began an arduous run to Athens in 490 B.C. Barefoot, he covered twenty-five miles of rugged mountainous terrain to deliver the monumental news of Greece's victory over the Persian army. After a euphoric shout of "Nike!" or victory, the exhausted runner collapsed at the royal court. To commemorate Pheidippides' heroic effort and his spirit of patriotism, in 1896 a long distance race named Marathon was introduced at the Olympics. Fittingly a Greek postal worker called Spyridon Louis won the first ever marathon. Since it's inception, the marathon had been run for 25 miles in keeping with the distance covered by Pheidippides. At the 1908 London Olympic games, however, the length of the run was changed for a rather strange (some may call it endearing!) reason. Queen Alexandra requested officials to have the race start from the lawns of Windsor Castle so that the little royals could watch from their nursery window. Her request was complied with and the run began from the lawns to finish in front of the royal box at the stadium. That's how a few extra miles were added to the marathon! By 1921, it's length was formally declared as 26.2 miles. Marathon organisers didn't always offer a level playing field to both sexes when it came to participation. In medieval times, women were barred not only from running but also from watching an athletic event! A violation of the law resulted in execution. Quite draconian don't you think? Surprisingly women athletes continued to face barriers even with the advent of modern games.The longest permissible distance for female runners at the Olympics was 1500 meters. It was only after many trials and tribulations that women got their due at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when they were allowed to run a full marathon. The winner of this historic race was Joan Benoit, an American who clocked an impressive time of 2 hours 24 minutes and 52 seconds. For enthusiasts of long-distance running, the Boston Marathon is the most well-known event of it's kind in the world. In 1967, a determined Katherine Switzer decided to challenge the male bastion by taking part in the race. When officials realised that a woman was in the midst, they gave chase and tried to forcibly run her off the track! Katherine was no pushover and managed to complete the marathon with the support of fellow male runners. Her bib number 261 has since then become iconic. Till today, it's symbolic of challenging archaic mindsets. The true spirit of marathon running lies in providing an inclusive platform for people from all walks of life. Consequently, participation in the gruelling race is not limited to just the able-bodied. In an endeavour to integrate the differently abled into the marathon fraternity, a wheelchair division was introduced at the Ohio races in 1974. The gesture has since spurred organisers into providing more opportunities for athletes with special needs. Bob Wieland is the perfect illustration of how spirit can triumph over the body. The 41-year-old double amputee completed the LA Marathon in 74.5 hours! Equally inspiring are those for whom age is no bar. Fauja Singh of Britain was 100 years old when he ran at Toronto in 2011! One of our own, Budhia Singh from Orissa was just three when he took part in his first marathon. Extraordinary feats of "special" individuals serve to remind us that for the truly dedicated and passionate, there isn't a hurdle that cannot be overcome. There's something liberating about running in the outdoors with the elements for company; which is probably why marathons are run in many unconventional and interesting locales. There's the one in Greece that traces Pheidippides' original course. Sounds sedate? Seekers of extreme adventure can run at the Great Wall of China, in Tibet at an altitude of 11,500 feet or even in remote Greenland. The Big Five Marathon across South Africa's untamed grasslands promises an encounter of the wild kind! Marathon is a great metaphor for life. Endurance, hard work and perseverance are key to both; similarly to last the long haul, small paced steps are just as vital as bursts of speed. And the most invaluable lesson of all - It's the journey and experience gathered on the way that matters, not the destination!