ATHENS (Reuters Life!) - Exactly two and a half millennia after the Battle of Marathon, an event widely acknowledged to have ensured the democratic legacy of Western culture, two veteran Greek distance runners will aim to bring to life the incredible feat of legendary messenger Pheidippides.
Greek women’s marathon record-holder Maria Polyzou and the first man to repeat Pheidippides feat in 1992, Panayiotis Skoulis, have announced they intend to run the 520 km (325 miles) from Athens to Sparta and back to Marathon virtually non-stop within six days to mark the celebrations of the battle’s 2,500-year anniversary.
The pair will set off from the Acropolis in Athens on Monday, July 26, aiming to reach the southern Peloponnesian city of Sparta on July 29 before running back to the Tomb of Marathon for August 1. This will entail running a double marathon every day for a week, with minimal rest in between.
“This is a special year for the sport and I want to be a part of our history,” Polyzou told Reuters. “Put simply, the marathon is part of my soul. You can’t undertake something like this if you do not believe in the whole idea of the marathon.”
The marathon celebrates the run of a soldier, Pheidippides, from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. Pheidippides was carrying the news a Greek victory over the Persians and is said to have collapsed and died at the end of his effort. Out of that legend, the marathon race was born.
But the original legend, whose first report was 600 years after the battle was that the messenger first went to Sparta to ask for help, was rebuffed, and ran back to Marathon, before going to Athens to announce victory.
Polyzou is well placed to spread the marathon spirit. At 42, she has been running marathons for 23 years. She is also the director of the Museum of Marathon and vice-president of her country’s athletic federation SEGAS.
“It’s difficult to say what is more important because each and every part of my career has been equally significant,” added Polyzou, when asked if this would be the pinnacle of her achievements. “It’s a cliché but life is like a road and every part of that road takes you further forward. Perhaps after finishing this challenge though I will answer differently though.”
Greek celebrations of the Battle of Marathon’s 2,500-year anniversary will culminate with the 28th Athens Classic Marathon on October 31, where a record turnout of over 20,000 participants will take part.
Editing by Paul Casciato