Tall tales and Marathons

John Treacy (IRL) Silver in LA Olympic Marathon, 1984

John Treacy (IRL) Silver in LA Olympic Marathon, 1984

The battle of Marathon was fought between a greek army and the Persians on this day in 490 BC.

In the days leading up to the battle the Athenian and Plataean Hoplites had the Persians pinned in a holding action on the Plain of Marathon.  The lightly armed Persians did not want to go toe to toe with the Greek heavy infantry.  The outnumbered Greeks for their part had no wish to go on the offensive.  They were happy to remain in stalemate while they sent runners to seek more reinforcements.

One of their runners was Pheidippides.  His mission was to run  to Sparta, 140 miles away.  In heroic manner he completed the journey in two days.  The Spartans said they were in the middle of a “religious festival” and couldn’t come until it was over.

For some reason (perhaps concerned that reinforcements would arrive) the Persians decided to bring the Greeks to battle.  The Persian army favoured the use of ranged weapons, archery, slinging and javelins.  They prepared to engage the Greeks from a distance.  For their part the Greeks had little interest in being shot at as they marched into battle.  For the first time in history they decided to mount a charge on foot.  The Persians were taken by surprise.  Their lightly armed infantry was decimated.  The wings collapsed and the Greeks began to envelop the centre of the Persian line.  The Persian withdrawal turned into a race for the ships and quickly became a rout.

After the battle the Athenians were concerned for their city.  They had left Athens defenseless to bring as many troops as possible to battle in Marathon.  As the Persian fleet set sail for Athens the Hoplites made for home in haste.  They covered the 25 mile distance in rapid time.  When the Persian fleet saw the Athenian army arrive overland they turned away from the City.  Victory was complete for the Athenians.

Over time the stories of Pheidippides run and the forced march of the Athenian army became confused.  From the confusion was born the concept of the Marathon  race.  When the first modern Olympic games was staged in Athens in 1896 the idea of a Marathon race was proposed and accepted.  It has become one of the enduring pillars of the Olympic ideal, the ultimate distance race and a cauldron of legends.

Running ; by Raymond A. Foss

She was running this morning
early Sunday morning
while we drove by on the way to church
black top, black shorts,
once white running shoes
toned features,
purposeful face,
black bands on her biceps
hair bouncing in the breeze
It seemed she was arguing
with herself, the way her head
jerked from side to side,
her face grimaced
with the footfalls down the hill,
off the bridge, like she was debating
and losing the point
propelled on, downward
by gravity, by the flow of the sidewalk,
as she was running this morning
Whatever joy led her to the work,
catching the beauty of the morning,
freedom from other cares,
they were lost, in the puffing,
the contorting, the hurtling
down the hill by the river
Running was the only thing,
the only thing left.

Barefoot Boy

bikila1

Abebe Bikela of Ethiopia became the first sub-Saharan African to win Olympic Gold on Sept 10th 1960 in Rome.  He ran the Marathon in his bare feet.

In 1964 he won the Tokyo marathon only 40 days after an operation to remove his appendix.

In 1968 he broke a bone in his foot while training barefoot in the days leading up to the race.  At 17km he was in too much pain to continue.  The race was won by his countryman Mamo Wolde.  Wolde later said that Bikela would have won the race had he not been injured.

In 1969 during civil unrest in Ethiopia he was involved in a car crash which left him quadriplegic.  He died in 1973 at the age of 41.

Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met with my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily.”…………Abebe Bikela

The Barefoot Boy; by John Greenleaf Whittier

Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art,—the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye,—
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!

Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs’ orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!

Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to tread the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!