Sunday, 17 July 2011

Greece Is The Word

Following my recent blog about the great Grete Waitz, regular blog reader Beverley told me that she had once run with the Norwegian legend. Apparently, it was in Japan with the Kobe Hash House Harriers (see While a hash house may sound like something best left to the Dutch, my closer investigations revealed it to be something of a running institution. The hash runners follow a trail laid by another hasher (the hare). At a given signal the rest of the hash, (the harriers, hounds or pack) set off in pursuit. If you find yourself in Japan, it could be worth a look; they’ve been hashing every Monday at 7pm since 9 January 1978. Kobe’s website describes hash houses as “an international drinking club with a running problem”. I trained in Kamakura and Tokyo during the summers of 2000 and 2002 respectively and, I’m ashamed to say, the drinking (and the hash for that matter) passed me by. Probably for the best: Paul McCartney tried to introduce hash into Tokyo in 1980 and matters didn’t necessarily resolve themselves to his advantage (see

Shapanese running wisdom: wise words from The Greyhound pub in Shap

This week’s blog comes from Greece, the home of the marathon. If you’ve ever wondered why the marathon is 26 miles, this could be your lucky day. The very first marathon took place in 490BC, during the Battle of Marathon. Athens was under attack from the Persians, who had arrived at Marathon, a town conveniently located 26 miles along the coast from Athens. An almighty ruck had ensued and the Athenians needed a messenger to run from Marathon back to Athens to relay news of the battle. Pheidippides, who had already fought in the battle, was chosen, on the basis that he had proven himself to be a strong runner in recent Greek games. Sadly for Pheidippides, he was a short distance sprinter, with no experience of longer distances. Stay and risk getting slaughtered, or run 26 miles? I should imagine that Pheidippides was ambivalent at best. He arrived in Athens with just enough energy to announce that Athens was saved, then promptly collapsed and died. I’m sure most first-time marathoners can identify with that. Even mild shin splints have me Googling the telephone number for Dignitas.

Blogging in Kos – it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it

So that’s why the marathon is 26 miles long. When Athens hosted the Olympics in 2004, the marathon re-traced the original route, along the modern Marathon – Athens highway, which runs southwards along the coast from Marathon Bay. I suppose we should be grateful that it started in Marathon. If Bonnie Prince Charlie had decided to send a similar message on 18 December 1745, the eve of the Battle of Clifton Moor (see, the last battle to have taken place on English soil, the marathon could well have been called a “Shap”. Shap is the village where the Young Pretender installed his troops before the battle and is fivemarathons’ home. would just not have had the same popular appeal.

45 degrees at only 9.54am in Kos – better schedule that 8 mile run for 6am

The British Royal Family has to take responsibility for the seemingly inexplicable additional 0.2 miles that you have to run at the end of each race. As if 26 miles weren’t enough. When the Olympics were held in London in 1908, the 26 miles were painstakingly measured out, with the finish line just inside White City Stadium. The Royals noted that the finish was too far from their viewing enclosure for them to see what was going on. 385 yards too far, to be precise. The finish line was dutifully relocated in front of the Royal Box, and that increased 26.2 mile distance was adopted in 1924 as the standard. Prior to 1924, the Olympic distance varied from 40 kilometres in 1904 (St Louis), to 41.86 kilometres in 1906 (Athens*), 40.2 kilometres in 1912 (Stockholm) and 42.75 kilometres in 1920 (Antwerp). To my amazement, my run in Vancouver would have been good enough for me to have won the gold medal in St Louis. Thomas Hicks of the USA broke the tape in 3 hours 28 minutes and 35 seconds. I was born 100 years too late. ­­I could have had a string of endorsements for running plimsolls by now and been sending the blog to you via the magic of telegram.

The morning before I left for Greece, I managed to catch an episode of Gok Wan’s “How To Look Good Naked”. Big fan, never miss an episode. Being too lazy to fetch the remote proved to be its own reward when this week’s stars turned out to be Macmillan’s North-West fundraising team and fivemarathons’ own fundraising coordinator, Marie Travers (see She kept that quiet. I can’t think why - the Macmillan girls looked great. I’m just grateful that I only had to run a few marathons. I don’t doubt that you are too.

Ticket sales for the fivemarathons live dates had been disappointing

Training on Kos is quite agreeable. Running through the worst of the Shap / Liverpool summer, on the other hand, wasn’t agreeing with me at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve had girlfriends that have agreed with me more. Matters came to a head, when I was lying in bed, central heating and winter duvet on, unable to sleep due to the sound of the rain on the roof, with only the thought of a freezing cold 14 mile run later that day to keep me warm. By 4pm, Jayne and I had resolved to take affirmative action, had booked Greece by 4.30pm, packed by 5pm and were on our way to the airport. My running now has an entirely different set of considerations. By 9am, the heat is already too fierce for running, so I’m up at 7am, running soon afterwards, then back for tea and medals on the terrace. Life could be worse. Just ask Pheidippides.

*The Olympics were held in Athens in 1906 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the birth of the modern games.



Barcelona, 1 March 2009
3 hrs 57 mins (new PB)
London, 26 April 2009 4 hrs 01 mins
San Francisco, 26 July 2009 3 hrs 43 mins (new PB)
Berlin, 20 September 2009 3 hrs 46 mins
New York, 1 November 2009 3 hrs 53 mins


Vancouver Marathon, 2 May 2010
3 hrs 31 mins (new PB)


Coniston 14 (14 miles), 28 March 2009
1 hr 48
Humber Half Marathon, 15 June 2009 1 hr 40 (new PB)
Congleton Half Marathon, 11 October 2009 1 hr 33 29 seconds (new PB)

Liverpool, 28 March 2010 1 hour 33 mins 14 seconds (new PB)

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see

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NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004