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Two Hours

The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon

By Ed Caesar
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Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon by Ed Caesar

Two Hours (2015) is about the world of international professional running. It offers background information on the sport and explains why so many great marathon runners come from Kenya, with a focus on Geoffrey Mutai, an athlete known for a string of record-breaking wins and his innovative running technique.

Key idea 1 of 8

Marathon running dates back to ancient Greece.

If you think it’s strenuous to ride your bike to work, be thankful you weren’t born in ancient Greece!

Back then, you might have had to run long distances as a profession. According to the foundation myth of the modern day marathon, in 490 BC, an Athenian messenger named Pheidippides had to run to Sparta to ask for support against the Persian invasion at the settlement of Marathon.

It’s said that Pheidippides had to cover 150 miles in two days. Then when the Greek army won the battle, he was sent on a 25-mile trip back to Athens to deliver the news. Legend has it that he said, “Joy to you, we have won,” then collapsed and died from exhaustion.

It’s unknown if Pheidippides’s story is historically accurate, but it inspired the organizers of the first Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896. They included the marathon race in the official program. It was a success but later fell from popularity. In both the 1900 Paris Olympics and the 1904 Saint Louis Olympics, some long-distance runners were found to have cheated by taking shortcuts. The sport’s reputation suffered as a result.

Marathon running didn’t become widespread until the mid-1970s, with the introduction of city marathons.

In October 1976, the first city marathon was organized in New York City. It marked the beginning of professional running, as some athletes were paid for participating in the event. Unlike the Olympics, however, city marathons were open to all comers, which turned the sport into a community event.

In 1976, Bill Rodgers made $3,000 by winning the New York marathon, and the sport has been popular ever since. In 2013, Mo Farah won over a million dollars for his performance in the London race.

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