From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres (26 miles and 385 yards), that is usually run as a road race. The event was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon (the namesake of the race) to Athens.
The marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921. More than 500 marathons are contested throughout the world each year, with the vast majority of competitors being recreational athletes. Larger marathons can have tens of thousands of participants.
Annually, more than 500 marathons are organized worldwide. Some of these belong to the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) which has grown since its foundation in 1982 to embrace over 300 member events in 83 countries and territories. Five of the largest and most prestigious races, Boston, New York City, Chicago, London, and Berlin, form the biennial World Marathon Majors series, awarding $500,000 annually to the best overall male and female performers in the series.
In 2006, the editors of Runner's World selected a "World's Top 10 Marathons", in which the Amsterdam, Honolulu, Paris, Rotterdam, and Stockholm marathons were featured along with the five mentioned above. Other notable large marathons include United States Marine Corps Marathon, Los Angeles, and Rome. The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon, inspired by the success of the 1896 Olympic marathon and held since 1897. The oldest annual marathon in Europe is the Košice Peace Marathon, held since 1924 in Košice, Slovakia.
One of the more unusual marathons is the Midnight Sun Marathon held in Tromsø, Norway at 70 degrees north. Using unofficial and temporary courses, measured by GPS, races of marathon distance are now held at the North Pole, in Antarctica and over desert terrain. Among other unusual marathons to mention are: The Great Wall Marathon on The Great Wall of China, The Big Five Marathon among the safari wildlife of South Africa, The Great Tibetan Marathon - a marathon in an atmosphere of Tibetan Buddhism at an altitude of 3,500 metres (11,500 ft), and The Polar circle marathon on the permanent ice cap of Greenland in -15 degrees Celsius/+5 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures.
Some of the most scenic marathon routes are: Steamboat Marathon, Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Mayor's Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska; Kona Marathon, Keauhou/Kona, Hawaii; San Francisco Marathon, San Francisco, California.
The Intercontinental Istanbul Eurasia Marathon is the only marathon where participants run over two continents, Europe and Asia, during the course of a single event. In the Detroit Free Press Marathon, participants cross the US/Canadian border twice.  The historic Polytechnic Marathon was discontinued in 1996.
The book The Ultimate Guide to International Marathons (1997), written by Dennis Craythorn and Rich Hanna, ranks the Stockholm Marathon as the best marathon in the world.
Most participants do not run a marathon to win. More important for most runners is their personal finish time and their placement within their specific gender and age group, though some runners just want to finish. Strategies for completing a marathon include running the whole distance and a run-walk strategy. In 2005, the average marathon time in the U.S. was 4 hours 32 minutes 8 seconds for men, 5 hours 6 minutes 8 seconds for women.
A goal many runners aim for is to break certain time barriers. For example, recreational first-timers often try to run the marathon under four hours; more competitive runners may attempt to finish under three hours. Other benchmarks are the qualifying times for major marathons. The Boston Marathon, the oldest marathon in the United States, requires a qualifying time for all non-professional runners. The New York City marathon also requires a qualifying time for guaranteed entry, at a pace slightly faster than Boston's.
Typically, there is a maximum allowed time of about six hours after which the marathon route is closed, although some larger marathons keep the course open considerably longer (eight hours or more). Many marathons around the world have such time limits by which all runners must have crossed the finish line. Anyone slower than the limit will be picked up by a sweeper bus. In many cases the marathon organizers are required to reopen the roads to the public so that traffic can return to normal.
With the growth in popularity of marathoning, many marathons across the United States and the world have been filling to capacity faster than ever before. When the Boston Marathon opened up registration for its 2011 running, the field capacity was filled within eight hours.
The long run is an important element in marathon training. Recreational runners commonly try to reach a maximum of about 20 miles (32 kilometres) in their longest weekly run and a total of about 40 miles (64 kilometres) a week when training for the marathon, but wide variability exists in practice and in recommendations. More experienced marathoners may run a longer distance, and more miles/kilometres during the week. Greater weekly training mileages can offer greater results in terms of distance and endurance, but also carry a greater risk of training injury. Most male elite marathon runners will have weekly mileages of over 100 miles (160 kilometres).
Many training programs last a minimum of five or six months, with a gradual increase in the distance run and finally, for recovery, a period of tapering in the weeks preceding the race. For beginners wishing to merely finish a marathon, a minimum of four months of running four days a week is recommended. Many trainers recommend a weekly increase in mileage of no more than 10%. It is also often advised to maintain a consistent running program for six weeks or so before beginning a marathon training program, to allow the body to adapt to the new stresses. The marathon training program itself would suppose variation between hard and easy training, with a periodization of the general plan.
Training programs can be found at the websites of Runner's World, Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, and the Boston Athletic Association, and in numerous other published sources.
The last long training run might be undertaken no later than two weeks prior to the event. Many marathon runners also "carbo-load" (increase carbohydrate intake while holding total caloric intake constant) during the week before the marathon to allow their bodies to store more glycogen.
Glycogen and "the wall"
Carbohydrates that a person eats are converted by the liver and muscles into glycogen for storage. Glycogen burns rapidly to provide quick energy. Runners can store about 8 MJ or 2,000 kcal worth of glycogen in their bodies, enough for about 30 km/18–20 miles of running. Many runners report that running becomes noticeably more difficult at that point. When glycogen runs low, the body must then obtain energy by burning stored fat, which does not burn as readily. When this happens, the runner will experience dramatic fatigue and is said to "hit the wall". The aim of training for the marathon, according to many coaches, is to maximize the limited glycogen available so that the fatigue of the "wall" is not as dramatic. This is accomplished in part by utilizing a higher percentage of energy from burned fat even during the early phase of the race, thus conserving glycogen.
Carbohydrate-based "energy" gels are used by runners to avoid or reduce the effect of "hitting the wall", as they provide easy to digest energy during the run. Energy gels usually contain varying amounts of sodium and potassium and some also contain caffeine. They need to be consumed with a certain amount of water. Recommendations for how often to take an energy gel during the race range widely.
Alternatives to gels include various forms of concentrated sugars, and foods high in simple carbohydrates that can be digested easily. Many runners experiment with consuming energy supplements during training runs to determine what works best for them. Consumption of food while running sometimes makes the runner sick. Runners are advised not to ingest a new food or medicine just prior to or during a race. It is also important to refrain from taking any of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory class of pain relievers (NSAIDS, e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen), as these drugs change the way the kidneys regulate their blood flow and may lead to serious kidney problems, especially in cases involving moderate to severe dehydration.
After a marathon
Marathon participation may result in various medical, musculoskeletal, and dermatological complaints. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common condition affecting runners during the first week following a marathon. Various types of mild exercise or massage have been recommended to alleviate pain secondary to DOMS. Dermatological issues frequently include "jogger's nipple", "jogger's toe", and blisters.
The immune system is reportedly suppressed for a short time. Changes to the blood chemistry may lead physicians to mistakenly diagnose heart malfunction.
After long training runs and the marathon itself, consuming carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores and protein to aid muscle recovery is commonly recommended. In addition, soaking the lower half of the body for 20 minutes or so in cold or ice water may force blood through the leg muscles to speed recovery.
The nature of marathon running has various health risks. Training and the races themselves put runners under stress. While rare, even death is a possibility during a race.
Common health risks fall under injury such as tendonitis, fatigue, knee or ankle sprain, and other conditions. Many fall under overuse injuries.
A study published in 1996 found that the risk of having a fatal heart attack during, or in the period 24 hours after a marathon, was approximately 1 in 50,000 over an athlete's racing career—which the authors characterised as an "extremely small" risk. The paper went on to say that since the risk was so small, cardiac screening programs for marathons were not warranted. However, this study was not an attempt to assess the overall benefit or risk to cardiac health of marathon running.
In 2006, a study of 60 non-elite marathon participants tested runners for certain proteins (see Troponin) which indicate heart damage or dysfunction after they had completed the marathon, and gave them ultrasound scans before and after the race. The study revealed that, in that sample of 60 people, runners who had done less than 35 miles per week training before the race were most likely to show some heart damage or dysfunction, while runners who had done more than 45 miles per week training beforehand showed few or no heart problems.
Water consumption dangers
While drinking fluids during the race is important for all runners, in some cases too much drinking can also be dangerous. Drinking more than one loses during a race can decrease the concentration of sodium in the blood (a condition called hyponatremia), which may result in vomiting, seizures, coma and even death. Eating salt packets during a race mitigates this problem. The International Marathon Medical Directors Association issued a warning in 2001 that urged runners only to drink when they are thirsty, rather than "drinking ahead of their thirst."
Women are more prone to hyponatremia than men. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 13% of runners completing the 2002 Boston Marathon had hyponatremia.
A 4+ hour runner can drink about 4-6 fluid ounces (120-170 mL) every 20–30 minutes without fear of hyponatremia. Consuming sports drinks or salty snacks will also reduce the risk. A patient suffering hyponatremia can be given a small volume of a concentrated salt solution intravenously to raise sodium concentrations in blood. Some runners weigh themselves before running and write the results on their bibs. If anything goes wrong, first aid workers can use the weight information to tell if the patient had consumed too much water.