To Phil, the Real Marathon Man


Perhaps because I’ve felt as if I’ve finished a couple, but my eyes have been drawn to marathons of late.

Maybe it’s that irritating commercial from Marathon Oil, whose new jingle implores you to “put a tankful of freedom” in your guzzler. (Does that make the Prius the official vehicle of the Socialist Marxist Party?). Maybe it was catching the classic film again.

Or, most likely, it was yet another documentary I consumed, this one on the famed run of 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, which gave birth to the modern day sporting event. The documentary touched on all the rote facts, including the roots of its distance, how it became the symbol of national pride in Boston, and how more than 300 are held annually in the U.S. alone.

But I began to wonder about the guy who ran the first. Why wasn’t he celebrated? I mean, he did die trying.

Turns out, the guy is as heroic as any of the A-list Greek gods, from Apollo to Zeus. And the guy was real.

His name was Pheidippides (Phil to his bowling pals), and he was born about 530 BC.


Phil didn’t exude celebrity.  Not hulking, not that powerful, not even that cunning. Not…Herculean.

But Phil could run. And run. Like, further than you’d have the patience to drive run. And Phil believed in doing his share. So when he joined the Greek Army, they unwittingly turned him into one of the world’s first professional couriers, sending him to dispatch news between armies separated by miles.

Around 500, Persia was planning its biggest New World invasion yet, with Marathon as ground zero. What that documentary (and historical memory, for some reason) failed to mention is that Phil ran more than 150 miles over two days to get to Sparta and plead for help.

Sparta did, and helped repel the Persian army. And it was on that run, to Athens, that Phil died, giving the news of victory. Historians say his final words to the Assembly were ‘Joy to you, we won. Joy to you.’

Where’s  Phil’s pomp and circumstance?? His fable? His book deal? His summer blockbuster biopic?

Maybe his name was too tough to spell, let alone pronounce. Maybe we don’t like heralding those who die trying.

But don’t we all feel his pain, even a little? I can’t help but see him as that Everyday Greco Joe, who played to his strengths to get through the day, tried to keep his head down at work and do what feckless bosses commanded.

Bad news, Pheidippides. Bosses are still trying to run Joes to but a nub.

But you’d be proud of how much of your stride we emulate. Joy to you, Phil. Joy to you.




Please like & share: