Living Healthier Longer

Running in the Footsteps of Pheidippedes

by Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D.

The opportunity presented itself in a totally unexpected way. How would I like to visit Greece and Turkey and give a few talks along the way? I’d never been to that part of the world and wanted to see it plus I love running in new locales. What’s more, here was my chance to run on the course of the original marathon, the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens.

Then reality hit me. What if nobody there knew what I was talking about? What if I couldn’t find the course? What if it was miles away from where I was going to be staying? What if I didn’t’t have enough time? Then I thought that if I’d come this far, that surely I’d find a way to make it work.

The very first Greek person I met was a shopkeeper who noticed my running shoe charm around my neck. Ah, here’s a person who knows something about running, I thought. As it turned out, he just wanted to sell me some jewelry and was just using that as a way to engage me in conversation and get me into his shop. In any case, his answer to my first question was, “Yes, it is just on the other side of the park just two blocks from here.” I could not believe my ears. This is just too good to be true, I thought.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I thanked him and started back down the street when another shopkeeper approached and tried to sell me some jewelry. So I asked him the same question and got the same answer! That did it! I needed no more evidence. These Greeks know the importance of the original marathon course, obviously!

My plan was to get up at daybreak the next morning and do what was for me on par with my running the Boston or Moscow Marathon or the Great Wall of China!

The feeling I had as I ran on that hallowed ground was incredible. I pictured myself as Pheidippedes, way back in time, something like 490 B.C. Then I thought of Melpomene, the first Greek woman to run the marathon. My connection with the past was so exciting that I wanted to tell everyone in sight that I’d come all the way from Hawaii just to run this course, and that I wished they could share this experience with me. This was definitely up there as one of my peak running experiences!

The following week I was in Istanbul. Because it was a Muslim country, I was told that, as a female, I should not expose my knees and shoulders. My first thought was “How am I going to do my usual morning run in the obligatory running shorts and singlet?” My second thought was that old proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Well, Greeks run, Romans run, so I will run. What are they going to do, shoot me? Again, I rose at daybreak, this time so the fewest people would see me. I tiptoed out of the hotel, onto the street and broke into a stride, just like I didn’t’t know any better. I didn’t’t look at anybody, just kept my eyes on the ground ahead of me. This was the smartest thing to do anyway, because the so-called sidewalk was fraught with traps for unwary runners. I certainly didn’t’t need to trip on the extremely uneven sidewalk or twist an ankle due to the many potholes. I ran for an hour, up and then back down on the main street. There really was no parallel side street, and I certainly could not afford to get lost, so I played it safe. And, no, I didn’t’t get shot but I think I did turn a few heads.

This run was also memorable, but for an entirely different reason. I think I’ll stick with Pheidippedes’ route!

Ruth E. Heidrich, Ph.D.

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