Running a Marathon

This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember with Explorations in VOA Special English. Today, we report about marathon races in the United States. And one marathon runner tells about his experience.

Forty-two kilometers is a long way to run without stopping. But as many as thirty-five thousand competitors with a lot of energy will try to do that on Sunday, November seventh. They will take part in the thirty-fifth New York City Marathon. This race is so large that competitors must take part in a game of chance to win the right to enter.

Two million people will watch the competitors as they run through the streets of America’s most famous city. The athletes will run across five bridges and through the five boroughs, or areas, of New York City. These are Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. The race ends in the city’s famous Central Park.

Like other marathons, the New York City Marathon is an international race. World champions and Olympic athletes will compete. So will top athletes from twenty countries. The athletes will compete for prize money worth more than five hundred thirty thousand dollars.

Many other cities in the United States hold marathons. For example, the United States Marine Corps Marathon took place last Sunday in Washington, D. C. and the state of Virginia.

The city of Chicago, Illinois also held its yearly marathon last month. The running area in Chicago is almost completely flat. This has permitted runners to set some of the world’s fastest times there. The Chicago race offered some of the largest prizes among American marathons. It gave six hundred fifty thousand dollars in prize money.

In April, other runners will take part in the Boston Marathon in Massachusetts. That race is the oldest marathon in the world held each year. The first Boston Marathon was held in eighteen ninety-seven.

Some people run in the Boston Marathon just for fun. These people have not officially joined the race. They just start running with the crowds. They are called “bandits.” Many of them finish the race hours after the serious runners. But these unofficial racers are just as happy. They sometimes kiss the ground after crossing the finish line.


The word “marathon” comes from an area along the coast of Greece. An important battle took place in Marathon about two thousand five hundred years ago. An army from Persia had invaded Greece. Greece’s army defeated the invading army at Marathon. An Athenian general sent a Greek runner to Athens to tell the news of the victory. Marathon was about forty kilometers from Athens. The man ran to Athens at top speed. He announced his message. Then he fell to the ground, dead.A men’s marathon of about forty kilometers was included in the first modern Olympic games in eighteen ninety-six. The distance of the marathon was increased to forty-two and two-tenths kilometers at the nineteen-oh-eight Olympics in London. The marathon continues to be a popular Olympic sport.

What is it like to run a marathon? Recently, one of our Special English writers, Mario Ritter, ran in a marathon race. He thought it would be fun to tell about it. Most people would never think of running forty-two kilometers for fun. But, the pleasure in running a marathon is not in doing it — but in knowing that you did.

Mario runs almost every day to keep healthy. He is not a competitive runner. He ran a marathon before—ten years ago. This year, he decided to run another in the city of Baltimore, Maryland.

Training is extremely important. Starting in May, Mario began training by running more often. He also increased the length of his runs to eight, twelve and even twenty kilometers. Soon, he ran five days a week. Running regularly is necessary to build the needed strength.

In the months before the race, Mario ran a total of more than eight hundred kilometers in training. That really is not very much. Competitive runners train much more. But for someone just trying to prepare, that seems enough.

The day before the race, Mario travels to Baltimore with his wife, Yaxue, and three-year-old daughter, Atalanta. They stay at a hotel near the start of the race. He gets his identification number and a computer chip in a band that he wears around his ankle. The chip is activated at the start of the race and keeps time.

Race day is cold and windy. Runners gather at the starting line. They are stretching their arms and legs or jumping up and down trying to stay warm. Many are talking with friends and other runners. The line of people stretches hundreds of meters behind the start.

The very best runners are in the front. They are competing for prize money. The winner will receive fifteen thousand dollars. There is a total of one hundred thousand dollars in prize money. But more than two thousand people will run only for fun.

The mayor of Baltimore is talking. The sound of his voice flows in the air above the runners. But no one is listening to him. It is almost time to start the race.

It is eight o’clock in the morning, October fifteenth. A horn sounds. The runners are off. The big race starts slowly. The top runners quickly move out. But, a crowd of hundreds waits behind them. This is a dangerous part of the race. It is easy for a runner to trip and fall in a storm of elbows and shoes.

The runners gain speed. With more space, Mario worries less about being tripped. He can run his own race. The first few kilometers are up hill. This does not seem too bad. Kilometer number three…four…ten…fifteen. The first half of the race feels “easy.”

A marathon is a civic event. The city police block traffic on the main roads. Some runners thank the officers as they run by. Every few kilometers, volunteers offer water to the runners. Hundreds of people in the community give their time and effort. Lots of people cheer.

Half way. Mario has not run as fast as he wanted. But, he is saving energy for the second half of the race. The hard part starts here.

About half way into a marathon, the human body starts to show signs of extreme tiredness. Pain starts to build in the legs, knees and feet. The mind plays tricks too. While half the race is over, the other half is just beginning.

At the thirty-kilometer mark, Mario really feels horrible. His legs just do not want to work. To make matters worse, the path of the race goes up several big hills. Every step hurts.

This is “the wall” -- the point were the body wants to stop and rest. Here, only the mind can tell the body to move forward. Competitive runners condition their bodies to go beyond this point regularly. Runners like Mario only become this physically tired a few times in their lives.

Mario centers his thoughts on putting one foot in front of the other--continuing the motion of running. He remembers to use his arms and shoulders to lengthen his stride.

As he reaches the top of the last big hill, Mario can sense that the finish line is only a few kilometers away. He tries to cover more ground with each step. Other runners speed up too.

But as the long line of runners heads down hill, the path becomes crowded. The street is uneven and tricky.

If someone trips at this point, the runner will not be able to avoid falling. A young woman ahead mis-steps and cannot react quickly enough. She falls directly on her face and is bleeding. People rush to help her.The runners can only look on. They ride a wave of motion that they are powerless to halt.

The finish line represents a goal that Mario has thought about for almost four hours. When he sees it, he speeds up. He is able to pass a number of people. Suddenly, a thin, young woman sprints across the finish line just ahead of him. He did not see her coming.

Mario finishes seven hundred thirty-first in the Baltimore Marathon. It has been one hour and forty minutes since John Itati of Kenya won the race. Two thirds of the marathoners have yet to finish.

A crowd of runners, volunteers and family members gathers at the end of the race. People are laughing and calling out. The atmosphere feels like a holiday.

Mario’s wife and daughter find him. They are happy, caught up in the excitement. “You did it!” his wife, Yaxue, exclaims.

Mario realizes that he cannot bend down to untie his shoes. In a few hours he will feel satisfied with his effort. But at this moment, he wonders why anyone would run a marathon for fun.

This program was written and produced by Mario Ritter. This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.