Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Phoebe Zimmermann.

And I’m Steve Ember. Today, we report about marathon races and the popularity of running in the United States.

Forty-two kilometers is a long way to run without stopping. But twenty-thousand competitors with a lot of energy will try to do that next Monday, April nineteenth. These people will take part in the one-hundred-eighth Boston Marathon in Massachusetts. The race is the oldest marathon in the world held each year.

Men and women over age eighteen run in the marathon. Some competitors are much older than eighteen. Some runners are seventy and older. But most of the runners are younger than forty.

Winners of past Boston Marathons will race again this year. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot of Kenya is defending his first-place finish last year. Catherine Ndereba of Kenya has won the Boston race two times. They are among many serious competitors in the two-thousand-four marathon. Winners will share five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand dollars in prize money given by companies and organizations.

Runners in the Boston Marathon have demonstrated that they are good at the sport. They completed earlier races called qualifying races. They have to run those races within a set time.

Other people join 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 probably will finish hours after the serious runners. But these unofficial racers are just as happy. They sometimes kiss the ground after crossing the finish line.

The runners will begin this year’s Boston Marathon at mid day next Monday in the town of Hopkinton, Massachusetts. They will then pass through the towns of Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline. They will run up and down hills. They will complete the race in the center of Boston.

People will provide liquids for the runners at twenty-four places along the way. If anyone gets hurt or sick, medical workers at twenty-six American Red Cross stations can provide medical help. As usual, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to watch the marathon. Many will carry signs that say things like, “We are proud of you, Mommy.”

Before the marathon begins, a computer chip device is attached to each runner’s shoe. It electronically records how long the runner takes to complete the race. Timing begins when a runner passes another device placed across the road at the starting line. The computer chip records each runner’s time as he or she passes several areas along the race. And it records the runner’s final time when crossing the finish line.

Last year, Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot ran his winning race in two hours, ten minutes and eleven seconds. The women’s winner, Svetlana Zakharova, finished in two hours, twenty-five minutes and twenty seconds.

People who cannot walk also compete in the Boston Marathon. Competitors in wheelchairs begin the race earlier than others. The Boston Marathon became the first major marathon to include users of wheelchairs in nineteen-seventy-five.

Last year, South African competitor Ernst VanDyk won the wheelchair race. He finished in one hour, twenty-eight minutes and thirty-two seconds. Mr. VanDyk also won the wheelchair race in two-thousand-one and two-thousand-two.

Christina Ripp of the United States won the women’s wheelchair event last year. She finished the race in one hour, fifty-four minutes and forty-seven seconds.

The first Boston Marathon was held in eighteen-ninety-seven. Fifteen men competed. Ten finished the race. Since then, the marathon has been held every year as part of a holiday in Massachusetts called Patriot’s Day. The holiday honors the beginning of the American War of Independence in the seventeen-seventies.

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.

Many American cities in addition to Boston hold marathons. For example, the United States Marine Corps Marathon will take place October thirty-first in Washington, D. C. and the state of Virginia.

The city of Chicago, Illinois also will hold its two-thousand-four marathon in October. 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 offers some of the largest prizes among American marathons. It will give six-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars in prize money.

New York City will hold its marathon in November. This race is so large that competitors must take part in a game of chance to win the right to enter. As many as thirty-thousand people run in New York City marathons.

Not all marathons are so successful. More than six-thousand people ran in the first Washington D.C. Marathon in March, two-thousand-two. Some said they enjoyed the race more than any other. The runners passed by some of the city’s most famous monuments, including the United States Capitol. But last year the race was cancelled. The organizers blamed security concerns because the war in Iraq was soon to start. The marathon was cancelled again this year. However, that did not stop hundreds of people from racing. They ran the “unofficial” marathon on the day the official race was to have taken place.

Thirty years ago, far fewer people ran in the United States. Today, millions run. Many more women now take part in the sport. Many children in public and private schools run as part of their physical education programs.

Running has gained popularity for several reasons. You can do it anywhere, any time. You do not need other people. And you do not need much equipment. However, experts say you should wear a good pair of running shoes to protect your feet. The manufacture of running shoes has become a huge industry.

People run for different reasons. Most say running makes them feel better physically. It prevents them from gaining weight. It provides needed exercise to help prevent some diseases. Many people also say running makes them feel better mentally. It makes them feel happier. Some say they forget their worries when they run.

Many people also run to help others. For example, Ed Burt of Hopedale, Massachusetts ran in the Boston Marathon last year to help the American Liver Foundation. This deeply pleased his father, who was suffering from liver disease. This year, Ed Burt already has raised more than two-thousand dollars in the Liver Foundation’s Run for Research campaign. He will take part in the marathon this year in memory of his father.

Sports experts urge people to prepare themselves before trying to run in long races. They say special exercises and repeated runs are needed to build strength.

Doctors also urge runners to make sure they are in good health before entering a marathon. They say forty-two kilometers is a long way to run as fast as you can, without stopping.

But many marathon runners say it is exciting to cross the finish line. “You feel terribly tired,” says a runner from Encino, California. “At the same time, you feel just wonderful.”

This program was written by Shelley Gollust and Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in Special English on the Voice of America.