This year, thousands of people from many nations are running marathon races in the United States. Many cities hold these races of more than forty-two kilometers. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Steve Ember. Marathons and the growing popularity of running are our story today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
More than sixteen-thousand people will compete April Fifteenth in the one-hundred-sixth Boston Marathon. The race is the oldest marathon in the world held each year.
Men and women over eighteen run in the marathon. The largest number of runners, eight-thousand-six hundred, is in the under forty group. It is not surprising that the smallest number, forty-five, is in the seventy and older age group.
Winners of the Two-Thousand-One Boston Marathon in the under age forty group will race again this year. Lee Bong-Ju (Bahng-'ZHEW) of South Korea won the men's race last year. Catherine Ndereba (Dair 'EH bah) of Kenya won the women's race. They are among many serious competitors in the Two-Thousand-Two 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 noon 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.
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."
Security for both watchers and runners has been increased this year, after the terrorist attacks on the United States last September.
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 over several areas along the race. And it records the runner's final time when crossing the finish line.
Last year, Lee Bong-Ju ran his winning race in two hours, nine minutes and forty-three seconds. Women's winner Catherine Ndereba finished in two hours, twenty-three minutes and fifty-three 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-five minutes and twelve seconds. That was more than six minutes faster than his closest competitor.
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.
This year, several special events are planned for Patriot's Day. For example, musicians will perform Eighteenth-Century music at a public gathering place at Hopkinton where the race begins.
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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 Marathon will take place October Third in Washington, D.C., and the state of Virginia.
Chicago also will hold its Two-Thousand-Two 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 more than five-hundred-thousand dollars in prize money.
New York will hold its marathon in November. This marathon 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 have run in New York Marathons.
About six- thousand people ran in the new Washington, D.C., Marathon on March Twenty-Fourth. It was the first forty-two and two-tenths-kilometer race ever held completely inside the city.
Marathon planners are pleased with the areas they chose for the competition. Racers ran through the city center near famous memorials and buildings like the Capitol. They also ran through many of the different areas of the city where people live.
Andrey Kuznetsov of the nearby state of Maryland won the men's race in the Washington Marathon. He is forty-four years old. He crossed the finish line after two hours twenty-three minutes and forty seconds. A mother of three young children from Atlanta, Georgia, won the women's race. Forty-year-old Victoria Mills finished in two hours fifty-four minutes twenty-nine seconds. Each won two-thousand dollars.
Los Angeles, California also held its marathon in March. More than eighteen-thousand runners competed.
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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 suggest you wear a good pair of running shoes to protect your feet. The manufacture of running shoes has become a huge industry in the United States.
Other popular products for runners include special watches so they can record their times. Runners often buy drinks that contain minerals said to increase energy. Some carry water or energy drinks in unbreakable plastic bottles they wear on the belts.
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.
Sports experts, however, 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.
Brett Silver is a young businesswoman in Los Angeles, California. She has run the Los Angeles Marathon two times. Last month, she finished the race in an hour less than she did the year before. She says she improved because she now awakens early and runs before work.
Ms. Silver describes her feelings at crossing the finish line of a marathon. She says, "You feel terribly tired. 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 Sarah Long. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.