It’s Official: Marathons date back to Greece

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 30, 2005

Road racing as a sport has been around as long as there have been people and roads. Even the early Greek Olympic Games featured some long-distance events, likely patterned after the legend of the heroic wartime run from Marathon to Athens with news of a victory.

Historians, don’t get upset if my Greek cities are a little off because the result is the same. The current marathon races are named after that Greek city. Track and field competition has always contained distance events, which internationally were at the metric distances of 10,000 meters (10k) and 5,000 meters (5k). In the United States (and Great Britian), those distances were usually 1 to 5 miles. Also, cross country has been a sport since the late 1800s but was run at various distances.

As running became a popular form of exercise, a large number of people all over the world developed interest in the sport. Road racing, which in this country had been mostly limited to a few well-known marathon races, created a demand for more competition but well below the marathon distance. Races sprang up across the country but were usually run at various distances.

Email newsletter signup

It didn’t take long for the demand to rise that uniform distances be determined, and the general feeling was that the 10,000-meter distance was ideal for a road race. Most cities could block off a street course that long.

The average recreational or exercise runner could run that distance in an hour or less. That wasn’t a distance that would hurt many runners if they had been training at all.

As walking became a very popular exercise habit, the demand grew for race walk events in conjunction with running events. Real track zealots had seen on TV (and before that in the newsreels) Olympic race walkers doing their heel-and-toe walk.

A few current race walkers have adapted that method, and they now dominate the sport of race walking.

Twenty-seven years ago Natchez was the location of the first River City Classic. The Sports Center and Hilltop Beverages were the originating sponsors, but they were soon joined by others. Sara Garcia was one of the early Natchezians to develop an interest in running, and she soon became involved in the Classic as a sponsor as well as a runner.

I began participating in the River City Classic the first year the walk was held, and I have no idea when that was. The first several years I could be sure of taking home a trophy for my age group. The year I turned 60, I ran into serious walkers and never again claimed any hardware.

I don’t know how many races are held in Natchez each year, but in the Jackson area there are one and sometimes two or more each week. Some of those races are limited to 5,000 meters, and some of the events offer a 5K race along with the 10K feature, and all also have a 5K race walk.

A lot of the runs even offer a 1-mile fun run for kids and others interested.

I know all of these sports have rules and officials, but I don’t think I will become one.

And that’s official.

Al Graning is a former SEC official and former Natchez resident. Reach him at