Running events aren’t modern creations. That, of course, isn’t surprising since us humans have been able to run since, well, humans were invented. After all, running is as natural to us as talking, walking, eating, drinking, and dropping “bombs” in everyone’s favorite chair (the crapper, for those who didn’t catch on right away). And because of that, it didn’t take that long before people thought of besting each other at it.
Athletes have been participating in distance running events long before Usain Bolt was obliterating his competition. In fact, the first recorded distance running events were held as early as the Ancient Olympic Games, which historical texts indicate began in Olympia during a time wherein athletes still weren’t able to pray for God blessing during a sporting event as the year was still 776 B.C.
Distance running, or stadion (which is a really cool name, by the way) as it was called then, was one of the five original Pentathlon events. Stadions were held in a stadium at distances of 180-240 meters, which was basically the length of a stadium.
The event begins with a trumpet blow, with officials manning both the starting and end points to make sure that no Rosie Ruiz-type of cheating (who is one of the biggest cheats in marathon history, go Google her “ingenious” feat) would take place.
Runners had to pass five stakes that divided the lanes. There was one stake at the start, another at the finish, and three stakes in between. Too bad Nike still wasn’t around then to sponsor runners the likes of Leonidas of Rhodes or Astylos of Croton.
History of Distance Running
Stadion wasn’t the only running event in the Ancient Olympic Games, though. There was also dialous (a two-stade race), dolichos (which was basically a 5-kilometer race), and the hoplite race, wherein athletes had to sprint while in full warrior gear—they were in outfitted in armor, made to wear greaves or a helmet, and had to carry a big ass shield. Whoever thought of such a bizarre test of endurance, no one knows.
The first track and field event was first held in the 1896 Olympics. This consisted of 800- and 1,500-meter runs. Eventually, 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs were added, as well as a 3,000-meter steeplechase (an event that originated from Great Britain in the 19th century wherein runners had to race between towns—from one church steeple to another—with natural obstacles littered in their path).
What’s surprising, though, is that it wasn’t until a few decades ago when even the Average Joes or the Plain Janes started joining distance running events. The point wasn’t to win, but simply to have fun and have a good time while shedding a few pounds here and there.
At present, marathons are becoming more and more popular worldwide, with tens of thousands of people signing up for both minor and major events. Even though there’s a finish line at the end of every race, it’s pretty safe to say that humans will never stop running.