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3) Whoever he was, did he in fact die as a result of the run?
During the weeks before the race I pored through Herodotus, Plutarch and other classical writers. I studied books and articles on Greek military history, training methods, clothing and diet. I interviewed scholars at four leading universities. I prodded experienced marathoners to make educated guesses about details of the ancient runner's ordeal. By the time I arrived in Marathon and was issued my number—300—I felt I should have entered the race under the name Phixx.
The easiest part of Pheidippides' experience to duplicate was the suffering. Even under ideal conditions a marathon is a difficult undertaking; on a hot day it is likely to be grievously demanding. This is why, as last May we stood in the blazing Greek sunshine near a monument marking the start of the 1896 Olympic marathon, there was little of the bonhomie that usually attends such occasions. We all knew what awaited us. True, there had been a display or two of high spirits on the bus out to Marathon: a New Jersey priest-marathoner, Patrick McCabe, beseeching our non-English-speaking driver to make an urgent stop by eloquently displaying a roll of toilet paper; a wisecrack or two about the marathon prospects of F. Harry Stowe, a phonetic approximation of the Greek word for thank you. Now, however, with the start of the race at hand, there was a clear sense of doom. Our spirits were not greatly lifted by the antic sight of a Greek runner who had enterprisingly glued two inches of red foam rubber to the soles of his shoes, apparently intending to bound like a kangaroo all the way to the marble stadium in Athens.
As an official loaded the starting gun, a Greek with a sense of ceremony handed each of us an olive sprig, to be reverently tossed onto the mound, three miles distant, that marks the mass grave of the Athenians who perished in defense of Marathon. At last the gun sounded and we were on our way, a sweating, polyglot ooze of sentimental athletes.
The early pace was fast, much too fast for the heat. With fatigue beginning to gnaw at me, it seemed increasingly unlikely that the same messenger who had just run 150 miles would be recruited for a second sustained run. Surely the athletics-loving Greeks would have known that such an effort leaves even a well-trained runner fatigued for weeks and sometimes months.
Significantly, the two-messenger theory finds support in the views of the late P. R. Coleman-Norton of Princeton, who refers to the second courier as an "anonymous Athenian runner." If, then, our spirit of romance beckons us to believe that Pheidippides 1 and Pheidippides 2 were the same man, common sense clearly asks us not to. There is, however, no reason thus far to insist that there was no Pheidippides 2 at all. For the moment, let's suppose there was. All that is necessary, to avoid confusion with Pheidippides 1, is to give Pheidippides 2 a distinguishing name. Let us therefore call him Euathlos, a common Athenian name of the period and one that can be translated "Good Athlete"—or, in the present context, "Speedy."
In two respects, Speedy, if he existed, had an advantage over Kardong and the rest of us. The countryside through which we were running is virtually treeless today; shade is scarcely to be found anywhere. In the fifth century B.C., however, these dry, rocky hills were covered with growth. (It has long since been chopped down for firewood, or in the case of saplings, nibbled away by goats.) As he ran, Speedy would have enjoyed occasional relief from the relentless September sun. We had none.
Second, Speedy was a member of a well-organized military force. By contrast, we were on one of the most haphazardly assembled tours in the history of overseas travel. Instead of being housed near Marathon, as promised, we found ourselves 60 miles away in a hotel where a request for a second pat of butter could elicit a murderous snarl. Transportation to Athens never materialized. A "free" airport bus cost $30. Departing Athens I was detained for half an hour at the Olympic Airways gate. I discovered only then that I had been secretly booked standby instead of with a regular-fare ticket. At least Speedy knew where he was going and when.
In all other respects, however, we modern runners had the advantage.
The road on which we ran, for example, is as smooth and well maintained as any U.S. highway. Speedy, on the other hand, would have had to negotiate a rough, stony path because, according to Professor E. Badian of Harvard's history department, paved roads were all but unknown in 490 B.C. And contrary to a widespread jogger's myth, it is less tiring to run on pavement than on soft surfaces, even grass.