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Expats on the Run: Marathons

13 April, 2011 08:51  Erin Erin

People running on a bridge. Marathon © galam - FotoliaMost of us have never felt the need to run a marathon. Oddly, there are thousands that do. Officially, a marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometers (26 miles and 385 yards). The first events celebrated the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon, to Athens. It became an official Olympic events in 1896 in Athens, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921.

Now, more than 500 marathons are run throughout the world each year. Tens of thousands of participants come, some from around the world, to just run. While most people do not participate to win, some people seem truly addicted. Belgian athlete Stefaan Engels recently made world-wide news in his world record running streak of 365 marathons in 365 days.

So why do some people do it? And what do Marathons around the world say about the cities they are run in and the people that run them?

Paris International Marathon / Marathon International de Paris

The Paris Marathon was just completed on April 10th, 2011 with Kenyans, Benjamin Kiptoo and Priscah Jeptoo, taking top honors in both the men's and women's divisions. The racing time average was estimated at 5 hours 40 minutes with Kiptoo completing it in 2:06:29.

This annual marathon takes place along an attractive route from the Champs-Elysees towards the Place de la Concorde and finishing at Foch Avenue. Originally called the "Tour de Paris Marathon", the first event took place in 1896 with 191 participants. The event is normally held on a Sunday in April and with around 35,000 runners and 250,000 observers.

Fun Fact: French marathons, including the Paris Marathon, are unusual in requiring a doctor's note affirming the runner is physically fit to run a marathon.

Official website:

London Marathon

This prestigious race is one of a series that forms the biennial World Marathon Majors series which awards $500,000 annually to the best overall male and female performers. The race was founded by the former Olympic champion and renowned journalist Chris Brasher and Welsh athlete John Disley.

It has been held each spring in London since 1981. The 2011 London Marathon, the thirty-first race, will take place this Sunday, April 17th, 2011. The course is traditional, following the River Thames, and finishing in The Mall alongside St. James's Palace.

There are three Marathon races - the Mass race, the Elite Women, and the Wheelchair. The races are a major feature, but also part of a larger celebrator sporting festival and a major fund raiser.

Fun Fact: The London Marathon holds the Guinness world record as the largest annual fund raising event in the world. In 2011 the official charity of the London Marathon is Oxfam.

Official website:

Boston Marathon

Yet another leg of the World Marathon Majors series, the Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon. It was inspired by the success of the 1896 Olympic marathon and has been held since 1897.

The event is held on Patriots's Day which is the third Monday of April. The next event is next Monday, April 18, 2011. An average of about 20,000 registered participants compete each year. The race runs through eight Massachusetts cities and towns: Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston. It is an incredibly difficult course of winding roads and difficult hills into the center of Boston with the official finish line at Copley Square. Many people succumb to "Heartbreak Hill", between the 20 and 21 mile marks, it is the last of four Newton hills and coincides with most runner's "hitting the wall".

Fun Fact: Father-son pair, Dick and Rick Hoyt, are staples of the race. Rick has cerebral palsy and it was believed he would never have a normal life and that Rick should be institutionalized. Dick and his wife disagreed and raised him like an ordinary child. Rick has an avid interest in sports and Dick began competing with Rick in a wheelchair. Dick and Rick have now competed in over 1032 endurance events, including 26 appearances at the Boston Marathon.

Official website:

Berlin Marathon

Another marathon in the biennial World Marathon Majors series, the Berlin race draws over 40,000 competitors from over 100 countries. There are usually over one million enthusiastic spectators along the route.

Begun in 1974, the event traditionally takes place on the last weekend in September. It starts and ends near the Brandenburg Gate and crosses through Charlottenburg, the Tiergarten, Mitte, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Neukolln, Schoneberg, Steglitz, Zehlendorf, and then north to the center. The course is known for being flat and even with mild temperatures. The most marathon world records for men and women have been set at the Berlin course.

The next race will be held September 25th, 2011. The event occurs over the entire weekend with inline skaters, power walkers, handbikers, wheelchair riders, and a special children's marathon included.

Fun Fact: Because of the division of city, the marathon was limited to West Berlin before 1990. The race on September 30th, 1990 was the first time athletes were able to cross the Brandenburg Gate of a united city. Many of the runners ran through the gate with tears of joy.

Official website:

Kosice Peace Marathon

This Slovakian marathon is the oldest annual marathon in Europe, and second-oldest in the world, having been held since 1924. The race even continued during 7 years of war from 1938 to 1944. During these years participants bravely ran under the Hungarian flag without participation from foreign nations.

The course is flat, completely asphalted and traffic free. Two laps are made in the historic city center and parks. Runners in the half marathon only do one round. The next race will be help on October 2nd, 2011.

Fun Fact: In-line skaters can also participate if over 16 years of age.

Official website:

Chicago Marathon

Another marathon in the series of the biennial World Marathon Majors series, the Chicago Marathon is one of the five World Marathon Majors. It is among the fastest growing marathon road races in the world. This is because of the fast, flat course. An inordinate amount of elite runners have produced US and world record performances here.

The nest race will be October 9, 2011. The race has been run every year since the September 25, 1977 running of the first race under the original name the Mayor Daley Marathon. The race is now limited to 45,000 runners on a first-come, first-served basis with registration beginning on February 1st. The course is a loop, starting and ending at Grant Park.

Fun Fact: There is no qualifying time to participate in the Chicago Marathon, but only runners who finish within 6.5 hours are officially timed.

Official website:

New York Marathon

The last of the 5 big races making up the World Marathon Majors series,  it is also one of the largest in the world with usually over 40,000 finishers.

The race has been run every year since 1970 and is held the first Sunday of November. The route takes runners through a deceptively hilly course through the five boroughs of New York City. It begins on Staten Island and uses the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as runners completely cover the upper level and the westbound side of the lower level. It then winds through Brooklyn, then across the Pulaski Bridge and onto to Queens. Runners then cross the East River on the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, the Bronx, Harlem, and Central Park. It is at the southern end of the park that runners find the finish line and thousands of cheering spectators.

The next marathon will be run on November 6, 2011. While many people want to run, this race is so popular you might need to win the lottery to run! Participation is chosen largely by a lottery system with runners gaining entry by meeting the qualifications for guaranteed entry or via nomination from an official running club. Officially recognized running clubs are allowed two guaranteed spots for members who did not make it in via lottery.

Fun Fact: The 2010 winner was Gebregziabher Gebremariam of Ethiopia in his first ever marathon at a time of 2:08:14.

Official website:

Alternative Marathons



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Nice article! I ran a marathon in Amsterdam with a group of about 20 people from the States. We had fun traveling together and seeing the sights after recovering from our run. My husband and I would like to run one together and are looking to travel somewhere amazing for the event. I will check out your links. Thanks!

  Misty     13 Apr 2011, 21:01

Excellent article ! [Reply]

I ran the Paris Marathon 4times for a humanitarian aid project association seeking to help people suffering from leukemia (blood cancer). With my runners team, we try to bring them some hope and to deliver a public message through the Marathon course in order to sensiblise people on vital need in blood, bone-marrow transplant & blood platelet.
Everyone can join us - starter or confirmed from everywhere- you just have to be a big heart runner !
If you are interested, have a look at :

We run for
Laurette was the daughter of Stéphanie & Michel Fugain (known as french singer). She died in 2002 at 21 y after 10 months of battle against her leukemia.

EMILIE     17 Apr 2011, 11:25