Most of us are familiar with the history of the marathon. For those of you who aren’t, it goes something like this: Legend has it that there was a chap tons of years ago who had to deliver a message about winning a war or something. They didn’t have Skype, so he had to run all the way to deliver the message. He had to run – he couldn’t just walk because either it was a very urgent message or he was a bloody show-off. I’m not sure which. I’m also not sure why he didn’t use a horse. Everyone had a horse in the olden days. Anyway, he ran 24-and-a-bit miles, delivered the message and then promptly dropped down dead. Everyone thought they’d honour him by calling it “The Marathon” and encouraging other people to run the same distance, which is a bit like organising a funeral for someone who’s been killed by an arrow and then having a blindfolded archery contest at the wake. Then at the 1908 Olympics, the King of England added another mile-and-a-bit to the route, just to take the runners around the outside of his rose bushes rather than having them trample straight through them, and that gave us the 26.2 mile marathon we all know today.
Now, you probably think that the half marathon simply came about by halving the distance of the marathon. Well you’re wrong.
In the summer of 1973, Alf Marathon, a rabbit farmer from Frinton-on-Sea, set out to pick up a set of golf clubs he’d bought on eBay. It’s worth pointing out that the eBay of 1973 was pretty much as it is today, but with less internets and more hastily-drawn pictures of stuff you didn’t want any more, sent by carrier pigeon to your cousin Nigel in the next village along. In his youth, Alf had been extremely fit and had even represented his school in the 200m three-legged hurdles (the 1950 inter-county finals of which had seen over 100 fatalities). These days though, Alf was a little out of shape; modern nutritionists might suggest that this was at least partly due to his insistence on washing every days breakfast down with four pints of neat pancake batter. Alf had barely started his journey that day, when he saw something that made his blood run cold. A group of local schoolchildren on a daytrip to the local petting zoo had inexplicably found themselves face-to-face with a full-grown grizzly bear.
Full-grown and angry.
Without a moments thought for his own safety, Alf leapt into action, luring the ursine attacker away from its trembling prey by pelting it with rocks while shouting “CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, YOU BIG FURRY W%@&ER”. His plan worked perfectly, and the bear lurched towards him, giving the children a chance to scramble towards the safety of the visitor centre.
And now Alf was running; running for his life. The bear chased Alf precisely 41 times around the petting zoo, each lap being 0.32 gruelling miles. Fortunately for Alf, his Fiat-Punto-sized nemesis collapsed with exhaustion and died promptly at the end of the 41st lap. Unfortunately for Alf, the exact place the bear chose to collapse with exhaustion and die was directly on top of a briefly triumphant Alf Marathon.
13.1 tragic miles.
Every year from then, on that very day, local athletes would gather together to recreate that fateful chase. Sometimes a local celebrity would dress up as the bear. Paul Daniels was particularly good. Over the years it blossomed into a hugely popular running event, with similar races popping up all over the world. It became known as the “Alf Marathon Versus The Bear memorial marathon”, but over time was shortened simply to “The Alf Marathon”, and is now more commonly known as “the Half Marathon”.
So there it is. The totally true and accurate history of the Half Marathon. Don’t bother checking.
PS: if you’re experiencing a feeling of déjà vu, it’s because this was recently featured as a guest post on the blog of my Reading HM team-mate Jen (eclecticcake.blogspot.co.uk). I just put it on here because I’m a bit of a completeness-freak