Pheidippides, the legend goes, ran some 41.3km following the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, all the way back to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians. "Rejoice! We conquer!" he shouted, then dropped dead.
So awesome was Pheidippides' feat that today it's emulated in countries the world over. Here in Taiwan, the Taroko Marathon is set to run tomorrow, with thousands of athletes competing for hundreds of thousands in cash prizes. The race starts at 7am and the fastest runners are expected to finish the 42.195km course in a little over two hours.
There will also be a half marathon (21km) and a 5km fun run. While the registration deadline for the longer races has passed, the folks at the Chinese Taipei Road Running Association (CTRRA), who are organizing the event, said that would-be fun runners can sign up the day of the event for NT$300.
"We're limiting the number of marathoners to 5,000 this year to help with crowd control," said a CTRRA staffer. She said that in 2002 the event drew some 12,000 participants and, with their friends and families standing roadside, the race course was too congested.
Exacerbating the problem that year was the fact that the races all started from the same place. Distance runners were forced weave through crowds of people leisurely strolling the fun run.
"We've fixed that this year by putting the start of the various races at different locations," the staffer said. "Marathon and half-marathon runners will start at the entrance to the cross-island highway. Fun runners will start from the Jinwen bridge near Eternal Spring shrine, finishing at the park headquarters and staying out of the way of the faster distance runners.
"We like to think of it as the most beautiful marathon in the world," she said. "And it's also the only one we know of that is run in a gorge. One of the best ways to enjoy Taroko Gorge is by running or walking the Central Cross-Island Highway."
Both male and female winners of the full marathon will receive NT$80,000. The runner-up will get NT$60,000 and so on down to the 10th place finisher, who will receive NT$5,000. Be warned: If you you're not a Taiwan national, you'll be taxed 20 percent of your winnings.
This year's route will be similar to those run in past years. Runners will start at the eastern gate of the Central Cross-Island Highway, run to the Asia Cement factory, back to the Cross-Island Highway to Tienhsiang and downhill -- thankfully -- to the headquarters of Taroko Park. If all goes well, everyone will conquer the route victoriously and no one will drop dead.
If you're still not out of steam after this weekend's event, or if you can' t make it down to Taroko you can still run in the Taipei Marathon, starting on the steps of City Hall on Dec. 19.
Deadline for entry is Thursday, Nov. 11. Call CTRRA at (02) 2585 5659 for more information, or visit their offices in the Chungshan Soccer Stadium at 1, Yumen St, in Taipei (
In addition to the full marathon, there will be a half marathon, a 9km run and a 3km fun run. Cash prizes, trophies and a lucky draw are on offer for all participants and serious prizes for the pros. Set a new course record (2:14 for males and 2:35 for females) and win NT$1 million.