In Ancient Greece, the history of running can be traced back to 776
Running was important to members of ancient Greek society, and is
consistently highlighted in documents referencing the Olympic Games.
Olympic Games hosted a large variety of running events, each with
their own set of rules. The ancient
Greeks developed difficult
training programs with specialized trainers in preparation for the
Games. The training and competitive attitude of Greek athletes gives
insight into how scientifically advanced
Greece was for the time
The people of
Greece generally enjoyed sporting events, particularly
foot racing, and wealthy admirers would often give large gifts to
successful athletes. Though foot races were
physically challenging, if successful, athletes could become very
wealthy. The ancient
Greeks developed running as a
sport into a sophisticated field of science and philosophy.[citation
In the ancient sources, training is often discussed. However, details
about how the training of runners compared to the training of other
types of athletes are not clearly addressed. In ancient Greece,
athletes might not have been as specialized as they are
today. It is likely that a single athlete would have
trained for, and competed in, many different events resulting in less
distinction being drawn between training for different
events. Many philosophers had ideas about how
athletes should train, which provides historians with numerous
insights. For example,
Plato argued that the whole body should be
trained to increase strength and speed for running and wrestling
(Stefanović et al. 113). The lengths and types of foot races are
widely written. Also discussed in a variety of sources is the use of
music in athletic training, and the diet of athletes.
1 Early Olympic Games
2 Types of foot races
3.1 Trainers and philosophers
3.3 Age categories
4 Effects of ancient Olympics on the modern world
Early Olympic Games
The Death of Ladas, The Greek Runner, Who Died When Receiving The
Crown Of Victory In The Temple Of Olympia. George Murray, 1899.
Olympic Games involved well trained warriors competing in
a variety of events. The warriors did not have any specialized
training for the Olympics. Each poleis in ancient
Greece had its own
training program for soldiers, which was the only preparation they
had. However, to train for war, the ancient
Greeks would exercise the
whole body, which is a principle that many later ancient Greek
athletes lived by. The first Olympians believed that in order to have
a harmonious body, the entire body must be trained, which would result
in fierce warriors and strong athletes.
Aristotle later said that the
training of the whole body infuses it with courage (Stefanović et al.
Types of foot races
There were many lengths and types of foot races in ancient Greece. The
standard distance that these races were measured in was the stade
(where one stadia is approximately 185 meters). The one-stade race was
the most prestigious; the mythical founder of the
Olympic Games could
allegedly run it in one breath. Other running events included a
two-stade race, and the Dolichos, which was a long-distance race that
was 20 or 24 stades long, or about two and a half miles. For races
longer than one stade, runners would have to turn 180 degrees around a
post at each of the two ends of the stadium (Flaceliere 106).
In the Olympics, there was a race in armor, the Hoplitodromos, which
reflected the games' origins as a means of training for warfare. The
torch-relay race was added to entertain the crowds. This event was run
the night before the ancient
Olympic Games began (Olympic
Sports - Foot Races). Today we honor this tradition with the
Olympic torch. One event that was not ever in the ancient Olympic
Games is the marathon. What is called a marathon today gets its name
from the 280-mile (451 km) distance covered by the runner
Pheidippides over the course of three to four days from
Sparta and then back to
Marathon in 490 BCE. He was sent to gain the
help of the Spartans against the attack of the Persian army in
Marathon. In 1896, at the first modern Olympics, the very first
modern-day marathon was run. To honor the history of Greek running,
Greece chose a course that would mimic the route run by Pheidippides.
The race course covered 24.85 miles (40.0 km). The route started
at a bridge in the town of
Marathon and ended in the Olympic stadium
reference perseus project. Another event in the ancient Olympic Games
was the pentathlon. The pentathlon was a combination of five events:
discus, javelin, jumping, running and wrestling. This race reflected
the ancient Greek belief that one’s body should be strong as a whole
and not just in one area.
Aristotle describes a man’s ultimate
physical beauty as a body capable of enduring all challenges. This is
why he viewed the athletes in the pentathlon as the most beautiful of
them all.
Greece developed, sports also developed. Athletics in
Greece became a very scientific and philosophical field of
study and practice. Many philosophers had their own ideas about how
athletes should train. By the fourth century BCE, sports in ancient
Greece became so competitive and advanced that specialized coaches
developed for each particular sport. These coaches were known as
gymnastis. Along with specialized coaches, a new system of training
was developed -- the tetras. This was a four-day cycle of varying
training. The tetras had the following structure:
Day One - the day of preparations. It consisted of toning and short,
Day Two - the day of intensity. It involved the athlete going through
long, strenuous exercises.
Day Three - the day of resting. On this day athletes would do short
mild workouts and primarily rest.
Day Four - the day of medium intensity. Athletes mainly practiced
wrestling on this day, focusing more on tactics than strength.
This was the basic training structure practiced throughout ancient
Greece. In order to create the optimal training structure for any
given day, however, the trainers would consider many factors such as
the place, the time, upcoming events, and the athlete’s physical and
mental condition. The training also differed depending on whether it
was done indoors or outdoors. Based on these factors, the trainer
would adjust the workout (Stefanović et al. 113).
Trainers and philosophers
Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, believed that athletes who
walked after exercising would have a stronger and more rested body.
Because of his beliefs, ancient Greek athletes ended each workout with
a low-intensity cool down.
Aristotle observed that athletes who have a
rest day should not rest completely but do a mild, low-intensity
workout instead. These practices are still in use today because of how
well-founded the early principles had been (Stefanović et al. 112).
Greeks also valued rest after exercising. After a workout,
athletes used their aryballos, a special bottle of oil, and a strigil,
which is a curved stick. They would rub the oil on their skin and then
scrape it off using the strigil. In this way, they would clean
Olympic Games 5). After exercising, they also often
had a bath and a massage. Massages would consist of gentle movements
and stretching of their arms and legs (Stefanović et al. 112).
Trainers and philosophers had many ideas about specific ways of
training. One practice that developed had athletes exercise with
3-pound (1.4 kg) weights in each hand. This practice helped
improve arm strength, which is beneficial for running, throwing the
javelin, swimming, and martial arts. Lucian, an ancient Greek
philosopher, postulated another principle. He believed athletes should
always train in "exuberated conditions." His idea was that training
should take place outdoors in the sun every day of the year. He
thought that the body should be beautiful, tanned, and lean to perform
its best. During workouts, he believed athletes should work as hard as
possible. When training in the gymnasium, his idea was that one should
not run or exercise on the stone floor but on sand instead to add
difficulty. An exercise he invented involved a long jump where
athletes would run and jump high into the air wearing weighted
suspenders. Another exercise he developed was for athletes to jump
over hurdles with lead weights in their hands (Stefanović et al.
In ancient Greece, a group of athletes and coaches who trained
together would have been referred to as a tribe. In a single tribe,
there may have been many athletes who trained in the same sport or
different sports. A certain length of time before the Olympic Games, a
coach would be selected for each event that the tribe wanted to
compete in. For instance, the coach for the relay race with lit
torches would be selected. He would then decide which athletes in his
tribe would be the best suited for that event, and, therefore, they
would be chosen to compete. If more than one coach selected a
particular athlete, then that athlete would compete in multiple events
(Stefanović et al.113).
Greeks divided athletes into three age categories, similar
to what is done today. Each age category would have its separate set
of coaches. The training programs for each age level varied, growing
increasingly strenuous the older the athletes were. Certain coaches
were selected to scout for young boys who looked particularly strong
and fit. These boys would be selected to start training with the young
men as soon as they were old enough (Stefanović et al.113).
Along with developing training programs and stretching exercises, the
Greeks also introduced special diets to athletes. Most people
Greece only ate meat during religious festivals. Only the
rich could have afforded it on a regular basis, but meat was still
just a minor part of their diet. Fruits, vegetables, and grains grew
very well in
Greece and were the primary part of everyone's diet up
until fifth century BCE. At that time, trainers recognized that meat
was key in building muscle. At this same point in history, sports were
becoming increasingly popular and athletes were given large gifts by
rich admirers. Because of these gifts, athletes were able to afford
lots of meat. Today, scientific advancements allow trainers to
prescribe specific diets to athletes, but, even in ancient times
without modern scientific knowledge, the
Greeks were able to recognize
food's beneficial effects on an athlete's diet (Briers 12-13).
Greeks believed that training and music should be experienced
together because they both pleased man’s spirit.
Music was used both
in training and in competition. Each gymnasium had at least one aulos
player. The aulos player’s job was to produce rhythmical music in
order to help the athletes, particularly when warming up. The athletes
were supposed to focus primarily on accurately performing the
exercises according to their trainer’s advice; however, music was a
key part of their warm up (Stefanović et al.112).
Although many people in ancient
Greece liked sports, not all
philosophers thought that intense training was good. Aristotle
believed that fitness should be a part of children's education, but
that over-training was bad. In ancient Greece, there were 4 main parts
to education: reading, writing, gymnastic exercises, and music.
Aristotle thought that an appropriate amount of exercise was a key
part of education; however, he recognized how much some athletes
Aristotle referred to the excessive training that many
competitive athletes did as “evil” (Stefanović et al. 113).
Effects of ancient Olympics on the modern world
Greeks pioneered athletics thousands of years ago, with
trial and error as their only method for gaining knowledge. With pure
reason, men like Hippocrates, Aristotle, and
Plato developed such
advanced ideas that the modern world has been able to make only some
significant advancements. These ancient Greek philosophers postulated
many ideas on how to train that are now the basis of many modern
athletic events. Trainers also made many advancements such as their
discovery that meat was beneficial for building muscle. Not only did
Greeks develop the theory of how to train, but they
founded the prestigious Olympic Games. The ancient
Olympic Games were
ended in 393 CE by
Theodosius I while trying to make
state religion (Craig 87). Today the
Olympic Games have been restored
with over 12,000 athletes who compete at the Summer and Winter
Olympics in 31 different sports and nearly 400 events (Craig 102).
   
^ Grogan, R. (1981). "Run, Philippides, Run! The Story of the Battle
of Marathon". Brit. J. Sports Med. 15 (3): 186–189.
^ Audrey Briers; Ashmolean Museum. Sporting success in ancient Greece
and Rome. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum; 1994 [cited September 22, 2011].
^ Steve Craig. Sports and games of the ancients. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press; 2002 [cited September 22, 2011].
^ Robert Flacelière. Daily life in
Greece at the time of Pericles.
New York: Macmillan; 1965 [cited September 22, 2011].
^ Stefanović, Đ., T. Ioannidis, and M. Kariofu. "Syncretism of
coaching science in ancient
Greece and modern times." Serbian journal
of sports sciences 2.1–4 (2008): 111–121 [cited September 22,
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