The following is a guest post by Lara Szypszak, Reference Technician in the Prints & Photographs Division.
One of my favorite feelings is the wave of excitement and anxiety that washes over me as I join the crowds at the starting line of a race. There is something so special about joining a group of willing runners as we prepare to push ourselves and our bodies over many hills and miles.
Running is an industry of its own these days. Both the professional athlete and the average citizen can make their way to the starting line of a marathon that draws mammoth crowds and the attention of the world. Families run together, school students compete against seasoned adults, and, as this picture from the CQ Roll Call Photograph Collection highlights, politicians run alongside members of the community.
The enjoyment generated in the spirit of competition has been captured in images over many decades, allowing us to observe the changes in outfit, the development of the professional sport, and the one thing that remains the same: the sheer joy of running.
Legend has it that the first marathon was staged to honor a Greek messenger who died after running from Marathon to Athens in order to deliver the much anticipated news of a defeat over Persian invaders in 490 B.C. While the Greeks made a tradition of running long before the appearance of spandex, competitive running largely came into its own as a popular hobby during the so-called “marathon craze” in the early twentieth century. Record breaking times at the Boston Marathon in 1907 inspired all ages to take up running. The rivalry between top marathon runners Dorando Pietri of Italy and John Hayes of the United States at the 1908 London Olympics further fueled interest in the sport. The races drew large crowds, as seen in the 1909 photograph below.
Cartoons and drawings from the high energy period of marathon mania also depict the craze.
Pictures show us the pleasure of running and can serve as inspiration to future generations of runners.
- Read newspaper articles about how the Boston Marathon ignited the “marathon craze,” collected in this Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room “Topics in Chronicling America”: Boston Marathon and the Nationwide Marathon Craze (1897-1909).
- See other photos from Dorando’s running career.
- View pictures of track athletics, highlighting the changing designs of track suits and running wear.