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Running in Ancient Greece

In Ancient Greece, the history of running can be traced back to 776 BC. Running was important to members of ancient Greek society, and is consistently highlighted in documents referencing the Olympic Games. The 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 period.

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.

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.

The earliest 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. 113).

  • Day One - the day of preparations. It consisted of toning and short, high-intensity workouts.
  • 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.


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