Thursday, November 19, 2020
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Who are the gods of running?

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Olivia Higginson
Olivia Higginson
Olivia can usually be found running around the East Devon countryside with her fellow club runners. She has raced all distances from 5K to 50K, but her favourite distance is a half-marathon. Her dream would be to run in races around the world. Olivia is also a Sports Therapist, assisting runners to keep on running.

Sometimes a question pops into your mind and leads you down a rabbit hole of Google searching! We’ve all done it. For Olivia, her quest for knowledge came while reading a book, and led her to ask: ‘Who are the gods of running?’ Turns out that in myth and legend there are two running gods… both of which she’d never heard of.

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I’m currently enjoying reading The Way of the Runner: A journey into the obsessive world of Japanese running. It follows the writer Adharanand Finn and his six-month stay in Japan researching what makes Japanese marathon runners the third best in the world after Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.

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As part of his research, Adharanand tries to get to speak to the running monks who run 1000 marathons in 1000 days as part of their training. After speaking to a priest, the priest points out the statue of Idaten, who is the Japanese God of Running.

This got me thinking about how many running gods there are in the world of religion or mythology. After doing some searching, I only found one other god, Atalanta.


Idaten – one of the running gods

Idaten is a Buddhist deity who is the protector of monasteries and known for his miraculous speed. His name is also used as a nickname for people who love to run, which probably comes from the Japanese expression Ida-ten hashiri, which means to run like the wind.

In folklore, it’s said that Idaten chased down speedy demons and recovered sacred relics. This comes from the reading about when Buddha entered nirvana a demon stole a tooth of the cadaver and escaped at speed. Idaten witnessed this and followed the demon over mountains and across rivers, until he captured the demon and recovered the relic.


Atalanta – one of the running gods

Atalanta is the Greek goddess of running; she was a swift-footed huntress. She was abandoned in a forest by her father who was disappointed that she wasn’t a boy. When it came to marriage, Atalanta decided that all her suitors should have to beat her in a footrace. Those who failed, she’d kill at the hand of a spear.

Atalanta fell in love with Hippomenes, however he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to beat her. He asked the goddess of sexual love and beauty, Aphrodite, for help. She gave him three golden apples of the Hesperides to drop. During the footrace, Hippomenes dropped the apples and Atalanta stopped to pick them up, giving Hippomenes the chance to overtake her and win the race.

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They married and had a son called Parthenopaeus. However, they made love in a scared temple and an irate deity turned them into lions. In mythology it’s believed that having been turned in to lions they were unable to mate with each other. This meant that they were separated forever.

Modern ‘gods’ of running

These are gods steeped in history and mythology, but do we have running gods of the modern era? Those priests who complete the 1000 marathons in 1000 days have to be contenders! And, we certainly have plenty of runners to look up to, and who have inspired and motivated runners past and present.

Runners of the last 100 years who come to mind include Roger Bannister, Eliud Kipchoge, Kilian Jornet, Courtney Dauwalter, Kathrine Switzer and Jo Pavey. My lovely mother-in-law has given her running god and that is Keino Kipchoge, who is no relation to Eliud Kipchoge! She remembers him being a hero runner and a great statesman for Kenyan running while she was a child growing up in Kenya.

Who would be on your list of modern running gods? We’d love to hear, so please put your suggestions in the comments section below!

Image credits

Atalanta image
Idaten image
Main photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

The Way of the Runner: A journey into the obsessive world of Japanese running
  • Finn, Adharanand (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
Running with the Kenyans: Discovering the secrets of the fastest people on earth
  • Finn, Adharanand (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance
  • Finn, Adharanand (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update on 2020-11-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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