2010 marks the 2,500th anniversary of the marathon. In 490 BC, undermanned Greek forces defeated the Persians, arguably the world's greatest army. According to legend, an Athenian named Pheidippides ran the 40 kilometers (24.85 miles) from the Greek city of Marathon to Athens to announce the unlikely victory, after which he immediately collapsed and died [source: AIMS]. Pheidippides' epic run was repeated at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, where a Greek runner rightfully took the gold.
Two-and-a-half millennia after the first unofficial marathon, long-distance running has never been more popular. In 2009, the New York Marathon -- now measuring the standard 42.195 kilometers, or 26.2 miles -- opened slots to more than 43,000 participants. The 2010 London Marathon received 120,000 applications in three days for only 35,000 spots in the race [source: Gibson]. Incredibly, hardly any of the intrepid racers collapsed and died.
The Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) is an organization of over 300 member races in 90 countries dedicated to promoting long-distance running worldwide. Through its Web site, its quarterly magazine Distance Running and its many promotional efforts, AIMS endorses and advertises marathons, half-marathons, 5Ks, 10Ks and "fun runs" around the world to serve both local and traveling "destination" runners.
According to a nonscientific survey of running magazines and Web sites, destination running is a hot hobby among the marathon set, which is increasingly educated, wealthy and female. Back in 1980, only 10 percent of U.S. marathoners were women. By 2009, that number had risen to 41 percent [source: Running USA]. Nearly half of U.S. marathoners of both sexes are also over the age of 40. These runners see destination races as the ideal training motivator and a perfect excuse for a family vacation to scenic and often exotic locales [source: Bakoulis]. Who wouldn't be lured by a June "Santa Claus" marathon in Finland where participants cross the Arctic Circle under a midnight sun?
In a world that spends more than $5 billion annually on running shoes, AIMS standardizes, certifies and promotes competitive road races around the globe. Keep reading to learn more about the mission of AIMS and how to become a member.