Reading comprehension – Marathons around the world – B1/B2

Whether you are a fitness enthusiast or a couch potato, it is hard not to admire people who compete in marathons and recognise the almost epic nature of their achievements. A marathon is a 42.195 km road race that has been part of the modern Olympic Games since their beginning, in 1896. It is inspired by the glorious legend of the Greek messenger Pheidippides, who was sent to Athens to announce that the Persian army had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. As the story goes, he ran the over 40 kilometres from the battlefield to the Athenian assembly without stopping, reported the victory, and then collapsed and died. This is why the organisers of the first edition of the modern Olympics chose this event to increase the popularity of the Games.

After an American athlete won the marathon at the 1908 Olympics, interest in long-distance running started to develop in the US. The first amateur competitions were organised during the Christmas period and on other important public holidays, giving rise to the so-called “marathon mania”, a phenomenon that has grown to incredible proportions, as shown by the fact that in 1980 around 140,000 runners competed in marathons in the US, compared to over 550,000 in 2014.

Nowadays, the total number of marathons run yearly around the world has reached 800. Events are held in every corner of the globe, including Antarctica and the North Pole, also thanks to the help offered by modern technologies such as GPS, and some races are renowned for their historical significance or unusual setting.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest in the world, as its first edition was held in 1897, and it is probably the most famous road racing event globally, with over 30,000 participants and half a million spectators. The competition takes place on the third Monday in April, i.e. Patriots’ Day, which marked the beginning of the American Revolution. The date chosen is no coincidence, as the organisers wanted to draw a connection between their fight for freedom and democracy and the feats of the Ancient Greeks. It started out as a local competition but its fame soon grew and it now attracts participants from far and wide. Until the 1980s, no registration fee was required and no cash prizes were given, just a simple wreath of olive branches. Another remarkable feature of this historic marathon is the fact that some runners participate wearing colourful and sometimes rather bulky costumes. Unfortunately, it is also known for the two bombs set along the course in 2013, which killed three spectators and injured an additional 250 people.

One of the most peculiar marathon races is certainly the Midnight Sun Marathon held in the Norwegian city of Tromsø, 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, in the month of June every year. The start and the finishing line are in the city centre and the over 4,000 participants come from dozens of countries, as far from Scandinavia as South America and New Zealand. The success of this event is due to several factors, among which the stunning beauty of the course, which runs along the water and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the friendliness of the locals, who cheer the participants and offer them snacks while having picnics along the route, as well as the fact that here the sun doesn’t set for over two months during the spell-binding Arctic summer.

Lastly, a marathon not for the faint-hearted. On the third Sunday in May, over 2,500 runners from around 50 nations take on one of the toughest, most demanding courses in the world along one of mankind’s most remarkable monuments, i.e. the Great Wall of China. Three events are available: a full marathon, a half marathon, and an 8.5 km run. The challenges of this race lie mostly in the weather conditions, with temperatures likely to reach 40°C, and the actual course, which includes thousands of steps. The steps vary greatly in height and are often reduced to rubble, with loose stones and missing parts, as they follow the contour of the ground, constantly climbing up and going down. This is why you should think about participating in the epic Great Wall Marathon only if you have previous experience and have trained extensively in harsh conditions.

The Blog – Halloween (A2-B1)

Trick or treat? It’s Halloween today!

By the way, did you know that Halloween is a Celtic festival?

Halloween is a Celtic festival which was born in Europe. It was also celebrated in France, Italy, Swtizerland, Germany, Austria, north of Spain, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, all the countries where the Celts lived. In Ireland Halloween has always been very important and when many Irish people emigrated to the USA in the 1800s because of a terrible famine, they brought their traditions with them to America. The Americans in the States particularly liked the festivity and that is why this European festival is so famous in America too! The Irish used to lit candles in carved turnips to scare the evil spirits away on the night of Halloween but when they went to America they couldn’t find any turnips. However, they found some vegetables that were even better: pumpkins! There are many stories about Halloween, one that many children know is the story of Jack o’ Lantern, which also gave the name to the spooky Halloween lanterns!

Now, you’ve probably been asking: “who were the Celts and why is the festival associated to spooky and eerie things?”

The Iron Age Celts lived in Britain from around 750 BCE to 12 CE. They were the most powerful people in central and northern Europe. There were many groups (clans or tribes) of Celts around Europe.

The Celts believed that the world of the living and the world of the dead could meet during the night of 31st October. It was a night when the spirits of the Otherworld could return to Earth and roam through the villages until dawn. You could meet good spirits but also bad ones. If you didn’t want to be caught by these spirits, you had to dress up like them. That night was called the night of Samhain, which changed its name in All Hallows’ Eve in the Middle Ages and then became Halloween! Hallow is a word in Medieval English meaning Saint: the name All Hallow’s Eve means in fact “the eve of all Saints”. Halloween, or Samhain, was in fact an important festival celebrated by the Celts and it was a moment to celebrate the end of the year (New Year’s Eve) and the beginning of a new one. Everybody celebrated the end of summer and the arrival of winter and ate, sang and danced. There were also religious ceremonies like weddings or rites or purification, and in each village a sacred bonfire was lit.

The ancient Celts divided the year into two halves, the lighter half and the darker half, and held four celebrations (also known as Fire Festivals) to mark the changing seasons:

• Imbolc – celebrated halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox (1st February)
• Beltane – halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice (1st May)
• Lughnasadh – halfway between the summer solstice and fall equinox (1st August)
• Samhain – halfway between the fall equinox and winter solstice (1st November)
Of these four sacred times, Samhain was perhaps the most significant as it is thought to have represented the Celtic New Year. For the ancient Celts, time began in darkness, with each 24-hour day commencing at dusk. At the same time, the new year began with the arrival of darkness (winter). Ushering in the darker half of the year, Samhain represented the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

Before we go trick-or-treating, here are some fun facts about Halloween!

Samhain is also the modern Irish word for the month of November.

The colours of Halloween are orange and black. Orange represents the harvest (the fruit and vegetables harvested at the end of summer) and black represents death.

Some popular activities of Halloween include: the game bobbing for apples, going from house to house in costumes to ask for candies (and to play a trick to the owner of the house if you don’t get anything), divination games and telling ghost stories or watching horror films.

Many elements of fairy tales, fantasy stories and fables come from Celtic myths and folklore.

Put on your costume and let’s carve a pumpkin, it’s time to party! Happy spooky Halloween!

The Blog – Autumn has arrived (A1/A2)

Autumn has arrived

It’s October now and we’re in Autumn.

The days are shorter and colder. It’s also started to rain. We’re going to school and summer is over. It really looks sad, but autumn is great fun too! There are a lot of nice activities to do!

What can you do in autumn?

Well, in autumn you can do a lot of funny things: for example, you can go leaf-peeping! To peep is to look, and a leaf is the flat part of a plant growing on a branch. Some leaves turn red, orange or yellow in autumn and the landscape becomes wonderful! When you go leaf-peeping, you walk in the woods and look at the bright colours of the leaves. 

You can also look for chestnuts or mushrooms and then you can make some delicious food. 

What can you make with chestnuts?

You can bake a cake, or you can cook chestnuts with milk, or… you can roast them! Roasted chestnuts on the fire are delicious and fun! When the chestnuts get too hot, they pop!

Mushrooms are excellent too! Have you tried fried mushrooms? Or mushroom risotto? Yummy!

There is also another important vegetable in autumn: the pumpkin. Pumpkins are small or large, round or long, orange or yellow, and there are so many types! With pumpkins you can make pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie and you can carve them to create a Jack-o-Lantern for Halloween!

Next time, we’re going to talk about Halloween, but now let’s go into the kitchen! We need to cook all this delicious food!