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Mount Pentelicus stands between Marathon and Athens, which means that if Philippides actually made his famous run after the battle, he had to run around the mountain, either to the north or to the south. The latter and more obvious route matches almost exactly the modern Marathon-Athens highway, which follows the lay of the land southwards from Marathon Bay and along the coast, then takes a gentle but protracted climb westwards towards the eastern approach to Athens, between the foothills of Mounts Hymettus and Penteli, and then gently downhill to Athens proper. This route, as it existed when the Olympics were revived in 1896, was approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) long, and this was the approximate distance originally used for marathon races. However, there have been suggestions that Philippides might have followed another route: a westward climb along the eastern and northern slopes of Mount Penteli to the pass of Dionysos, and then a straight southward downhill path to Athens. This route is considerably shorter, 35 kilometres (22 mi), but includes a very steep initial climb of more than 5 kilometres (3. 1 mi).

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