Background and Commentary

The song ‘is about the triumph of time and a kind of message to myself, because I think life is too short for all the things that I want to do. There’s a self-admonition saying that life is long enough. You can do a lot, just don’t burn yourself out too fast trying to do everything at once. ‘Marathon’ is a song about individual goals and trying to achieve them. And it’s also about the old Chinese proverb: ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.'” (Canadian Composer)—Neil in Merely Players

“The song rejects the ‘live fast, die early’ model of life so inexplicably popular in some quarters. If life were intended as a sprint, fine; a short life, shooting your wad as fast as you can, would be the way to do it. But it is not. Life is a long-distance run, and if you end it fast, it’s only because you paced yourself poorly and dropped out somewhere along the way.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

Neil says the song was partly inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s motto, “First, one must last ” (to be distinguished from Jack London’s motto, which was “I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” In a March 2013 blog post, Neil writes, “Ernest Hemingway . . . quoted a motto from a statue of one of Napoleon’s generals, “Il faut d’abord durer”—“First one must last.” Or, the shorter version I prefer, “At first, to last.” (That was one inspiration for the Rush song, “Marathon.”)”

“‘Heartbreak Hill’ is a runner’s term describing that place in the marathon where a runner needs a second wind to finish. The play on words in the line “first you’ve got to last’ (perfect for the space needed before the chorus starts again) came from Hemingway, who, in turn, adopted it from a motto used by one of Napoleon’s marshals.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The choir at the end of the piece was recorded in London. “At the same time [that we recorded the orchestra bits at Abbey Road Studios in London], we recorded a choir for ‘Marathon,’ and then we went to this church in another part of London where this really marvelous choir was singing, and it was a really great sounding room, and that’s why Peter [Collins, the producer of Power Windows] wanted to record them in that room.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure


It’s not how fast you can go
The force goes into the flow
If you pick up the beat
You can forget about the heat
More than just survival
More than just a flash
More than just a dotted line
More than just a dash

It’s a test of ultimate will
The heartbreak climb uphill
Got to pick up the pace
If you want to stay in the race
More than just blind ambition
More than just simple greed
More than just a finish line
Must feed this burning need
In the long run

From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes
One moment’s high, and glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades in the summer sky

Your meters may overload
You can rest at the side of the road
You can miss a stride
But nobody gets a free ride

More than high performance
More than just a spark
More than just the bottom line
Or a lucky shot in the dark
In the long run


You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don’t burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you’ve got to last…



By Derek Linklater (

Excerpt from Fretplay.

Note: I did not transcribe the solo for Marathon, I’ll leave that to you die-hard rush fans. The ‘Alex Lifeson’ Sound: I have managed to re-create (sort of) the sound that Alex uses on Marathon. Use a ballsey heavy distortion, chorus (using a triangle wave-form if you can), and either a bit of delay or reverb to get that ‘studio’ sound.

Intro Riff:


It’s not how fast you can go, the …

If you pick up the beat, ….

[play 1st half of intro riff]
More than just ….

More than just a dash…

[play verse]
It’s a test of …

[play 1st half of intro riff]
More than blind ….

Must feed this burning need…

Chorus #1 & #3:

B E F# E
From first to last, the peak is ….

Abm F#
always fires the light …

B E F# E
One moment time, and glory ….

E E E E F# F# F#
Lightning, that flashes and ….

[play 1st half of intro riff]

[play verse chords]
Your meters may …..

[play 1st half of intro rif]
More than high ….

or a lucky shot in the ….

[play chorus]



For complete tab, go to Fretplay.


“Marathon” guitar cover

“Marathon” bass cover

“Marathon” drum cover

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~ by rvkeeper on February 7, 2011.

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