Athens, Sunday 10/11/2013
5.25 : I wake up minutes before my alarm clock finally sounds. It’s dark outside. I reach for my watch and get up, rather unwillingly. I feel neither refreshed nor relaxed. I shouldn’t have overdone it at the Expo yesterday. Standing and browsing the stands and strolling later, around the centre of Athens, had a negative impact to my body. The uncomfortable bed of the hotel did not help either. Things could have been worse. Most of my fellow runners at the hotel have had a 10 hour bus ride on top of the above.
5.30 : I hear the low sound of my alarm clock. I guess I have to stop the useless review on yesterdays events. I dress up and head to the breakfast buffet.
5.50 : Luckily for my stomach, the buffet is open. Cereal, oatmeal, honey, fruits and black coffee to wake me up. I stayed away from coffee for more than a week, just to maximise it’s effect today. A group of French runners is winning a victorious battle over the bread and jam. Each runner and a fuelling strategy. I thank the still sleepy but nevertheless very polite waiter and I head to the hotel lobby.
6.20 : We leave the hotel with my good friend and fellow runner Dimitris to meet the others at the buses. On our way we stop yet for another espresso at “Everest”, a fast food shop at Syndagma Sq. It’s packed with people. Queues at both cashiers. Half of the people here are last night’s party animals. The other half is a bunch of lunatics ready to run 42+ Km (26.2 miles). For some the party is over. For others it’s about to start.
6.35 : Our bus leaves for Marathon (yes it is an actual city, where it all began). The atmosphere at the bus is fantastic. The more experienced runners offer valuable advice for the difficult parts of the race and make jokes for their ability to finish (yeah right…). “The Athens Classical Marathon is a difficult marathon. Both words have their meaning” Dimitris had told me yesterday. I think about those words as I see the steep ascend that we’ll have to run and the sun that is rising slowly from the horizon. It’s going to be a hot day.
7.20 : Marathon. The bus unloads us about a mile away. More walking. A colourful parade has filled the street. Joy is in abundance here.
7.30 : We reach the “valley of the loos” as Dimitris rather colourfully put it. Patiently we wait our turn for a brief visit to the green boxes. Hopefully, we won’t be having any such further needs for at least a few hours.
7.50 : The voice from the speakers calls us to get on with our preparations and leave our bags and clothes to the DHL trucks, that will carry them back to Athens. Easier said than done, with about 10.000 runners trying to do exactly the same thing.
8.50: We are taking our positions to our block. It’s a wave start race. First the elites (those Kenyans and their likes that run like hell), then the other true athletes and then the rest of us, starting from the fastest. We are located somewhere in the middle (more to the end I think). The sun is burning us already, not a single cloud in the sky.
9.07 : We hear the sound of the horn (or something like it) and we start moving. We are trying to find our pace without rushing on. At this point, it’s so crowded that even if you want you can’t go any faster. A Korean guy overruns me. He is dressed in a traditional suit, carrying small flags in sticks attached to his back. Not exactly the appropriate gear for such a race.
9.38 : I run the first miles without difficulties (as is usually the case). We are approaching the Marathon monument. The DJs are on their decks with power music. People are welcoming us offering little olive branches.
10.05 : Nea Makri. I’m approaching the first 10K. The sun is hot alright. Feels like summer. Ok, I know that we are in Greece but it’s November for heavens sake. Wet sponges offer some comfort, but what’s really refreshing is emptying a bottle of water on your head (as long as it is water and not any isotonic, sugary drink that will attract all the flies of the region).
11.00: I’m reaching the halfway point, somewhere at Pikermi. Dimitris runs a few km in front of me (he is faster). I realise that I have 15+ ascending kilometers and the sun is far from pleasant at this situation. My stomach is killing me. I have already consumed a few gels but I still feel hungry. I must have done something terribly wrong with my carbo fuelling plan the last few days before the marathon and trust me it wasn’t the quantity.
11.20 : Less than half remains. My knees are hurting, my feet toes, my legs, my back. There is not a chance to go through it running. I see some people already walking. Good, I won’t be the only one. Nevertheless, I keep running.
11.45 : This hilly road is never-ending. I’ve lost count of the distance. The female voice from my iphone is talking to me, but who is listening. I’m looking for isotonic drinks and bananas at the stops, like water in the desert. I have also lost count of the gels. My quadriceps are burning, my calfs also. I see the sign with number 25 (15,5 Mile). It must be another 5 or 6 difficult kilometers (3-4 miles). A father pushing the wheelchair of his handicapped son overruns me. I feel tears in my eyes and I dry them with deep breaths. No walking for the time being. I run by their side.
12.00 : I reach Pallini. We cross villages and places that I only know by their name, but in every water station, in every corner, in every neighbourhood people are out applauding and cheering. They call our names and cheer us, as if they are our close friends. Children rise their little hands for high-fives. A French woman shouts “Courage!”
12.20 : I see a Japanese gentleman running with his black suit (no briefcase?). He must feel the heat harder that me. I’m at the last ascend (somewhere at the 30-31 Km or 18.6 miles) and the cramps are more persistent. I turn into power walking mode. I see 2 girls holding signs “YOUR LEGS FORGIVE YOU”, “IN OUR MINDS YOU ARE ALL KENYANS”. I salute them and resume my running mode.
12.40 : Athens already. I reach Mesogeion Str. Spectators are more and more. Less than 10K to finish. I proceed with slow but steady pace and I try to make the best from every water point. Small sips of Isotonic drinks and water in the head. I ask for the time (the sun is so strong that I can’t see anything on my iphone). It’s a quarter to one. I’ll probably make it for the sub 4.30 I was hoping, although I’m not exactly sure about my calculations. Who cares now…
13.22 : I see the tunnel of Katehaki str. and I hear drums. A big sign is hanging from the bridge, “KEEP THE PACE” it says, and as soon as I approach the drums fill in the space. I’ll keep the pace, I’ll keep the rhythm. Once more I’m lost in time, but I know that I’m reaching the end. I hear the voice from my smartphone saying that I run for 4 hours and 50 minutes. Another 3+ kilometers. There’s no way I’ll make it under 5.00 hours. So much for my running ambitions. I loose hope, I thought I was quite close.
13.30 : I feel I’m reaching the finish line, but I can’t see it. Less than 2km more. My iphone again: Running time 4 hours and 22 minutes. So I was wrong before. It must have been 4.15 and not 4.50 what I heard. The people shout “Go boys, you are at the end”.
13.35 : Herodou Attikou. It’s the road that leads to the stadium. Another 250m. I loosen my face. I must appear strong and relaxed at the finish photos. After all it’s all about looking good.
13:40 : The entrance to the ancient stadium is an experience out of the ordinary. I cross the finish line. Now I feel quite strong to continue (the mind is playing games with the body). I see runners resting and relaxing everywhere outside. Laughter, hugs, kisses. The volunteers congratulate us and we congratulate one another. I guess we all won today.
That was our party. Tomorrow we’ll have our hangover. Bodies will hurt, nails will be black.
By the middle of the week every pain will be forgotten (even those persistent and still remaining) and we’ll look the calendars for our next party, our next race.
- 31st Athens Classic Marathon: The 2,500 Years Authentic Marathon Course (aceofgreece.wordpress.com)
- “The struggle to finish, the struggle to win, we are all one.” (jbryer6.wordpress.com)