It’s all Darren’s fault. It’s okay though, he won’t read this as he doesn’t know I have a blog 😉
He’d done this one before and was going back. It sounded fun and so quite a few of us joined the party. Without exception everyone loved it.
So Friday evening I find myself in a cab with Darren and Jen heading towards Athens. They’d kindly agreed to allow me to share the trip to the capital from the airport as we were on the same flight. My hotel was right by Syntagma Square, ideally placed for the buses to the start and only a short walk from the finish too.
Some of the others had great views, stretching over the Athens rooftops towards the Acropolis. Lewis was surround by 24 hour Italian Restaurants and Strip Clubs.
Me? I had this.
But I was at the end of the corridor and, crucially, it was quiet. Plus, unlike Bristol, I had a lift (does happy dance).
Pre-race Routine – Wine, Beer. Standard
Friday night everyone was ensconced in their hotels and apartments so I wandered off to Plaka to find food and ended up in a nice little restaurant called Opus Palia. Full of locals, great food, simple – just my thing.
On Saturday I met up with Lewis and we caught a cab to the Expo. Glad we went early as it was bad enough getting from the number pick up to the t-shirt pick up early on. If I didn’t have a tee to pick up it would have been simple, in and out in minutes. Unfortunately like all expo’s they plan the exit in an Ikea styly so it takes much longer than necessary. Great if you love that sort of thing, sheer hell if you don’t.
Having done the necessary we got another cab (cough – rip-off, €20 when the trip there was €6) back to town and stopped for a beer or two waiting for everyone to decide where to meet for lunch and eventually ended up meeting Darren and Jen at a restaurant in a little harbour. Very pleasant way to spend the afternoon, grazing on seafood, looking out at the harbour.
Returned to the hotel for an early night but after a bath felt a little peckish so popped out for an emergency souvlaki and chips, as you do.
:45 – Rise and shine. So that’s the same as 02:45 back home then. Urrgh – too early.
Quick shower, get ready and then breakfast of bought croissant, banana and yoghurt before heading out the hotel to catch a bus to the start about 06:15. As the buses leave from Syntagma Square the walk to one was about 10 seconds.
Bus already pretty full but for some reason no one on there knew the rule of bus and the back seat was totally free. Winning!
The sun was rising as we journeyed out of Athens, mostly on the same route we would be returning on, so when we arrived at Marathon it was fully daylight. The bag drop vans were on the way to the stadium and they were handing out green snoods (more of which later) and plastic covers to keep you warm. I dropped my bag, walked to the stadium, used the portaloo and then walked back to the bag drop as I’d left my banana and green buff in it!
Going back to the stadium I went to sit down and do the usual pre-race stuff of greasing up the feet and other areas to avoid chafe. I did forget to bring my sun tan lotion so comedy runners tan was assured.
I briefly met up with Dasen, Lewis and Ema at the start but it wasn’t long before we were jumping into our respective pens for the off.
It is awesome to be stood in Marathon, ready to run a marathon. Full on, hairs on the back of the neck stood up awesome.
Victims of fire and givers of hope
The green snoods that were handed out by the organisers this year were to be worn near the village of Mati which was devastated by wildfire in 2017. The aim – to create a forest of runners. Running through that area was humbling, the support amazing, the devastation to lives, homes and countryside very apparent. Many are still fighting to get their homes rebuilt.
If you want to know something of the true horror of that day here is an article from an Australian newspaper; the story of a firefighter, Andreas Dimitriou, who lost his wife and child that day. In total 99 people died.
I warn you, it is not an easy read.
Along the way, early in the race, villagers will hand you olive twigs and many runners carried them to the finish. I lost mine somewhere in Athens but it is a lovely gesture. The support is so good, shouts of “Bravo” come from all sides. Some of the fiercest support came in those burnt out regions. I wish them all well.
There’s only one hill
If you ever do this race you really won’t believe the next bit. I didn’t when I was told about it, so why should you?
It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say
that the first 20 miles are uphill. But only a bit. Maybe the first 2 miles aren’t. The slope isn’t ferocious, bar a couple of steeper climbs, but it is relentless, it just goes on.
Then downhill, oh so briefly, and up again.
It’s draining, especially when it’s hot. Athens in November can be pretty hot!
I ticked along okay for about 15 miles but it got to me in the end and I had to have the occasional walk. I did stop at 11 a.m. local time for two minutes silence as it was Remembrance Sunday.
Then, finally, at around 20 miles it’s downhill all the way (more or less) to the finish. If only my quads weren’t shredded by that point I could have got going again!
I needed a change from tailwind so I stopped off at a shop at around 18 miles for a coke and the people queuing kindly let me through to the front. Typical of the generosity shown by the Athenians. They are a big part it making this race a great one to run.
For the final 6 miles it was a case of keep on keeping on – relentless forward progress – occasional walk but more running than walking.
I told you there would be tears
I said in my previous blog that I thought there would be tears on this run and true enough, there were. Mostly in the last 6 miles and most of all just before I entered the stadium. Actually had to stop at that point to let it pass.
But the stadium finish, oh my, so worth it. I’ve finished on The Mall, through the Brandenburg Gate but nothing has topped this. Truly, truly special and I saved a tiny bit for the last 20 metres where the official pictures show I have flying feet!
That night we drank
Beers, a bit to eat and then cocktails. Celebrating in fine company with Darren, Jen, Ema, Lewis and Dasen. The finest of fine company to be in. I have been so very lucky with the people who have been at my races abroad this year. The races would have been great but with this most excellent bunch of people they are so much more.
The day after
Had to pop back to the stadium in the morning for some photos. So empty when I was there and pretty special.
I’d do this one again, for sure, but not for a bit. I would highly recommend it. Do some hill training though. (You won’t of course, because you won’t believe me about that 20 mile hill)