Athens Marathon – The Authentic
Any self-respecting marathoner knows the legend of Philippides, the Athenian soldier who ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of the victory of the battle of Marathon, losing his life for the effort.
There was something magic in the idea to follow the steps of Philippides, running from the city of Marathon to the city of Athens, on that route that inspired the modern marathon race.
This magic made me sign up for “Athens Marathon – The Authentic”.
A few months later, my sister Paola decided to follow me and run her first marathon in Greece with me.
Here we are: two Anticos, two training plans and the 42,195km of the Marathon.
I knew this marathon was not the easiest to run – the route is mostly uphill until km 30, the scenery is not really interesting (you are running on a motorway until reaching the city centre), and the weather in Greece can be hot and humid in November.
The 6 months of training went quite smooth, some niggles and some small issues but I stayed positive and November arrived quickly.
We arrived in Athens on Friday, met my sister and my parents; Saturday morning we went to the expo to pick up our numbers, the weather was pretty hot, an “almost-Geordie” me was even considering the idea to sunbathe at the beach instead of running a marathon.
At the expo I was able to watch a video showing the route we were going to run on Sunday and this is where we started to panic: slopes, long hills to run, not a tree or a bush on the side of the road to create some shadow, just rocks and maybe some Greek goats. Maranoia started taking over me!
Saturday night is carbo-load time, some pasta, some bread, a bit of salad and we were already in bed by 10.
Neither me or my sister Paola had a good sleep, the noise form the street was loud and the anxiety wasn’t helping.
The alarm was set for 4.30am. We had a big breakfast in the dark without speaking a word, many visits to the toilet to run light and finally we left the flat. We met my sister running friends, as they had hired a private bus to take us to the start line. Traveling with us was Stefano Baldini, the marathon Olympic winner of Athens 2004, the guy that inspired my running bug more than anyone else; we were traveling with a legend and this was so good for my spirit!
The bus taking us to the city of Marathon took the same route we would be running later but in reverse. Paola and I would have liked to sleep but we were too busy studying the route and trying to identify the big hills we would have to run in a couple of hours.
We reached the start line and we got in our pins, Paola and I hugged and wished each other luck. We were ready.
The atmosphere was solemn. The speaker announced the closure of the pins and asked us to put our right fist in the air and be silent during the reading of the “Athletes Oath”, I felt really emotional listening at those words: “In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams and our countries”.
Nine o clock and we are off, suddenly a bit of rain starts to fall and a gentle breeze from the sea come to help us, the first 10 km are almost flat and easy, the route run around the grave of Philippides and and the locals are shouting “bravo” or “kalimera”. After the grave we merged into the motorway and I could see the sea on my side.
Km 11 is where the hard part starts, few up and down and the wind increased its strength, I tried to stayed focused and conservative reaching the half marathon point with still a smile on my face.
Km 23-24-25 are a nightmare, constantly uphill and my legs started to be tired, the plateau of km 26 is the only rest we could have. In my mind I keep to repeat to myself that I have to reach the km 30 where the last and biggest hill is, and I have to reach it with something left in the tank to be able to run the last part of the race.
I keep running and finally the big hill appears, it is long and is quite scary after all the miles. I dig deep, like my coach always says, and after a never ending mile I am at the top, my parents and Alba are there to cheer me up. I felt so happy, and emotional that I almost cried and choke.
Finally I am in Athens, and I am running downhill; 31,32,33km go fast and easy but my belly starts to be in pain and the nightmare to emulate Paula Redcliff on the side of the road start to come up in my head, I have to stop and walk few meters to cope with the belly cramps, also I have to give up at my last gel.
35 to 39 I can’t remember anything, only the pain in my legs, the cramps in my belly and the shout of the crowd around, finally km 40 arrived, a small slope to pass and then is all downhill, a couple of turns and I am on the steep downhill that bring you to the finish line. My legs are in a stupid pain and my belly is messed up, but the marble and the immensity of the Kallimarmaron Stadium are in front of my eyes: 2500 years of sport history are in front of me and I can only start to cry and cross the finish line in 3.26.50.
The medal the photos and I finally see my sister running to me, a sweaty hugs and more tears to celebrate. Paola did amazing, 3 hours and 33 minutes for her first marathon ever!
Is the first time that I challenge myself in a marathon that is not flat and easy but I am so happy that I did it.
Athens marathon is hard, you have to bring respect to it or you will fail, but the sense of achievement that you can experience at the entrance of the Kallimarmaron Stadium is incomparable.
Athens marathon the authentic is something that every marathoner worthy of the name should run.
Athens marathon the Authentic is the history of running.
Ricco – Princess and Handicapper of Saltwell Harriers