Monthly Archives: November 2012

Athens Classic Marathon: Race Report

4:30 AM Wake up

After what was a remarkably easy night sleep – all of these race advisors kept telling me how I wasn’t going to get any sleep and I slept like a baby. Well actually given how poorly Nicholas slept, I slept like an adult.

Seriously, the kid would wake up every two-three hours, requiring someone to go soothe him. My wife, heroically, volunteered to do that so I could get some sleep.

Having prepared everything – I must have double checked my bags about 3 dozen times before I went to sleep and 3 dozen times before I got into the cab, I took this picture of myself:

Leaving home at 5am. ready to run. marathon starts at 9:15 am. Next checkin at 3:30pm Athens time or 6:30am PST.   Thank you to all my FB friends for cheering me along.  But super special shout out goes to my wife who will be running her first 10km!

I was soooo stressed at that point in time, and very excited. 1.5  years of preparation were about to be put to the test.

Seriously. 1.5 years almost to the day, I started running. First it was couch-to-5k, then bridge to 10k then a lot of running then a training for this marathon. Endless amounts of pasta, gu, and pain were about to be put to the test…

5:30 Bus Drive

The Athens Classic Marathon is superbly organized. The road to Marathon is closed. To get to Marathon, runners meet in down-town Athens at three pre-defined locations and then take one of 160 buses that were chartered for this purpose.

On the cab ride down, I chatted with the cabbie who was really inspired by my tale. In fact, he was so inspired that he asked: what did he have to do to train for a marathon? And I told him … As I got out of the car, the amount of positive energy he had for me was actually quite touching.

Onto the bus I went. I was first in line. Well maybe third in line for the first bus. And yes all of the people at the beginning of the queue were people doing it for the first time. There was this 20 something who was mildly irritating with his confidence to do the whole thing in less than 4 hours. And then there was the 50+ year old from Chania who was planning to power-walk the Marathon. He said he had started training just 2 months ago. I was like dude…

Sitting next to me was this charming man named Timotheos. Timotheos turns out to be an American from Ohio who is married to a local girl from Crete. Both starved for English speakers we chatted from down-town Athens all the way to Marathon.

Now let me point out that the bus actually went over our route. And boy-oh-boy did the uphill section look brutal. I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t. That it was just the speed and the angle of the car… Timotheos didn’t help the situation by remarking that he runs on much steeper grade…

About 5-8 km from Marathon, I suddenly turned to Timotheos and said: dude marathon is far away. And he said what is the best description of a marathon: It’ so far away that we had enough time to tell our life stories and we’re still not there…

A few minutes later we arrived and disembarked. Here’s they dropped us off:

This is what the starting line looked like at ~6:30 am

6:30 to 8:30

So what do you do for two hours? Well you try and control your nerves. And you walk around a lot. So, for the record, in addition to the 42km I ran, I must have walked another 4-5 that morning just trying to calm down.

Watching everyone go by was pretty damn cool.

And here’s the starting area before anyone had shown up:

While waiting around, I met someone from the bay area who works for a high tech company that has its HQ in Greece.

But for the most part the runners in this Marathon were Greek.


After two hours of trying to figure out how exactly am I supposed to just calm down, the organizers asked us to go to the starting blocks.

It was pretty funny for about 30 minutes. This dude on the mic was entertaining us with all sorts of random commentary. At one point in time he was like: I am about to do a very special warm up, and played syrtaki … We all kind of stared at each other like we’re really going to start dancing a few minutes before this marathon…

Here I am in my funny plastic bag waiting for the race to start:

While I was trying to adjust and re-adjust and re-re-adjust my running shoes I took this video:


It shows a lot of legs jittering as they try and stay warm and shake off the nerves…

9:00 AM and we are off…

And the race started promptly at 9. We started in waves, a block going every three minutes. I was in block 6, so I had to wait 18 minutes from the start to get my chance to go…

Here’s an unfortunately blurry picture of everyone – damn you Nokia Lumia 920

And here’s my wave about to start:

It’s about this moment where if there was a way for me to quit without losing face, I would have. But there wasn’t. I was like shit, shit, shit shit. What am I doing… and then I remember a friend of mine’s quote: You are about to do something to your body that very few people ever try… And instead of quitting on the spot… I got ready to run…


The first 5km of the Marathon are always the most dangerous. Your full of adrenaline, full of energy and want to go fast. But you can blow out the entire event in the first 30 minutes (I am that slow). So I had to force myself to go at the pace I had planned out –12 minute miles.

According to the splits I was a little bit slower, but that’s okay … Better to be going too slow than too fast is my take.

At the 5km mark you run past the place where the bodies of the soldiers who fought at Marathon are buried. And all of a sudden this event became something more.

I had grown up with tales about this battle. This wasn’t just an event, it was a seminal event of my people. And here I was reliving it …

And while I was running past the tomb, I remembered my beloved Aunt Eleni who had passed away 20 + years ago. Eleni had no children. She had spent every summer I was in Greece making sure that I grew up being proud to be Greek and being proud to be an Athenian. And, I know it’s cheesy, but running this race brought me closer to her than I had been in many many years. In many ways, I think, her spirit and her stories inspired me to go on this incredible adventure.

Oh and there was this dude who weighed like 260 pounds was about my height and just blew past me… I mean he just motored past me. I was like damn….


And a word for our organizers. The organizers were fantastic. Everyone was helpful and supportive. Even for slow pokes like myself, the folks would cheer us on as we arrived for water. They were all smiles and trying to help us. Absolutely amazing organization and support.

This was pretty uneventful. Fairly flat terrain, my body was feeling good. My legs were feeling good. Most of the runners had blitzed passed me so I was running with my pace group. After I finished the Marathon I realized I was in the bottom 6% of the runners in my age group.

And dear Marathon organizers, I AM NOT YET 40. On December 10th I will be 40. No need to put me in the 40-44 age bracket!

While I was running I saw Pheidippides ghost:

So I ran with Vibram’s and I thought I was hardcore. This dude ran barefoot, with a bronze shield, and a bronze breastplate and a bronze helmet. Not sure when he finished. But I do remember catching up to him and getting caught by him.

Along the way there was this Polish couple that was running the Marathon. Rather the husband was running and the wife was being pushed along in her wheel chair. It was pretty cool thing to see. Periodically people would help them along. I tried to help them a little bit but the uphill hit and I was in position to help anyone but myself …


The Athens Marathon is notorious for it’s climb. Practically speaking you start climbing at 10km and stop at 32km. If you look at the course there are some up hills followed by down hills, but the down hills are very short and the up hills very long.

The really nice part about the section from 5km to 15 km is that we ran past a lot of areas where folks lived so there were a lot of people cheering us on.

As I was running it was kind of interesting to observe how much immigration was changing the face of Greece. There were a lot of folks who obviously came from outside of Greece. One moment I remember was this Muslim gentleman who had this permanent scowl on his face, and as I lumbered along I smiled at him. And I think he was surprised to see someone smile at him and I saw the most genuine smile I had seen in a while.

Also along the road were these children who would stick their hands out wanting us to high-five them. I suppose now that I am a dad I am more attuned to this. Every time I saw a kid with an outstretched palm I gave him or her a high-five.

One of the nicest things that folks on the road did was hand out olive branches. The olive branch is a powerful symbol in Greek sports – In the original Olympics and the Athens Olympics of 2004, a wreath of olive branches was put on the victors heads. It was very touching to have all of these runners running with a small olive branch stuck in their hats, pants or head…

This section went along pretty fast. There were people cheering, there was constantly changing scenery and it was just fun…

One memorable moment was this town we ran through where the locals were cooking meat. Oh my god, I was getting hungry and the smell of really well done meat was too much…

15km –> 30km

This was the most brutal part of the race. The sun was out. There were no more villagers to cheer you on (well there were some but it was far less frequent) and the relentless uphill was very relentless.

At this point in time it was about just remembering the training and moving forward.

To make this work a little bit better, I switched to Les Miserables as my music. So yes, during the Marathon, while the heat was beating down at me, I listened to “Look down, look down, the sun is hot as hell below” … Made me feel one and connected to the whole damn human race.

By now I had figured out how to use the water stations, and was drinking at every station. I decided to walk through each one so I would be able to drink. I just couldn’t for the life of me drink and run at the same time…

At the 20km, GU was handed out. And I used that opportunity to over GU. I started taking a GU every 20 or so minutes to ensure I had enough energy to make it over the peak of the climb.

Funny moment along the way.

At some point in time there was this German woman who was walking and I caught up with her. Then the road got steeper and I slowed down, but she kept walking at the same pace and passed me by. As I looked at her we both laughed at the absurdity of what was going on.

At some other point there was this kid who was trying to give runners a small flower. And his dad kept trying to get this small child to stick his hand out. I saw the kid, stopped, gave him one of my extra olive branches and took his little flower. I hope the kid had a good day…

30 KM

The 30KM mark in the Athens Marathon is really important because it’s just before the last nasty climb of the day. Make it past that and you have ~12 km of downhill … The race is yours.

As you start the nasty ass climb, there was this group of drummers beating a rhythm to give you the courage to make that last heroic effort.

So I made it to the top, and then my body just fell apart.

Originally I thought I had gone really slow on the first 30km, but after looking at my splits I was shocked. I did a personal best 4 hours on the 30k, and then took an astonishing 1h42 minutes to do 12 km of which 10 were downhill!

30->42 KM

This was the part that was supposed to be easy. I was supposed to go flying down this.




Instead it took a superhuman effort to run. My legs were like: NOOOOO. I couldn’t move them.

Part of me thinks that I tried to shift gears and the gear shifting fried the transmission. Part of me thinks I was just tired. 4 km from the end my body started to function again, so I am thinking it was the gear shift I attempted.

Oh well lesson learned. Don’t shift gears. And don’t assume you went too slow in the first 30km… Or more to the point get a damn Garmin watch so you can more accurately measure your progress!

The last 12 km were surreal. No one but the runners were on the roads. By the time I rolled in most fans had left. So all that remained were these closed off roads. And because it was a Sunday, and because Greece is in the middle of a great Depression, it was like some bad scifi movie. I was alone with some runners. And at some points in time it felt like I was all alone.

So 4km from the finish line my body starts to feel good and I start catching up with some people. One dude actually stopped to thank me for inspiring him to keep running. I was like: we big and tall guys need to stick together.

2km from the finish line I finally caught up to the dude who weight 260 pounds. I know, it’s a marginal achievement, but damnit I am keeping track of it.

As I was approaching the stadium, I started to freak out that the route was longer than I had thought it was. Feeling like I was as at the breaking point, I was like HOW AM I GOING TO FINISH THIS STUPID RACE!!!!

Yes with less than 1km to go, I finally freaked out and wanted to quit…

And then I turned left and rolled into the stadium. While running into the Stadium, I had the presence of mind to film a small video:


And that was the end of that!

At the Stadium were some of my cousins, my sister and my wife and mom. My son was at home with grandpa.

Here are some action shots as I run into the stadium…

This shot I refer to as: Kostadis Enters Triumphantly (notice the patriotic fervor with the Greek Flags behind me…)

This is the less serious Kostadis “Air Jordan” Roussos pose:

And here’s an awesome close up my sister took of me. Notice the pain…

Or this one:

And this is the picture a few moments after I was done… Notice the relief. That feeling of OMG I am done:

And here I am with my medal a few moments after I said: Chairete Nikomen and did not die 🙂

And here’s a picture with my wife. And so while I was feeling all super cool my super amazing wife told me she finished her 10km on 2 hours of sleep in 1h and 17min. And oh-by-the-way it was the first 10km she had ever run…

Final Thoughts

Running a marathon is an amazing experience. It’s in many ways this intense surreal moment in your life where a vast amount of training and effort is focused on a single action. It’s a really simple event. You just keep moving your feet. And yet it’s also an amazingly complex event with many subplots going through your head.

The Athens Marathon is special. You start at the battle of marathon and you finish in the same place the first modern marathon finished. That historical continuity makes the whole event feel more meaningful than it really should but it does…

Athens Classic Marathon Part II: Pasta Party

Once the training is complete, the only thing left to do before the race is to carbo-load.

According to some dismal science I read, I had to eat 700grams of pasta the night before the race. That’s a shit-load of pasta.

In addition because eating large amounts of fats etc, could really upset your stomach – we will not explain how – it’s really bone dry pasta.

Some people can eat tomato sauce, but too much acidity causes me heart burns, so I had to be very cautious. Others can eat cheese, but well I am from the southern mediteranean so being lactose intolerant is a real downer.

But this is Greece, and this is my family and when we do food we don’t go half way.

Notice the massive bowl of pasta. In front of you, you’ll see the spring rolls. You can also see the meat sauce and tomato sauce to accommodate all possible pallets. You will also notice the salad. You do not see in the foreground the superb home made pizza  and cheese pies…

You’ll also notice that there are a lot of people there. In fact my cousin Maragarita whose husband Michalis inspired me to do the Marathon threw this soiree together. Her mom and dad were there, her sister and her entire family, her brother and her two sons and her maid of honor with her husband who was also running this marathon. It was really awesome to hang out with everyone.

The three marathon runners (Michalis – Margarita’s husband, Michalis –Sofia’s husband and I) had this look of terror on our faces. I, of course, full of bravado reassured them that since we had completed the training there was nothing to fear.

What was especially cool was that we also got to celebrate my Dad’s birthday, something I realized I hadn’t done in person in almost  20 years. My son got into the act and kept blowing out the candles. We had to light the candles half-a-dozen times because he kept wanting to blow them out.

At some point in time, Michalis who had completed the Athens Classic Marathon last year, brought out the finisher medal. The intent was to motivate me by showing how cool a reward I would get. I, of course, have deep suspicions about these things. You do not touch medals until you acquire them. If you touch them before hand bad, bad things happen. So there was this awkward moment where I looked at him with horror …

And in the background hidden from view is my son and his second cousins who were playing for hours like lunatics.

My only regret is that I was very stressed about the run the next day and could not just chill out and enjoy the family fun.

Marathon Part I: The Freak Out

My family and I flew into Athens on Thursday November 8th. Miraculously the flight was without incident or calamity. Our departure, not so much. Our main sewer line was blocked, blocking all of our drainage. Thankfully it occurred just as we were leaving. All that meant was that we couldn’t take a shower on our return trip. This will become important in the last part of the Marathon. 

On November 15th we went to the Zappeion Megaro

IMG 2810

Here’s me and Nick standing in front of the building:

IMG 2805

The folks managing the Athens Classic Marathon (known by the cool kids in Greece as “To Klassiko”) did an excellent job managing the thousands of runners. There were 26000 registrants across the marathon, 10k and 5k and approximately 18000 folks who actually finished all races and at no point did you think that this was  country that couldn’t manage it’s finances.

IMG 2806

So we get there, within 10 minutes of our arrival collect our bib and information packet. The cool Klassiko marathon jersey was at the end of an Expo we had to schlep through. 

After picking everything up, we found a nice cafe right next to the Zappeion Megaro. There I opened the packet and saw the route for the first time.

Let me observe that I have spent many many years in Athens. Let me also observe that I had run at that point 20 miles in my training runs. So I wasn’t expecting to be surprised by anything.

But for the first time I realized the enormity of the challenge in front of me. 

As a pre-teen my grandfather Charalambos (my mom’s dad) would take me to Rafina to go swimming. Rafina in my mind was far far away. It was, in my mind, at the other end of the universe. And then I noticed that Marathon, the starting line was 15km away from Rafina. 

20121119 194845

Here’s my genuine reaction when I figured that out:


It was at that moment that the enormity of the task  dawned on me. 

The Death Ride vs The Athens Classic Marathon

On November 11th, I ran into the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens finishing my first Marathon in 5 hours 42 minutes.

And almost immediately the first question that came to mind was: 

Was the Marathon harder than the death ride?

So to put things in perspective. 

The Athens Classic Marathon is one of the hardest marathons out there. The distance is standard, but there is a non-standard 20km up hill section with a total 800 foot elevation gain. 

The Death Ride on the other hand has 128 miles of biking (206km), an elevation gain of 15,287 feet (4660m) and is at an altitude of 5500 feet. 

Both of these are insane events for an amateur athlete to complete. 

They both require a lot of fitness and a level of pain tolerance that is almost inhuman. 

So the winner (or loser)? 

My vote is for the Death Ride. In the Athens Marathon there where several overweight fat guys were actually able to finish the run in less than 7 hours. On the other hand I was, literally, the fattest guy to finish the Death Ride. And by finish I mean cross over the fifth peak. I did not actually ride back down to the finish line because of a “torn/sprained/stretch badly” chest muscle that prevented me from breathing deeply. 

My wife, on the other hand, asks if the difference was related to the training regime. The Death Ride training regime was intense but it was less intense than the Athens Classic Marathon. For the Death Ride we biked three times a week. For the Marathon I ran four times a week and biked on Sundays. So it is possible that I was in better shape at the start of the Marathon than I was at the start of the Death Ride. 

I fear that what I am doing is becoming the start of a bad joke: a swimmer, a cyclist and a runner walk into a bar and argue over whose sport is harder… a few weeks later the ironman triathlon is born. 


What I remember about the Death Ride is at the beginning of the ride I was in the best shape of my life. At the end of the ride I was more broken than I have ever been. I crawled into a bed and slept for hours. For the next five days my brain was shut down as my body tried to recover from the exertion.

What I remember from the Marathon is that the night of the Marathon I went to a kid’s party with my son, the next day I went for a walk etc, etc. etc. 

Training or effort? 

Who knows… But I suppose I could start training for the death ride and find out….


Greek Crisis

There are macro reasons, which are simple and easy: too much corruption etc.

But that doesn’t explain why exactly the Greek economy chose to implode in 2008.

The short answer is the following:

The Greek Economy starting approximately in 1984 started a massive expansion of the amount of money the government spent within the economy. This expansion continued throughout the next 20 years.

The problem with the expansion is that it was not fueled by taxes but through debt.

There were two sources of debt income. The first was the EU which gave the Greek economy a lot of money to improve the country. The second was inflation. What most non-Greeks and most Greeks under the age of 30 don’t remember, is that in the period around 1981->1992 we experienced rapid devaluation of our currency and our savings. In fact sometime in the 1988->1992 period — I can’t remember the exact timing inflation was on a hyper-inflationary trajectory … Stores were offering discounts if you paid in cash now, and prices were changing very rapidly.

Before monetary union access to EU debt was harder than it became after the union.

So up until EU monetary union the situation was unstable and heading to a fall but the rate of accumulation of debt was low.

However, the evil cocktail was brewed and drunk. The cocktail was the following: many Greeks derived some income from the state. This was either indirect – working for a firm that had contracts or directly for the state. The only way to increase income was to get the state to give you more. The only way the state could get more was to borrow. In the past when the amount giving out exceeded the amount coming we would have inflation.

Then monetary union happened and all of a sudden the government could borrow at will at low rates, and give out more money and not pay for it in terms of inflation. And so the government did.

This was a classic ponzi scheme. So the question is: how the hell did the government get the money?

There were three approaches.

1. The first was direct loans, which were not that interesting and limited in scope. Government to government lending is never fun or easy.

2.The second was forcing pension funds under government control to only buy Greek bonds. In fact much of the pension crisis in Greece can be traced to that fact when you couple it with the hair-cut that was imposed on the bonds.

3. The third was far more venal and poorly understood. Basically the Greek government installed it’s own leaders in the public banks and told them to get German loans at ridiculous rates to buy Greek debt. It was a perfect scam: the Germans loaned to Greek banks and the Banks loaned to Greek Government, the Greek Government then spent the money and the German tax payer was going to bail everyone out.

The reason this third scheme was so brilliant is that it made the Greek banks look stable: after all they were borrowing from Germans to lend to the Greek government. And the Greek government looked stable because it was growing — although the growth was fueled by debt.

So what happened? In 2008 as we all know the debt fueled intoxication of the growth period between ~1980 and 2008 came to a crashing end. It came to an end because of the mortgage backed security crisis that put a lot of pressure on the German banks which all of a sudden were unwilling or unable to lend to the Greek government. With the sudden cut-off of the debt fueled air-supply the Greek government started to see it’s growth slow and all of a sudden the debt to GDP ratio went from scary to terrifying to nightmare on elm street scary.

With the Greek government looking insolvent, the Greek banks became insolvent, and then the money stopped flowing in Greece. And if you remember the pension note I made earlier, because the Greek government was on the hook for those liabilities as well it just got worse and worse and worse.

The current set of solutions are not working because most governments are unable to fathom that the real, not-debt-fueled economy, is much smaller.

Let me explain.

In the 1980’s Greece was a poor country. If you weren’t working in some industry that directly extracted money from foreigners or sold to foreigners or dealt with with foreign industry you lived poorly. As the government shared more debt money with people through higher salaries etc, the broader economy took off. As a classic example in the 1980’s Greeks did not travel around Greece because they were broke. In the 1990’s Greek tourism was dominated by Greeks because they had money. That growth in income was fueled in large part by the debt taken on by the Greek government.

So what’s going on now is that people whose business are operating with the rules of the 1980’s are doing fine. If you’re a boutique hotel in Santorin where 90% of your clients are foreigners you’re doing fine. If you’re a hotel in Anafi dependent on Greeks you’re going broke.

Until everyone admits that the country is poorer than the loans assumed the country will continue to free fall. At some point in time either the Greeks will say enough or the debtors will take action. I hope it’s the latter. The former may create other bigger problems for Greece.

Props to Pincus and Zynga

Props to Mark Pincus and Zynga.

At our all hands Zynga once again announced that they will donate up to 1000$ for each dollar employees donate to charities.

It’s not a ton of money. But it reflects the commitment the company has to not just making money, but being a good neighbor. Combine that with the thousands of hours we invested in “community week”, it makes me happy to work at a company that hasn’t forgotten that we have stakeholders beyond our shareholders.

Enjoying software

Originally said on quora:

Everyone’s answer is different.

At the core, software allows me to understand the world I live in.

(1)  software is the closest I can get to mathematical modelling of the real world.
(2)  software lets me test my models very fast.

To be precise, software exists to interact with the real world that is messy and confused and broken. And to write software you have to create these simplifications and these abstractions. And while you create them you begin to acquire real insight about how the world actually works.

Unlike mathematics or physics or other forms of science, what I love about software is that you can test out your simplifications immediately. There is no intellectual argument or complex experiment that needs to be executed. The program runs, and the data starts to flow.

Because software allows for iteration, understanding can come quickly.


I’m going on Strike

I’ve been a hockey fan for almost 28 years. My emotional connection to hockey began in 1983 when Steve Penny out-of-no-where stoned the big bad bruins, and then lead Montreal to two straight victories over the New York Islanders in Long Island. 

When my family moved to Athens Greece, I still followed the Habs religiously. And to be clear, this meant driving to a kiosk that happened to have an overpriced copy of the international herald tribune so I could get 2 lines in an article saying what happened in a game. 

Returning to the US in 1992, thanks to things like Gopher it became possible to read the AP articles about hockey games. I remember waking up at 7am, and running to the CS department to check out the gopher scores. We didn’t have broadband or wireless in our dorms.

In 1998 the internet finally let me listen to games, again. And my love affair was rekindled.

Except that was the dead-puck era. And watching hockey was painful. 

In 2008, my wife took me to a game for my birthday. And ever since, I’ve been hooked to watching the game live. Growing up in Montreal, you couldn’t get season tickets, so I never imagined I would have season tickets to a REAL hockey team. That was like the coolest thing ever.

And now I have a son who CAN ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND THE GAME, and I was looking forward to taking him to the NHL, and the NHL has decided they can’t figure out how to split billions. So instead, he’s watching baseball. Hell, I was about to spend 1000$ (the balance of  the first quarter of the season) to go watch a baseball game, A BASEBALL GAME! My sone is going to turn into a baseball fan. A BASEBALL FAN!

The players have a right to strike, and the owners have a right to make money, but HOCKEY isn’t just a sport, it’s part of the fabric of our communities. There are friends who I meet on a regular basis at the rink, that I no longer meet.

And God Forbid the owners and the players consider the damage they are doing to their communities. 

In this era of profit maximization at all costs, I spit on the NHL players union, and I spit on the owners, you screwed over my winter. And you don’t care. 

So I’m going on strike. Oh I’ll watch your games, and I’ll buy your tickets but as for hockey related income, I am not buying a single piece of NHL merchandise (or whatever you’re calling hockey-related-income) for at least one year after the end of the strike 

Damn you for ruining the my winter. Damn you.