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.

8:30

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…

5km

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….

5km-10km

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 …

10km->15km

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.

Nope.

Nada.

Never.

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…

3 thoughts on “Athens Classic Marathon: Race Report

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