Athens Marathon 2016 : the Authentic!
I know you are all ready to re-live the experience with me. (Photos of actual race by Marathon Photo!)
I'll set the scene.....
Pre-dawn: found my way down to Syntagma Square (central Athens) and caught one of many air-conditioned buses to Marathon with my friend, K! Whilst enroute, we were reminded of the historic importance of this route and to drop off our bags promptly on arrival by a pre-recorded message in English and Greek. My friend and I ate some of our snacks on the way (Natural Energy Bars by Tribe and some fruit) whilst we took note of the gradient of the roads. Just how hilly was this going to be?
As the Sun peaked its head over the horizon, we arrived in Marathon and started making t-shirts out of waterproof plastic bags as we had to give up our long-sleeved jackets and trousers. The bag drop vans (by DHL) were ready and waiting to relieve us of our burdens.
The next order of business was to take numerous pictures: of the Marathon signs, the stadium, our national flags and with other competitors of note (see below). The latter included the Spartans from Poland who marched (and ran) as a troop with their spears, shields and swords!
Finally, it was time to get into our respective starting pens and take the Athlete's oath (first in Greek then English). Soon we were toeing the starting line and ...we were OFF!
The course was very quiet as we set out. The straight road leading out of Marathon was flanked by mountains and green hills. The few industrial buildings did not detract from their beauty and calm. Almost without warning, we were already 1 km in! Then 2, 3 and 4km were done. Wow! We turned around a roundabout that allowed us to see the Elite runners going past on the opposite side: they were flying!
The next few kilometres went without much incident. I spotted a London Midnight Runner around 11km and joked about it being "a great day for a run, isn't it?". Races do that to me - I'm insufferably cheerful!
Then there was a wonderful downhill which made the next kilometre fly past in a blur. I went quite a bit faster than my planned pace there - couldn't help myself!
Before I knew it, I was over halfway in 1hour and 46 mins! Yes, the time from my Royal Parks half-marathon! And yet, I was still okay in terms of pace. The hills had been showing their dreadful heads by this point though. They were not step but they did make me go a lot slower than my planned pace (5:00/km in case you wondered). I shrugged it off and kept going.
A note about the water stops: these fell at every 2.5km after the first 3 miles. They were perfectly placed, I feel.
At 21 degrees Celsius with a gentle - moderate breeze, it was very necessary to prevent thirst. I can say, I never felt thirsty! I would only feel myself flagging a bit and then once I grabbed 2 sips (and splashed the rest on my neck and back) I was good to go! And I surprised myself by drinking like a pro on the run! There were only a couple of times when people almost tripped me or themselves whilst rushing for the water tables.
I also noted at the earlier water stops, there were lots of SpongeBob Square sponges on the road. I didn't initially get where these came from as there weren't any to see by the water stations. However, around half-way, there was a bucket full of them on a table with a lady handing them out. I guess the bucket was more hidden at the earlier stops? Oh well, I grabbed one at a couple of stops to see if they were easier than my water bottle splashing of myself. Nope, my method was better!
On to the second half of the race!
I will admit it...I flagged. Between 23km and 31km, I wished for the end many times!
I just hated the up-hills, though they were doable. And I got BORED of the flat portions.
This was where the crowds really helped. I haven't mentioned them up till now but from 12 km, there were crowds along both side of the road at intersections and lining the route. They yelled, "Bravo, Bravo" and "Pame, Pame" (apparently, the latter means, Let's go!). Some even clocked the green and white of my running vest and yelled, "Bravo, Nigeria!". Yep, proud moment!
The crowd helped not to focus on my aches and niggles - left foot kept feeling numb on the pads of the toes - or my pace (flagging terribly at times). I hoped I wasn't developing a blister (sorry for the grossness) and wiggled my toes mid-stride to re-adjust and keep going.
I even fell back on some of my Cardiff long run techniques: singing "Do, Re, Mi" from the Sound of Music in my head. Trust me, that got me back to 5:00min/km pace surprisingly quickly! Now I know to do that more and more in future races!
Just before the 31km marker, we saw a slight downhill going under a bridge and taking us up hill out the other side. I actually stopped to walk for 5 seconds halfway up this hill. Yes, I paused. Why? I thought, "NOT ANOTHER HILL!" Then, "Wait this could be the last one" - and started running again! That and it hurt like a crazy to walk on those calves! It was soon over and I was at 32km!
Yay, 20 miles! Time to race the last 10K! And that's what I did.
Well, more or less. I still felt the strain at 4 and then 3 miles to go but by 2 miles, I was determined to just get it over with!
Then there was another hill! I kid you not! Anyway, I slayed that dragon (figuratively speaking of course) and ran downhill to the last 500m. Imagine my (pleasant) surprise when I saw a sign saying 250m to go when I had miscalculated it to be double that! Yay!
So I sped up my legs a bit (they weren't tired, just sore feet) and kept going, progressively striding out as I got into the stadium. A woman ran faster past me but, that was her race...this was mine! As I saw the clock sat 3: 40, I realised, I could make 3:38 and dug deep to go even faster over the line.
And it was done!
Thank you for coming on this journey with me. Hope you enjoyed the highs and lows (well, the highs anyway).
Do ask any questions that pop up and let me know if you have any races coming up.
Any distance is welcome as I also want to increase my speed for the shorter distances again.
Later, Ladies and Gents!
I'm Lola - a hair obsessed doctor who stumbled into running long distances and baking all the cupcakes.
I blog about life, running and of course, hair! I'm an Altra "Team Red" Sponsored Athlete, so I will do the occasional running shoe or gadget review.
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I do not own the copyright to all the pictures so I will credit the source, where that is the case.