Monday, November 29, 2010

2500th Anniversary Athens Marathon Race Report - Mary

It's over a month since I got back from Greece and reality has certainly set in.

I ran Twin Cities marathon on Oct. 3rd and then the couple who Dave and I have travelled with many times left on Oct. 4th for Greece. I spent 4 days with them on Crete, then we joined up with a tour group of 40 people (way too many) to tour the mainland of Greece and two of the Greek isles.

We went to almost every archaeological sight there is to see, like Delphi, Olympia, Meteora, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, etc. The islands we went to were Mykonons and Santorini. Then I spent a week on my own in Athens and finally hooked up with the marathon tour group on the Thursday before the race. The group I went with is called Apostollos and the owner has been going there for more than 10 years and has family there. That seemed to be an advantage. After being in Greece for that length of time I think I finally have a bit of an idea of the history and how all the different important civilizations that are part of the Hellenic tradition fit in with the rest of that part of the world. 

I was getting a little concerned about the race the week I spent in Athens on my own. Nobody who I spoke with seemed to  know about the race, including staff at hotels and restaurants. Finally the weekend before the race some Greek flags went up but they were actually for the Greek holiday which is on Oct 28th. They all seemed kind of impressed that I had come from America to run it though.

By Thursday, after the parade for "No Day", things changed on the streets and you could tell that the city was gearing up for a marathon. More t-shirts in the kiosks, which are everywhere, that had marathon info. on them, flags about the marathon and probably lots of stuff on local TV which I couldn't understand. Keep in mind that they had an election on the 7th for all municipal leaders, so there were lots of posters out on poles, etc and the TV and newspapers were covering that.

By Friday things looked ready. The Expo was in this fabulous building, which is a convention center/exhibition hall, but really more another museum with lots of history about the marathon. They also had a symposium about "the environmental profile of the marathon movement" which the Greek minister of Environment attended. I had read about this in the program and kind of wondered who else attended that symposium when we were running on race day and they were handing us all water in regular sized plastic bottles and we were all tossing them on the ground after a couple sips. I hope they had some way of recycling all that plastic.

Jeff Galloway was the celebrity runner with our tour group and I was very surprised at the make-up of the 200 plus runners in the group. There were many Canadians,  Australians and other countries represented. It almost seemed Americans were least represented. I think perhaps most of the US folks went with Marathon Tours group out of Boston. Anyway, I was befriended by two Canadian women on the first day and we became a foursome-one of the women had her boyfriend. It was fun to finally have someone to talk running and English with, since I had been on my own that previous week and didn't find too many folks to carry on a full conversation with.

Jeff has been to the Athens marathon at least 5 times and during the orientation meeting he really played down how well he thought the race might turn out. In the past I guess it has been marginal in its race management. So we were all told to carry our own water, gels, etc. We got to tour the race start sight and the course two days before the race, so that managed to "put the fear of God" into most of us. This course is what the Boston marathon is patterned on, so there are significant hills. However the last 10K are truly a gradual downhill and the finish was in the marble Olympic stadium which was built for the first modern Olympics and was modeled after the original stadium in Olympia. It's beautiful-all marble.
Race day was a beautiful cool morning and we boarded the buses by 6:00 AM so that we would have plenty of time to get to the porta-potties and to our assigned "blocks" aka "wave" or corral. I've never seen so many port potties at the start of a marathon. There were about 12,000 runners for the marathon and the start area was very adequate for lining up for the start. The waves were abused a bit because runners wanted to run with their friends. They tried to control it, but it was fairly easy to step over the barriers. My two Canadian friends and I took the warning seriously that you could be disqualified, and we were all in different blocks, so we never saw each other after we went to our block.

The race started exactly at 9:00AM and each block started two minutes apart. I was in block 4 out of 7, and got to start @ 9:08 and I was very surprised that I was almost immediately able to get into a running pace. I had decided to do the walk/method which I normally do. Since the marathon markers were in km. I ended up taking a 30 sec. walk break at every K, which ended up being about every 6 min. It worked OK since I wasn't sure how my legs would feel after not doing too much running during the month of Oct., but lots of walking the week before the marathon, including the day before the race.

The aid stations were all extremely well supplied with water and volunteers, gels, bananas, etc at the proper locations. The people in the small villages as we progressed from the town of Marathon, past the mound where 192 soldiers were buried after the battle with the Persians, then past one of the major ports where ferries take folks to the many islands and then on into Athens were amazing. They all shouted Bravo, Bravo and children and adults were handing us small olive branches ( I brought one of mine home with me). As I said the course was quite hilly and the highest point was at the 32K point. Actually from 17K to 32 there was a gradual climb. But at 32K we started on a gradual downhill into the center of Athens. The road was closed to traffic in one direction and we ran past many of the Embassies and museums and then took a turn off the main thoroughfare, ran past the Presidential palace and garden-reminded me just a little bit of running by Central park- then turned into the stadium. At this point the spectators were really cheering us on. Finishing in that historic stadium was an experience like none I have ever had. We ran almost a lap around the stadium and then received our medal.

After we left the stadium it became a slightly different story from the rest of the race. The area was a bit small to handle all the runners and spectators. But I was still able to gradually get rid of my chip, get some food and drink and find my drop bag and get to the buses waiting to take us back to our hotel.

The Apostolos tour group had a very special post run dinner for all of us, with Greek dancers and singers. We were all presented with a replica of an ancient Greek vase painted for us especially by a member of the owner's family. Jeff Galloway and his wife hosted this party and it was a very nice culmination to a very special race.

Friday, November 12, 2010

2010 ING New York City Marathon--Candy

The size, spectators and logistics of this event lived up to the hype. It was a one-time event for me. Now I have a new perspective for when I watch future NY marathons on TV. From the top…

It took my daughter Amy and I about three hours to get to the start via subway, shuttle bus, ferry and a second shuttle bus. The weather was sunny, near freezing and a little windy. When we arrived at Fort Wadsworth, the staging area, we quickly put on all of our extra clothes, garbage bags and broke out the hand warmers. Amy and I were in Wave 3 with a 10:40 am start time (there were three waves plus wheelers with three different starting points in each wave and about 12 or so corrals in each starting point). We found a discarded blanket and piece of cardboard to sit on that had been left by someone.

The race itself was hard, mainly due to the number of runners and walkers to maneuver through. Plus the aid stations started at mile 3 and continued for every mile. There were almost solid cups and debris along the road at every aid station—sometimes it was a bit sticky from the GU wrappers and Gatorade, not to mention the banana peels at a few miles.

My brush with fame came near the end. As I saw the finish line, I heard the announcer say that the Chilean miner was ½ mile out. Edison Pena had started an hour ahead of me so I must have passed him along Central Park. I heard that he was running with ice packs on his knees. What a story. My time was 4:43 (about 30 minutes slower than TCM). My daughter Amy did a 4:06 for her first marathon and my son-in-law Hallvard a 3:28.

A few comments/encounters along the way: someone in our corral ate a “special” meal the night before and we quickly moved from his downwind side, Sinatra's "New York" playing during the start, “welcome to Brooklyn” from a spectator after we came off the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, almost taking out a lady pedestrian who walked across the street in the middle of the race in Brooklyn, shouts of “go Minnesota” along the route (I was wearing a Minnesota singlet) with one guy adding “South St. Paul baby,” and the many people on the street who offered their congrats afterwards.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Finally!! The Gateway Bridge over Manning Ave. is nearing completion

Posted by Tom.
The Manning Ave crossing has been one of the more treacherous hazards on the Gateway Trail.  You MUST be alert at the crossing since, with a 55 mph speed limit, traffic zips by in a flash.  So it was a wonderful announcement a couple of years ago that the State of Minnesota would erect a bridge for the Gateway over Manning.
Not only would it be a bridge, but it is a historic bridge, 130 years old.  It began its life in Sauk Centre, MN, was moved in 1937 to Silverdale, MN (somewhere south of International Falls) where it was recently replaced by a new structure.  Since it was designated in 1998 as a historical structure, there was a desire to move the bridge once again to a suitable location.

Here is the bridge in Silverdale
 On the Manning/Gateway site the preparations began over a year ago. 
·         Fencing went up to divert the Gateway Trail around the construction site.
·         Huge mounds of earth were piled up on either side of Manning for the approaches. 
·         Earlier this year big concrete pilings went up to support the ends of the bridge.  Here’s a Wikipedia link showing construction photos:
Then is sat – for months, and we speculated that the project had stalled due to funding issues related to the economy… Finally last month the steel showed up, neatly stacked in a big pile off to the side.  Each piece of iron appeared brand new in a fresh coat of paint.  Like an erector set, the pieces went together, and today the nearly completed bridge sits off to the side of the trail awaiting the final effort to lift it into place.
Here is the bridge partially assembled a couple of weeks ago on Manning Ave:

I have shifted my daily runs to this portion of the Gateway in order to watch the progress.  It appears that the major tasks remaining are lifting the bridge in place, installing a bridge deck, and fencing along the sides.  Realistically it is probably still several months until we will be jogging across, but it is fascinating to watch the progress in the meantime.
Here is a link to the Gateway Trail Association’s site with more construction photos: