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.


shannon said...

Great race report! Crete looks absolutely beautiful, and to spend 4 days sightseeing there must have been awesome. Meeting Jeff Galloway, so cool. Congrats on the marathon, truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Tim said...

Coming March 10th to the Twin Cities benefiting JDRF

Thrill seekers and fitness fanatics blitz winter boredom with the ultimate adventure race; the TUNDRA CHALLENGE. The average 5k and running on a treadmill is mundane and boring. Live life a little less ordinary and tough the tundra!!! Take on the next winter movement... challenging 3.5 miles of tundra and more than 15 obstacles.