Bravo Athens, Bravo! – 2017 Athens Marathon Review by Mila
In November 2017 John and I traveled to Athens to run the original Athens Marathon.
As an amateur runner the ‘Marathon’ was always a must for my palmarès. Whilst my mission wasn’t quite as vital as Pheidippides, the messenger who relayed news of the Greeks’ victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, I had set my sights on completing this most iconic of races. Where ancients once ran, I now wanted to make my one little bit of history.
The Expo was very well organized. There was no queue to get the start numbers, and the venue was easily accessible by 5 stops by tram from metro Faliro. There was lots of interesting info. The Marathon Nutrition plans were especially interesting, also a kilometer-by-kilometer film preview of the parcour. The Expo venue was located next to the harbor, and we took a walk to look at modern and ancient Greek boats. The water was over 20 degrees! We regretted deeply that we had no shorts and no sleeveless shirts – it was hot and hot enough for a swim even!
Back at the hotel after the Expo, we went for a run to try the Athens hills. We heard so much about the hilly terrain that we had to experience it for ourselves before race day. We did a 5 km run, pretty slowly, appreciating the hills and the heat that still was in the air.
A fishy pedicure: the day before the race:
We didn’t want to move so much, preserving the energy for the race day, so we choose an easy attraction close to Athens- Lake Vouliagmeni’s thermal sprints, which are connected to the Aegean sea. Lots of people were swimming and the lake was good enough in size to swim a few laps. This was to be our last open water swim for 2017.
A nice feature of the lake is that it’s densely populated by Spa Fish, which are known for their ‘nibbling’ action. The moment you stand still the fish suck and gently nibble away at the dry and dead skin.. This was quite unique and a very energizing experience!.
The Marathon day
Waking up at 4:45 am, we took the metro and followed by the bus to Marathon. Even at the early hour, the heat was enough for just a t-shirt. Right from the metro exit, we could see Marathon volunteers’ showing us the way to the bus. On arriving at Marathon, it was- still dark, yet surprisingly very cold, around 10 degrees! How can the temperature be so much different just 40 km from Athens?! Walking to the stadium, we decided to keep dressed and warm until the last half an hour before the start.
A bunched start:
There were several start blocks, and the blocks were to start just a couple of minutes apart. This all created one mass of people running very tightly close together with the same speed. I could imagine how impressive this wall or running people would look from above.
Throughout the run there were thousands of supporters cheering us on- Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! In some villages, there were dancing groups with traditional Greek music. We saw athletes join in for a dance and then continue the run. There were people running in Spartan costumes next to us, in full masks, and with Olive branches in their hair. They paced us for some time, then fell back, replaced by new ones. There were lots of international flags being carried by runners, with some athletes showing national flags on their shirts. We caught some Dutch and Russian conversations on the way.. A truly international experience. And so much dancing, bravo’s, kids stretching their little hands to us – it was emotional and warm.
After the first 3 kms, there were some gaps in the running mass of people, and an opportunity to advance through the field. The first drinking station was at 5 km – with bottles of water handed out. The temperature was already very high at the start- over 20, and when we passed the villages I saw a thermometer showing 27. But the wind did go some way to cooling us, and the downhill legs helping also. It seems in Greece temperature is different on every hill and in every valley.
Starting from the 10th kilometer we saw the Red Cross teams helping competitors at nearly every kilometer, all the way to the end of the race. They were sticking plasters on rubbed feet, attending to bleeding nipples, spraying cooling sprays on hamstrings, comforting and counseling those who needed their help. Several small busses have passed us, carrying injured and strained athletes back to Athens. I saw runners sitting and lying down along the road being comforted and escorted by Red Cross teams to the busses. Throughout the run, the right half of the road was for us- the runners, and the left – for supporters, and some limited transport and the busses with injured.
Ups and downs and ups:
In Athens marathon about 1/3 is flat (first part) , then 1/3 going up (hills) and last 1/3 going down.
The hills were noticeable but were not so exhausting as we anticipated. Most noticeable was getting out of a tunnel somewhere close to 30th km, this was a pretty steep uphill. It really helped to concentrate on running technique. As from 31 km going downhill, I realized I could go faster and went close to 5:30 before getting suddenly light headed and dizzy. This was a quick scare as I was determined to finish. I had to slow down, forced a couple of Cliff salty cubes in, then slowly picked up the pace again. The dreams of the decent time were vanished. The calculations and predictions made before the race didn’t stand a chance! It was good enough to just make it “home”.
The entry to the finish at the Olympic stadium was spectacular. Music, cameras, and supporters everywhere, more Bravo’s, the overwhelming feeling of triumph! Aluminium throw-overs from DHL, food, and drinks, photographers waiting to take a shot of you, it was all very welcome! We both made it!
The pains and sufferings:
John had the whole distance a stomach pain, that started in the very early morning of the run. This was a reaction to Athens food, actually all the tempting breads that he had a day and two days before. Beware of the white bread of Athens! It is fresh and extremely addictive, and you can’t run with it -when its 2 days old- still inside you! But still – he finished his first Marathon, even though the food intolerance!
For me other than the pain in my gluts that started around 12th kilometer and stayed through the run, everything else went fine. It went even easier and with fewer complications than my first -Rotterdam marathon- 3 years ago. I had slower time in Athen than in Rotterdam by 10 minutes, but then Rotterdam was flat. And I had this time a better running technique. That helped! And positive attitude! It really works! It’s Magic!
Thank you, Dutch Embassy!
And an added bonus of being invited to the pre-race and race day reception at the Dutch Embassy. The Embassy was located just about a hundred meters from the Olympic stadium, and we could just walk there right after the race.
On the pre-race day there was a full program with a pasta party and several informative sessions about nutrition during the race and kilometer by kilometer analysis of the parcour. And on the day of the marathon, the Embassy was open to all the Dutch runners and their family members and massages arranged for the athletes, and food and drinks. There were also prizes for the fastest 3 Dutch runners in both male and female categories. We didn’t make it to the Embassy after the marathon as John felt sick and we went straight to the hotel, but the pasta party and all the info a day before was greatly appreciated!
Thank you, Athens!
This was a great trip. Beautiful city of Athens, wonderful and cheap food, warm sea and a very well organized marathon. We enjoyed great supporters, lots of superb scenery before, during and after the race. Thank you, Athens for this experience!