In 2008, we decided to go Greece to run the Athens Marathon with Apostolos Greek Tours. Before getting into the race re-cap, I highly recommend Paul Samaras and his tour. He is such a nice man, and you can tell he really wants you to have an amazing experience in Greece.
We had a pasta dinner the night before, and had the hotel set up the breakfast early that morning so we could get something to eat before we left. The race didn’t start until 9 am so it was nice to not have to get up super early. We slept until about 6 am, got breakfast, and then I got on the bus to head towards Marathon at 7. Eric didn’t have to leave until 7:30 since the 10K started near the stadium, which was my finishing point.
We drove through the Greece countryside and arrived in Marathonas at around 8:15. It was cold and a little windy, but the wind would be at our backs once the race started. Jeff Galloway, the run/walk master, was with the tour and was leading a 1 min. run/1 min. walk group with a goal of finishing in 5 hours. The night before he told us that the course was difficult and we should expect to run 20 minutes slower than usual, but my secret goal was to set a pr (break 5:20).
After listening to some Madonna, and then taking an oath about having fun and enjoying the race, it was on! Jeff wanted to start after everyone else had gone, and for the first time I started dead last. There were only a few thousand people there, so we were actually only about 5 minutes behind clock time. The temperature at race start was 61 degrees with the wind at our back and lots of cloud coverage – practically perfect marathon weather.
After the first couple miles, we started a loop around the tomb of the Athenian soldiers, who died during the historical war between the Persians and the Athenians. The 1/1 run/walk method was awesome and the race was flying by. Jeff and his wife, Barbara, were so positive and fun to run with. Eric and I had looked at the course map beforehand and didn’t expect much of the hills that we saw – they were mostly long and gradual, but a couple were a bit steep. The hills did start to take a toll on my knees, though. Besides being hilly, the road is slanted which any runner knows can create imbalance issues. By mile 7 my knees started bothering me, but I tried to ignore them. They continued to bother me, and ended up hurting for 3 weeks after the race, but I think my positive attitude (and the cream/spray I kept getting on them) really helped me through.
We continued through the countryside, with cheers of Bravo! and Calimera! (good morning) coming from people who had come outside to cheer us on. Around mile 16 we started to get into the suburbs of Athens and began to see more buildings. This was also about the time that I started to lose the group. I had to stop to get some cream for my knees and slow my pace down a bit and they pulled away. I kept them in my sights for the next 3ish miles and then they were gone. But I was looking forward to seeing Eric at mile 24, and I made a friend who was part of TNT who was there running as well.
My hamstring started to cramp off and on around mile 20, but I would push through the running minute to get to the walking minute and then it would go away for a couple minutes. One thing that helped me get through was something that another member of our group said which was, “I can do anything for a minute”. I remembered this when I started to feel tired and when I started to cramp.
I got to about 23.75 and there was Eric. I had almost made it! I wasn’t crashing, either, it was awesome. My crash during this race was in the middle, around 12-15. Eric was surprised to find me in a good mood, and I was kind of surprised to be in a good mood. Maybe it was the spirit of Phidippides and the olive branches in my visor. A little after mile 25, both my hamstrings started to cramp and my quads. I have never cramped in my legs before, so it was a little bothersome. It would come and go, and it pretty much went away in a few minutes.
Right after mile 26 Eric had to leave me because he couldn’t run into the stadium with me, so he had to haul it through the National Gardens to see me finish. As I was “sprinting” to the finish, EVERYTHING cramped. My left big toe was cramping, which has only happened with tight climbing shoes. As I was running in I turned to my right and saw a stray dog jogging in a few feet behind me, which kind of made me laugh and I forgot about my cramps for a second.
And then I was done. It was amazing. Here I was in the Olympic Stadium with the olympic rings above the stands (which we climbed up the stairs to right after the marathon), with the acropolis and the Parthenon in the distance, and it was amazing. My final time was 5:14, a PR by approx. 6 minutes. 🙂