Saturday, November 21, 2009

Athens Classic Marathon 2009

“I came, I ran, I conquered” the Athens Classic Marathon!

I had a wonderful time in Greece and a very nice race.

I arrived in Athens on Friday, November 6, after an uneventful flight. My brother picked me up from the airport, ran a few errands and then dropped me at the Expo. Everything went well, no problems. I never got adjusted regarding the time difference. On Saturday night I went to bed at 10:30 pm with the alarm at 5:00 am. I woke up feeling fully rested, but it was only 1:30! I forced myself back to bed, but got up at 3:00 am, unable to sleep any more.

Got up, ate, got dressed and left my brother’s house around 6 am. I went to pick up Tony, an American friend I met the previous day. He was staying in a hotel nearby. While waiting for him to eat breakfast, it started raining really hard. We walked to the Stadium to pick up the bus for Marathon. Our feet got wet. The bus left around 6:30 am and we were in Marathon by 7:00 am. We had 2 hours before the race started.

I ate 2 energy bars, drank Gatorade, took pictures, socialized with other runners, and at 9:00 am I was ready to go!

My goal was 3:30. To understand how the race goes, you have to take a look at the topography. I divide the course into 4 sections:

A. First 6 miles (10K): It is flat. I started the first mile conservatively (it was also crowded) at 8:11. Then: 7:37, 7:38, 7:39, 7:45. The pace felt very slow and comfortable. Around the 5K mark we were diverted from the main road to tour the Tumble of the Marathon where the battle of the Marathon took place in 490BC.

B. Next 6 miles: A slight uphill, but I manage to maintain a good pace of 7:45. My splits: 7:47, 7:43, 7:33, 7:58, 7:26, 7:48. I feel great! It was drizzling in the first hour and had my Fuji 3d camera covered in plastic. When it stopped raining I took it out and took pictures and videos of the race.  In the picture below I am crossing the half line at 21km.  You can see me holding the Fuji 3d camera. I was actually recording a 3d video at this point.

C. Next 7 miles (20-32K): This is the hardest part of the course and apparently one of the most difficult stretches of any well-known marathon. There is an elevation gain of about 800 ft. My average pace drops to 8:20. Splits: 8:15, 8:26, 8:19, 8:40, 8:10, 8:09, 8:21.

D. Final 6 miles are downhill. Normally, this would be good news, but my legs are tired and downhill running hurts more than uphill. My average pace is 7:50. Splits: 8:02, 7:34, 7:52, 7:58, 7:49, 7:57, 7:58.

I entered the Stadium for the final 200 meters where I found the strength for a semi-kick. I looked at the official race clock and my time was 3:29:58, only 2 seconds away from my goal time! Chip time: 3:28:41. I finished 37/404 in my age group, and 452/3853 overall.

After the race, my legs were hurting and my stomach was upset.  I managed to smile and my relatives said that I looked great.  In the picture above I am photographed with my sister Alexia and nieces Vasia and Maria.  The picture on the right was taken by a fellow runner, using my Fuji camera.

It is fair to say that I felt worse than other marathons, but I took an ice bath and felt better for the rest of the day. The next day I was happy and ready to do it over again! My legs were hurting a bit for a few days. I walked a lot and did not run. I returned to the USA on Friday and ran on Saturday for the first time.

Right after the race I was interviewed by a young reporter. She wrote down (on a notebook with a pencil) a lot of details and then the photographer took a picture of me. I did not catch the name of the paper but the next day my interview was published in one of the largest newspapers in Athens (TA NEA – The News). That was quite a surprise!  I took a picture of the paper interview below.  It says that I was 100kg (225 lbs) when I started running in 2001 and dropped to 72kg (160 lbs) thanks to running.  My goal was to run the Athens Marathon when I turned 50.  This is what the reporter considered the most important points from the many questions she asked.

Overall, my experience was positive:

1. I made all the arrangements on line ( ) The expo was well organized, the transportation of the runners to the start was without problems. The weather cooperated (low 60s with rain, better than the days immediately before and after, 70F and sunny).

2. The medal is nice (serious look, like a large coin). The T-shirt is plain short sleeve cotton.

3. The course is mildly scenic at first, later goes through industrial areas, and finishes in Athens. Aid stations every few miles, well-stocked, no problem. Crowd support is sparse but enthusiastic (“Bravo, bravo!!!”).

4. The finish in the Panathenaikon Stadion, where the 1896 fist Olympic games took place, is spectacular.

No one is running this marathon for the medal, T-shirt or the beauty of the course. If I want a nice course, I’d stay in Ohio. You are running this marathon for the history. But I was touched by the people who were out in the rain and the fact that all the roads were closed just for us! (I took the bus the next day to visit the city of Marathon, and the route is a lot uglier with cars and traffic, so I consider myself privileged that the roads were open only for us runners).

I went back to the US with very good impressions and I would like to run this marathon again in the future, this time with Liz.  Based on the 10K results, Liz would have done great if she had come to run the 10K.

Overall, I am happy I did it and would recommend this marathon to other runners, interested in history and international marathons.