Race Review – The Authentic Athens Marathon (Second Running)

In November 2016 I ran the Athens Marathon…

I went solo. And it was hot, it was sticky, it was hilly, my PF was off the charts but I did it, what was my 7th marathon, and I did it alone. Roll forwards 18 months and when choosing the race calendar things kinda took a left turn. I read back my review and decided that one day…

But then others signed up. Jen Morris, Lewis Clarke, Keith, Emma, Dasen, the Runr guys, Del and Michele. It was getting big and so it was obvious, there was only one course of action. I signed up for the 2018 Authentic Athens Marathon.

I have run a few races more than once (British (3) and London (4) 10Ks, Movember (3), Runthrough races) at 10K, and the Bacchus (2) and Royal Parks (3) half. Athens would be the first marathon that deserved a rerun. And this in itself is acting as a motivator. I want to do better than last time, I want to push myself rather than just to finish, but to do better than the PF ridden limp fest from 2016. I hope this is a theme, as 2019 includes numerous races where I want to do better than the last time I ran them. Portland Coastal (really???), GMU30, Transgrancanaria, St Illtyds and Berlin (with a bit of luck) will all be raced for a second time. And when I mean raced, I mean against myself. Me against me. My last time being the target, something I have never had for all my previous 30 marathons and ultras. Let’s see how it goes.

And there is no reason for it not to be a success. After all I have run 6 races in 6 weeks including 2 marathons and an ultra,

  • Loch Ness 23rd September
  • Green Man Ultra The Green Boy  29th September
  • Can’t stop the running marathon 21st October
so my legs should be up for it. There are no excuses this time.

The Checklist

I had a spectacular time in 2016. It was magical. Only my 7th marathon, but it was memorable enough to wax rhapsodic to the others until they too, wanted the experience that I had. And I wanted it for them. I was actually more anxious that the Groovy Gang had the epic journey to Marathon, the flame, the olive branches, the stadium finish, the photos at the Temple of Zeus and all the joy it brought me. And so I made a mental check list. Completion of all or a majority would be a guide of the success of the weekend.

  1. Bus. Early start, but needed to ensure that everyone knew where to get their bus to the start.
  2. Audio guide. It was playing on constant loop for the journey to marathon. It talks about the history of the race, as well as the rules and regulations for the day.
  3. Marathon. The statue of Helena, the ampetheatre, and the proper toilets in the AC club houses and changing rooms.
  4. Marathon flame. Atop stairs near the end of the pens. It would be lit just beforehand.
  5. Statues of Pheidippides. There are several on the way. Two later in the route, one on the divide between the sides of the motorway, and a huge one closer to the finish, as we turn into the last few streets.
  6. Olive sprigs. As we circle the Tomb of the Marathoner/Marathon Museum local people bring olive sprigs to carry. The eternals gave these to Athenians as rewards.
  7. Safety pin for olive branches, This was smart, having worn a hydration vest last time I could slip the olive branch into my pack. As I was not using one this time, a safety pin was attached to my vest for this purpose.
  8. Tea at Terra Carpo. My favourite place in Athens. They make pressed tea, in the same contraption as their coffee. It is wonderful.
  9. Race. Just enjoy it. There are not massive ups, more constant slight incline for 30K. The start and the finish are the reason to be there. They are epic. The race, in 2016 at least, was just a long hot slog up one side of a motorway either side of Marathon and the Panatheniac Stadium.
  10. Stadium finish. Probably the highlight of all race finishes, even Disney.
  11. Medal pics at stadium and Temple of Zeus the next day just have to be done. It’s the rules. In 2016 I saw a wild tortoise there too.
  12. The Weekend. Enjoy the race, the weather, the food, the booze and the people.
TEAM!

The Race

The kit choice for the day was a mixture of lessons learned and idiocy. The lessons learned from 2016 was that it was hot. Even though, when we arrive in Marathon at 7am, it is cold as the sun isn’t up, it would be blistering hot. When I ran it the first time I first lost a cap in Athens, then I binned the free one they give you. But when my bonce was being baked like a potato on the motorway I ended up picking one up off the floor to stave off sunstroke. This time I was wearing the cap the whole way, or at least until the sun went down, and would then swap to the buff they gave as a backup. I would not bother with a hydration vest. It was hot last time, and would be up to 34 degrees this time around, but the pack was not needed as the water stations were every 5K, sometimes sooner. I also took money, in case I needed a drink and was not interested in water or Powerade. There were plenty of shops on the route. And finally the idiocy, new shoes that I had only worn for a couple of 5K jogs, and a new Schimitar vest with Mr Slow on it. It was comical, the locals love the Mr Men and it was very appreciated, however it nearly sandpapered off my nips. The shoes worked out mostly fine, but they rubbed a huge blister on my right heel.

Darren is modelling the 2018 Mr Men vest from Schimitar, complete with front and back images, and a degree of irony. He is accessorizing with an olive branch, and a free cap.

The real difference between the 2016 and this year was the period we ran through the towns devastated by wildfires. 99 people lost their lives, whole communities were torn apart, livelihoods lost. The race, going through this area wanted to make a difference whilst the government sat on their hands, and houses and businesses were not rebuilt. And so we were all issued with green buffs to help create a “runners forest.” We were supporting the people, trees were planted by the organisers, and in their thanks the communities dressed in black, with questions of why 99 people died and why the Greek government were doing nothing printed on banners and t-shirts, came out and supported us in droves. These people, who had lost everything were supporting us, and the least we could do was support them back.

It was hot and it was November. It was not too much of a stretch of the imagination to wonder why so much land was destroyed by wildfires in the height of summer. I, was melting before half way, and the number of people dropping out at water stops and aid stations, or stopping at paramedics and calling it a day grew and grew as the miles ticked over. Outside of Comrades I have never seen so many people dropping out of a race. Given gold metallic blankets they sat on the other side of the motorway and waited for the buses to pick them up and take them to the finish. I did wish them well, but if anything it made me determined to keep going.

It was sometime around here that I met up with Jenni. Our paths tend to cross at races as we are similar speeds, with me rushing on ahead, then slowing and Jenni’s constant pace allowing her to catch up and go past. It was hot and we were both struggling. Jenni was loving it though and we caught up with what had happened in each other’s races (olive branches, high fives, heat and the sombre time through the wildfire area) before settling into what should have been a routine joggette. It was not.

Me and Jen catching up with the runner version of Grumpy Cat

Being Remembrance Sunday we stopped at 11am UK time for a  minutes silence by the side of the road as the runners went by. Jenni was wearing a poppy for the fallen, the green buff in support of the community and a her olive branch, a lot of support for a lot of causes. But this unique race had a lot more to offer.

I ran into a shop and bought an ice cold bottle of coke, and a Greek flag (as you do). The coke was glorious as in the later stages of the race the water at the water tables was warmed by the sun to an unpleasant level. Despite 2016 I tossed my baseball cap and put on the buff, with the Greek flag tucked in to stop my neck burning. It was then I saw a kitten by the side of the road, and went to pet it. It was tiny. We also saw a stray dog in one village that decided, what the hell, it wanted to run along with the runners. It kept up with us for ages before losing interest. With music played and the support growing as we neared Athens I turned to find that Jen had stopped to have a bit of a dance with an elderly Greek couple by the side of the road.

And then we parted ways as we descended into Athens. There is a decent amount of downhill in the last 10K but to be honest most people have had their legs blown out by the previous 30K running uphill.  I ran when I could. I walked when I had to. I stopped at a garage and bought 2 cans of ice cold Fanta that tasted better than God’s own sweat. I used  kids and their demand for high 5s as a decent enough excuse to slow down. And then I saw the turn and started to sprint. Down the hill, and a left turn into the Panathenaic Stadium.

Now I have run my share of stadium finishes, and through enough on races – the Queen Elizabeth Olympic stadium in London, Amsterdam, Berlin breakfast run, Milton Keynes, and Lucerne, big football stadiums. But this is something special, horse shoe shaped, marble seating, you cannot help but get emotional and get your feet flying on the rubber surface laid down for the event before crossing the finish line of the Authentic, the most original, the EPIC, the Athens marathon.

How I did

Ten minutes slower than 2016 which disappointed me. I wanted to do better. But I had a better overall experience. Only a comedy sunburn and blister on my right heel, nipple chafe after the Mr Slow vest (that the locals loved) nearly sandpapered them off, and chafing down below in an area commonly known as the Gooch (probably after cricketer Graham). I did, as I said, stop at 11 o’clock (GMT) for the minutes silence, I did stop at 2 shops to get cold drinks, and fuss a kitten, but all in all, it went against my #dontbeshit rule.

If I do it again I am going to need a different pose

The Checklist revisited

And so the 2018 Athens Marathon was completed. We all went our separate ways but then met up for a night of food, drink and reminiscence, and the next day the sight seeing 2016 list ticked off the Parthenon atop the Acropolis, medal photos at the Temple of Zeus and the stadium, now that it was empty, before we all flew home, allowing me to revisit the checklist.

  1. Bus. Early start, but needed to ensure that everyone knew where to get their bus to the start. CHECK
  2. Audio guide. It was playing on constant loop for the journey to marathon. It talks about the history of the race, as well as the rules and regulations for the day. CHECK
  3. Marathon. The statue of Helena, the ampetheatre, and the proper toilets in the AC club houses and changing rooms. CHECK
  4. Marathon flame. Atop stairs near the end of the pens. It would be lit just beforehand. CHECK
  5. Statues of Pheidippides. There are several on the way. Two later in the route, one on the divide between the sides of the motorway, and a huge one closer to the finish, as we turn into the last few streets. CHECK
  6. Olive sprigs. As we circle the Tomb of the Marathoner/Marathon Museum local people bring olive sprigs to carry. The eternals gave these to Athenians as rewards. CHECK
  7. Safety pin for olive branches, This was smart, having worn a hydration vest last time I could slip the olive branch into my pack. As I was not using one this time, a safety pin was attached to my vest for this purpose. CHECK
  8. Tea at Terra Carpo. My favourite place in Athens. They make pressed tea, in the same contraption as their coffee. It is wonderful. CHECK Actually drank there 4 times! So 2016++
  9. Race. Just enjoy it. There are not massive ups, more constant slight incline for 30K. The start and the finish are the reason to be there. They are epic. The race, in 2016 at least, was just a long hot slog up one side of a motorway either side of Marathon and the Panatheniac Stadium. CHECK
  10. Stadium finish. Probably the highlight of all race finishes, even Disney. CHECK Everyone admitted to getting emotional.
  11. Medal pics at stadium and Temple of Zeus the next day just have to be done. It’s the rules. CHECK
  12. The Weekend. Enjoy the race, the weather, the food, the booze and the people. CHECK
  13.  No wild tortoises though at the Acropolis, but we did invent a new game of Rock or Tortoise that will have very appeal to anyone else.

The Bling

It is the same other than the count and year on the insert. Still a great medal though and it counts as number 31 towards the 100 Marathon Club. And am very happy with that.

Summary

Much like Grease and Grease 2 the sequel rarely surpasses the original, but on this occasion it does and I will tell you why. Personally, while I am over the moon that everyone had the race that I wanted them to have, I am disappointed in my own performance. The former, however, does far outweigh the latter and this was a weekend for me, Jen, Lewis, Keith, Dasen, Emma and the Runr guys to savour.

3 brothers and a sister at the 4 Brothers restaurant. The Best chilling

In 2016 I was injured, my PF was on fire after Beachy Head a fortnight earlier, this year I don’t have such an excuse. I was just shit. And if anything we live by the rule #dontbeshit. 10 minutes slower. I am disappointed as I wanted to do better but sometimes you need to reevaluate and change your plans on the run as it were. It was crazy hot. I stopped at 2 shops for cold drinks and a Greek flag. I stopped for a few photos. I finished strong with a heel blister and sunburn to show for my efforts. You can clearly see how disappointed I was but you shouldn’t dwell and I won’t. It was a fantastic weekend with dear friends and one that no one will forget. Onwards and upwards and onto the Nottingham Christmas Marathon in 3 weeks time.

Jen will blog and I look forward to reading her views. It was one of her A races and I am glad she got to complete it before her world tour. Keith said to us that this was exactly what he needed. He blogged about it here. Who knew he had a blog?  And there was high praise indeed from Lewis, when he said that he doesn’t blog, but it he did he would have written a blog about that one. We all loved it. Lew is a little broken and I am a little sunburned and miserable about my time, but the rest, as the ancient (and authentic) Greeks say, is history.

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE AUTHENTIC ATHENS MARATHON? OF COURSE.

WOULD I RUN THE AUTHENTIC ATHENS MARATHON AGAIN? SURE, IN A COUPLE OF YEARS.

Scores on the doors

2018 scores significantly higher than 2016 for a few reasons. Sure I was slower but the enjoyment of the race was increased by seeing it through the eyes of the others. Still no free t-shirt for the standard entry, but there was a lot on offer at the EXPO, and the water stops had food and drink. And so Athens 2, the first ever rerunning of a marathon for me, is up there.

Flumprunner total

NEXT UP : NOTTINGHAM

CHRISTMAS MARATHON

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Running Abby says:

    Love this report, sounds like you had a really great time!

    Liked by 1 person

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