Here is a quick look back to my 2016 Athens Authentic Marathon. Funny I use the word “quick” in a post about a marathon I did. Ha ha ha.
Anyway, running this race was such a blessing, a trip back into history, 120 years back into history to be precise. Sometimes during the build up to Athens 2016 I sometimes could not believe I was actually going to run it.
According to organizers interest in “Athens Marathon. The Authentic” was again high this year with around 50,000 runners expected to participate in all of the events’ races over a range of distances. But my focus, and the focus of around 17,000 other runners, was on the premier event, the international officially measured marathon (42.195 km) scheduled for Sunday morning, the 13th of November at 09.00am when all of us were going to follow the footsteps of the legendary Pheidippides from the town of Marathon to the finish line at the 1896 Olympic Stadium, also known as the Panathenaic Stadium also known as Kallimarmaro. Like I mentioned, this year marked , celebrated, 120 years since the first Modern Olympic Games of 1896 and the first ever Olympic marathon finished in the same stadium where we were going to finish and we were going to be part of it.
First thing Pieter and I did after checking at the YES! New Hotel in Athens was to find our way to the Athens Marathon EXPO & Registration Centre, which is hosted in the Faliro Indoor Hall & Exhibition Centre of Athens. We found other runners on the tram and together we found our way to the registration centre. Picking up our bib numbers, timing chips, and race packages was quick and efficient and the expo was really huge. We decided to make the most of it and walked through the whole expo, twice. I had to go back to by the 120 year souvenir and limited edition t-shirt. I only decided I wanted it when we were already at the exit.
Saturday was just a day of lying low, we did some exploring close to the hotel and the rest of the day was really just focusing on the task at hand, to get the most out of this amazing opportunity to run one of the most sought after marathons in the world, and not only that, also the only “authentic” marathon in the world, measured at 42.195km. Well, I managed to do it in 42.74km. Ha ha ha. They just never work out quite right so they ?
Race day. 13 November 2016. Our hotel was located literally just around the corner from one of the bus pick up points at Syntagma Metro Station, line 2 & 3. Getting there took us minutes by foot and the whole process there was so well organised and handled to the point, the best I have seen actually at any race. About an hour later we arrived in the village of Marathon and had ample of time to soak in the whole vibe of this iconic event. We were able to also take some great pictures before the race and one specific highlight is the pictures we took at the Marathon Flame Tower and another with our South African flag that was also hoisted along with the flags of all other participating countries.
Just to interrupt myself for a minute. You guys might know that I have decided to sit out on the Kaapsehoop marathon on the 5th of November, just before we left for Athens. That was a really tough decision for me because I love Kaapsehoop and it was also my first marathon ever, but when I stood there at the starting line of the Athens Authentic, I knew that that was the right decision. The rib injury I suffered two weeks before we left was still very present and the pain was still there, intense but bearable. I was still worried about the marathon and how the day was going to play out, but I was determined to ride this wave to the very end, no matter what. I was determined to start and finish this race, no matter what.
We started in batches and the first group of elite runners started at 09.00, sharp. After them the groups were moved forward and started in groups one after the other. I have to say what really stood out for me was that there was no pushing of shuffling or people trying to push in because they were late – the typical South African race start scene was not present. Everyone waited, patiently, for their turn. Maybe it is because the race was a mat to mat and not gun to gun event, but still. It is really nice to start like this where everyone is just calm and disciplined, enjoying the moment.
From the village of Marathon the route replicated the route followed by Pheidippides to announce the victory of Athens in the Battle of Marathon.
From the start we headed south for around 17 kilometers, offering a rather flat profile with little graduate climbing here and there, and then we turned in a western direction where the serious climbing started – not too steep but steep enough to test and try the legs. The first descent only starts at around between 32km and 35km and then we entered the valley where the city of Athens is located in front of us.From there the run was easy and rather effortless.
The spectators along the route were amazing. We passed through various small villages and eventually suburbs of Athens until we reached the city of Athens, and one word echoed through the air all the time, “Bravo”. It is my guess that Phinnepeades carried an olive branch with him when he did this route because the locals came out in their numbers to hand out olive branches to the runners to carry with them to Athens. It was a lovely touch and yes, I carried mine all the way to the end and I am glad I did. It even shows on my pictures.
Along the route water stations were very frequent but boy, did they waste water. Unlike at the races we do where they hand out cachets, we were given bottled water and one can only drink so much water, so the rest goes to waste. Obviously they do not have problems with water like we do and every time I had to throw a bottle of water away I thought of SA and how much we need that water. Anyway, when in Rome do as the Romans do I guess ( in this case, when in Greece… ) so I had to make peace with that. I have to add to this though that I have read that they were going to recycle an estimate of around 25,000 kg of plastic, so not all that dim and grim I guess.
Friends, the whole race was amazing, from beginning to end, but nothing could prepare me for the moment when I made that left turn towards the Panathenaic Stadium and saw the banner that said, “250m to go!” and then the full view of the stadium was suddenly in front of me and I knew, “Athens Marathon – The Authentic was done and dusted! I crossed the finish line at 04.34.01. Happy. No, ecstatic, grateful and really blessed ! When I threw my arms in the air I saw the olive branch I carried all the way with me and this is when I welled up. Yah I am a softy, sucker for “a moment”. I suddenly missed my mom and wondered what she would think of me, doing all this; me changing my life, losing all the weight, started to run, marathons, ultra-marathons, Comrades, international marathons ( this was my third one ) and now, the one and only authentic marathon in the world where it all started 120 years ago, the Athens Marathon. I think she would be proud of me.
Looking at that medal in my hand, the medal I have been dreaming of since I started to plan this trip, was suddenly lying in the palm of my hand. Mission accomplished.
Pieter and I both had good runs ( he did 04.14.39 ) We were 44 South Africans on the starting list, 32 finished the race. Pieter finished in 13th place out of the group and grabbed the 17th spot. This was definitely not about racing, but rather to have and enjoy the experience. Both of us were going to have better times, but we took a lot of pictures, so that definitely wasted time, but with this event not time was wasted. It was just plain awesome.
We also extended our time in Greece for another ten days, and believe when I say, the experience was magical. We have seen and done so much and got to be around the most amazing people; they are friendly, helpful and so respectful. Greece is a stunning country, disciplined, clean and despite of the challenges they face as a people and as a country, things are still working in so many ways and when I say that I immediately wonder, “What is South Africa’s excuse?”
It will not be fair for me to boast about this wonderful even without thanking the people who made this possible. I want to give a BIG shout out and thank you to Discovery Vitality for making this trip to Athens possible. If it was not for me winning the #MyVitalityPB competition, none of this was going to be possible. I had six months in which to make use of the prize, and when I saw that the Athens Marathon was on, that instantly convinced me not to let this opportunity pass, and we entered, and then booked the trip around those dates. To Discovery Vitality, “Efcharistó polý” ( Thank you very much )
Everyone ask me, “Will you go back?” The answer to that question is easy, “…next year this time you will ten to one be reading my review on my second Athens Authentic Marathon” So YES, I want to go back and not only that, I intend to take a few friends ( specially running friends ) with. This is a MUST RUN marathon !