Athens Marathon – The Authentic – My 100th marathon review

Athens Marathon

 How did I get here?

The Athens Marathon was always on my list of marathons to run. However when I ran my first marathon in 2010 in Dublin and recorded a 4 hr 27 minutes finish time, I swore to never run another marathon. Huge blisters on each foot, aches and pains everywhere, couldn’t walk downstairs properly for a week – the usual. Of course I had it in my head that I wanted to beat the elusive 4 hour mark as it was seen as the gold standard of the event: I did run another marathon, then another and another and just kept going.

Before I knew it I had racked up quite a number, running 23 marathons in the one year then the idea of running 100 marathons eventually cropped up in conversation. I have ran ultramrathons, 100 mile events and Last One Standing events.One thing led to another and of course, the only place that I could mark such an occasion could be the Athens Marathon : The Authentic.

Soon I was running quicker and eventually paced marathons for the 4 hour barrier helping others to achieve the 4 hour time. I was just plodding along and had resigned myself to just easing my way to my 100th marathon. I had put on weight and was running slower. It was then I changed my focus and signed up to The Sean Casey Academy and lost 10kgs in 3 months sustainably, but more importantly I kept it  off. This was a game changer – my running times became quicker – I knew that my marathon times could too. To give the Athens marathon the respect it deserved I decided to give it my full dedictaed training to try and achieve a Personal Best for my 100th. I trained hard for 5 months.

Expo JB

Collecting my number at the Expo – another very well organised event!

 

The Athens Marathon holds a unique place in the hearts of marathon enthusiasts worldwide. Standing at the starting line of the 40th-anniversary edition of the Athens Marathon, the weight of history and personal achievement mingled in the air. This was not just a marathon; it was a journey through time, following in the footsteps of Pheidippides, the messenger of ancient Greece. The asphalt beneath my feet carried the echoes of more than a century of runners who had tread the same path, an aptly named Marathonos Avenue, weaving through the villages of Nea Makri, Rafína, Pikermi, and Pallini, before transforming into Mesogeion Avenue and leading us into the heart of Athens.

History Woven in Asphalt:

More than a century since its inception, the Athens Marathon has evolved, and the runners now run the course predominantly on asphalt. Marathonos Avenue, with its symbolic name, guides the runners through a rapid route, passing through picturesque villages and urban districts alike. Nea Makri, Rafína, Pikermi, and Pallini, each village contributing its unique charm to the marathon experience, while Mesogeion Avenue carries the spirit of the Mediterranean through the Chalándri and Cholargos districts before ushering the runners into the bustling center of Athens.

Pheidippides Athens Marathon

The curious observer, alongside the determined runner, is treated to more than just the rhythmic pounding of feet on asphalt. Along the route, two iconic statues stand witness to the marathon’s enduring legacy. In Rafína, at the beginning of the journey, a bronze statue of Pheidippides stands with chest forward and a parchment in his hands, paying homage to the messenger’s self-sacrifice. If you would like to know about the Battle of Marathon – watch it here. Further along, in Athens, at the Evangelismós metro station, O Dromeas (The Runner) captures attention—an impressive glass and iron sculpture by the Greek artist Costas Varostos, creating the vivid impression of an athlete in perpetual motion.

 

Personal Reflections on the Athens Marathon Route:

As a participant in this historical event, Marathonos Avenue became more than a road;

Marathon sign

 

it was a timeline connecting past and present. The villages, with their charming landscapes, provided not just a physical challenge but a visual feast for the eyes. The transition from the quaintness of Nea Makri to the vibrant energy of Rafína marked the beginning of a journey that was as much about self-discovery as it was about endurance.

The rapid route, transforming into Mesogeion Avenue, presented a contrast of urban landscapes. Chalándri and Cholargos, with their bustling districts, hinted at the modernity that coexists harmoniously with Greece’s rich historical tapestry. Each step, each turn in the asphalt, felt like a stride through time, a connection to the countless runners who had embraced this challenge before.

Preparation and the Day of the Athens Marathon:

The months of training in Ireland had been grueling, with a singular focus on conquering the Athens Marathon. Despite the meticulous preparation, nothing prepared me for the intense heat awaiting on race day. The marathon started with a very early wake-up call at 4 am, followed by a 5 am breakfast, as we were to be bussed out to the historic town of Marathon from Athens city center. This town, steeped in history, is home to the Marathon Run Museum and the Olympic flame, adding an extra layer of significance to the race.

Start Athens JB

Arriving in Zone 3, which set off at 9:05 am, just 5 minutes after the professional athletes, I felt a mix of excitement and nervousness. The initial miles saw me maintaining a strong pace of around 7 minutes per mile, even as the warmth of the Greek sun started to make its presence felt. Passing through Zone 2 runners, I pushed myself before encountering the challenging hills that demanded a measured approach to avoid early exhaustion.

The Long, Challenging Hills: Athens Marathon

The course’s elevation became evident around the 6-mile mark, presenting a series of hills that tested the mettle of every runner. The uphill struggle lasted until approximately the 19-mile mark, demanding a recalibration of pace and strategy. The challenging terrain slowed me down, but I knew that conserving energy for the final miles would be crucial. The energy conserved on the hills helped me greatly over the last- 10 kilometres – I upped the pace again and ran with determination towards my goal.

Acknowledging the Unparalleled Supporters:

However, the Athens Marathon is not just a solitary endeavor; it’s a collective effort fueled by the unwavering support of the communities along the route. To the villagers of Nea Makri, Rafína, Pikermi, Pallini, Chalándri, and Cholargos, thank you for being the backdrop to this historical and personal journey. Your cheers, your smiles, and your offering of refreshments were not just gestures; they were the heartbeat of the marathon.

A special mention goes to the spectators in the last 5km. Your presence turned those moments into a shared celebration of the indomitable human spirit. To every person who lined the streets, clapped their hands, and offered encouragement, your support was unparalleled, and it carried me through the challenging hills and the final miles.

The Last Mile and Gratitude:

As I approached the last kilometer, the Panathenaic Stadium in sight, the energy of the crowd reached a crescendo. The cheers were not just for me; they were for every runner who had embraced the challenges of Marathonos Avenue. Crossing the finish line in 3:06:03, a personal best by approximately 10 minutes, was not just my triumph; it was a collective victory shared with the communities and supporters who had made this journey memorable. I don’t know which I was happier about – finishing my 100th marathon or finishing with a massive PB after all the hard months of training. Not bad for a 51 year old! I still don’t know. I am just glad I chose Athens as the venue.

Finish line

In conclusion, the Athens Marathon transcends the physical act of running. It is a testament to the endurance of the human spirit, woven into the asphalt of Marathonos Avenue. The villages, the iconic statues, and the unwavering support along the route create a tapestry of experiences that go beyond personal milestones. To run the Athens Marathon is not just to conquer a course; it is to become part of a living history, a narrative that unfolds with each step and is enriched by the collective spirit of those who cheer from the sidelines. I encourage all marathoners and those contemplating running a marathon to run The Athens Marathon. The Authentic and get that beautiful medal around your neck.

Athens Marathon medal

 

 

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