Athens is not flat or cool, but it is run over the original course taken by the first marathoner Pheidippides, so all my training was done on hills with long runs while on holidays on the Algarve. Training went extremely well and I found a new found love for hills.
As I sat on the tarmac in Shannon on Friday Morning I was extremely happy with how I had prepared for this Race. Tomorrow was to prove otherwise.
Got to Athens late on Friday evening after a long day travelling, herself indoors is eager to go and see the sites the next day as she is really into all this Greek stuff. I am not keen on a long day on my feet so I agree to some sightseeing the following day after I pick up my Bib from the expo which is 5 Minutes walk from Hotel.
Early rise on Saturday after breakfast check for race acknowledgement and to my horror its is not in my bag and neither is my watch so much for preparation. No panic, find an Internet Cafe and printout a new one and should be able to pickup a watch at the Expo. Go to hotel reception and get directions to nearest internet cafe, hop on Metro (all runners received a free travel pass for all public transport for the weekend on arrival at the airport) get out at wrong exit and spend next hour trying to find said internet cafe.
Herself rings me to know how long I would be so I start to explain my predicament, to which she replies there is a Computer and Printer in the hotel lobby, and access is free to all hotel residents. Okay so Homer hops back on to the metro back to the hotel and gets said printouts.
Expo was heaving when I got there pickup my bib and chip but had to fight through crowds to get the Addias shirt. Good ploy to get all the runners go through the expo, but the narrow halls made it quite an uncomfortable experience.
Along the way could not find any stands selling watches, pickup shirt (worth the trouble to get it) and left the expo to return to the hotel. Still had not picked up a watch but herself had itchy feet so I would just have to pace myself without one tomorrow.
Back to hotel and hit off with herself to see the Acropolis’s Museum. On the way find a street trader selling watches, so after a bit of haggling I purchase an Analogue watch for €5. On to the Museum for mandatory sight seeing before making my escape back to the Hotel for some relaxation and a lie-down.
That evening a quick 5 Minute walk to Italian for some Pasta. Portions sizes had been small so far in most restaurants so I ordered 2, when quizzed by waiter as to why I explained and he duly obliged with a large plate of pasta, turned out he was running it as well.
Back to hotel get everything ready for the morning set alarm for 4:45, Hotel staff are laying on Breakfast for us at 5:00 as last Bus leaves for the Marathon start at 6:30am.
Alarm goes off at 4:45 and I surprisingly have got a good nights sleep. Get dressed and catch elevator to Roof Top restaurant (which has a spectacular view of the City) to read the following, Dear Guest Please be advised that clocks will go back by One hour at 4:00 AM to 3:00 AM on the 31st of October 2010. So Homer goes back to the room to catch another hour’s kip.
Second time of asking up at 4:45 AM new time dressed up for breakfast. Start strong cup of coffee to move bowels, I suffer from colitis and if I do not move before the race start I will have a guaranteed pit stop during the race. Have my usual big breakfast and set off for Bus to start at 05:30. The majority of the guests are running the marathon so the hotel is buzzing.
Hats off to the Greeks for organisation, they bussed 12000 runners to the start (45 Min drive) in one hour with the minimum of fuss.
At the start found a very quiet area at the back of the warm up track with changing rooms and seats. Sit down for the next Hour or so and chill out. Just before getting changed bowel duly obliged, was quite amazed that queue for Porto loos was only 3 or 4 deep. Got changed and head back to bag drop off point, on leaving the area notice a sign for Elite & CISM runner’s only. Absolute mayhem at bag drop off point and the usual deep queues at Porto loos for the mere mortals.
About 15 minutes before the gun, get into the correct corral for start. There is a good buzz around the place now and DJ is thumping out the music. Few speeches from organisers and the first wave Elites and CISMs get the gun at 9:00 to balloons and Ticker tape, 5 minutes later were off and I make a mental note of the time on my new €5 Garmin as I cross the mat.
Its a very pleasant sunny morning and the first few K's are not so slow. This is my first Wave start and I think Dublin really need to start doing it.
The Greek population took to this event and really embraced it. The support along the way was massive with waving of flags and shouts of bravo. I passed one Greek runner at 5K dressed in costume with no footwear,it takes barefoot running to a new level. Below is a picture of him at the 30 K mark.
After 2K I notice the thin blue line, this is obviously the shortest route to take along the course so I proceed to stay as close as possible to it. My plan for this race is a sub 4, get to halfway in 1:58 to 1:59 climb to the 30K 2:55 to 2:56 and then do the last 12K in an hour (downhill section).
A group of 20 pass me at 15K with one sporting a big Blue Balloon, I assume they are the 4 hour pacers so I try to tag along, after about a K I let them go as the pace is faster the 5:30/K. I get to half way on 1:54 this is faster then I wanted so I decide to take the next 2K @ 6 minute pace.
After passing 22K I look and my new Garmin and it has stopped, well u get what you pay for. From this point on I will just have to go on feel. Now we are half way through the climb and its has got noticeable hotter and several runners have stopped or are walking.
We receive sponges every 5K so I stuck one in my pocket, also I can run and carry a bottle of water in my left hand. This really saved me as I was able to use this and the sponge to keep the ill effects of the heat away. We get to the last 400M of the climb which is very steep and there is an overpass on the road which is full off supporters. I get to the top without having stopped or walked once since the start of the climb, my hill training really paid off. Once over I put the shoe down all the way to the finish.
I felt like **** around the 38K and I put in a recovery pace K and then I spot the Big Blue Balloon up ahead, so I dig in and catch up with them. There is only 2 guys at this point and I ask them are they the 4 hour pacers, one replies in an American accent no they are not. I enquiry as to why he is wearing the balloon to which he states to attract some women, clearly it was not working. As I pass the 40K I am felling much better and I make a final push for the finish.
The finish of a marathon is a special experience but the finish in Athens in the original Olympic stadium is up there with the birth of my children. Coming down the last K the route passes a tree lined avenue to the east of the National Gardens. The crowds are quite big here and the support is fantastic, its downhill easy to run but my quads are in bits but I keep pushing, on entry to the stadium I see a clock for the first time since halfway it is 3:56 which makes me 3:50, next you see the stadium its self and the rush of adrenaline in my veins pushed me flat out to the finish of 3:51:25 and a PB.
Collect my Medal. Now this medal is the best Medal I have every got. Its twice as thick as your standard medal and its in the shape of the stadium itself. Hand back my timing chip, only quibble I have with this event is that no cable ties supplied so you have use your laces, so at the finish bending over and untie your shoes to get the chip off is painful.
Go for the massage and shower, meet herself get some photos, and off to an Irish Pub for a Steak and some pints of the black stuff to celebrate.
I really enjoyed the challenge that this race presented to me. You will get out of a race what you put in and the bigger the challenge the better the reward.
I would advise anyone to skip Dublin and run this at least once.