Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Athens Classic Marathon - Athens, Greece (Race Recap)

2500th Anniversary - Athens Classic Marathon - Athens, Greece

Sunday, October 31
My First Marathon
Race Start - 9:00 am
Weather - 58 degrees at start, sunny with no clouds

From the second I heard about this race, I wanted to do it. As a runner, who wouldn't??? The 2500th anniversary of the first marathon. In Greece. The only "original" marathon course. So yeah. The race was already sold out by the time I heard about it back in May. The only way in was the charity option. The main charity was AHEPA and I had until September to raise the required $5100 for entry into the race and travel/accommodations. Done. With all the excitement of my other trips and the travel leading up to it, busy schedules, etc, I really didn't have that much time to get super excited/nervous.

However. The night before the race was daylight savings. I was nervous about getting up on time, so I set more than one alarm, plus asked for a wake up call from the front desk. Last thing in the world I wanted was to oversleep and miss the race!! Even though the race wasn't starting until  9:00 am, the bus was leaving at 6:30. I was fine with that since I would ALWAYS rather get to a race early than be panicked and rushed.

I didn't sleep that well, I woke up a few times checking the time and I just got up for good around 5:15. Probably a good thing, it gave me some time to get everything ready without feeling rushed. Had my bagel and peanut butter in the room.  Last minute check of the weather before heading downstairs to meet the group and catch the bus.

About as ideal as race conditions can be
Race Day!!
I think it was about the time that we got on the bus that it finally hit me that today was finally the day. In just a few hours I would be at the start line and running my very first marathon. In Greece. I think everyone else was having similar thoughts. The closer we got to the start line, the quieter the bus got. Then finally, we were there. A little over an hour until the start. Most of us headed immediately to the port-o-potties. VERY relieved to find that there were virtually no lines. Have never had this happen at such a big race!

Victoria, Me, Jennifer - First marathon for all of us!
We had to drop our bags thirty minutes before the start of the race. Only one road goes to the start line, and it's the same road the course is on. I had originally planned on running with my arm sleeves on, but I was already hot just getting off the bus. The starting area was very crowded, and we were going against the flow of runners to get to the bag drop. We managed not to lose any of our group and then we decided to head to the pre-arranged meeting place for those of the group that were doing the "run, walk, run" Jeff Galloway program. It was SUPER crowded and on the side with the meeting place there were no bathrooms. Hmmm. I usually go again much closer to the start, but didn't have time to go again. There were supposed to be at least 2 potties at every aid station, so I tried not to worry about it.

View of the starting area - insanely crowded! 12,000 runners!
Bill, Me, Greg
One of the "mishaps" that occurred during our registration is that our tour group apparently screwed up sending in our finishing time estimates. Almost all of us were put in the last corral. I wasn't too thrilled about this. Originally we were going to try to move up one so that we could avoid all the walkers, but the corral and starting lines were actually guarded. So. Yeah. No chance of that. I managed to stick with Bill and Greg until almost time to start, but they were in start 6, and I was in 7... I watched them head out, and as soon as a break opened, I joined the corral 7 runners. Coincidentally ran into a few from our group, and we were able to chat for a few minutes before the start. I actually managed to get pretty close to the front of the wave.

Start Line
A few announcements and another gunshot later (they actually did one at the start of each wave) and a release of balloons and we were off. I had been skeptical about how well the corrals would even work. I mean, the first one was for the elite athletes only, so essentially close to 12,000 runners in only 6 corrals? But I had NOTHING to worry about. I did not find myself dodging around anyone at all. The best way to describe the course?

First - 10K - flat
Middle - half marathon - uphill
End - 10K - downhill

As Jeff Galloway said, "the good news is that this course only has one hill. The bad news is that it lasts for thirteen miles." Later in this post I'll  post the elevation profile and you can see for yourself. Oy.

So my plan was to start out slow to conserve energy for the 13 miles of hills, and then run as fast as I could the last 10K of "downhill." I must have been the only one with that plan because I must have gotten passed by EVERYONE those first few kilometers. I saw Alex at the 2k marker (he had been having some pain in his quads and thought he might just walk the beginning).

The sign says "Athens Classic Marathon Course" - a few of these along the course

Just before the 6k mile marker
It certainly felt hotter outside than the temperature said. There were NO clouds in the sky and virtually no shade on the course. I was sweating like crazy and I was really happy to have brought my towel at the last minute. I had to use it a LOT.

Heading up one of the first hills, just past 10k?
The first "flat" 10k, went according to plan. I wasn't feeling tired at all. With the heat, I was glad that after the first aid station there was to be one approximately every 2.5k. Every aid station handed out FULL bottles of water. I personally can't run and hold anything, so I found it wasteful to take just a few sips and then toss it. As a result, I was really cautious in the water stations because there were lots of puddles, it was VERY wet, and I had to watch out for bottles and caps and other trash. The aid stations were stocked very well, plenty of volunteers.

I was pretty impressed with the crowd support, virtually along the entire course
I think my plan to take it easy in the beginning was the right choice. I might have been passed a lot in the beginning, but by the time we were a km or so into the hills, a LOT of people were walking. The profile looks tough, but honestly, I train hills a lot and I didn't find them that bad. I was keeping a steady pace and still feeling good, although I was HOT. I had a plan to take a GU every 7k, and at the 14k GU, I noticed that I had lost half the GUs out of my belt!! :( At least I noticed before the ONE GU station that was to be around the 20k mile marker.

Pretty church
It finally caught up to me that I was definitely going to have to stop and use the bathroom. Most of them had a wait, so I kept going as long as I could.

Got to the aid station at 20k and stocked up on GU, although I wasn't impressed that one of the only flavors was Mandarin. Had to take what I could get, but I was sad about the loss of my chocolate and espresso ones :(

Passed the mat at the half marathon mark, and I was pretty much where I wanted to be, right around 2:21 (my slowest half marathon finish time). And STILL feeling good. I think it's because I was just RUNNING, not RACING. With a course profile like this I didn't really know HOW to race, so I just kept going. Probably easier than I had to, but I felt GOOD.

I look good, right??
Aid station at 25k, and NO line at the potty! Got in and almost turned around and left. I won't go into detail, but it was VILE. People are revolting. Went pee as fast as possible and got out, cursing the lack of hand sanitizer.

Heading into "downtown" past the 25k marker
I was eagerly waiting to get to the 30k marker. It was at that point that I was paying more attention to how I was feeling. Having never run longer than 20 miles, I fully expected to hit "the wall" and I wanted to know when that would be. Only... I never did.

Somewhere past 30k - the Mini Cooper dealership!
I was shocked at how good I felt. I got to about 32k where the hills were essentially supposed to stop and the "downhill" was to start. I started feeling some tightness in my quads. I sorta felt like slowing down or walking, but it didn't really hurt and I felt MOSTLY good, so I just kept going. The km markers just kept passing me by and I was passing more and more people. I gotta say - that felt GREAT. I rarely pass people. It was a reassurance that I had set out with a good race plan.

At 40km, I finally caught up to Greg and Bill. I tapped Bill on the shoulder and ran right past, thinking maybe they would run with me, but I never saw them again until they crossed the line. The last 2k were pretty much all downhill. I ran the fastest pace of the race and I absolutely know I had a huge smile on my face. I was doing it. I was going to finish the race. And I was going to do it WITHOUT WALKING.

Before the race, I set a tentative goal of five hours. Looking at my watch, I had every chance of beating 4:45. Everyone who knew this course said to estimate 20 minutes slower than the average marathon finish due the profile. I WAS FREAKIN PSYCHED. When I saw the marble stadium I pushed and bolted through. Playing over the intercom? "Chariots of Fire" - no joke. Crossed the line and hit my watch.

Not only did I kick my goal right in the ass, but I finished and felt GREAT. I crossed the line and was relieved, happy, and accomplished. After all the stress and worry, I was MOST excited about finishing and NOT thinking immediately "never again." The whole experience was almost surreal. I honestly don't think I could have had a better race experience. I actually RAN the entire race, with the exception of the water stations.

Within seconds I saw John and he gave me a huge hug. Just a few minutes later I saw Greg and Bill cross the line. We were the first finishers in our group.

Olympic rings in the marble stadium
Official Finisher!!
Course map and elevation profile
Official time: 4:42:14
Official timing mat splits:
5k - 32:07
10k - 1:05:48
21.1k - 2:21:04
30k - 3:22:01
Finish - 4:42:14
Almost identical splits for first and second half, only a few seconds off
Pace per km per Garmin:
1k - 10:05
2k - 9:58
3k - 10:16
4k - 10:20
5k - 10:42
6k - 10:44
7k - 10:40
8k - 10:57
9k - 10:46
10k - 10:51
11k - 11:07
12k - 11:03
13k - 11:02
14k - 10:34
15k, 16k - 11:04 (missed a marker)
17k - 10:05
18k - 10:21
19k - 10:31
20k - 10:48
21k - 11:31 (GU station)
22K - 10:42
23k - 10:56
24k - 10:45
25k - 12:06 (bathroom stop)
26k - 10:47
27k - 10:37
28k - 10:56
29k - 10:39
30k - 11:12
31k - 11:07
32k - 10:33
33k - 10:55
34k - 11:10
35k - 11:12
36k - 10:15
37k - 10:35
38k - 10:05
39k - 10:18
40k, 41k - 9:51 (missed a marker)
42k - 8:47

TEAM AWESOME!! Will, Alex, Greg, Jennifer, Me, Mary Alice, John, Bill
Picked up my bag with minimal wait, and got my "goodie" bag. If I had ONE complaint about the race it would be the lack of post-race food. Just a banana, a powerade and a water. I was hoping for FOOD! We stayed around for a bit and watched some of the other runners finish. Then they had us get back on the bus and we headed back to the hotel. I can honestly say this was one of the ONLY times I have ever left a race feeling great. Physically, emotionally, mentally. I wouldn't change a thing about it.

Got to the hotel and took a quick shower. I was going to take an ice bath, but there with no ice machines in the hotel, I had to settle for a super cold bath. Then down to the bar to hang out a bit before dinner. Now that we were done with the race? Drinks. Beers and Ouzo.

We had some entertainment during dinner, traditional Greek dancers. We actually got up there and did some dancing too. It was FUN.

Greek Dancers
After the entertainment was done, we each got called up to accept our wreath and a custom vase. By now Alex had drank a lot of wine... here he thinks he is doing the "Captain Morgan" - lol....

Kathy, Alex, Dmitri
Quite a few people from the group wanted to go clubbing. I opted not to go, I was pretty exhausted from the day. Stayed in the lobby chatting about the race, had some drinks, and was in bed by 1:00 or so.

Finisher Medal - Athens Classic Marathon


  1. Great outfit. Great conditions. Great race. Congrats on an awesome marathon! Super proud of you!

  2. THAT is some medal!!! I'm so proud of you!!

  3. Awesome, purely awesome. What now? Hmmmm...somebody needs to run 50 marathons in 50 states! Way to go!

  4. Amazing! You looked great, you ran smart, you finished strong. Congratulations!!!

  5. Congratulations!!!! Awesome race, excellent race report!! Maybe it's time to do a full marathon in all 50 states??

  6. I'm soo proud of you!!! What a great and special 1st marathon!! Something you will never forget!! Congratulations!!!

  7. This is seriously amazing. So awesome. I almost have no words for this because it's just so ... perfect. :) Great job!


  8. WOW! I'm so glad you had a positive experience! You've certainly earned it with all the running you've been doing. Thanks for the photos & recap. You're definitely sparking a travel-race bug...

  9. Congrats!! So awesome that you ran Greece, and ran it so well! Amazing first marathon:)

  10. congrats!! That is such an awesome experience, especially feeling so great during and after!! :D Enjoyed reading about your trip! :)

  11. What an adventure! You rocked it. I remember Deena K wearing an ice vest before she ran her Olympic race there. Most awesome medal ever! Congrats!

  12. Fabulous job! Congrats! Great report and I love the medal!

  13. Wow! That is so freaking awesome! You've totally inspired me to get out of my pajamas and get into my running clothes. What a fabulous experience - aside from the porta-potty incident. Congratulations! I'm so happy that this huge, monumental race was such a fabulous one for you!

  14. Wow. This race looks so cool. And I'm so excited you had a great run. No wall? You are lucky!!

    Congrats on kicking your pre-race goal in the butt! That's awesome!!

  15. Wow, congrats! :) What an awesome way to finish strong! Athens is my all time dream race and I WILL do it one day. My mother was born and raised in Athens and every time I read a recap about someone running it, I get choked up, no joke. My cousins says that the only marathon he'll run is this one so I look forward to running it with him one year!

  16. Am running this as my first marathon in 2 weeks, but been off running for almost 7 week's with a stress fracture in my foot! 11k in just over an hour today is the new start of my comeback! I will be copying your race plan, and will be happy to break 5 hours, am thinking 6 will be more likely.


I adore comments and I read every single one. Thanks for reading :)

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