Athens Classic Marathon: Bucket Listed

Apologies in advance for those who visit this blog for updates/pictures of the girls, but this post is going to be a bit more Scottcentric / numbery. This post is about my experience running my first Marathon  -- something that has been on my bucket list for over a decade -- so if you don't care to read about such things, you can turn away now and standby for the forthcoming combined blog post Linds & I are working on for the rest of our trip to Athens, Greece.  This will include lots of pictures of the family and high-minded ruminations about the birthplace of democracy, the nature of man, and a concise summary of the geo-political situation in countries currently affected by Germany (and the rest of the EU)'s heavy-handed 'austerity measures' . :)

If you're still reading, I'm going to assume you're the sort of person who cares what I had for breakfast, so here you go: corn flakes and coffee.

Allow me to elaborate in excruciating detail:  I wake up at 4:30 a.m. to my alarm going off on the first ring (this never happens), and quickly/groggily gather my running attire / extra energy gels / music player and snap this mostly awful picture:
Not a morning person.
I give each of the girls a kiss on the forehead.  None of them seem to be particularly excited about the fact that I'm going for a jog and subsequently continue their boring routine of  'happy sleep-indifference'.  I head downstairs to grab some breakfast before walking to catch the bus to Marathon (it's a city as well as a goal of Mid-life Crisisians the world-over).  I eat a bowl of cereal and drink a cup of coffee.  I don't particularly want coffee before running, but it seems to be the preferred fuel for old men who run long distances, so I succumb to their superior wisdom and drink the coffee anyway.  The lobby of the hotel is filled with ~100 runners who are also planning on heading to the buses for the marathon.  Nobody is speaking English. Va bene.  My extensive reconnaissance efforts from the night before (i.e. asking the concierge) reveal that the city transit system doesn't start working before 6ish and a cab will be the best way to cover the ~2 miles to the buses.  I disregard this sound advice.

Instead I opt for the creeper method of seeing a large group of seasoned-looking French runners walking out of the hotel and following them at a distance of about 12-15 creepy-yards.  I assume they have a good plan.  They do not.  Instead of a direct route to Syntagma Square, they head the opposite direction (thought: they must know a good route to a subway station or something).  They stop to discuss.  I awkwardly mill about behind them.  Finally, they are headed in the right direction.  I bump into a friendly German man who is also confounded by their circuitous route.  We walk to the buses while he tells me about his previous 9 marathons.  His English is better than mine.  He convinces me that Barcelona would make an excellent choice for the next marathon if I don't die from this one.  After the couple miles walking, we get to the bus pick-up point with plenty of time.  On-board the buses, they are playing an informational brief on what to do when arriving in Marathon (locations of the   bathrooms, when to report to the starting line, etc) in at least 3 different languages.   The nice German man is annoyed that nobody seems to be listening to the rules. Typical.

After about 45 minutes on the bus, we arrive near the stadium/starting line in Marathon.  Almost universally, the runners on our bus are *extremely annoyed* that our bus drives an extra 1/4 mile or so past the starting line to leave room for the trailing buses to park.  I am amused by the fact that so many people are about to run 26 miles but can't tolerate an extra 1/4 mile walk.  I also grumble indignantly.

Its now around 7 am. The pre-race atmosphere is not unlike the large cross-country meets I ran in high school, although more intense.  There are lots of people mingling / applying copious amounts of Vaseline to various body  parts / showing no respect for the Male/Female signs on bathrooms / stretching / performing other pre-race rituals.  I opt to drink about a gallon of water and several "energy gels" to help ensure I don't "hit-the-wall".  This means 5 trips to the porta-potties and the disappointing realization that not all porta-facilities are equally equipped with toilet paper.  I persevere.  

After performing all of my own pre-race rituals, I drop my bag of pre-race clothes off and begin to walk to the starting line as the sun is just starting to rise over the mountains and warm up the day.  Its about 16° C -- perfect running weather. The stadium in Marathon is a beautiful venue--  just a small village in the middle of a quaint town surrounded by ancient mountains on all sides. An eternal flame is lit at the top of the stadium with many taking pictures.  I drink more water and have another energy gel.  This is probably a mistake.

Wonder if that dude can see my bumcrack?
Official race start time is 0900, so I get into my starting block (the 5th wave, for all those slow people who don't have an official time to put on their registration form) about 0840 and find one of my friends a midst the crowd who is also running.  We discuss the scents associated with running a race in Europe and a few other related topics.  I am regretting not making an additional trip to the porta-potty.  Finally, mercifully, the first group begins their race to the revelry of several hundred fireworks (Italian style) and we all begin to ease our way toward the start.

Once our starting pistol fires, I start running - slowly, very slowly - I don't want to start out too fast and run out of gas early.  Also, my shorts aren't tied tight enough, and my mp3 player and energy gels are pulling down my shorts in a plumber-fashion.  I realize I'm being a whiny b-word. I re-tie them before the 1/4 mile mark while running to avoid offending anyone behind me.  I wonder when the crowds are going to thin out enough for me to pull off on the side of the road and relieve myself.  I decide I can probably make it to the 3 mile mark or so.  My entire focus at this point is to not run fast and find a place to pee. I finally get to the 3 mile mark (~5 km if you're non-American) and there is a water stop with bathroom facilities near the Tomb Of The Athenians- Praise Zeus!  By my watch, this process takes just shy of 2 minutes.  I am feeling much better.

The next 5 miles go quickly as I find a comfortable pace: 8:51/8:50/8:51/8:50/8:51 and a good podcast (Dan Carlin's Common Sense).  I find myself having a conversation with myself (How do your legs feel? Good.  Feet? Good. How's your breathing? Good.  What's your pace count? 180. Hungry? Nope.).  I've often heard of runners doing this, but never really participated in self-dialogue (dual-monologue?). Mild disgust ensues. I realize I can run faster at this point, but am holding back because I know the hills start around mile 10 and I don't wanna die.  I focus my efforts on making sure I get enough water and energy gels at each of the rest stops (there are 15 on the course, and I'm fairly certain I got something at every single one).  I start to speed up anyway.

The miles seem to pass quickly between the friendly locals shouting "Bravo", the small children holding out olive branches (literally), the podcasts, and the mundane monotony of a thin blue line painted on a highway.  Close to mile 10, I begin to pass people who are walking up the small hill.  I feel better about myself.  Around mile 12, (and the bottom of a well-timed downhill), I feel the crowds/hordes of runners have slimmed down enough that I jump off into the bushes on the side of the highway for a 2nd opportunity to relieve myself - Praise Poseidon!

I reach the halfway point at 1:53:43 and figure I've got about 6 minutes to lose and still hit my goal time of 4 hours.  I speed up. The hills don't seem as difficult as I had anticipated and my legs don't feel too bad either. A vague thought occurs to me that the Kenyans who started this race first are just about to cross the finish line.  I grumble silently at their skills.  At mile 14, I get a pain on the outside of my left foot.  I tell my foot that it better start hurting a lot worse if it wants me to stop running.  It quits its bullshit and I feel completely fine again by about mile 14.5. The climbing continues.  We're now running through whatever the Greek equivalent of strip-malls is. More kids with olive branches and plastic replicas of the Marathon finishers medal. More Dan Carlin.  I pass the 15 mile mark and realize this is the furthest distance I've ever run consecutively.  I feel good.

Pace vs. Time - I'm happy that I ran negative splits each 1/4 of the race
At mile 18, I still haven't hit the wall.  I've switched from podcast to the motivating music playlist I put together. Bob Marley's One Love comes on.  I am euphoric.  More walkers fall by the wayside.  The uphill continues unabated until right around the 20 mi (32 km) mark.  Just an easy downhill 10K left to complete. And I've got an hour and 10 minutes to do it.  Huzzah! Mile 21 is my fastest mile of the race...

Eventually, the buildings start to get taller and the crowds larger. We're in Athens-proper now and I begin to recognize some of the monuments we passed by on our way in to town.  Around mile 22 I realize I will finish the marathon even if I have to walk the rest of the way.  I try to keep my pace up to break 3:45.  At this point, it is mostly left-foot/right-foot trying to reach the finish line.  At 25.2 miles (exactly 1 mile from the finish), my right leg completely cramps up.  I tell my leg that it waited too long to complain and I'm too close to the finish to walk now.  A quarter mile later, my left leg cramps up as well.  I give it a similar admonition.  I realize I'm only a couple laps around a track away from finishing a freaking marathon now. THE Marathon!  As the course turns down past the National Gardens the crowds are in full effect and I find myself nearly sprinting.  I pull out my headphones to try and listen for the girls.  The crowds are too heavy to see the stadium or hear much of anything, but I know I must be close.  Finally I round a slight curve and see the finish line about 200 yards ahead in the stadium. I pick it up into a near-sprint and pass a couple dozen people on the track.

Final time: 3:40:35.
I just do what the chip in my shoe tells me I did.
Mission Accomplished.


I'm actually a bit surprised that the race is over already, but enjoy the walk/waddling past all the event coordinators giving out participation trophies, the free Powerade and the seemingly insurmountable flight of stairs stretching back over the street to the Race Propaganda Area®.  Eventually, I waddle my way back to the girls with one unifying thought-- Barcelona in March?

-- Scott

P.S.  Assuming you made it through the entirety of this self-indulgent post, I figured I would add in some self-indulgent pictures as well.  Thanks for reading!
Speed vs. Elevation

I'm going to pass you.
And you.

"Happiness is hard to find" - The Beverly Hillbillies

I should be less happy.

My precious.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful accomplishment. Truly voyeuristic read for me, as I recline on my couch, eating party mix with my martini. Whew, I am exhausted!