Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Athens Classic Marathon

Jon's Story: "Welcome to Athens Classic Marathon, please be happy..." the organizers sought to reassure the drenched masses of runners that with a positive outlook the torrents would pass. Cat was in the group immediuatley following my own so we were abe to stretch together a little. Right before the hot race action it struck me that we were about to do a marathon in Marathon. I mean if they run it, do they just say, "later dude, I'm going to run an us."? A minute prior to the gun I went back up to my superior classmates (comprised of folks who entered a legitimate or exaggerated time of their last marathon on the registration and a bunch of jerks who cut in line). A pledge of sorts was read off and everyone saluted with the fist of power raised to Greek words, you then got a full snoot of international B.O.. The Gun at last!

When you run in the rain, the immediate benefit is a nice cooling effect on your skin. If we had been purists to the Greek Olympic tradition and ran in our birthday suits, we would have been very cool indeed. However, modern man with our poly-fibers and running shoes only reap a feeling of 10 lb shoes and soaked clothes. Adjusting to a heavier stride forced a more conservative pace, which is a great tactic for such a long distance. Running on, we came across several dudes dressed up as Phideppides (the original marathon runner) complete with shield, spear and tunic. One of those, " just when you think you have it bad," moments you see that guy and life ain't so bad in booty shorts.

The course is almost a straight shot from Marathon to downtown Athens albeit uphill for 90% of the time. Along the route you are in small city streets without a lot to look at, but you can see the next thundering hill ahead. Support was excellent with water and poweraide at every 2-3 km. At one point a dude pulled a 90 degree turn and began leaking on the side of the course with no coverage. Across the street three police in unision turned their backs and started laughing.

Occasionally, you glimpsed a dog of Athens, joining in the fun and running along racers for a few or until a dog butt needed to be urgently sniffed.

Rain brought an added layer of friction, Cat had some major Achellies Heel blisters flare up and drain gnarly bloody streaks down the back of her shoes! For my part a little toe blistered up and then, crushed by the rest of my foot in a footfall, popped like a grape all over the toebox of my left shoe, so that I had a crimson gush on the previously white sneaker. The rain pissed out at halfway and within came the sun = boiling! But the wind was still present and while Cat and I got to work on the tan some more it was cool enough to keep pace. At this same distance, I lost the km to miles conversion and just looked forward to plinking down the clicks consistently until the 32 km which I knew was only a 10 k left. Upon reaching that point, I plastered a goofy grin across my mug and created a whole situation in my head that I was only out to run a 10k today. Another mile into the race, we got a break and some downhill-OUTSTANDING! Except the legs didn't move any faster-like they had been set into climbing for so long that topography or even gravity was out the window.

The last 800m of the course takes you through embassy row and it was cool to see the Greek guard festooned with ceremonial garm standing guard outside some office. Now, the last 200m everyone extols about how amazing it is to finish in the Olympic Stadium, and I was ecstatic! The shining white marble opened up and you could see the finish ahead, so close...Then a dude, after 26.2mi, challenges me. At that point all I could hear was the blood in my ears and tunnel vision for the finish as I kicked it in for the final 200m, destroying the competition in a blast of unsaved aderenaline through the line.

Cat's Story: Rain, and hills and unremarkable scenery along the course aside, the last 200m of the race made it all worthwhile. As I entered the Olympic Stadium, a wave of emotion overcame me as I thought of all the athletes who have finished extraordinary races in this historic place. Although I am no special athlete, I felt honored to be running alongside so many other ordinary runners who are inspired to take up the challenge of running a marathon. As I've said countless times before, anyone can run a marathon, but not just anyone will. It takes not only endurance of the lungs or legs, but an edurance of the will to train and finish the race despite aching joints and exhaustion that you must simply run through. As I was nearing the finish, the Black Eyed Peas song, "Tonight's Gonna be a Good Night" was blasting over the loudspeaker and I couldn't help but sprint toward the finish thinking yes, it definitely will be, because I just fulfilled a long-time dream of running the marathon of marathons! Surprsingly, I finished in a time of 3:48 only two minutes off my personal best. Jon finished in 3:04.

After basking in the sunlight of the marble bleachers in the stadium and watching other runners finish, we hobbled back to the hotel to recuperate before a celebratory Greek dinner. It was a pretty sad sight to see us walk and get up and down from our chairs, and it took us no time to spot others who had run the race as they were in old-timer mode as well.

After dinner, we went to a nearby spirits bar for drinks. When the clock struck midnight, it was time for another celebration... Jon's 30th birthday! He ran his ninth marathon on the last day of his 29th year in 2009, and I have a feeling there will be many more in this decade as well.

Although the marathon was our main purpose for visiting Athens, we did a lot of sight-seeing during our long weekend there. Our hotel was located close to all the sights and had amazing views from the rooftop terrace. On one side you could see the Acropolis and the other the Temple of Olympian Zeus (pictured). The views were especially breath-taking at night with the ruins all lit up.

The first day, we acquainted ourselves with a walk around the Plaka, or old town, at the base of the Acropolis. We walked a narrow, rocky path to the village of Antifiotica just below the Acropolis, whose white-washed architecture mimics that of the villages in the Greek islands.

Many Athenians have "holiday" apartments here when they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city below. We continued our walk around the Acropolis to the Roman and ancient agora.

The agora was absolutely beautiful and was like a pristine park, yet had ancient columns and aqueducts every where you turn.
The agora was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural center and the seat of justice. The site was occupied without interruption in all periods of the city's history.

The beautiful Temple of Hephaistos.

From the agora, we began our ascent to the Acropolis, passing the famous Mars Hill, where Apostle Paul preached to the Romans about the identity of the "Unknown God." Making our way up to the Parthenon, we saw the beautiful Theatre of Dionysus, which is still used during festivals today.

Continuing our climb higher through the ruins of the Propylaea (which used to be a massive gate and entrance) we reached the top where the Parthenon stood in all its ancient glory. Although it will probably always be partly covered by scaffolding, it is still an awe-inspiring site to marvel at the architecture and symmetry of the building, which was completed in 432 BC.

The backside of the Parthenon.
The Erechtheum temple across from the Parthenon.

After a first full day of enjoying the sites that are still a part of the city of Athens, we spent the following day in the National Archaelogical Museum admiring the many ancient sculptures and pre-historic items from all over Greece. This statue was particularly interesting as it shows a woman with her sandal in her hand trying to "shoe away" the advances of a mythical male creature. Some things never change.

We spent our final day in Athens exploring the parks and boardwalk along the sea. It was a beautiful sunshine day and we knew we better enjoy it before returning to overcast Germany. What a holiday! Delicious Greek food, fabulous warm weather, the completion of THE marathon, a birthday celebration, and a long-time dream realized. Pheidippides' words when he reached Athens to share the news of the victory at Marathon never seemed more fitting - "Nenikekamen" - We were victorious!