Tag Archives: athens marathon recap

Athens Marathon Recap

21 Nov

Last week, I joined the ranks of people crazy enough to run 26.2 miles just for the fun of it. The day didn’t turn out quite how I hoped it would, but the thing about the marathon is that you spend a tremendous amount of time and energy preparing for a single day wherein dozens of crucial details will be out of your control … Which is to say that the day probably won’t go how you hope it will. We don’t get to choose the frame our hard work gets hung in.

The trip to Greece was fairly uneventful. MrKef was thrilled to have 6 hours of in-flight entertainment, while I was content to watch Girls’ Trip on rapid repeat for the duration of the flight.

My aunt and uncle picked us up from the airport and a three-day Greek feast commenced. My aunt was so thoughtful and prepared all kinds of perfect-for-running meals– pasta, salmon, salads, and I considered more than once declaring a new marathon event: eating 26.2 pieces of my aunt’s cheese pie. But that wouldn’t be hard so everyone would do it.

And then it was race day! JetSet jaunted in from Dublin (as one does), and we headed to the expo. It was superwell organized and, despite being forced to walk through all the vendors, we managed to have some fun.

Afterward, we met my cousins at the spectacular new Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center, which is a spectacular building and worth a visit.

One tram ride later that nearly ended my running days for good (because when the tram comes but you still have no tickets, you stick your leg in the door until your brother gets the ticket machine to work), and MrKef and I were settled into the hotel. For the first time in my life, I actually chose to eat in the hotel restaurant because they were serving salmon and that’s what I like to eat the night before a run. We enjoyed a surprise date night– we were the only ones in the restaurant for most of the meal and got to dine by candlelight with the whole place to ourselves.

I got my things ready for the morning and settled in for a good night’s sleep. That lasted for about 2 hours, after which I woke up and was totally unable to fall back to sleep. MrKef came back from some revelry with JetSet around 3, and there I was… wide awake. I must have fallen asleep again sometime around 430, and when my alarm went off at 515, transferring to the eating race crossed my mind once again.

Despite my lack of sleep, I was feeling great. I ate an RX bar,  blasted my feel-good playlist, and headed out to the bus. My bus experience was seamless– I got on about 640 and was at the race start by 730 or so. I was hoping to sleep but, alas, it eluded me. There’s a short walk to the stadium, and there are tons of portapotties (but inside the dugout there are flush toilets whose lines are shorter and faster–a win!).

Here’s where the fun started. We were supposed to use the track at the Marathon Stadium to warm up, but the portapotties were lined up in the outer lane of the track, so of course the lines formed around the track. Undeterred, a group of guys in Spartan costumes started doing laps in the center, so there was a hilarious layered effect of portapottie lines, then people stretching and lounging about, and then the inner circle of Spartans and their growing ring of joggers.

And that’s also when the heat started– temps called for 65F with 98% humidity at the start. I knew the day would get hotter as the race went on, but also knew that the cloud cover would be my best friend. Well, my BFF was nowhere to be seen at the start, and I was already sweating before the race for underway. I was not thrilled by this turn of events, but was still feeling jazzed to get this show on the road. The race started promptly at 9, and I was off by 920 or so.

Things started off well enough.

My race plan was to keep things around 9:30 effort, knowing that the opening and closing 6ish miles were downhill, so I’d be able to bank some time in the beginning  before heading into 12 middle miles of hills. I kept to that perfectly for the first ~4 miles and felt good, but realized I was getting HOT quickly. I slowed down a bit for the next two miles and poured water over myself every water stop, but I just could.not.cool.down. The sun was definitely strong and I could tell other people were struggling as well, but it became clear pretty quickly that overheating was how the lack of sleep was going to manifest itself. I started to feel exhausted around mile 5- not muscle or mind fatigue, just get-me-to-my-damn bed tired. With 21 miles to go, this was not a good sign.

Luckily for me, we entered the first big town since Marathon right around then. Whole families were out to cheer, and people lined the street blasting traditional music, performing Greek dances, and cheering us on. I got a second wind, high fived everyone I could, and took in every “Bravo, kouritsimou!” that came my way.

At that point, I thought my tired troubles were over. The promised clouds showed up and I felt slightly less hot. I got a huge boost when I passed the first of my family members who came out to cheer — it was so special to have them out there. I was starting to feel pretty good. Maybe I had run through the fatigue.

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Or maybe not. Just when I was starting to cool off and feel better, the hills started. And continued. And kept on going. These hills went straight up Elizabeth Warren on me and frigging persisted. 

I got to a water station somewhere around mile 12 or 13 and suddenly knew what it meant to “hit the wall.” I struggled to open my Nuun packet to refill my water bottle and was starting to feel dejected. I slowed down to a walk and just tried to focus on getting the damn Nuun open. And then all the Greek Gods smiled upon me from Mt Olympus– I heard my aunt calling my name and my uncle reached out, ripped open the Nuun and poured it in my water bottle before sending me back off on my way.

I passed JetSet somewhere between miles 16 and 17  — a good brother will fly to across the world for ~30 hours to watch you run, but the BEST brother will BRING YOU A SPINACH PIE AND OFFER IT TO YOU DURING SAID RUN.

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I was all smiles there, but I knew I was sunk — I was feeling so crappy by that point I even refused the spanakopita.  I can’t even revisit such a low point in life. So let’s keep going.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any energy to pull it together. There were maybe 30 seconds after seeing my aunt and uncle where I felt like I could finish the race running. I ended up run-walking the rest of the way, sometimes using long time intervals to break up the running with walking, and other times just trying to run until the next telephone pole. I was on track to finish under 4:10 until about mile 15, and then it was a never-ending descent into “I have no idea WHEN the hell I am going to finish.” The distance  between kilometer markers stretched on so long that I convinced myself that someone had messed up and used kilometer signs to mark off miles. Not good stuff.

The crowds only got bigger as we entered the city. The downhill felt good for about 3 kilometers, and then the wall I had been pushing since the halfway point became The Great Wall. After what seemed like 10,495 hours, I finally made the left turn and could see the stadium in the distance. The crowds were huge at this point, and all the excitement and adrenaline I had been hoping for finally kicked in and I made a mad dash for the finish. Running through the original Olympic Stadium was incredible.

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4:42:36. Certainly not the time I had trained or hoped for. I eeked into the top 40ish% for total participants, gender and age group– so that’s something. About 4,000 people who started the race didn’t finish. Everyone was hot, most people were doing at least some walking, and the last 6 miles were filled with  many audible promises of “never again.”

I’m disappointed about my time, but I really meant it when I said the other day that the amazing 22-mile run was validation enough for a training cycle of hard work. I wish things had gone differently performance-wise, but I’m not too hung up on that.

The biggest disappointment to me is that I wasn’t in a good enough place to really enjoy myself. I wanted to finish the race exhausted but exhilarated, feeling proud of myself and filled with all the warm and fuzzies of having done some certifiably awesome. There were definitely times when I could appreciate how special this race is: running through an entire town of people dancing the Syrtaki, kids giving out Laurel leaves and olive branches throughout the course, couples in their 70s and 80s cheering on runners, seeing my family throughout the race and at the finish line, a cadence-quickening percussion troupe in a tunnel near mile 24, and — of course — that historic finish in an Olympic Stadium. But I was just too tired for too much of the race to really savor any of those moments.

There are definitely things that I’m proud of. Despite feeling like crap physically and knowing that I just didn’t have what I needed to run the race I wanted, I was never actually in a bad mental place. I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to have a great day and can say for sure that I made the very best of it that I could. I finished the damn thing, despite being out in the hot sun 30 minutes longer than I thought I was going to be, and despite the fact that I wanted to quit pretty much every step of the way after mile 12. I’m hoping that, with a little time, the disappointments fade and make some space for the special memories of the day.

When everything goes wrong, what a joy to test your soul and see if it has endurance and courage! –Nikos Kazantzakis

I am so, so grateful to my family, who cooked runner-friendly meals, watched thousands of people run by just for a sweaty mid-race hug from me, flew across the world and then made the ultimate sacrifice and ate my spinach pie for me, waited for hours at the finish line (and then almost an hour more when I messed up the post-race meet-up point…), and congratulated me as if I had won the whole damn thing. Plus, they made sure I had the headgear of a champion, and I am now the proud owner of TWO στεφάνια, the famous leaf wreaths:

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AND DID I MENTION THE POST-RACE FEAST???

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That’s right, people– TWO kinds of wreaths, and TWO kinds of cheese pie. Our Greekness is your weakness.

And, of course, I can never say enough about my incredible husband — who cheered me on throughout the training, delayed his summer vacation until November, and only complained about the months of early-to-bed Friday and/or Saturday nights when it meant he had to go alone to see whatever new superhero movie was out.

I don’t know if I’ll run another marathon. Of course, a part of me would love to go back to Athens next November and show that course what this Spartan woman is made of … but another part of me would be happy to never, ever, ever run farther than 22 miles ever again. I’ve known for some time now that I strongly prefer training to racing — so I might train for a spring marathon without signing up for one to keep mileage high and pressure low. But who knows– I may get the itch to try my legs at this beast of a race again. Only time will tell.

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