The Athens Marathon is like no other on Earth. According to legend, it covers the same ground that the Athenian messenger Philippides ran when he brought news of victory from the battlefield of Marathon 2,500 years ago to announce the Greeks’ defeat over the Persians. As a runner looking to complete the 7-continent marathon challenge (Great Wall of China, Boston, Big 5 in South Africa, Rio, Outback, Antarctica and now Athens), racers run in the very footsteps of the ancient gods and heroes that gave birth to western civilization. The finish line is in Athens’ magnificent Olympic Stadium (more on this later), the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games.
Let’s hire a driver and skip the bus (Miles 0-0), 6:11–7:45 am!
I am superstitious and working on my extreme OCD. I like flying on the left side of a plane, prefer odd-numbered race bibs, eat chicken Alfredo pasta before every marathon, lay out my racing gear the night before, set my alarm clock three times over, and always always ALWAYS take the public transportation provided by the race director. Upon meeting my friends in Athens, they informed me they hired a driver and we would not be taking the runner’s buses in the morning. My heart sank as they clearly did not know my routine, but I hadn’t seen these guys in 13 years, and I wasn’t about to rock the boat. After being re-routed by the police at almost every turn, we managed to arrive at the runner’s park 15 minutes before our cut-off time. The bus route was 50 minutes long (just saying).
The Marathon First Originated Here (Miles 1-5), 9:33-10:17 am
5 years ago, I never dreamed of looking to complete the 7-continent marathon challenge. Today, I had the opportunity to come full circle and run side-by-side with my good friend Luke, who was attempting his very first marathon (of all places, right?). The gun went off and we crossed the start line in one of the most famous running spots in the world: Marathon, Greece.
As we began our trek toward Olympic Stadium in Athens, there were kids cheering and standing in the street handing out leaves to runners for good luck. A group of runners dressed as Spartans marched their way along the path stopping at times to wait for one of their pack who had fallen slightly behind. The temperature was a mild 60 degrees and we maintained a steady pace, that is, until we hit Mile 6.
Since when does a hill not have a downhill!?! (Miles 6-18), 10:27 am – 1:31 pm
The Athens Marathon is known for its hills. When Luke and I approached Mile 6 (neither of us looked at the race route beforehand #superstitious), we didn’t think it would be another 12 miles before the course leveled out! While the temperature was climbing, so was each mile as we began knocking down one after the other. At Mile 10, we thought we saw the ground level out; however, it was about 500 feet that leveled off (didn’t go down at all), before we resumed our ascent toward Athens.
Despite the never-ending uphill, we crossed mile 13.1 at the 2 ½ hour mark. Considering we had just run/walked the past seven miles, I was pretty happy with the pace, but knew from experience the back half was going to be brutal. At Mile 15, Luke suggested we start skipping to change up the pace (when in Athens). We skipped about 50 feet, and soon saw some very friendly faces cheering us ahead. They were jumping up and down, provided some much anticipated hugs, H20, and of course, captured plenty of pictures.
We had one simple question,“Is there a downhill in our near future?”
Without hesitation, a local of Athens said, “Yes, right around the corner.” With a huge sigh of relief, Luke and I took off and ran around the corner. To our dismay, it was yet another hill! “LIES” we shouted at one another (half laughing, half in despair).
For the next four miles, we ran/walked up this mammoth of a hill. We saw a man, easily 65 years old, running barefoot in a Spartan outfit! At Mile 16, we saw a pack of bikers on the opposite side of the road cruising along without a care in the world. At 17, bus after bus sped past us carrying dejected runners who were unable to finish due to fatigue, injury or some other ailment. The looks on their faces was sheer motivation to keep running.
Did The Hill Actually End? Not really. (Miles 18-26), 1:31-3:35 pm
Run for a couple minutes, stop, walk, run for a couple mins, stop and walk. We were pretty spent by the time we reached the “top of the hill.” I mean lets be real, it wasn’t the top. The hill continued going up, leveling off at times, but then continuing its ascent all the same. No wonder Philippides died. Wild guess: he had no water stations set-up every mile during his run, no electrolytes to rejuvenate his body and likely no paramedics rubbing cramping cream on his calves.
At Mile 20, we hobbled into some familiar faces again: our crew who provided us with another much needed lift of energy. We paused to talk, chat and laugh off the insanity of the race and hills. No matter what race, distance or location, it always helps to see your family and friends cheering you on in multiple spots along the race.
Over the next six miles, Luke and I laughed and talked about life. 20+ years since first meeting as friends in Northern Michigan at Camp Walden, we were running the Athens, Marathon as slightly older friends. With all the aches, pains and mental battles we endured throughout the race, we weren’t going to stop: except to thank the paramedics who were helping us and everyone along the way.
The Most Epic Finish Line in Running: Olympic Stadium! Mile 26 – 26.2, 3:35-3:39 pm
Words will never do this finish line justice.
The last .2 miles was the culmination of a 7-continent journey that began at the Great Wall of China, which was meant to be a 1-year campaign and nothing more. Along the way, everything changed. I met so many people, families, doctors, researchers and runners. I heard from countless strangers through emails and social media images that all kept supporting this cause from every corner of the globe.
How could I stop?
I ran the Big 5 on an open animal reserve in South Africa. I was stopped at Mile 25.8 in Boston due to the bombings. I fought my way through a monsoon in Rio. I returned to Boston to finish what I started. I pushed through the Red Clay of the Outback and battled the mind-blowing elements in Antarctica. And now, I was entering Olympic Stadium in Athens!
OLYMPIC STADIUM, ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!!!
Running into this iconic stadium built entirely in marble and seeping with centuries of history. This site hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896. The stadium is literally surrounded by marble flights of steps terraced into the contours of a U-shaped structure— splendid in materials but ostentatiously simple in construction technique.
When we crossed the finish line, I felt pure joy. Joy to be alive. Pride to run for this cause, in honor of those who lost their battle and for people who need the help now. Love for my family and friends experiencing this moment near and far. Overwhelmed by the privilege of having the opportunity to run around the world. Determined to keep running until a cure is found.
That’s right, I am nowhere near done, not even close! I have big plans ahead and they involve something even larger and more grandiose than this finish line both on-and-off the race course. To be honest, I am just getting started…