Hills, hills and more hills. What a great occasion to be a part of, but oh my, those hills!
Coming out to Greece, we knew the course had hills starting at 10k and going on for a long time, but the reality of running up what turned out to be one long hill made the race a lot harder than we expected.
It was an early start on race day with an alarm at 5am, very early breakfast and then setting off at 6am to get one of many coaches laid on to transfer runners from outside the Parliament building in the centre of Athens, out to the start in Marathon, 26.2 miles away.
The start was in the Marathon Stadium, an iconic location from where the 'Marathon' gets its name and it was an honour for us to run with 17,000 other participants from all over the world.
We were there early - a whole two hours before the start, which was nice as it meant we had time to wander around the 400m track and soak up the atmosphere. The elite runners started their warm up at 8am, being led around the track by the organisers. These guys and girls were probably looking at times of around 2:10 which is mind bogglingly quick!
Nerves were building as the start approached. The thought started dawning on us that we had over four hours of running ahead of us. The forecast was cloudy. The reality was bright blue skies and sunshine. It was going to be hot. Then they starting gun went and we were off!
The first 10k was a leisurely introduction to the Athens Marathon. Nice and flat with stunning scenery around us. As we were in the less populated areas the support with a bit thin, but it soon got stronger as we hit the built up areas. Then the hill started....
In all fairness, the hills made the run that more interesting as it made you concentrate on your strategy to get round in one piece. Power walking at times came into play. Seasoned marathoners, including one guy from the 100 marathons club, used this tactic and it was a good one to take on board.
The most poignant moment of the run was running through Mati, the area of Athens devastated by wild fires earlier this year and where 99 people lost their lives. Charred trees & burnt out houses were visible and locals dressed in black, cheering us on as we ran through the area. Banners reading 'Never forget the 99' were being waved and every runner wore the green headband that we'd been given to signify the effort required to plant trees in the area to bring vegetation back to life. 17,000 people having fun, running a marathon, were giving the locals hope that the focus on the event and the area will bring much needed support to them.
Onwards we went. Through the outer districts of Athens. The crowds grew bigger and there were more and more stages with music blaring to encourage us on. The feeding stages were awesome! Chocolate, bananas, Powerade, gels, crackers and more! We could have stopped for a feast but the grand finish in the Panathinaiko Stadium was calling.
We won't lie - the hills were tough and the forecast proved wrong with the sun blaring down on us for the entire race. We ticked off each 5k marker and as we got closer to the end, it was great feeling to be finishing one of the most iconic marathons in the world.
The final few hundred meters were fun. Spectators were 3 deep along both sides of the road and as we rounded the final corner, the stadium opened up and the noise was incredible! Thousands of spectators were sat or stood cheering and waving.
The finish line approached, we crossed it and we'd finished. 26.2 miles done in just over 4 hours 20 minutes. The time was irrelevant. We weren't aiming for a time, just to get round in one piece and enjoy the occasion. We did that but it was tough. The legs were really feeling it and the thought of sitting down with some food and a beer was massively appealing!
Walking to meet our other halves, you could see the jubilant look on faces but also the pain on others. Athens was an iconic marathon to be involved in and the hills and heat made it that much tougher, but it was a joy to run.
Would we recommend it? Definitely! It's one to tick off the bucket list and Athens is a great place to visit. Very family friendly, great food and drink, the locals are super friendly and the visiting runners made for a great atmosphere during our visit.
Well done to everyone else that took part and even thought the legs are a little sore, we're now contemplating where next!
Craig & Matt