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Race Reports [Reports Index]

Athens Classic Marathon
Sunday 9th November 2008

Athens Classic Marathon, 9th November 2008
Joe Tucker

OK, here’s the deal. On the way to the coach pickup point, the floodlit Parthenon looks majestically down from its rocky position and as the coach carries you to the start, the rising sun makes a gentle pink glow over the nearby mountains. The power walkers set off right away, but for the runners there is plenty of time before the start to chat to other competitors - about half of whom seem to be from abroad – and warm up around a local 400m track, trying not to gawp at the pencil-thin Kenyans whose warm-up speed is roughly the same as your finishing sprint!

The action begins promptly at 9am with the usual announcements being thoroughly drowned out by the usual helicopter circling over the crowd of 4500 runners. You quickly become aware that the race organisers are extremely safety conscious, since not only the main road is closed but also every side road – including tracks that are barely wide enough for a pair of goats – is sealed with a big red ribbon and guarded by an armed policeman. Also, there are lots of first aid stations, at least as many as the water stations and it seems to be part of the local tradition for runners to stop for a liberal application of “magic spray” on their legs.

It is no great hardship to jog past rugged mountains bathed in Mediterranean sunshine for a couple of hours. There are plenty of conversations going on during the race, consisting of 3 main language groups – Greek, German and rest of the world [a.k.a. english]. As the course passes through various small towns, there are plenty of opportunities to wave your piece of olive branch at the spectators who clap and holler “bravo!” The final 10 km are a gradual downhill [you can draw your own conclusions about the first 32km…] and the crowds get larger and noisier as you enter the city centre and approach the “old stadium” where a dose of euphoria is guaranteed, knowing that you are running on the site of the first modern Olympics.

Welcome to the Athens Classic Marathon, which its organisers claim as “the largest and most important sport event of our country” and which follows the original Marathon to Athens route of that battle weary messenger back in 490 BC, half a century before the Parthenon was built.

This was my 4th marathon and by far the most enjoyable, definitely one to repeat.

And for the record, the Kenyans took the first 4 places, lowering the course record by 2 minutes in the process to 2 hours 12 minutes – still 9 minutes slower than flat courses such as Berlin.

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