In 490BC, a chap called Pheidippides (or similar depending on the account), ran from Marathonas to Athens to deliver the message that the Greek's had been victorious over Persia in the Battle of Marathon. On delivering the short phrase hail, we are the winners", he collapsed and died.  Thus, the first marathon had been run and the marathon born.  Over 2,500 years later, it was finally time for me to follow in Pheidippides footsteps in the "Authentic Marathon".  The course is the same as used in the 2004 Olympic Games, when Paula Radcliffe dropped out at (32km?) and not dissimilar to the 1896 course at the first Olympic Games.  Interestingly, reading some of the history of the marathon whilst in Athens at the Panathenaic Stadium, where the 1896 and first modern Olympics took place and the finish of the marathon would be, it claimed Pheidippides had run 42,195 metres in 490BC - even though that distance wasn't adopted until 1921! (Pheidippides ran approximately 25 miles/40km)  Whilst some of the history and facts maybe up for dispute, the marathon race originates in Greece and to run the route from which it originates would be an experience.
Athens Marathon - “The Authentic Marathon” 2015


The Tomb of the Athenian warriors at Marathon

I travelled to Athens with friend, Clive, giving us a few days to explore before marathon day. We spent much of the first day getting to the Expo for me to register after realising the area where the Expo was wasn't a road name and the Taekwondo Centre was not the small dirty shop front on the road (Faliro).  Half an hour tram journey later we found the correct venue, near the port of Pireas.  After that we headed to the north of Athens for a walk around the 2004 Olympic Park.  Arriving at dusk, the park is more active than news reports have previously claimed but we wondered right into the centre of the Olympic Stadium unchallenged and I stood on the running track, albeit in the dark!  A somewhat surreal moment!  The next day we visited the Panathenaic Stadium, where the marathon would finish - two Olympic Stadiums in 24 hours and I'd run past it on a shot run the night before.  For an Olympic geek, I was in heaven!

Inside the Panathenaic Stadium the day before the marathon

Race day arrived and as the course is a point to point course, I was up at 5:40am to head for the coach pick up from central Athens. This then took us out to the start at Marathonas (or Marathon as we know it).  Dark still as we boarded the coach, we followed most of the route as we travelled out - giving a sense of the challenge that lied ahead - far too many inclines!  Clive had the chance to sleep in as supporters couldn't travel out, so he'd head for the 28km point later.

Arriving in Marathon, it was evident how many Marathoners were also enjoying the history of the course as we all got a picture under the sign of the race name.  Our bags were then dropped off and the usual toilet queuing took place. This was another odd occasion as the portaloos were along one side of the athletics track and as you queued several hundred runners were running in circles around the track, avoiding the opening/closing of toilet doors.  The view from the seating area made it all the more like you were watching some kind of ritual or even human whirlpool!  Once you escaped the whirlpool, it was to the start line.  I was given a balloon while waiting, with no instruction.  Having run with a balloon in Chester, I had no intention of doing the same again, so released it when the race began, assuming that was the intention.  Just before the race began, two of the Greek athletes  took an oath on behalf of all the runners, which we all joined in via raising our right hand.  I believe this has a link to the origins of the Olympic oaths taken during the opening ceremony of each games.

Above: Queuing in the dark for the coaches to the start

Above right: Geek moment as Lucas stands under a sign for Marathon

Right: Marathon runners circling the running track, warming up

After 8km, the route started its first incline and never really levelled off thereafter.  A relatively gradual gradient took us to 13km's.  We were offered Olive branches by locals as we passed and it seemed many children mistook my Union Flag shorts as American! Thankfully a few also realised the correct nation.  My pace dropped a little, but nothing too concerning given what lied ahead.  Today was not about a PB but about the history of the race.  I only saw one other British runner (who I spoke with), who passed me not too long before we hit half way.  Having now had a few less gentle climbs and drops, I hit halfway in 1:45 approx, as we commenced the long, 10km not standing climb towards Athens.

The climb seemed never ending.  Not steep, just non stop!  I plodded up at 9:30-10 minute mile pace and at 28km Clive appeared on my left (not the side I'd expected!) as we briefly levelled off before the remainder of the climb, including the steepest hill of the whole route as you hit 31km. It was a joy to finally drop down, though I didn't pick up speed a huge amount, but mile 21 was under 9 minutes!  However, mile 22 was over 11minutes as I dislodged my contact lens when I went to wipe my brow and caught my eye!  I pulled off the course trying to move it back over my iris without it dropping out entirely, with no immediate joy.  I then got it the lens out entirely but that was no help, but with the help of a reflective window, reinserted it and positioned it back so I could see again!  A first in a marathon!  As I headed back to rejoin the race a British family passed and checked if I needed help too.

The Marathon Oath is taken

Back on course and I carried on to the finish at much the same pace.  It was warm and sunny with plenty of people about as we wound round the streets and then hit the final two kilometres, which took us past the President's Palace and down to the Panathenaic Stadium. The final drop was packed and a great atmosphere.  I decided I'd get a picture of the view coming into the historic stadium before the final 200 metres, passing Clive (unbeknown to me at the time) just before I took three pictures.  Annoyingly (I discovered afterwards) it turned out I'd hit selfie mode first and had three images of me making strange faces as I took the photo's!   Phone back in my pocket, I soaked up the amazing feeling as I ran into the Stadium, aware I've never had such a big smile and felt quite emotional sprinting down to the finish line.  I knew it wasn't a PB, or any time of significance, but the sense of achievement over a challenging course with the historic significance and finish line was worth the 3 hours 52 minutes and 57 seconds of hard work to get there.

I soaked up the atmosphere as I collected my medal and got a few pictures of me in the stadium wearing it - which was delightfully showing a design of the stadium on one side.  I located Clive, who I thank for his support on the day, and as we headed towards a cafe for refreshment, some Asian tourists asked for pictures of them, I and my Union flag! I fear they thought I was some professional athlete, but happily obliged!  A week before the Istanbul marathon, the event was well organised and I was delighted to have completed the historic course, another part of my marathon adventure complete.

I’m running up that hill - at around 28km into the race

Lucas head’s for the final bend into the Panathenic Stadium

Above; Having finished with my medal and the Union Flag

Right: Lucas with Clive after the race