I’ve given the race highlights to the few of you I’ve crossed paths with online already, but I’m going to write out the whole story here. I have a few pictures that I managed to snap to include, but when the marathon website gets its photos up (should be the next few days), I’ll illegally screenshot them and post them all on here for you! So here goes…
Yesterday goes beyond “memorable” or “amazing” or “inspiring.” It was kind of magical.
Saturday night, I was so nervous. At this point in the semester, entering into the unknown is just everyday business, but I was full of anxiety about the details of the next day. Would I find the buses on time? Would I forget to take my vitamins? Would I get shin splints? Would I wear the right layers? Would I hear my alarm? To remedy the last situation, I set three alarms. Yep, three. At that point in my worries, I fell asleep, and ended up waking up on my own exactly two minutes before the first alarm was set to go off, thanks to my eerily accurate internal clock.
I got dressed in the dark and stumbled into Laura’s apartment kitchen for breakfast. It was: 1 container of Greek yogurt with honey, topped with a broken up fruit-and-nut bar, some slivered almonds, some Honey Nut Cheerios, and a mini dark chocolate bar. It was freezing, even indoors, and I was dying for some coffee, but coffee before a long run like that is a reeeally bad idea, if you catch my drift. I then grabbed my stuff and headed out the door, toward the Syntagma metro stop, where buses were scheduled to meet runners and shuttle us to the town of Marathonas, the legendary start.
No sooner had I stepped out the door, into the 5:15 am dark and a cold wind, wondering what I’d gotten myself into, than I saw a middle-aged couple dressed for a run, a few paces ahead of me, speaking (!) English. I wasted no time in catching up, introducing myself, and asking where they were from. They were from Miami, and this was his second marathon, and her first. A few minutes later, we saw some male, also middle-aged runners (that was the majority of this race’s demographic) walking in the opposite direction. The man from Miami stopped them and told them they were going the wrong way, but they didn’t understand. One of the guys was wearing a Firenze Marathon jacket, so I asked him, “Parli italiano?” He said no, he was French. So I explained to him in French that they were headed the wrong way, away from the shuttles. As we walked together, I served as translator between the nations as the guy from Miami made jokes about the French (which went straight over the French guys’ heads) and the French guys asked me what I was doing there (so young!) and what my time goal was. (Ha, time goal.) Oh, I forgot to mention that I met a Welshman in the city the day before, whose 30th marathon this was, and he expected to run it “in about 3:25 since the course was so hilly.” Well, okay then. You do that. Anyway, these Frenchmen were very legitimate runners and I expect their finish times were admirable. It’s too bad everyone had their numbers on underneath their outerwear so I didn’t catch anyone’s names.
There was a huge crowd at Syntagma, five buses lined up and we’d just seen about three more pass by. We made it into the same bus line (which also happened to be the shortest line) by claiming that we were all a team (what a crew! An American couple wearing neon shoes, four guys with crazy leg muscles in bright blue gear, and a girl at least 20 years younger than all of them, serving as the go-between in conversation.) The Greek guy in charge of herding us rolled his eyes but let us all on together.
Once we reached Marathonas and unloaded, it was even colder and even windier than Athens, and raining a little bit, just what we needed. We split from the Frenchmen, wishing them “bon courage” and headed for shelter. We parked ourselves under an overhang, out of the wind, which a lot of other people had also discovered. The intense people were actually jogging around the track up above to warm up. Maybe someday I’ll do that, but at this stage in my running career, the first 5 miles of the marathon are my warmup. So the group huddled under the roof began to mingle, and my friends from Miami began talking to a boisterous group of Greek dudes, and I split off to talk to some Americans closer to my own age. There was a woman, probably about 30 years old and from Denver, named Julie, a father and son who traveled together from New Jersey. The son was named Tim and we became friends. We were assigned to the same start block (5) but sadly I didn’t see him until the end of the race. I think he was ahead of me the whole time. We all had a good time getting to know each other, talking about running, talking about this race, exclaiming about the cold and wind, pinning on our numbers, debating layers to wear and leave behind, noting that the Americans were the only ones with ipods, lacing on our timing chips, eating bananas, joking around, and generally having a good time.
Eventually, at around 8:15, Julie and I left to go check our bags with the volunteers (they had this super organized system based on your bib number where they collect bags at the start and drive them to the finish, where you can pick them up… I think this is common at marathons but I wanted to compliment Greece on how smoothly this ran, considering the thousands of bags they collected. Actually, everything at this race was incredibly well organized.) It was nice to be in the crowd by the bag collection vans, because of the body heat, but Julie and I had to make our way toward the start areas and find somewhere else sheltered to wait. That shelter ended up being behind a dumpster that had its lid propped open, so we sat on the ground, under the lid, and snuggled to stay warm. There were big speakers set up everywhere playing pregame music, and when this one Greek song came on, everyone started dancing around, and the people walking to their blocks were walking to the beat. I’m not sure what it was about that song, but it put a bounce in everyone’s step. I took a hilarious video of some people dancing to it that I’ll upload soon.
Anyway, that moment, during that song, was one of the many moments when I felt so grateful to be there, among the sweetest, most fun and enthusiastic people of all ages, from all around the world, gathered to celebrate our sport at the site of its inception. It was incredible to get a sense of the international running community, something that I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d been running in the United States. At any given time, I was catching English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Greek being spoken around me. Also, I continued to be amazed by how easy it was to make friends, how open and warm people were, and how they were eager to encourage and help each other out. For some reason, that wasn’t something I’d anticipated when I was lying awake worrying Saturday night. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that I would make tons of friends at every turn during the race process. I think the miserable weather conditions added to our solidarity as well; we all stuck it out in the freezing cold at the start, and, obviously, we all stuck it out in the marathon from start to finish (which was no cakewalk, as I’ll detail in my recap part two), and shared experiences like that have an amazing way of bringing people together.
That’s where I’ll leave off for now: Julie and I huddled under a dumpster, laughing and talking and shivering, right before the start. At that point, I wasn’t nervous anymore, just 100% happy. Once I’m done with my studies, I’ll be back with the story of the race, from start line to finish line and afterwards.