(Please note that the word “running” in the title is an umbrella term, encompassing the various “genres of movement” of which I used in order to finish the race)
After returning home from my summer in Alaska, I decided that I needed to pick another “big adventure” to follow it up with. Alaska had pushed my mental and physical limits to near-exhaustion, so it wasn’t an easy task finding something that would prove an even larger challenge. Naturally, I decided that there was really only one challenge hard enough– a marathon. But not just any marathon, I decided that if I was going to do this– I was going to do it right. After some light googling I discovered the “Athens Authentic Marathon,” a modern-day race that traces the original journey made back in ancient Greece– yes, the original 26.2 miles from the city of Marathon to the center of Athens. The very course that every other marathon in the world today is based on.
Let it be made abundantly clear that any amount of athletic ability I had at one time possesed earlier in life evaporated the second I started college. The freshman 15 was no joke for me, especially considering the local cuisine at my school consists entirely of pasta, pizza, and red wine.
Per usual, without any realistic expectations (or even basic reasoning), I decided the opportunity was “once in a lifetime,” and therefore found it necessary to immediately shell out 400 dollars for the race registration, lodging at a hostel, and a round-trip flight from Milan to Athens. I booked all of this stuff on August 8th 2017. The marathon was on November 12th of that same year– leaving me a window of 3 MONTHS TO PREPARE, a timeframe my optimistic-dumbass thought more than necessary– as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, ’twas not.
It’s no surprise that I stopped training in any form the moment I returned to school (two weeks after registering for the race). But in my defense, Lugano is SURROUNDED BY MOUNTAINS, so it’s practically impossible to go for a long run without half of it being at an incredibly steep incline.
Before I knew it the marathon was right around the corner (one week away to be precise) and I had run a collective total of 0 miles in the past two months. I decided it was crunch-time and begrudgingly went for a 3 mile jog, of which I made it about ⅔ of the way before stopping to walk the remainder.
My friends, and even some professors, were all very-much concerned for me, asking not-so-cryptically if I still planned to run the race.
“Oh yes,” I would tell them, “and I’m sure it won’t be too hard.” I’d say whilst raising a large chalice of wine to my quivering lips. Because in reality I knew it would be difficult, but I also knew that if I had any hope of finishing the marathon– I needed to push absolutely every doubt out of my head.
In true university-student fashion, I decided that the final step in my “lengthy” preparation process was to get sufficiently drunk the night before my flight to Athens. But to be fair, there was a belated Halloween party with free booze, so I mean it was really the most economical decision.
I boarded my flight the next day hungover, but ready to race. I had planned the 3-day trip Saturday to Monday, with the race falling on the Sunday. I arrived in Athens around 1pm on Saturday, and hopped on the metro to the city-center. I had to stop by an arena to sign-in and pick-up my bib, fill out final papers, and receive my too-small free t-shirt (because of course August me thought I would slim down enough to fit into it– you know with all the training I was going to have to do…..) Afterwards, I stopped for a falafel on the street as I walked to my hostel, adamant about getting a good night of sleep.
I woke up at 5am the next morning and had to walk about a mile to the nearest shuttle stop. There were shuttles stationed all over the city responsible for taking racers to the starting line in Marathon.
I boarded the bus and tried to hype myself up as much as possible– I was going to finish this race. I got to the starting area and had to mill around for about an hour until my wave was called to the official starting line. There were a lot of people running the marathon– about 15,000 in total– but before that gun went off there was a slight fear inside that I would somehow manage to be the last one, or worse yet get booted from the course for taking too long.
Bang! The gun went off for my wave and suddenly I was running, “Hey!” I thought to myself, “this isn’t too bad!”
And in all honesty it really wasn’t, well not at first. Much to my surprise (and I’m sure yours, too) I was able to jog the entire first half of the race, 12.7 miles, without stopping to walk. But just as I passed that marker, I made an awful mistake.
As I passed the half-way mark, I decided that it would be a good idea to walk a little so I could conserve my energy for later– BIG MISTAKE. As any seasoned runner would probably guess, my legs immediately locked up and I found it incredibly hard to even walk.
The next 12.7 miles were full of swearing, a lot of walking, and some light crying dispersed between the two. I flat-out refused to run up any hills, so if I saw an incline I literally just started to walked. This was also the part of the race where I was passed by the people who run ironically in full costume– I was no joke passed by someone in a giant Pacman suit and his pack of four friends dressed up as the colorful ghosts.
But it wasn’t until the power-walkers started to pass me that I really got discouraged. Trust me when I say nothing’s worse than watching an elderly woman in leg warmers breeze past you. I also got comically large cramp in my calf, and had to pull over to the side of the road to stretch it out. I writhed in pain as I watched the entire muscle continually suck itself into my leg, and then sporadically shoot back out.
I do have to commend the people of Athens for their incredible turnout on the sidelines to support the runners coming through. However, that being said, there were a couple of times when the constant shouts of “Bravo!” “Stop walking, you can run!” “Bravo!” “Pick up the pace!” literally made me stop, look piercingly into the eyes of a large-breasted Greek grandma, and then walk even slower.
Eventually, after about 6 hours and 10 minutes, I was about to reach the ancient stadium in the city-center of Athens. The finish line is at the far end of the stadium, and I have to admit that nothing would’ve been more fulfilling than sprinting to the finish line as the full-stadium cheered me on, but that wasn’t really how it happened for me.
Most everyone had already finished that race, so the stadium was practically empty. While people around me had started to pick up their pace, smile, and even withdraw their phones for selfies– I was hobbling like a maniac, desperate to put an end to the misery that had been the last 6 hours of my life.
BUT I CROSSED THAT FINISH LINE. I COMPLETED THE ORIGINAL MARATHON (and lived to tell the tale).
I left that stadium with a banana, an awesome medal, and much to my despair a mile-long walk to the nearest metro stop. But I had done it, and I was ecstatic.
Looking back on it, I am glad that I ran *the* marathon. Mostly because there’s really no cooler marathon to run (in my book at least) and so on the bright side, I’ll never have to run one again.
I highly recommend “running” a marathon at some point in your life, but given the chance again I would definitely log some more miles before the big day. It is my humble opinion that anyone is capable of finishing a marathon, because if I can do it cold-turkey after months of gorging on wine and pizza, certainly anyone else can do it too.
Side-note: I still have to go back to Athens because after finishing the marathon I refused to walk up the stairs to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, which I feel obligated to visit in my lifetime.