|Anxious runners pose with the Starting Banner at the foot of the Acropolis|
|The field awaits the sun's arrival, and with it, the start of the race|
|Focused while stretching before the start|
After about 10 miles, we were still running on the very busy and fume-filled streets, but our 'runners only' traffic-cone lane went away and we were left to fend for ourselves on the shoulder of the road. I had heard the course heading out of Athens was pretty much horrible all around, but I figured it would only be for a few miles. As it turned out, the cars, exhaust, factory smokestacks, and the oil refinery (this one killed me, really) made just about every step of the first 50 miles less-than-appealing to me. I couldn't even fully appreciate the sections on the coastline with their beautiful views. While those roads had less traffic, they also had no shoulders to run on, so the cars that did come careening around the tight turns were definitely something that kept me from relaxing and enjoying the moment. I'm sure the course was much more enjoyable after the 50 mile mark in Corinth, but for that 1/3 of the race, I was hard pressed to think of a worse combination of conditions in which to run.
I do, however, credit the insane traffic for allowing me the opportunity to dust off my language skills and share a bonding moment with two Portuguese runners after the three of us nearly jumped out of our shoes at the sound of a Fiat's screeching tires about 10 feet from us (it just missed smashing into a bus). I was just behind the two men at that moment, and when I saw the Portuguese names on their bib numbers, I knew they would appreciate me saying a few 'Hilarious but Not Safe for My Blog' comments in their native tongue. I did my best to pretend I spoke more Portuguese than I actually do (which is very very little) over the next mile or so before I needed to let them move ahead. That moment, along with running through the occasional group of school kids high-fiving and cheering wildly along the road, was my favorite part of the race.
|Everyone got a boost (and probably 100 communicable diseases) by high-fiving the dozens of school kids out on the course|
Back to my race, after about 20 miles I was already fighting a level of fatigue that I usually don't experience until 80 or 90 miles. Had we run by an auto mechanic's garage at this point, I would have asked them to kindly remove the engine block I apparently had strapped on my back. Without that option, I figured the only thing I could do to keep my energy from totally failing was to increase my calories. I'm usually a 250 kcal/hr runner, but I upped that to 350-400/hr for a couple hours to see if it would help. It did not. What it did do, predictably enough, was make me very nauseous. Couple that with a moment I shared with a German runner that will go down in history as one of the all-time 'Hilarious Moments in Truck Exhaust Inhalation History', and I suddenly found myself buying two tickets for an immediate ride on the Vomit Comet. No waiting in line for me on that ride. I had the SpeedPass and everything.
|If only we didn't have to run by those smoke stacks at the Oil Refinery in the background, the coastal road sections would have been much more enjoyable!|
|There was safety in numbers when running on the side of the highway, too bad I couldn't keep up with anyone all day|
By the time I stumbled into the Oil Refinery aid station around mile 40 (located literally in the parking lot of the noxious refinery), I was in 100% survival mode. I knew I needed to make it 10 more miles to cross the canal in Corinth and make it onto the Peloponnese. There I'd find my parents for the first time all race and at least collapse among those who are legally bound to care for me. I don't remember much about those last 10 miles other than I couldn't even run the downhill miles for more than 2 minutes at a time before needing to stop, stretch, or otherwise lay prostrate under the sweet shady relief of the occasional highway overpass. Mercifully enough, the canal finally appeared after 9 hours of struggling from the start.
|Reaching the tiny gap between the mainland and the Peloponnese was a HUGE victory for me.|
|Mile 50. Can I get some sleep now? Please?!!|
It wasn't all frustrating/bad news out in Greece, however. After resting for the night back in Athens, the following day we drove the course to Sparta to cheer in the final few hours of runners. The scene there was fun and festive with fellow runners joining the townspeople up and down the main street leading to the finish line at the statue of King Leonidas.
|With a bicycle escort from the local children, every runner received a hero's welcome in Sparta!|
|Truly a fantastic finish line!|
|It's not over until you touch the statue and drink the water from the river|
|The Spartathlon is a brutal race the allows no room for error. For those who do make it all the way to Sparta, the emotions and fatigue are worn clearly on their faces|
|That evening a huge crowd gathered in the town square for a cultural music ceremony with the Mayor of Sparta|
|Thousands of Spartans were in attendance...seemingly more than the actual population of the town|
|The next day we made the long drive back to Athens, stopping at a few beautiful/ancient sites along the way. My parents pose here on the shore of the 'original' capital of Greece at Nafplio.|
|I did a little exploring down a 3,000 year old (and PITCH BLACK!) cistern at Mycenae|
|Oh yeah, and back in Athens the Parthenon was pretty cool too|
|You're standing on top of the (ancient) world up there!|
|The view allowed me to map out my next stop...a must see for any athlete in Athens...|
|The Panathenaic Stadium, only about 2,500 years old, and site of the original Olympic games!|
|It was pretty darn cool to run a lap on that beyond-historic track!|
|Sure hope the King and Queen were impressed by my time!|
|In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of ancient history and modern hustle and bustle of Athens...|
|Oh yeah, and the food....I REALLY liked the food!!!|
As for this blog, I can't thank everyone enough for stopping by over the past 4 years. This thing was created to help inspire others, and the number of you who have contacted me directly with your own stories of struggle and triumph in not only running, but with fighting cancer or other illnesses, has literally given me the return-inspiration I've needed to achieve the (albeit modest) goals I've reached in this sport. We all make a pretty great team! Even though I won't be posting much over the next few months (I won't bore you with lame posts, but I whenever I take pretty pictures on an adventure run, I'll be sure to share them here), I want everyone to know they should still feel free to contact me via email for advice on training or gear or whatever. I can't stress how much I've enjoyed having so many of you ask for help on training for your first marathon or 50 miler or 100 miler, and then watched you all put in the hard work to achieve those lofty goals. The community spirit is what ultra-running is all about, and I very much want to continue to play my small role in this great family!