So if you are going to run your first "real" marathon where do you start - there can be only one choice - to copy the exploits of Phaedippides who delivered news of the Greek victory in the Persian wars and set of from Marathon. The self proclaimed "Authentic" Athens Marathon was indeed just that an authentic test on an ancient & historic route.
Training hadn't gone brilliantly despite the confidence boost of the Great East Run a few weeks before. If ever you want an advertisement for why doing core is so important I was it. The lack of any focus on strengthening the "supporting" bits in the last 12 months meant I missed most of the base training I had planned through niggling injuries and that became very apparent towards the end of the race. Go on - get back to those Thursday core sessions they are great fun & incredibly worthwhile.
Registration on a miserable wet Saturday was very well organised. We took the metro down to the site of the 2004 Olympic village. The switch to a tram for the final leg of the journey to the Tae Kwon Do Hall gave us ten minutes to see the Olympiakos Football Stadium - which was impressive - but also the near derelict remains of the other Olympic halls which were incredibly desolate, scrawled in graffiti and run down. Well done to the London 2012 organisers (yet again) for making their minority sports venues reusable rather than becoming depressing, decaying white elephants such as these.
The weather on race day was altogether more Mediterranean - clear blue skies and warm. Around twelve thousand athletes were bussed out the 26 miles from Central Athens in a faultless logistics exercise which gave us the chance to see the route and appreciate the gradual incline we would face on the way back.
With a running track in the town of Marathon forming the focal point of the congregating masses we amateurs could only watch in awe at the seemingly effortless running styles of the elites warming up around us.
The well staggered start was accompanied by a variety of tunes from Mission Impossible to the "traditional" Greek dancing tunes we would hear all along the course.
Following that blue line that marked the direct route along a dual carriageway through a string of sprawling towns could never be described as beautiful but the support of thousands of locals all keen to high five us all and shouting "bravo bravo" for hours on end was great.
The course has three sections - pretty flat for the first 18km, before its trademark feature - the uphill from 18 to 32km. Think of running up Heydon Hill four or five times in a row and you'll have it - never extreme, far from impossible, but seemingly never ending. At times I felt like I was enduring the never ending labours of Hercules. Finally we reached the top and then it was all downhill for the last 10km into the centre of Athens.
The theoretical race plan worked a treat to the top of the hill and I was bang on target. No problem, I thought as I crested the summit (bizarrely through an underpass - told you it wasn't pretty!) time to accelerate through the last 10km - it was downhill all the way after all. Sadly the Greek Gods had spotted my Achilles heel. As the lack of proper base training and the intense longer training runs I had missed took their toll. Looking back On the splits I went faster up the hill than down it - go figure!
The event was "made" for me however by the finish when you run the last 200m or so in the Panathenaic Stadium - the 2,500 year old athletic icon of Athens and home of the first Olympics of the modern era. This vast tiered marble cauldron was packed with supporters and rocking to more of that "great" Greek music - a fantastic sight to behold!
Many lessons learned about what you can and can't get away with - core & proper base training to name but two. The other was to follow the line that marks the shortest route - I ran 300m further than the official distance and others I spoke to were as much as 500m over - that was one think Phaedippides didn't have to worry about!
All in a great experience and the memories of the whole day and celebratory cocktail (or two...) with Bev and the rest of our support crew that evening in the shadow of the floodlit Acropolis will rest long in the memory.