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Running the Classic Athens Marathon

what was I even thinking?

I’m not sure how running a marathon got on my wish list, or when. I think it was before I even started running. As in running running, not running after the bus running. But it was there … Probably something to do with testing my limits or my craziness or something 🙂

And then I started running, in a 10k race that raised money for planting trees, where I mostly ran for the cause. And for which I barely even trained, since I get bored during training. I then moved on to the half marathon because of the cool atmosphere at running contests. And for being able to run in the middle of the streets of Bucharest which are usually packed with cars. It was a fun day 🙂

So, naturally, after finishing my first and only half-marathon … next on the list was the marathon. And, since I was not planning on doing this more than once, the Athens Classic Marathon was the pick.

After a bit of postponing and gathering some friends to run with, there I was: on the plane to Athens, with a total of around 100 kms ran in the preceding months. I do however practice some sport or another (usually more than one) weekly, so I was in good shape.

We decided to get there a few days before the marathon to train and get ready for the race and also do a bit of sightseeing. Of which we naturally only did the latter 🙂

Ancient Agora of Athens

Ancient Agora of Athens

It was pretty cool, sightseeing in a city full of runners from all over the world. All of them looking more prepared than we were 😛 And Athens is a great place for sightseeing, it is full of ancient sites, museums and also hills to climb and train for the race 🙂 If you do climb its hills, and I strongly suggest you do, you get to admire the city from above. We chose to walk up Licabetus hill. There’s also the option of taking the cable car up, but we were there for the marathon after all 🙂 While walking around Monastiraki we accidentally discovered the best ice cream in Athens, DaVinci Artisan Gelato. True, it was the only ice-cream I’ve ever tasted in Athens, but it was heavenly 🙂

The view from the Licabetus hill

The view from the Licabetus hill

We also went to retrieve our race kits and it was a good thing we decided to do that as soon as we got to Athens since it can get very crowded closer to the race day. And if you plan on buying or looking at some running gear, make sure to set aside plenty of time for the visit the Marathon Expo. There were loads of brands present!

After two days of sightseeing, I spent the last evening before the marathon with my cheering team on a fun evening out. It was great to catch up with friends and get some last-minute tips and tricks 🙂

the marathon day

… started, of course, with a really early wake up call. We had, after all, a bus to catch … to be taken far, far away to the city of Marathon only to have to run aaall the way back. Madness! But there were loads of such buses in the center of Athens on that particular day and people we’re queuing up to get on them!! The buses had more pickup points around the city so we got to the closest pickup point from our accommodation and quickly boarded one of the buses and set off. On the bus, we got all the necessary info about the start, the race track, the trucks that were going to take our belongings back to Athens. The route the buses took is mostly the same as the race course. It seemed long … very long … is this really how 42 kms look like?? How many hills were there and around which km? And, most importantly, why were we on this bus in the first place??? 😐

In Marathon, after getting off the bus and leaving our belongings at our designated trucks, we went into the Stadium. Which was already packed with runners and more were swarming in. Everyone seemed to be either warming up or queuing to the toilets. Most of us wearing the very fashionable plastic bag which was supposed to keep us warm. 🙂

Marathon stadium

Marathon stadium

Some time before 9 o’clock (the official start time) people started queuing towards one of the exits and then getting out of the stadium and slowly disappearing. We also went to our allocated groups and waited. And slowly made our way towards the starting line. Before we knew it, we were there … at the start … of the marathon race! I was for some reason expecting the starting moment to be more glamorous, but it was just a line and a gate and some people ushering lots of sleepy and confused runners to start running 😐 So I started running …

The route follows the main road back to Athens, with a small detour to run around the Tumulus of the Athenians (the burial mound of the Athenians who gave their lives during the battle of Marathon). I started running slowly, slow being my only pace. But it’s a good pace for admiring the surroundings. I liked that they made the detour for us to see the Marathon mounds. Other than that, there was nothing very spectacular on the route in terms of sights. At the end of the detour, I made a short stop and tried communicating with my sister who was a bit behind, jumped a bit and waved my arms, but she didn’t notice me. So, deciding to conserve my energy, I got back to running.

All went well until a bit after km 10. And then the hills started. They were a nice change of pace at the beginning, but I hated all the ones towards the end of the race. The fact that the wind also started blowing didn’t help much either …

At some point I managed to find M & M and run together with them for a bit. But we don’t run at the same pace, so they both soon vanished. And I ran the last 25 or so kms trying to catch up with them only to find out at the finish line that they had been behind me 😐 I’m still not sure how that happened. Probly my attention span was affected by all that running …

The group of gladiators passed by me around that time … but I did manage to catch up with them a few times. And finished a bit after them … I think?

marathon gladiators

I know many people argue against listening to music while running a race, but I get awfully bored without it, so I did have a playlist prepared. Apart from a few songs, most of my running playlist is made up of Irish songs and fast tempo-ed fado. Not sure why these work for me … Here’s one of my favourites:

Each time one of the fado songs came up, I was trying to dance to it while running. Very hard actually 😐 I dare you to try dancing after running 20kms 😛 I loved that there were loads of cheering points on the way, most of them with music. Each time I got close to one of them, I removed my headphones 😀

There were also lots of people cheering on the way, really cool for encouragement. There were also lots of kids that extended their hands for the runners, I kind of invented a game where each time I got hi-fived by a kid, I stole some of their mana to help me run some more 😐 Poor kids …

At some point after km 30, I really got bored. I couldn’t really manage to remember why I was running in the first place. I was also a bit bummed since I thought the others were all in front and even though I had tried running a bit faster to catch up with them, they were nowhere in sight … not surprising since, apparently, I had been running from them … I always assumed the wall everyone was talking about was more like a physical exhaustion … it seems I was wrong … I was not tired, nothing was hurting too much … I was just … not seeing the point of running. I was starting to think about walking the rest of it.

But … around km 34 (I think) I saw K, who came on his bike to encourage me. Damn! I thought, I can’t start walking now! He did come all the way here to see me run. So I did run 😐

But I did end up with some awesome pics! Thanks K!


At km 35 there was also the second refresh point that I knew would have coca cola! I’ve looked at the race details the day before and tried memorizing the kms that would have things I like, bananas, coke etc. The plan was to use this info to trick myself into running up to the next refresh point 🙂 And the next … and the next … The 35 km cola was indeed the best cola I’d ever had! After dreaming of it for 10 kms 😐

The good thing about managing to run the first 30 kms was that the hills finally finished! There were only a few underpasses left in the city, but there were no more serious slopes. I’m not sure around which km we did enter the city. But more and more people were cheering on the sides. The last street before the entrance of the stadium was packed with people!

And the Panathenaic stadium is a great place to finish such a race! Not only does it look amazing, but you can hear the cheering of the people well before entering the stadium! It was really exciting. Knowing that I can finally stop running made up for a great deal of the excitement as well 🙂

Athens marathon finish

Athens marathon finish

After crossing the finish line and circling around the stadium, I followed the trail of people to the trucks where I got my stuff back and then managed to phone my family & friends and see where they were.

Surprise! Apparently I was the first of the girls to finish?!? This explained why I didn’t manage to catch them!

It took me a while to get back in the stadium to the spectator side, the way involved climbing a few (or just one, I can’t remember properly … since I was tired and confused) overpass. Legs not working well at this point. Also the group was sitting high up in the stadium. I have to admit that the view from there was indeed great, but it was a bit painful to get up there!

I waited on the stadium for the others and took pics! And climbed down to cheer when they were supposed to arrive and them climb back up the stadium. I was at this point starting to feel cold and to dream of lots and lots of food!

I have to admit, the race was awesomely organised, with easy transport of people to Marathon and bags back to Athens, with lots of lively cheering points, a great finish on the marble stadium and also a mobile app which tracked everyone’s progress, making it very easy for family members and friends to check on you 🙂 Feed zones were at each 2.5 km with plenty of isotonic, water, fruits and all. Their placement and goodies list was posted on the site so we knew what to expect at the next stop.

After the whole gang finished, we headed for food and we had a bit of a hard time finding something decent open and willing to have some stinky marathonas eating there.

The next day, hoping to treat our aching muscles, we continued our sightseeing tour 😀

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Temple of Olympian Zeus

We walked around town wearing our marathon t-shirts and smiling at random strangers that were also wearing the same t-shirts.

And we also got some time to go out on our last day in Athens, twice even! We got to catch up with more friends both in the afternoon and evening. Notice our fashionable evening attire 😛

going out in Athens

The next day we got some Terkenlis cake and flew back home …

Where did you run (or plan to run) your first Marathon?

Useful info:

  • we found a great apartment on airbnb. The neighborhood was not very good, but it was central, close to the bus pickup point for the marathon and also close to the main sights 🙂
  • if you don’t yet have an account on airbnb but are thinking of using it, you might want to try this link so we both get some travel credit. Thanks!
  • another thing to note in Athens: pay special attention for pickpockets on the metro, especially in very crowded stops!

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trip date: November 2016


  1. Lucy · April 15, 2017 Reply

    I ran the London marathon which was an amazing experience; sounds like the Athens one was too xx

  2. Niina Lehikoinen · April 18, 2017 Reply

    Wow, I got goosebumps while reading your post – must have been an amazing experience to run a marathon in Athens! If I ever run a marathon, I’d love to do that in Athens, the city I’ve loved since 8-year old. I’d love to share that feeling of finishing the run to Panathenaic stadium 🙂

    • Irina · April 18, 2017 Reply

      Put it on your wishlist 🙂 I never would have thought that I would end up encouraging people to run marathons, but that finish has to be one of the greatest race finishes in the world 😀 And just so you know, they also do have shorter races on the same day 😉

  3. Christina · April 19, 2017 Reply

    Ahh what a cool place for a marathon!! I’m actually running the Vienna half marathon this weekend and am pretty nervous because I haven’t trained as much as I should have. Reading this post (and seeing the insane km you ran lol) gave me motivation to stay focused and just… conquer it haha. Well done! 🙂

    • Irina · April 20, 2017 Reply

      Yep, staying focused seems to be a good trick 😀 Also, keep your eyes on beautiful Vienna, I’m sure they picked a great route for the race! This should help you keep your thoughts off what you’re doing 😛 And have fun! 😀

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