Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Athens Classic Marathon Recap

Well I've had a few days to reflect on the Athens Classic Marathon and during that time the screaming in my quads has subsided and I think I can look back with a slightly clearer head.  Here's the recap.

On the morning of race day, me and the two other guys that were running the marathon got up around 4 am and had a light breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee to wake up.  We then made the 15 minute walk to the pick up point where the busses would take us to the start point at Marathon Stadium.  After about a 40 minute drive we arrived at Marathon.  The first thing that we noticed was the light drizzle that was being blown sideways by the gale force winds.  Great this is going to be fun.

We grabbed plastic bags from the volunteers to keep us dry and we quickly found shelter under the stands of the stadium.  While we waited for the 8:30 bag drop, we stretched, tried to stay loose and debated how much clothes we wanted to wear.  I'd purposely left my tights back in Germany, thinking it wouldn't be too bad, but I did have a have a long sleeve technical shirt and a long sleeve half zip outer shirt, my warm up pants are way to baggy for me to run in so I knew it was going to just be shorts for me.

Here's a picture of some of the other runners from Vilseck, two
of them were my neighbors and the others where from my old
Squadron in 2 CR.
Just before bag drop time I went to the porta john for that last minute download and that's where things started to get interesting.  As I was trying to get all of my layers off/down my gel bottle fell off my race belt and plop! Right into the blue water of the porta john. Great.  There was only going to be one gel station on the route and I'd wanted to make sure I didn't have to rely on it.  Now I was going to have to ration my gel and pick up more than one packet at the only gel point at around mile 15/16.
I dropped my bag having made the decision to run in the long sleeve shirt and the half zip.  We then ran into/met up with several other runners from the Vilseck/Graf area.  All told there were probably 13-15 runners from the area there for the race.  There were blocks that the runners had to go into to start and then it would be a rolling start.  Blocks were determined by your finish time from your last marathon.  This is where we all got split up as we headed to our specific blocks.

9 am start time.  The gun went off and everyone takes off.  I was in Block 4 and I finally crossed the start line at about 9:05.  I weaved through the crowd trying to find my stride, which I finally hit when I got on the sidewalk and started to pass everyone.  The first 10k is basically a gentle downhill slope.  We looped around the the tomb of the Greek Soldiers who died at the Battle of Marathon and then we started a gentle up hill climb. 

At the 10k mark I was feeling good running at a avg 8:30 pace which is a little faster than I wanted to be but I was comfortable.  The weather had started to clear and I was starting to think I had overdressed and having some thoughts about finishing under 4 hours.

At the half way point is about where things started to go to hell.  The weather had gotten worse again with wind gusts of 20-30 mph with a continuous light drizzle and the temp seemed to be dropping.  I had started fighting some calf cramps around mile 12 but I had stopped and stretched and seemed to be working through them pretty well.  I crossed the halfway marker just under 2 hours, still on pace for a sub 4 hour.  Little did I know what was about to hit me.

According to International Association of Athletics Federations the Athen's Classic Marathon includes the toughest mid race climb in any major marathon. Here are the charts from my Garmin.
First 13 miles, not bad. Mile 14 to mile 20, this sucks.  Mile 20 to the finish, it's all downhill!
The climb from the 6 mile mark to the halfway point isn't too bad.  It's the almost 900ft in elevation change from mile 12 to mile 19.5 that really kills you.  If you don't think that's too bad check out the grades below.
The grade chart demonstrates that many of those uphills are actually short .25-.5 mile grades of almost 10% or greater in some cases followed by an equally short steep downhill.  Those short ascents and descents played hell with my quads and it was right around the 20% grade at mile 17 where everything fell apart.

At mile 17 I stopped to stretch my calves again and all of a sudden it wasn't just my calves, it was my quads, my hamstring, AND my groin.  Basically my whole left leg was a taken over by muscle spasms and cramps.  In all of my athletic endevours I have never felt anything quite like it.  I was leaning against the metal guardrail in the median and pounding on it in pain, thinking that I was going to end up at the medic station waiting on the Sag Wagon bus to take me to the finish.  The cramps gradually subsided though and I decided I would walk until I felt like I could shuffle/run again. 

Statue of Pheidippides along side the route.  He died after
running from Marathon to Athens to give news of a Athenian
At around mile 19 I actually saw 3 busses full of people who had called it a day and at that point I was cold, wet, miserable and the wind was whipping pretty bad and it took all of my intestinal fortitude to not call it a day.  But as I've said before I'm too damn stubborn (or dumb depending on how you look at it) to quit so I kept driving on, besides in only a mile it would become all downhill too the finish line.
Can you tell I'm struggling here?
I made it to the downhill portion and I managed to pick up the pace to a shuffle/slow run and I was actually able to hold it all the way to the finish.
I have never been so happy to see a finish line in my life.  I picked up the pace as I headed into the stadium but had to shut it down again as my legs started cramping again, although I did cross the finish line at slow run.  I was very disappointed with my 4:59:48 finish but considering the course and weather I'll take it.
A view of the finish area at Panathinaikon Stadium
from across the street a couple of days prior to the race
This was a well run race event with over 8500 runners for the marathon.  It is an IAAF Gold Label Race so it's well supported.  The course is completely closed from Marathon all the way into the Athens' City Center.  Aid stations were well stocked with water, although it was in bottles and not cups, with alternating stations having sports drinks and bananas.  The race expo had lots of cool gear and exhibits with several booths from marathons across Europe.  I was disappointed in the photography of the event.  The photographers, and there were a lot, only managed to capture photos of me crossing the finish line from a distance and at the edge of the shot, even though there were plenty of photographers at ground level and at other points throughout the course.  Oh well.

This was a fun race and if the weather had been different I think I would have had a better experience.  Average temps in Athens during November are in the mid 60's, it was in the high 40's low 50's on race day.  The sheer history of the event makes it worth doing.  I'd recommend though that this not be someone's first marathon and that they train for hills (something I really didn't do) and that you really pace yourself to the half way point (something I also didn't do) because that's where this race will get you.

I really need to wash the taste of this race out of my mouth.  I'm thinking but Shantel and I have both agreed that races between October and May are not good because of the unpredicatability of the weather.  With that said, there is the Olathe Chamber of Commerce Oz Marathon next April 21st.  That's almost May, right?


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