Saturday, 12 November 2016

The thing with the second Sunday of Novembers is...

The Marathon. Again.

Projects don’t always start off with with a marathon, but this time the Athens Marathon does for me. It is that time of year, the second Sunday of November is tomorrow.

I have a love and hate relationship with the race. It is a bit like living in Greece. It is beautiful, hard, full of love, regret and distrust.  I love it because it is a hard course, you have to run it smart and you have to train well for it, both of which I have never succeeded in doing at the same time before and from the looks of things, won’t be doing again this year. Nevertheless, it is still its most redeeming feature for me. That’s about it for what I love about it though, oh, and the finish. The race ends with a finishing straight right into the marble stadium used in the 1896 Olympics. It just can’t be beat.

The things I hate about it though are many. The whole thing is just awkward. The race website is awkward. Registration is awkward, paying is awkward, and up until last year if you selected the English language version you were directed to a more expensive payment package. Getting to the start is awkward and getting home is awkward. But you are happy to forgive all of that when you finish the race and you will sign up again the next year and find yourself following the same cycle of displeasure. Annoyingly the race was recently re-branded from the pleasingly pedestrian is what it says it is on the tin, the ‘Athens Classic Marathon’ to the new ‘Athens Marathon, The Authentic’. It smacks of  having a chip one’s shoulder, a sort of pained way of saying that this is the original marathon and the rest of you are all running an imitation race elsewhere. It's like the feta debacle, after years of squabbling, it is a protected designated product of origin (despite the word feta being borrowed from Italian) everyone knows it is a peculiarly Greek salty cheese just like everyone knows that the Athens Marathon is the original one in a sense. It is why there are more foreign runners at the event than local. Although I am willing to concede that I am getting to be a tad grouchy as I get older and I just preferred the old logo.

But perhaps what I hate most is that I have never run it well. I have tried running it six  times but only managed to make the start line three times. The other no shows have more to do with my job that anything specifically to do the with the race per se yet it just contributes to a general unhappiness with the whole Athens Marathon thing. The race is well placed seasonally, in that it rides on the tail end of Autumn just before Winter starts blowing in on the northerly winds. As I am a teacher though  it coincides perfectly with the death march to the end of the school term, the seasonal change brings with it new and exciting viruses riding through the halls on runny nosed children on an almost daily basis. And so each year, despite my paranoia and refusal to talk to any sickly children if at all possible, they always get me.  

The route is an interesting one for a marathon in that it provides its own unique challenges. It starts off flat and then climbs in a series of long steps for 30 km before descending slowly towards the finish. There are hillier marathons and lumpier marathons out there though this one tempts you to start of too quickly and you are lured into hitting the climbs too hard and then it is too late - the downhill is assuredly more of a curse than a blessing. It is a course that requires some self-restraint.

This year, almost miraculously in that it is the first time in 7 years that I haven’t  succumbed to the virus ridden children,  it has not been without its challenges. For starters, I now have two small children of my own. Nothing is the same anymore, all is for the better except for when it comes to running. And sleep. My eldest is now in nursery, and so there is now a direct conduit into out home for schools colds. My youngest seems to possesses a circadian rhythm more in line with New Zealand and objects vociferously at all please to return to sleep from 3 am onward. Tomorrow, I am clearly not running against a personal best from the same me without two kids. But this marathon is the start for something else, and this time I am  running to absorb the atmosphere and experience it without chasing a time that always seems to slip ahead ahead of me. That is the plan anyway.

A little while ago, I shared a snippet from a fantastic book that delved into why young men are so predisposed to driving themselves into trees and other risky behaviour. My wife quickly chipped in that it was due to the fact that at that men’s prefrontal cortices haven't fully developed, and even though it was fascinating from an anthropological and evolutionary perspective, it was still the ultimate put down. But she is right, despite my best intentions I will be an idiot. Somewhere, a switch will click and I will leave all my carefully thought out plans behind a I try to chase someone ahead of me.

So, the race plan will inevitably be as it was before: run fast at the beginning, run quick and hard up the hilly sections telling myself that it is okay in that it is all downhill from 30 kms there on in.From there the idea is to let the hounds of hell loose but they will already have been eaten. The last two kms involve me willing to sell my soul to whoever is listening.  I’ll enter again next year and go through this all again.

The Athens Marathon is always an ugly beauty.

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