The original marathon course is no joke: it has 14 miles of serious hills, lots of opportunity for crosswinds and headwinds, and thousands of years of history to back it. Starting in the breathtaking foothills of Marathon, the first twenty miles of the course are a progressive climb, finishing with the last six miles of a downhill slope into the city, throwing the runner underneath the watchful eye of the Acropolis and into the Panathenaic Stadium in all of its glory.
Beyond the rich historical experience that simply running the Athens Classic Marathon was for me yesterday, it was more than that. Surrounded by 8,500 other compatriots hailing from over 80 other countries, I experienced Greece at its fundamental core as I trekked along the archeologically preserved and recognized roads that carried me towards the city of Athens. The countryside streets were lined with locals, who braved the rain and cold winds to cheer us on with continuous shouts of pame, pame and bravo, bravo. Little Ya-Yas lined the streets with bouquets of olive branches overflowing in their arms, each bouquet thoughtfully tied with a Grecian blue ribbon, which were proudly handed out to every runner that passed. Children clapped enthusiastically and even joined in with the running pack laughing with the approval of their parents who were engrossed in their own melodic and unified applause. There were certain miles far from the city where such lively crowd of spectators would gather that you could have mistaken the energy for the finish line. Herds of stray dogs speckled the route, with a few even joining in with the runners for a few miles at a time. Olive trees, mountains and ocean views made it impossible to forget that you were in Greece. Upon entrance to the city, the pames and bravos got louder, smiles were empathically shared by proud spectators, and the final stretch into the stadium was a shaded street lined with orange trees in full glory. This run wasn’t just a run, it was an opportunity to experience Greece and Greek culture in a a way like no other.
More than anything, the Athens Classic Marathon reminds one of Pheidippides and his original run, a run in which he knew his limitations and ignored them to bring imperative news of victory to his beloved city of Athens. Running the same route, pushing through the seemingly endless climbs and muscle cramps, and fighting to get closer to the finish seemed just a little bit easier remembering Pheidippides, and knowing that limitations are meant to be broken.
We are drawn to sport, whether we are watching or participating, because sport defines the human spirit. It is the real-life performance of the human drama that unfolds deep within each one of us; engrained in us all is a basic need and desire to be the absolute best version of ourselves that we can be. Sport is a tangible medium to explore the intangible yearnings that lie at our heart of hearts, it is the opportunity to break through self-imposed limitations and to unveil something greater than we could have ever imagined.