The Greek Running Boom

  • by XpatAthens
  • Saturday, 07 November 2015
The Greek Running Boom
In 2005, some 800 Greeks took part in the Athens Classic Marathon, while this year more than 9,000 are said to have set off from starting line on Sunday November 8. A decade ago, Greece held no more than 50 events a year for amateur runners, but now, including mountain races, these surpass 300.

Running in Greece has become so popular in recent years that even professionals have been caught unaware. It has given rise to new professions, offset the losses of others and gradually changed the mentality of many in regard to sport.

Amateur runner Marios Kritikos tells Kathimerini that he began running on the encouragement of friends, and in a bid to shed a bit of weight. Today, at the age of 37, he works as a software engineer at a mutinational firm and has completed eight marathons in Greece and abroad, two mountain races on Olympus and one 12-hour race in Elefsina. Not everyone could understand his passion at first. “The first summer I went to my wife’s village and ran in tights, the locals laughed at me,” he says. “Last year and this year, though, I saw a lot of people either running or walking in the same areas. We’re growing accustomed to the sight. It does not raise eyebrows as it once did.”

The growing popularity of running is particularly well illustrated in the numbers for the Athens Marathon, which is organized by SEGAS, Greece’s athletics federation. Enrollments this year (including the 5k and 10k races that are held on the same day) came to more than 40,000, from just 7,300 in 2007. In the period between 2011 and 2012, foreign travel agents reduced their reservations for runners from abroad because of the mass protests in Athens but this loss was offset by a spike in the number of Greeks who signed up, breaking all previous records.

An athletics event of this size is particularly lucrative. This year organizers estimated that, thanks to the arrival of runners and their friends and families from abroad, around 10 million euros will be spent at hotels, restaurants, archaeological sites and retail stores over the five-day period.

How can Greeks’ sudden interest in running be explained? “I think the crisis played a big role. Running is a form of stress relief and low-maintenance. All you have to do is put on a pair of shorts and running shoes and go outside,” says physical therapist Giorgos Psaroyiannis, a veteran runner himself. Last year he treated more than 1,000 runners, compared to a decade ago when he barely had 200.

ΟHe has noticed that most people start running in their 30s and while it starts as a hobby, many overdo it or make technical mistakes, often leading to injury. “I tell them that they need to have continuity. The aim is to run for as many years as we can,” says Psaroyiannis.

One recent afternoon at the Olympic Stadium, dozens of amateur runners pushed the extra few kilometers under the floodlights as they counted down the last two weeks to the Marathon. Polias watched them from a corner, stopwatch in hand.

“I want to believe that this is not a passing trend,” he says. “In running, nothing comes for free. You have to keep trying until you reach your goal. People who put running in their lives and are committed keep doing it because it is an unbelievable source of joy and well-being.”

To read this article in full, please visit eKathimerini