Going The Distance: A Guide To The Athens Marathon

  • by XpatAthens
  • Monday, 04 October 2021
Going The Distance: A Guide To The Athens Marathon
490BC. The Persians fall at the Battle of Marathon, despite outnumbering the Athenians four to one. An Athenian herald named Pheidippides is dispatched to Athens, 42km away, to break the news. Once there, he utters the joyous words, νικῶμεν (nikomen)—“we have won”—and collapses. Most historical accounts then have him dying on the spot from exhaustion. This may or may not be a romanticized version of the events; though to be fair, Pheidippides had also just legged it 240km from Athens to Sparta and back again to ask for help when the Persian fleet landed in a bay near the town of Marathon.

Today, more than 1,500 marathon races are organized worldwide. But Greece is where it all began. At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, a 42km race from Marathon to Athens featured as one of the defining events of the new Olympic era. It was a way of recalling the ancient glory of Greece. Fittingly, a Greek water-carrier, Spyridon Louis, won the race in 2 hours, 58 minutes, and 50 seconds. (Currently, Kenyan runner Felix Kandie holds the Athens Marathon record at 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 37 seconds.) Every year, long-distance runners from across the globe challenge their bodies and spirits to retrace the legendary footsteps of Pheidippides. With its combination of hills, heat, and history, many find it to be the toughest—but most poetic—Marathon route of them all.

What it’s like to run the Athens Marathon

Every year at 9 am on the day of the race, locals and visiting spectators line the streets of Marathon, where the ancient battlefield once stood, to cheer on jittery competitors at the starting blocks. Today, Marathon is a modest coastal town of about 8,000 residents, with a small archeological museum and an artificial lake. The runners pass around the Marathon Tomb, the final resting place of the Greek soldiers who lost their lives during the legendary battle of the Marathon. They then run near the base of Mount Penteli, onward to Pallini, and finally hit the streets and suburbs of the Greek capital.

Those who’ve run the classic Athens Marathon before—or done their homework—know to dread the uphill stretch after Rafina at around the 18km mark. This goes on until about 32km when the route shifts gently downhill to reach the wide, crowd-thronged avenues of the city centre. From there, it’s like a race through history.

For more information on the Athens Authentic Marathon 2021, click HERE!

Spectator sport: the best spots to watch the Marathon

Head to the stadium around 10-10.30 am to secure a seat on the marble tiers. You can soak up the party atmosphere and catch the first victorious runners entering the stadium, usually, around 11 am. Try for a spot on either side of the stadium entrance or right at the back in the centre, where the actual finish line is.

Some other great vantage points are at the 40km mark, outside the Megaron Athens Concert Hall, or a bit further up Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, outside the Hilton hotel. This is where the runners really need you to cheer them on for their final burst of endurance. There’s a grassy pocket across the road from the Hilton that makes a symbolic spectator’s choice. It’s right next to Dromeas (The Runner), a 12-meter tall glass and iron sculpture by local artist Costas Varotsos.

Instagram addicts should head a little further out of the city centre to the Katehaki pedestrian bridge at the 37.5km mark, where you can snap a dramatic aerial view of the colorful stream of runners as they pass below (the closest metro station is Ethniki Amyna).

Run your own best race

The Athens Marathon isn’t just for professional athletes. Thousands of ordinary people from Athens and all over the world register for the other running races that take place on the sidelines: there’s a 5km, 10km, Power Walking Race, 1.2km Special Olympics Race, or even a Kids Race (registration for the Athens Marathon usually closes about two and a half months before the race, but you can still sign up for the side events until much later). Depending on your fitness levels, these are all great ways to feel part of this momentous experience.

To read this article in full, please visit: thisisathens.org

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