50/50 marathons

6. Athens Marathon

10th November 2019

Athens Marathon

So, in 490 BC a Greek soldier called Pheidippides ran from the town of Marathon into Athens to let people know that the Persians had been defeated. According to history he entered Athens yelling the word “Niki” victory, then promptly dropped down dead!

So this is the original source to why on earth we run this distance. The Athens Marathon is the original and had been on my bucket list of races to do.

I’d looked into the supposed time that he did the distance and apparently it was about 3 hours, so there was no way I could match his time, although it also suggests that the original distance was more like 24 miles, but somewhere along the line it became the 26.2 miles that we do today.

On arrival in Athens I was a little disappointed. I expected it to be similar to Rome, with ruins all over the place. Instead it’s lots of run down buildings covered in graffiti and surrounded by busy highways. On closer inspection there is an undeniable charm about Athens. There are some lovely little streets to wander down, edged by little taverns where you can sit and watch the world go by. There are the ruins and historical places of interest of course, they are just a bit more spread out than they were in Rome.

The Acropolis is of course the place to visit if you want history. Perched on top of a hill overlooking Athens, it glows in the sun. From afar it seems much smaller than I had anticipated, but when we did go and explore, it’s size and stature is quite something.

The Acropolis

The first hurdle for any Marathon of the scale of Athens is the registration process. In this case we needed to get the metro to a place right on the coast called Faliro and then hop on a tram to just outside the tai Kwon do stadium where I could register. All in all it was about 6 miles from our hotel so not too far.

The registration process was straightforward, get your number and then filter through the myriad of running products in the following expo. As you’d imagine it was very busy, lots of excited runners from all over the world and their bored looking partners dragging along with them.

There are a few things that need to be done prior to a marathon, after registration, food is an important thing. We needed to find vegan food, which is almost always a challenge. Not in Athens, literally just around the corner from our hotel was a great place called Veganaki. This was also quite close to the Panatheanic Stadium where the marathon would finish. The original Olympic Games was held here, so it’s hard not to be impressed by the place.

The other thing that is advised the day before a marathon, along with food and hydration, is rest. Us walking around the acropolis probably doesn’t count as rest though!

Finding your way to the start of any Marathon is always key especially when in a different country, this one more than most because of its starting point in the town of Marathon. This meant an early start as there are coaches laid on to transport the thousands of runners to the start. So I found myself stumbling around from about 5:30am getting myself geared up for the day ahead. Luckily in my hotel there were many runners so all I needed to do was follow them to the coaches.

The ride to Marathon took about 1.5 hours, it took us along the road we would soon be running. I was surprised at how run down and derelict it all seemed, especially in and around Marathon. The coaches dropped everyone off and from there the procession begins, first to drop off bags, then on to a small stadium where we waited until it was time to start. It was the usual mix of nervous runners queuing for the toilet, stretching and warming up. All in all there was about 20,000 people running so quite a logistical feat that seemed to run like clockwork.

I chose to sit and try and relax, just taking in the bedlam around me. It wasn’t a long wait till we were called to our starting areas. This is where the scale of the marathon becomes apparent, not quite to the level of London or New York, but pretty big.

The rain started to fall as we set off, it was warm even at 9am so the rain felt nice as we ran through Marathon. It soon became apparent why all the surrounding buildings looked like shells, there had been bush fires the previous year that pretty much destroyed everything. The local people who were supporting the race held banners demanding for the government to help them to rebuild their homes, yet they still supported the race with passion, I guess because it put the spotlight on them a little.

There are two things that stick out about the Athens marathon, 1. It’s not pretty. You are basically running the entire race on the dual carriageway, edged by big ugly shops or derelict buildings covered in graffiti. But the constant support you receive as you run is great, all you hear are loud chants of ‘bravo, bravo!’ Some locals in the less built up areas hand out olive branches as a traditional gesture.

The other thing that sticks out is the seemingly constant ascent from the 12km mark. This hill carries on up to a really sharp climb at 31km. So roughly half the run is uphill. I started off slow in anticipation but even then I was completely drained by the ascent.

Athens Marathon

I’m beginning to feel the fatigue in my legs after the previous 5 marathons so this was never going to be a PB, but it hit me hard. The last 6 miles are always the most difficult and this one was no exception, even though it was downhill my legs were done. I dare say the heat didn’t help either. But I managed to pull myself together enough on the final downhill and into the stadium for an amazing finish line.

Athens Marathon

I’m glad I’ve done it, a great marathon experience and certainly a good one to tick off. I probably wouldn’t do it again though, I think once is enough.

The day after the marathon when going down for breakfast, we got into the lift with an elderly couple. They asked if I’d done the marathon and how it went. Caroline asked if they’d done the marathon as they were both wearing running shoes, the lady replied not but that her husband did it 50 years ago and won it!!! I had to shake the mans hand, I was so surprised. After further conversation it turned out his name was Ron Hill. This guy is a running legend who ran every day for 52 years. Sadly in the passed couple of years he had developed dementia so couldn’t run anymore. He was in Athens to return the trophy he’d won 50 years ago. Ironically the clothes I wore for the marathon were all Ronhill brand! Nice way to complete the trip.

If you’d be interested in running the Athens Marathon in the future, take a look at athensauthenticmarathon.gr

Athens Marathon Ron Hill
Athens Marathon


Time taken





I am running these marathons to raise money for Mind. If you like what I’m doing and would like to donate you can go to my Just Giving page below.