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  Date:    9 November 2008      View all races for this date    Re-order by age grade
  Race:    26th Athens Marathon (Power Walking)  
  Distance:    Marathon
  Location:    Athens, GREECE

Report from the race by John C.

The Athens Marathon is an elite event held on the original route starting from the town of Marathon and finishing in the ancient stadium in Athens city centre, used for the Olympic marathons in 1896 and 2004. A "Power Walking" event is held alongside the main event, with the walkers setting off two hours ahead of the runners. With the elite runners aiming for 2:10 to 2:15, a racewalker capable of 4:10 could be the first across the finish line.

7,500 athletes were entered. Chip timing ensures that competitors in the walk would be recorded in the overall results, as no seperate results are published for the walking category. 6,000 Euro prizes for the winner of the mens and womens events. Nothing to compete for but honour and glory in the walk.

Several hundred walkers lined up on the start line at 7am as the sun rose over the horizon. A last minute addition to the rules stated that walkers could not enter the stadium within 4 hours and 30 minutes, to prevent walkers from beating the runners. As this was my goal I should have been upset, but having had flu three weeks before I had already decided to settle for 4:30.

A five minute delay and the starters gun went off... And so did several dozen runners! No attempt was made to stop anyone from running, as twelve athletes pulled away from me. At first I was angry but realised that not many would be able to keep up the pace they had set themselves. What was to be a long lonely four hours on an empty road for me turned into a real chase. There were a few runners that looked like they could do a fast time, and they had started in the walk because they too had wanted to enter the stadium with the elite finishers.

Within 2km of walking I had reduced the number of runners in front of me to nine, with just 200m lead over me but steadily increasing. What outraged me was that the police escort consisting of one car and two motorcycle outriders to escort the leader had been "stolen" from me, and the cheers for the leader would not be coming to me. Within a few kilometres we rounded the tomb of the Marathon soldiers. As I picked each runner off one by one, more runners came past leaving me in twelth position. Several bystanders did cheer me and indicated that they didn’t respect the leaders as they were not even attempting to walk. At 7km I lost site of the leader and police escort. Another worry - the first two timing mats I passed over were still being set up and were not plugged in yet, and a DQ had been promised for anyone who did not register on every timing mat.

The sky was blue and it was getting warmer as the morning drew on. The first of several hill climbs began. I had maintained a pace of 6:07 per kilometre for the first 12km, and I love long steady climbs. Sure enough I walked past a runner every kilometre or two. I passed the half marathon timing mat comfortably in sixth place in 2:10:07 - 77 seconds faster than I had walked the Birmingham Half Marathon two weeks previously. A childrens race started from the halfway marker by an enterprsing local just after I passed. I cheered them and they cheered me.

Wearing my Cyprus shirt I was getting lots of local support, as the first Greek. Plenty of water, Powerade, fruit, energy gel, and chocolate were available every 5km and I was taking advantage, along with the wine gums I had been carrying. Listening to music and enjoying the sun shine, which was now starting to get very warm. Only four people ahead of me at 30km but they were the good ones. It was hard fighting into third position but my headphones were playing a variety of music, and I did the Lambada past number three.

The crowds of people were getting denser now and barriers ran continuously along both sides of the street. It would have been enbarrasing to run out of steam in front of a "home" crowd and so I kept the pace up, starting to suffer for the first time at 34km. The helicopter filming the elite runners started to approach and I could hear their police escort. At 35km I grabbed a water bottle and swigged - a big mistake as I hadn’t taken enough salts and had overhydrated. I staggered to the side of the road and bent over just as three Kenyans ran past with the TV camera truck filming me. I luckily recovered within twenty seconds and regained my pace. Within 200 meters I unexpectedly passed the last two "walkers" and found myself leading the walk with 6km to go, wondering how many in the main race would get past me before finishing.

Officials were now ushering me to the side of the road to walk in the gutter to let all the runners get past without being obstucted by a slow walker. I kept pointing back shouting; "What runners?" The crowds were really cheering now as the last few kilometres got faster and faster. (I have no idea where Paula Radcliffe pulled out...) As I approached the stadium, an official was shouting at me. It was just turning 4:30 on my watch and I wasn’t going to stop, and I had the crowds support.

Only nineteen athletes had passed me before I entered the stadium. Twelve of them Africans, and all of them men. They made it look easy. The first lady (Japanese) entered just behind me and they raised a tape at the finish line for her. TV cameras filmed as she ran up the home straight to claim her 6,000 Euros prize. The officials looked very worried that I would break into a run and beat her to the tape, but she easily sprinted past me. Another man overtook just before I crossed in 22nd overall position.

The elite athletes had their own exit and changing rooms, leaving me to enjoy the stadium entirely alone. "Move, move, others are coming!" I was told but it was eighteen minutes before the next "walker" arrived at the stadium. I enjoyed myself and stayed in the stadium for another hour watching the masses come in. The results were published next day in the newspaper. I was missing from the results, and furious - chip timing is only as good as the people running the system. It was a great race and I really enjoyed it. The organisation was fantastic. Not quite a walker friendly event though.

They later calculated a time for me (incorrect) although they still don’t include it in the results. Maybe next time I shall try the Los Angeles Marathon, which also has a walking category...

John C

 Gender   Position   Athlete   Age Group   Grade   Club   Time   Speed   

  F   1     Karen Davies   W45   67.06%     WORLD GBR/ENG     05:35:06     7.555 km/h  

  M   1     John Constandinou   M35   65.82%     WORLD CYP     04:30:58     9.343 km/h  
  M   2     Gary MacDonald   M50   62.35%     WORLD GBR/ENG     05:12:17     8.107 km/h  

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