Fifty thousand people stood at the starting line in Athens. This record-breaking attendance clearly shows that more and more people who are passionate about running, fulfill their dream to follow the steps of Pheidippides and run the distance from Marathon to Athens, starting where the first ever marathon was held. How does a runner participate in the original marathon, and how much will it cost?
A gift for a significant birthday, a marathon jubilee, the first run abroad or for just a short trip to run in the mostly sunny Greece from the usually cloudy, cold and rainy reality of the Polish autumn – each reason might be a good one to face the legendary route, feel the shine of the Olympic fire, see how Greek fans dance Zorba and hand olive branches to the marathoners to “guarantee” luck. A nice division of roles takes place during this activity: Greek women give the branches to the gentlemen runners, and Greek men – to the ladies.
Spontaneous rooting is something that participants can expect during the race from Marathon to Athens. Breaking personal records is, on the contrary, something that is difficult to count on. This is exacerbated by a problematic route configuration, and the weather can also be unhelpful. Even though the event takes place at the beginning of November, there’s a high probability that the temperature will be over 20 degrees Celsius. This is why it is better to not have any unrealistic expectations of breaking personal bests.
Book using an agency?
It is easiest to start preparations by looking through the travel agencies’ offers. What we can get for 2600 PLN is: flights to and from the destination, communication to and from the airport, five nights including breakfast at a hotel, a starter pack, a couple of days to tour Athens, and a day before and after the race to rest. In the same agency, a person not interested in taking part in the marathon themselves, will pay 2400 PLN for flights and accommodations. What if we try to put together a similar set without an agency? A well organized trip, carried out step by step, which is prepared well ahead of time may cost us much less.
Where to start? The three most important steps to take are: booking the flights, booking the hotel and purchasing the starter pack.
Five nights in a four star hotel for two, with breakfast, is around 1800 PLN. Round trip flights for two can be booked two or three months ahead at Fly4Free for 500-600 PLN. Before the race, we need to register on the organizer’s website - athensauthenticmarathon.gr. The full pack – along with free access to public transport in Athens and discounts passes to visit the monuments – costs 100 euro.
Extra costs can always be expected
Having calculated the expenses, it turns out that two people (where only one is taking part in the race) can expect to pay around 3k PLN when the trip is self-organized, as opposed to nearly 5k PLN with travel agency offers. This total will, however, be enlarged by taxi and airport fees in Athens. This stage of the trip needs caution. – For a ride to a hotel, our taxi driver had cost 60 euro. Interestingly enough, when returning to the airport in another cab I only paid 30 euro – said Grzegorz, a 45 year-old runner from Zielona Gora. The bank fee charged for an international money transfer to cover the starter pack was also a big expense. The extra money was obviously necessary to cover meals in restaurants, coffee places, and for shopping and sightseeing. It is worth estimating those expenses before visiting Greece to look for chances to save money when exchanging currency. Euros can be purchased cheaper on the internet than in traditional currency exchange offices. Conotoxia.com provides competitive exchange rates, 24h access to its servicers and transaction safety.
A bit of sightseeing before the big race
Three or four days should be more than enough to tour Acropolis and the most important places in Athens. We can also visit the beach and docks in Pireus, as well.
On the Sunday when the race takes place, the participants of the marathon who start early in the morning, line up at the metro entrances indicated by the race’s regulations. The organizers then pick them up in buses and drive them free-of-charge to the starting line in Marathon. This is the place where the Olympic fire burns and one can feel the atmosphere of the mythical act of Pheidippides, who in 490 BC, after the Athenians conquering the Persians, ran to Athens to spread the word of the victory, only to drop dead because of exhaustion afterwards.
Pheidippides, who carried some armament, surely didn’t train running regularly, didn’t have the modern, cushioned soles in his light shoes and didn’t know of the necessity of frequently hydrating during the route - not even mentioning his lack of energy gels - wasn’t up to par with the evolved sport that exists today.
Nowadays, scheduled training by experts, professional gear and diet supplements are standards for a vast majority of amateur runners. This is why Pheidippides the statue doesn’t see dread in the thousands of eyes of his followers. On the contrary – the atmosphere at the start resembles a fiesta. There are lots of people from all over the world, many of which come dressed as the mythical character. One can also spot ancient Greek senators and even an emperor.
Organization… not very Greek
The marathon in Marathon starts at 9 A.M. The route initially goes a little downhill, but from the 10th km of the race, runners can feel the road increasing its incline. It goes this way for quite a while, and after 30th kilometer of the race, even the most experienced long-distance runners often lose stamina. Luckily enough, the Greek audience is excellent at cheering up participants by chanting, singing and dancing, as if they were happy about the running crowd blocking the roads of their capital for a few hours.
The race finish at the monumental, marble stadium Panathinaiko, where the first ever ancient and modern Olympics took place, delivers a completely unforgettable memory.
The participants of the original marathon today point out that the level of organization of the event differs from the common image of Greek improvisation. Everything is prepared in a very clear way and is timely, and the personal belongings of the racers, which are left at the start in Marathon, await them at the finish in Athens. During the race, there are plenty of opportunities for food and drinks. Additionally, even though medical services have their hands full, they are well equipped and prepared for the various conditions of the long-distance runners.
It might seem that running a distance of 42.195 km would cause pain and joy the same all over the world. But, there is something special about the marathon in Marathon – 50 thousand participants from over 100 countries cannot be wrong. The earliest opportunity to see this event for ourselves is in November 2017. However, it’s worth thinking about booking flights, hotels and currency exchange many months prior. As it is said, “the early bird gets the worm.”