12000 runners, representation from 88 countries, a repeat of an event that happened exactly 2500 years ago (just a legend, but, a very convincing one), and I was fortunate to be part of it. I dreamt of it, 2 years before the event, when I came across such a thing called Athens Classic Marathon, that happens on the original Marathon course every year. And, 2010 is going to be 2500 years after Phidieppides' legendary run to convey the victory message of Battle of Marathon, shouting Nenikekamen (We won).
The day started at 5 AM. We (I along with Harish and Karthik) reached the assembly area in front of the Greek parliament. Thousands of runners were already there waiting to get into the buses lined up to transfer them to the Marathonas village (the starting point of the run). The bus took the same route that we have to traverse back. As Harish pointed out, after a few KM the driver could very well have switched off the engine and we could still have reached Marathonas at the same time. The road was steep downhill for almost 20 KM. And, we will be running back uphill that long.
We haven't visited the Marathonas village proper. But, the assembly area still looks like an ideal battlefield for old fashioned battles. A wide and flat area surrounded by tall hills, which can accommodate a million people. I was in the last wave, and it started at around 9:30 AM. It was so cold that we had to wear plastic sheets given by the organizers to keep us warm till we start running. First 10 KM was almost flat and the weather was pleasant. With a 1 minute walk break after every 10 minutes, I was cruising at a comfortable pace to touch finish line in 5 1/2 hours. Well stocked fuel stations with water, electrolytes, fruits and energy bars and gels, were located at every 2 1/2 KM. There were people to cheer the runners, almost through out the course (till we reached Athens city). 'Bravo, Bravo...' is one rhythmic sound that we could hear continuously ('Well Done' in Greek). There were kids handing olive branches to the runners, through out. (An olive branch used to be placed on the winner's head in ancient Olympics, it seems). The course between 10 and 30 KM was uphill and sun was getting harsher and harsher. With the protective polythene sheets long gone, I started pouring cold water on head to take on the heat. 28 to 32 KM was the toughest for me, with the mid-day heat and the killer uphill course. I slowed down a bit and recovered after 32. This was the first full Marathon, where I was comfortable even in late 30s.
The part of the course that I enjoyed the most was the last 2 KM. After taking the last turn and with the Olympic Stadium in my view, and 1000s of people cheering, I was ecstatic to say the least. I entered the stadium with a broad smile on my face. Probably for the first time, I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and didn't stop after crossing the finish line and just continued running. And, there comes that long cherished dream true.