Sun, Oct 21, 1990
Marathon # 52 – Country # 5
I had injured the plantar fascia on my left foot shortly after finishing the London Marathon in April and was forced to rest and cross train for the past six months. I wasn’t in good ‘running’ shape and the foot had not yet healed but I had purchased a marathon trip/package from Marathon Tours so we were going to Greece even if I couldn’t run the race! The package included tours of Athens and five days on the Greek Island of Mykonos after the race.
The Original Marathon commemorates the run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield at the site of the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C., bringing news of a Greek victory over the Persians. Legend has it that Pheidippides delivered the momentous message "Niki!" ("victory"), then collapsed and died, thereby setting a precedent for dramatic conclusions to the marathon.
We arrived a few days before the race so we could explore Athens to take in all the history (spanning 3400 years) and tourist sites. Our tour started at the temple of Olympian Zeus (6th c. B.C.), one of the largest in antiquity and close by Hadrian’s Arch (131 A.D.), which forms the symbolic entrance to the city. From there, walking along Dionysou Areopaghitou Street (on the south side of the Acropolis) we passed the ancient Theatre of Dionysos (5th c. B.C.) where most of the works by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylos and Aristophanes were performed. Continuing, we reached the ruins of the Asklepieion (5th c. B.C.) and the Stoa of Eumenes (2th c. B.C.) and from there the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, which was built in 161 A.D. and is nowadays the venue of the performances of the Athens Festival.
Coming down from the Acropolis we arrived at the Areios Pagos, the most ancient law court of the world. Opposite it is Philopappou Hill, with its beautiful cobbled little roads and the Roman monument by the same name on its top, while close by is the Pnyx, where the citizens of ancient Athens used to assemble and exert their democratic rights. Walking farther along the pedestrian road we arrived at the Ancient Agora, which was the commercial, political and religious centre of ancient Athens. A visit to the archaeological site provided the opportunity to become acquainted with the workings of Classical Athenian democracy.
The “core” of the historic centre is the Plaka neighborhood (at the eastern side of the Acropolis), which has been inhabited without interruption since antiquity. When we walked through the narrow labyrinthine streets lined with houses and mansions from the time of the Turkish occupation and the Neoclassical period (19th c.), we had the impression of travelling with a “time machine”. We encountered ancient monuments, such as the Lysikrates Monument, erected by a wealthy donor of theatrical performances, the Roman Agora with the famed “Tower of the Winds” (1st c. B.C.) and Hadrian’s Library (132 A.D.), scores of bigger and smaller churches, true masterpieces of Byzantine art and architecture, as well as remnants of the Ottoman period (Fetihie Mosque, Tzistaraki Mosque, the Turkish Bath near the Tower of the Winds, the Muslim Seminary, et al.). There are also some interesting museums (Folk Art, Greek Children’s Art, Popular Musical Instruments, Frysira Art Gallery, etc.), lots of picturesque tavernas, cafés, bars, as well as shops selling souvenirs and traditional Greek products.
Not knowing what my body – and injury- were capable of after six months of ‘no racing’ I wisely started out slow. I reached 5Km in 21:21 and 15 Km in 1:05:36 and a split (5K) of 20:56. I was feeling OK but then the weather got hotter as I climbed the next 16 Km to crest the hills at 32Km (822 ft) in 2:48:31 and a split (5K) of 29:04! By the time I started the descent over the final 10Km the temps were in the 80s F and my foot was hurting! There was little or no traffic control over the final 10Km as we entered Athens and raced towards Olympic Stadium. Many times I had to bang on car hoods to force drivers to stop at intersections. By the time I entered Olympic Stadium I was in serious trouble. Besides my plantar fascia killing me in pain I felt nauseous, dizzy and my left arm was tingling? It was the second time I suffered these symptoms and I knew what the problem was. As soon as I struggled across the finish line in Olympic Stadium in 3:38:40 (a split of 32:31 over the final 5K) I tried to go directly to the medical tent – but I collapsed in the middle of the infield!
I was so sick that I was puking and I couldn’t stand up. Luckily a guardian angel in the form of a German runner came to my aid and asked if I needed help? I replied “Yes” – I needed a cup of Coke to restore my low blood sugar level. He rushed off and quickly came back with a cup of Coke that I gulped down. Almost immediately I started to respond and feel better. I asked if he could get me a second cup which he did. By the time I finished gulping that cup of Coke down I felt better. I thanked my guardian angel and limped out of the stadium on my injured foot to find the Sports Manager. We proceeded directly to an outdoor café where I ordered two more Cokes.