Sunday, 10 November 2013


Running, running and more running. Week in, week out. 5x per week running. The program that I was following was advised to by my running friend Alethea, see  . I started a bit late training so I had to cut off 3-4 weeks in the start so I literally hit the ground running. Wore out a pair trainers while training and managed to get a pair of new ones some weeks before the marathon day.

On the finishing

The interesting thing was to research running and there is a huge amount information on the net. There is talk about training programs in general, shoes, keeping pace, cadence, stride length, breathing, keeping good form, nutrition, racing nutrition, injuries and how to avoid them... the list goes on and on... it's basically a science on its own.

The first thing to realize was that many of the forums and blogs were aimed to elite runners, you know, those guys that the ordinary Fred would not even be able to keep up with for a hundred meters and are usually training up on some high altitude location, eating rabbit food or was it pasta now...? So, the idea was to pick out the useful stuff for an amateur like me. It was pretty simple, you gotta run a lot, eat healthy, avoid boozing and have fun while doing it.

Anyway, I had done some running earlier and had also completed some 10km races for fun and feeling that I was on my physical limits back then but little did I know and I was a bit daunted when I saw the training program as copied below, some may wonder why the fractional distances but I have converted this from miles to kilometers:

WEEK    MON      TUE       WED      THU            SAT           SUN
1       Cross      4.8k run  8k run      4.8k run    8k pace      12.9k
2       Cross      4.8k run  8k run      4.8k run    8k run        14.5k
3       Cross      4.8k run  8k run      4.8k run    8k pace       9.7k
4       Cross      4.8k run  8k run      4.8k run    9.7k pace   17.7k
5       Cross      4.8k run  9.7k run   4.8k run    9.7k m run  19.3k
6       Cross      4.8k run  8k run       4.8k run   9.7k pace   14.5k
7       Cross      6.4k run  11.3k run  6.4k run  11.3k pace  22.5k
8       Cross      6.4k run  11.3k run  6.4k run  11.3k run    24.1k
9       Cross      6.4k run  8k run       6.4k run   Rest      Half Marathon
10     Cross      6.4k run  12.9k run  6.4k run   12.9k pace  27.7k
11     Cross      8k run     12.9k run   8k run     12.9k run    29k
12     Cross      8k run     8k run        8k run     12.9k pace  20.9k
13     Cross      8k run     12.9k run   8k run     8k pace       32.2k
14     Cross      8k run     8k run        8k run     12.9k run    19.3k
15     Cross      8k run     12.9k run   8k run     8k pace       32.2k
16     Cross      8k run     9.7 run       8k run     6.4k pace    19.3k
17     Cross      6.4k run  8k run        6.4k run  4.8k run      12.9k
18     Cross      4.8k run  6.4k run     Rest        3.2k run     Marathon

Cross means cross training, i.e. any other training but not running, pace means to keep a paced run, Fridays are not listed as they are resting days.

As one can see, one can forget all about those lazy weekends nursing a hangover in a cozy bed. No, it was up at cocks crow as in Greece it gets pretty hot during summer so one wants to optimize the running conditions. I also wondered why there is no full marathon length training distance but apparently it wears the athlete out. I took that as face value as I usually like to confirm that I can do things by trying it out before hand but thinking of doing 43k just for the sake to see if I can do it already sounded like a silly idea to my basically a bit lazy personality. So I set off following the program. 

The first lesson I got was about running injuries, mainly in the form of chafing. For those who has not experienced it I can tell that any form of chafing (on your nipples/ under your arms/ in your groin) can be excruciatingly painful especially after hitting the showers or the sea as I did many times. That was quickly remedied before going running by applying liberal amounts of baby ointment in the areas that were affected before. Although the problem of finding a suitable tape to protect nipples is still unsolved, almost nothing will stick onto my sweaty skin until the end of the run. I found simple medical tape has proven pretty ok but requires multiple long strips and in the end they hang onto my chest hair. The commercially sold nipple protectors did not work for me, nor did any foot plasters. 

My first lesson in nutrition came in week 7 when I was supposed to do the 22.5km run. I got up early morning and put on my trainers and drove up to Imittos mountain where I usually ran and set off. Just like that, no breakfast, a bit of water before and some water for the run. A few hundred meters after 20k my body just gave up, I could not run a single pace no matter how much I tried. Just being stubborn I walked as fast I could the rest of a km and cut the run short abt 300m from the set goal. The next day I discovered that I had done the famous "bonk", i.e. run out of energy.

I hit the forums of pre run nutrition and during run feeding and subsequently stocked up on energy goo's at the local sports outlet . The vendor was very helpful and pointed me the right stuff for runners so picked a few to try them out. Next week when I was doing 24.1k's it went off without a hitch as I had a proper breakfast and took my goo's and isotonic during the run around every 45mins as I read in a blog post, so at least I proved to myself that only relying on water is not sufficient for long distances unless you are an elite sprinter.

Having sorted out these few technicalities all that remained was running, and run I did. In the beginning I started with an average pace of around 7.5min/km but as the weeks went on I got a bit faster. Not very much, but a bit, in 10km I was abt 10min faster than when I did the 2012 Classic Marathon 10km race. Many times it depended on how much I had ran the previous week or during the week. I think most of the time my legs were continuously fatigued.

On week 9 I got the opportunity to test my mettle in an organised half-marathon leaving out of the city of Marathon. The event was an eye opener of how easy it is to get strung along by following faster runners just because you can as you rested the last 2 days. The organisers were probably more focused on the elite runners than the average Joes as there was nothing left at the last feed station and at the finish line. Quite sad actually. Anyway, I got a time of how I am doing on average so it was good as well as I could identify errors in my racing performance. One thing was to hold back in the beginning.

On week 14 I participated in a mini-marathon in Spetses Island, a few hours south of Athens. The run went around the Island and was 25km's. I was scheduled to do only 19km that Sunday so the run covered well for that. I had not rested the previous 2 days so I was very much in training mode and took the run as an exercise (as many blogs recommend to do). The day turned out to be very hot and humid and I drank around 3.5ltr of fluids during the run + goo's. The course was quite hilly at some stages and the last few km's in the main village was excruciating gauntlet going along the seaside of it, I was always expecting to see the end behind the next bend but there was always another to master. The organisation was very good and water and isotonic was aplenty.

After the Spetses run the weather started to get markedly cooler as the winter is setting in so I needed less water on my training runs and getting used to long distances I skipped the goo's too and settled for a good breakfast, usually comprising of a banana/ apple, coffee and milk, yogurt with cereal/ goji berries or raisins and an energy cake.  I could feel I was getting ready for the big event but still had my doubts if I could do it or not. The scary "wall" blogs haunted me as well as the unknown effect of going beyond 32k's. Could I do it or not?

Then, the Thursday before the run I ventured down south Athens to pick up my BIB number but could not get it as I was part of the Athens hash House Harriers group and only the group leader could pick up the runners kit (sic!). Well, as there was an exhibition going at the Tae Kwon Do centre I had a stroll and looked at all the displays trying to peddle some sort of product that was sports related and then ventured back to my pad uptown.

So, finally the day had come for which I had been training fervently for the past months. My friend Alethea had dropped out as she had developed hairline fractures on her legs and had to wear a cast. I had my BIB and all. Got up at 5.30hrs AM to get breakfast and prepare myself to leave. The last buses for Marathon were leaving Athens centre at 06.45hrs so I aimed to be at the bus stop latest at 06.30hrs.

The weather was quite cold so I was wearing long sleeves and pants as well as carrying my water bottle and energy cake. I took the metro down to Evangelismos station and got out, there on the road was 5 buses loading up and I got in line. Soon enough I was onboard one and sat down. Interestingly I was on the same bus as 2 other running friends, Giannis and Gabi. They are elite runners as far as I am concerned and after a chat they told that they don't expect a good result as they had done a 160km ultra marathon a couple weeks before (eventually they did around 3h45m) and were a bit "tired".

On the bus they played a pre recorded tape explaining what the procedure was for the start. Change your outfit, deposit your extra gear in the truck, location of toilets, water availability etc. The bus ride took about 45mins and I was there in good time. During the trip I had eaten my energy cake and had some water. Once off the bus I simply stripped off my long pants and jacket, stuck them in the official marathon bag and deposited in the DHL truck numbered according to my BIB. Then I just wandered around looking for my starting block. It was pretty easy as each block was colored according to the BIB and found my "booth" pretty soon. The organisers were giving out water and playing music and giving out instructions all the time.

As the clock neared 9am all runners got in their starting blocks and the atmosphere got more charged. I saw a Finnish woman in my block and we had a short chat of this and that. She was from Eastern Finland and had started doing marathons after her husband decided to quit smoking and set a goal of doing a marathon, she was on her 10th marathon with her husband. There were some speeches from the organisers of who is launching each block or something but I can't recall any of that blabber, then they fired off some fire works and the 1st block left. There was 3-4 min interval and the next block was fired off until it was our turn. The time was around 09.12hrs and off we went. Some went off with a great speed, I was pacing myself as I recalled my half marathon had ran too fast in the beginning, I kept repeating to myself that this is now 42k's, not 21...

Surprisingly the first few k's to the feed station went very fast as I was going with the flow in my own pace. I was not feeling tired and had some water as the wise men says that once you get the feeling of being thirsty it is too late. So, I was keeping myself hydrated. The beginning was pretty straight forward and had ran it once before so I knew what to expect, the road was going downhill but was doing it easy albeit faster than the set pace I had envisaged but then again downhill always goes faster for me. At the tumulus of the Athenians it was even keel and the pace slowed down a bit. The feed stations were coming at every 2.5k's so it was easy to keep oneself hydrated, still I was carrying a half litre bottle on my hip belt just in case (and my 2 goo's + two in my hand).

At 7.5k's I took my 1st goo and kept on plodding, did not feel bad at all but as the running guru blogs say a goo needs time to get into your system and as you are running your digestive tract is not working very hard so I go by the rule that 1 goo every 45mins. Once we got to Nea Makri we were over 10k and people were cheering and there were loudspeakers churning out music so loud that the smaller runners were whisked to the other side of the road... (not really :D ). At this point I found it difficult to follow my run tracker as it's voice was drowned in the general noise so I was running mostly on my gut feeling.

Then at 15k's I was feeling an urge to wee, it had been there since the start but I had kept putting off and off and as I was running I was seeing both boys and girls nipping off into the bushes for a quick relief. Was thinking that if I keep it off much longer I will enter Athens and there is no other option than to queue for the porta-loo so I also made a decision and quickly jumped behind a bush for a slash, maybe lost a precious 15s there but better that than a few minutes waiting for a free loo.

At 17.5k's the going was supposedly starting to get tough with the 20k uphill as per the run trail profile. As I had trained on the steep hills of Mt. Imittos I found these inclines much less so I kept keeping a pretty steady pace. The running track was pretty quiet and all you could hear was the smattering of running shoes and my tracker announcing laptimes every kilometer. At one point I was running past a Swedish guy and had a quick chat with him, it turned out he was doing his 100th marathon race, good on you Pelle from Gothenburg!

At 26k's I arrived Loutsa or some village thereabouts and the noise was huge. I thought my tracker had ran out of steam as I could not wake it up nor hear it but I soon discovered that the surrounding noise was just drowning it. This posed me a problem of keeping pace as I could not hear it saying what speed I am keeping so I was a bit alarmed of what to do and I started calculating times and checking public watches to keep me occupied and at the same time concentrating in a steady pace.

Around 31k's on we had passed Pallini town and were passing into Athens, the last steep incline was here right before the 32k marker. Then it started going downhill and I felt myself cruising towards the finish line. I still could not feel any "wall" coming for me so I felt good to go. At 35k's I passed my pad but as I did not have my keys with me there was no debate whether to go home and enjoy a nice cool glass of wine while watching runners going by. I was passing the French and American school as I could hear English and French being spoken from the spectators on the road side. I saw a friends husband on the side of the road probably waiting for his wife to come by.

Then I was passing Ethniki Amyna, Megaro Moussikis and so forth, it was comforting for me to realize where I was going as I knew the metro stations by heart and the run track was following the metro line for a while. Then I arrived into the heart of Athens and I could almost see the finish. I was feeling the strain but kept on going, I was thinking to myself that all the other runners must feel equally tired so we were in the same boat so to speak. At 40k's I was still kicking myself with "only 2k's more!". The route went a bit uphill and then it aligned downhill straight for the Panathenaikon stadium. People were everywhere cheering. I arrived at the approach of the stadium and gave my last spurt and passed a few runners to boot. I could see another Finnish flag ahead of me. Some countryman of mine was finishing as well.

I ran past the finish line and slowed down to a walk. I felt exhausted and tried looking for my friends but could not spot them. I kept waling around the stadium and realized I need to check my tracker for the time and managed to open it and got a finish time as 4h 36mins. Then runners were processed like in a factory, at one point I was given a medal, at another I got some fruit and water, then last stop was to collect my clothes I had shipped off at Marathon. All around this line there were runners lying on the pavements with space blankets over them and feeling sick. I guess it was a lack of training or pushing one self too hard. I still kept walking although my legs protested heavily. Once I had my clothes bag I changed into dry gear and headed for the metro in order to get home.

The Endomondo tracker result

In the evening I was hobbling around like an old man feeling the strain I put on my body. It definitely was an experience and worth doing. In fact, everyone should try a marathon once in his lifetime... At this point I don't know if I ever will run another marathon but I sure will keep up with the lifestyle in or to fend off the expanding waistline...

Unofficial results

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Sunday, 8 September 2013

Marathon half-marathon

It has been a long time since I took up the proverbial "pencil" to put down some thoughts of mine. I guess the routine of doing the "captain's blog" after the many years on Kalizma sort of put me off blogging for awhile. It also did not help that I changed jobs and work on a confidential project, there is not much you can write about something that is confidential except that it is confidential.

Start of the race, picture compliments of the organizers

Well, enough said, I have now been in Greece for a year and as I'm still apparently going to be here until summer 2014 I took up running to get myself fit and to keep fit and also to avoid getting a wardrobe of bigger and bigger garments the size of military troop tents.

So, when I arrived here I took up running with the Athens Hash House Harriers (AH3), a group that I used to run with when I was here first in 2003, it was nice to meet old friends although the ranks had thinned considerably due to the financial crisis of the country, many expats had left for more lucrative venues as well as exorbitant tax measures of the state.

Anyway, running once a week is not going to keep that trouser size down to constant so I started running and walking near my pad on the Imittos mountain. It is big enough to provide hours of walking trails and nature for those that fancy it. By now I am quite familiar with the trails up there and run there at least once a week in addition to my other runs elsewhere.

Then in the beginning of this summer I was asked by AH3 if I want to do the Athens Classic Marathon 10km run or the full one as it was getting full of participants and they'd have to submit the runners asap while there was still space left. I decided on a split second, maybe a bit foolishly, that I would run the full length of 42km. Well, said and done I now needed to act on my decision so I took up a training regime to get me fit for the run in November.

When I was on summer holidays in Finland in August I was still just running for the fun of it but when I came back I started following a program that would get me fit for fight in just 16 weeks. The problem was that I did not have 18 weeks, so I shaved off the necessary time to fit the program to the full marathon. I had to cut off about a month. The middle of the program included a half marathon and this is what the post is about, the program coincided exactly with the race date so I penciled it in and registered for the measly amount of 5€.

Meanwhile I was following my program and then arrived my first 22km run that was a disaster, went out straight in morning without eating and ran only on 500ml of water, by the time I reached 20.5km I was so much out of energy that I had to walk the remaining 2km and eventually cut short some 750m, runners call it "bonk", I had effectively "bonked" my run.

During the week I was studiously following the runs and studying information online for runners regarding the stitch, paces, chafing and nutrition and other stuff so the next week I was wiser, I had stored up on race goo, gels with carbs that will give energy when running as well as had a energy laden breakfast and a pasta the night before and ran with isotonic in my bum bag bottle. The 24.2km run was heavy but eventually I finished it running all the way through.

Me before start

Then came the race day and I was not overly nervous, I followed the same formula as on my 24k run and had my gels in my bum bag as well as isotonic. I was trusting the organisers to give water during the route. I met up with another AH3 runner, Knob Goblin, and we chatted until it was time to run. The run was offed on the dot at 0900hrs as advertised and we all were off. I was going with the pack and feeling great as my body was humming from all the energy I had ingested that morning.

Knob Goblin, me and Elizabeth

The road went downwards so I was cruising and my tracker was telling me incredible paces every km, I was doing below 6min pace/ km which was surprising to me as I was more accustomed to be at around 7min/ km pace on my dirt tracks but apparently the smooth asphalt helped. I tracked my half time to be 1h9min at 11km so it was all to do to keep same speed until the end.

At 8km I had a gel as I had been running around 45min and I was drinking water with it, meanwhile I was sipping on my isotonic to replace body salts with the ones I had sweated out, the sun was high up on the sky and quite hot. It was in a sense pity that the run had not been the previous day as Saturday had been overcast with isolated light showers the whole day, but no, the Sunday was sunny and warm. Luckily there were waterstops during the route.

The first half went straight down to Nea Makri where we made a U turn and run up the same way we came from apart that we also ran around the war memorial of Marathon, that detour was nearly 2km. When back on the staright road it was 17km and I was feeling a bit beat up but I manned up and picked up pace as I felt I was just slacking down although I felt I had the energy to go on, I guess my thighs were seizing up on lactic acid and they needed a wake up.

At some places there were drummers and some cafe's that had setup music systems blaring out music that was a nice boost for morale as well as intermittent spectators clapping runners on. At abt 18km where the last water stop was there was no water, they had apparently ran out. It was not a problem to me as I was carrying the bottle from the last stop and had still half left. I can only imagine what other runners who were thirsty thought of it. I kept on going with same pace uphill towards the end and it seemed an eternity before I sighted the triumph.

I ran through the end and heard the machine beep for my tag so I was recorded, at same time I clocked off my own tracker and I clocked a final time of 2h22m time which was abt 4m longer for my return than the 1st half. I guess a good result for an intermediate runner like me.

Tracked map and graph of my half marathon

Again there was no water at the end and nothing much else either, just empty cases bearing witness that all was already finished. At a stand I was handed a medal and a plastic bag of some sponsored souvenirs from the organizers. I saw a first aid group with half a case of water and asked if I could have a bottle but they refused telling me this is for emergency cases only.

So, it was done, I can only tell that the race was poorly organised for the end, I think they might have had the requisite amount of water for the runners but the distribution was haphazard as I could see runners taking a sip of a bottle and the throwing it away when a cup of water would have sufficed. The organizers also received some flak on their Facebook page regarding the same issue, I hope they wil take this into account next year if there will be another race arranged.

Now I am carrying on with my training for the big event in November that I hope will be better organised.
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