12 Nov

A Scot's View of the Athens Marathon

Michael Aird has just returned from Greece, where he finished third Scot in the 27th Classic Athens Marathon with a time of 3:23:41. We asked the Carnoustie athlete, who has also run the Boston, Edinburgh and Berlin Marathons this year, to give us his account of the famous race:

"If the weather in Athens is controlled by Zeus' mood, as mythology suggests, he must have had a shocker of a Saturday night because by Sunday morning there was a monsoon that would have been more at home at the Glasgow half than the Athens marathon. After a scorcher on Saturday the cool weather was actually a bit of a gift from the gods as the race was going to be a hard enough battle without it being blisteringly hot too.

The course is an absolute brute. The Athens marathon course is a bit like Edinburgh's. It spends most of its time in the middle of nowhere and unless you like scrubland, industrial units or you want to buy a fireplace you wont be all that blown away by the scenery. Unlike Edinburgh, which is just in the middle of nowhere for the sheer hell of it, in the Classic Marathon you are in the middle of nowhere for a reason as you wind your way from Marathon to Athens and follow the path of a legend. After 10k the course is slightly downhill and flat, you then get 10k that is mostly uphill with a few flat bits and then 11k that is just relentlessly uphill. Once you pass Paula's paving slab and crest the hill, it all looks easy on paper but unfortunately it was a lot harder on tarmac, as my fuel tanks were emptied on that long drag uphill. The finish in the Panathaniko Stadium is just magical. Until you have 400m to go you don't get a glimpse of it, then you turn a corner and it just opens up in front of you. You see the Greek flags, the crowds and the ancient marble stadium where it all began and with the sound of the sirens ringing out over the tannoy system you can't fail to be inspired to muster a decent finish (I wont go as far as to call it a sprint) for those last 150m to the eagerly awaited finishing line.

For all of its history the Athens marathon is not as big an event as you think it should be. It's a bit like a Mars bar supper all foreigners want to try one but Scots folk don't really eat them. To runners who run marathons there is a mystical lure to the place it all began to take on the challenge. You don't get the feeling though that Athenians really embrace their marathon or take a great interest in the sport. What support there is along the course is brilliant but when you hobbled back into the centre of town after the event you got the feeling that not many folk actually knew or cared it was on. Hopefully next year's race which marks the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon will spark a bit more interest in the event in Athens itself. The organisers are already promoting it heavily. Boston is currently the king of marathons due to its prestige, history and the Bostonians love of their marathon. If Athens could add the marathon buzz to its even richer historical routes and in my opinion an even stiffer challenge it could potentially become Europe's Boston.

The Athens Classic Marathon was the tenth marathon I've completed. I wouldn't say its the biggest or the best marathon I've ever run and I don't think any other marathon will ever compare to my first Boston. It was however a very important chapter in my personal running story to go and run the original marathon course. I've done it (as somebody that hates hills and sunshine I may not ever want to do it again), I've lived to tell the tale, unlike Phidippides, I've created my own wee personal piece of history and I wouldn't swap the medal or the experience for the world."

Photos of Michael running the Athens Marathon are here.