I woke up at 7:15 to Babis, Stefano's older brother, coming up the stairs. We had agreed that we would wake up at 7, but I had done that "I'll-just-close-my-eyes-and-enjoy-the-wonders-of-bed-for-a-few-more-seconds thing." When something other than my alarm woke me up, I jumped up in surprise and made a little shout (to indicate "no, no...I wasn't sleeping"), thinking that I had slept much later...and how could I travel 80 kilometers through Marathon to Athens today if I had slept late?!
It was only 7:15.
I got out of bed and went downstairs, where a bowl of rice pudding had been left out for my breakfast. I ate, took my time packing up my things and hit the road...walking back to the place where Stefano had picked me up the day before.
I bought and ate a Snickers bar as my GPS found signal...and then, well, I started to run.
I ran the first half-marathon continuously. As I ran through one town a man hailed me. He had seen me running as he drove out of Oropos.
"I am going to Athens" I told him, "I came here running from Amsterdam. Today is my last day."
It felt good to say.
On my way, I passed by some signs that pointed towards Athens. They had numbers that were less than forty. Those roads weren't for me though...I had to go to Marathon first, and my mileage for the day was going to be a bit higher.
I stopped in a village at 21 kilometers or so to get a little more to eat. A chocolate croissant, a bottle of water and a bottle of chocolate milk. From there, I walked. My left calf was still tight as it had been the day before, and I had a long day in front of me. I walked for about 9 km before picking myself up and easily running the last leg into Marathon.
Marathon. Sick. For those that don't know, the original marathon was run from Marathon to Athens by Pheidippides following a great battle in 480 BC. The Athenians had won a decisive victory over the Persians, and Pheidippides had run to the city to announce victory. He arrived fatigued and on the edge of death, and he proudly announced "we won" with his final words. From this seed came the marathon of the Olympics and the (slightly longer) standard distance set by the Queen of England in 1908. This historic run would be the end of my day, and the end of my 4,090 kilometer journey...but now I had to play the waiting game. My legs were tired, and I needed to rest before hitting the second 40 kilometers of the day.
I got an apple and and a big bottle of water and sat out for a while letting my feet have some air and my legs have some rest. I got some fast food in one of the only places that was open--two pita/sandwich things that were the chicken version of the souvlaki I have eaten so many times over the past two weeks in Greece. Not the best kind of pre-run food, but I've developed a bit of an iron stomach on this trip.
I killed some more time, and around 3 pm I decided that I should start heading towards Athens.
As I got ready to leave, however, I noticed a building devoted "to the promotion of the marathon" and went in to see if it was open. By chance, it would turn out that it was, and inside was Maria Polizou, the national record holder for Greek females in the marathon. After hearing about who the other was, we were both happy to have met. Maria gave me a tour of the museum, which includes the stats of every Olympic marathon and just about as much marathon history as you could care to know. By the end of the tour, I was all rallied up and ready to run. Maria pointed out where the official marathon start was, and I headed over there to begin the final leg of this very long journey.
4:00 PM. 29 September 2009. On the mark. Get set. Go.
My leg was still bothering me and I was generally fatigued...but I just cruised along at a 2:45 marathon pace. I was running mainly along the side of a busy highway. As the hour mark rolled around, I focused on relaxing my face, which was transitioning from an expression of pain and fatigue to the biggest of grins with a sinusoidal rhythm.
Somewhere in my hoping on and off the road as cars passed by and my pounding of pavement, I stopped to get a few sips of water from a garden faucet (Potable? I hoped so.).
Around 90 minuted in I started to feel some hurt, but told myself that I would have to make it at least to the two hour mark before I could make any amends. I kept thinking (forgetting the name "Pheidippides") "Would that dude who ran from the battle be such a wuss?!"
Well, I made it to the two hour mark, and I kept on going at the same pace. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes later though, I hit it...the wall that was Athens. Call it the 30-something kilometer wall, the 70-something kilometer wall, or the 4,080-something kilometer wall...but whatever it was, it hurt. I was struggling to maintain movement. People were swarming around me and cars were congested in the street. I collided with several car mirrors, traffic lights and people before deciding to stop running under a bridge that, to me, marked my entry into the city of Athens.
I was dead, but thankfully not quite like Pheidippides or Kleobis and Biton. I still had more work to do. I stumbled across a couple intersections with legs that were ready to give way.
I had always expected to arrive in Athens jumping and shouting with excitement...but this wasn't the case. I only had enough energy to stagger to the nearest "Milko" vending kiosk with a big smile on my face.
I bought both a carton and a bottle of chocolate milk, and sat down on some steps to drink them. I poured out the first sip onto the ground in libation, and drank the remainder with greedy thirst. Delicious.
I got up from the steps in a daze. My legs didn't want to function, and each step was brutal. I kept taking pictures of my legs, like it would be possible for you to see in a camera how badly they hurt. Too bad photos don't quite work that way.
One step...another step...keep...moving...forward.
As I rounded a bend in the road at sunset, I got my first view of the Acropolis. It was beautiful. Seemingly so far away...but sure enough, there it was in its illuminated glory: the Parthenon. Athens. I was here.
There was no crowd to celebrate my arrival, and no cameras to capture it...like always, it was just me, in a foreign town with nowhere to sleep.
A couple people who I had spoken with earlier were out of Athens (in London, Cairo) and couldn't host me on such short notice. But Vicky, who had contacted me after reading my story on a Greek blog could. I took the train from the center of Athens to a stop near her house where she picked me up. At her place, I took a shower and she put my clothes in the washing machine. I ate some pizza with Vicky at a nearby friend's house before falling asleep completely drained.
I had one more short stretch of road to do in the morning.
Did I mention I was in Athens?!
02 October 2009