We’re ending 2016 with a race report from Debbie – recalling her experience of the Athens Marathon in November of this year. Thanks for sharing your story Debbie and congratulations on completing one of the world’s most legendary races! #unstoppable

It was a long journey for me to get to the start line of the Athens Marathon, not just in the number of miles between Fareham and Athens, but the difficult training which had got me there. Back in about March or April, an opportunity arose through work to apply for a place at the Athens Marathon with a group of MoD workers. I applied, it sounded great, THE original marathon route from Marathon to Athens. In July, I was notified I was on the reserve list, and my recovery from a persistent achilles injury, and a calf injury took on a new importance.

So the mileage started ramping up (very carefully, of course), and I was happily doing long runs on a Sunday, hoping that I would be upgraded at some point to a place in the marathon. It must have been about September when I got the e-mail, someone had dropped out and there was a place available, did I still want it? Yes please!!

The highlight of my training was an 18 miler I did with Paula along the Itchin Way, it was a lovely day, a lovely run, and we finished by dipping our legs in the river and having a cider ice lolly at the conveniently-placed ice-cream van.

Unfortunately, before I got to my 20 mile run, I had a bit of an accident, slipping on the stairs and spraining my big toe. This messed up the rest of my training, as I didn’t take the injury seriously enough and the result was a flare-up of my achilles injury, and to add insult to injury, my other achilles was affected too. It got to the point where my long run on a Sunday left me barely able to walk on a Monday, and taking all week to recover before I could run again the following Sunday. This was my last 4 weeks of training, so I tried my best to put in some gym sessions to keep up the fitness. I know, I know, in this state I shouldn’t have considered running the marathon, but this was something special, so I decided I would at least start and give it my best shot. I had visited Sharon for a massage a couple of weeks before the race, and even she did that sucking through her teeth and shaking her head thing…

Arriving at Athens I had to pick up a travel card for free travel throughout the marathon weekend. Hugh, my travel companion happily picked up his, but they had no record of me… so I paid for the bus into Athens and we arrived safely at the hotel. In the morning we travelled out to the expo for race number collection, or, in my case, going from desk to desk, trying to sort out my number, and eventually getting a number with the name Gary on it, and a start in the second pen, just behind the elites!! Nice t-shirt though.

Saturday evening we were lucky enough to have an audience with Ron Hill, who was on the trip with us, and got to see his trophy from when he won the Athens Marathon back in the 60s, which he was now donating to the marathon museum. The rest of the evening was spent eating pasta, taping my feet and ankles and putting out my kit for the very early start.

Alarm sounded at 05:00, breakfast eaten, painkillers downed, last check of race bag, and we were off to board the coaches near the parliament building. All very well organised, good start area, plenty of toilets. Eventually, I found myself in my race pen, stood next to Hugh (that’ll never happen again, my objective was to finish (fingers crossed), and his was to go under 2:45 to gain a championship place at London!), and we were off, as I watched the others runners disappearing in front of me, and willing the next wave to be released quickly, I was having nightmares of people all over Greece laughing at this lone runner on their television screens….

My plan was to take walk breaks every time I took on water, or gels, or painkillers, and also wherever I felt the need on the hills (achilles problems + uphill running = not good). The route was uninspiring, a dual carriageway, with plenty of opportunities to see the price of petrol and diesel in Southern Greece, the hills just kept coming. From about 3 miles to 20 miles, I was constantly arguing with myself about whether I would finish. The argument stopped after 20 miles, as not only did we start going downhill at that point, but I knew that even if I walked the rest now, I would finish. And what a finish it was! The old Olympic stadium in the heart of Athens, full of cheering spectators, I don’t think you could beat it really. I’d actually finished, and not only that, I had been secretly hoping that I might get in under 5 hours, and I did it in 4:49, so, made up really. I bumped into another runner from our group and we limped back to the hotel swapping stories about our day.

I was left with a reduced ability to walk, a strange sun tan, due to wearing calf sleeves and a very real sense of achievement. Now looking forward to a proper recovery.