Lets do this Memento style: start with the ending and then go from the beginning.
The giant marble stadium was overwhelming. As I neared it on the last of my energy reserves, I tried to pick up the pace but it was just unbearable. But, as my right foot landed on the soft track, I was somehow lifted by a spirit outside of me and began running towards the finish line. As I crossed the timing mat and archway I couldn’t help but think about the incredible journey I had just been on, both mentally and physically.
The morning of the marathon started as most other race mornings. I slept fitfully, waking up ten times in five hours. Most of my dreams were about the marathon, making mistakes, forgetting things, etc. I woke up sometime after 2:30am and couldn’t go back to bed so I began preparing for the race. I pulled on my running skirt, tech tank, arm warmers, socks. After that I began piling on the layers: long sleeved shirts, sweaters, scarves, anything that would shield me from the cold. I pulled my hair into a mid-ponytail, alternating between headbands before settling on the skinny one. (The other one I had was already immortalized in another race photo.)
I turned on my phone and called my boyfriend. We had said that we’d video chat before I left for the race since I wouldn’t be broadcasting my run live. A few quick exchanges were made and then I was off.
At five in the morning, the city of Athens is unseemingly quiet. The entire city was asleep. I neared the ticketing machines since I had misplaced my 7 day metro pass. As I fumbled with my 50 euro bill in between different machines that lacked change, I began to get worried that I might miss my shuttle to the city of Marathon. As I began punching buttons out of frustration, a kind British gentleman offered to pay the 2 euros or so for me since he was on his way to the marathon too.
We boarded the shuttle together among the hundreds of other runners. We talked about running, triathlons, work, traveling, global crises, the age skew in the shuttle. Eventually the conversation dwindled down to silence as we kept going on this windy road to Marathon. I muttered something about how far we had driven and he referenced something about not training enough for hills. The windshield wipers were clearing a thin layer of water from the morning’s drizzle and the driver kept pressing on.
We reached the stadium of Marathon and headed towards shelter. On our way there, I noted the rather large number of portapotties. As we tried to make headway, the wind was resisting us. Volunteers were passing out large plastic bags to help keep us warm. By the time we reached the waiting room, we made our way to the corner to take advantage of the body heat and to eat some breakfast.
I can never handle solid food before a race so I broke open some Clif gel blocks. We chatted a bit more when I asked him for some first timer tips. All he gave me was, “Don’t start off too fast.” Point taken. He asked me about some of the apps I had worked on at work so I pulled them up on my phone. Soon enough the girl next to us began joining in on the conversation. She was training for an ultramarathon and was currently working at the US embassy in England. The three of us eventually made our way to drop off our gear bags. In between trying to stay warm, we moved between different locations, eventually finding a nice hideaway with about a hundred other runners behind the torch.
We made it to our starting block. I marveled at the sheer numbers of the race. Next to me were two runners from California as well: San Francisco and San Diego. I thought back to the two other runners I had met at the Acropolis a few days before, Alexander from Ukraine and Andrew from the Philippines. They called the waves one by one, and before I knew it we were off.
The first few kilometers I had to get used to the fact that they were indeed going by kilometers. The marathon course is 26.2 miles, but when converted into metric measurements, it comes out to something more like 42.195 kilometers. Mile markers come less frequently than kilometer markers naturally, so it was important to do math on the go. As we circled the tomb of Marathon at around 5k, I was feeling good since the hard part was over…or so I thought.
As we entered small cities and villages, crowds were cheering us on. People of all ages were clapping, handing out olive branches, and taking photos. I saw a few warriors running in costume, some old, some young, some barefoot. Some power walkers were older than runners. Some looked like they were in agonizing pain and some looked lost in the moment.
There’s this thing I do when I run. I think of my swimming and my biking. When I swim, to help me count my laps, I think of the lap number and try to remember what happened to me when I was that old. I begin thinking of the people that entered my life and what I was doing. By the time I pass 27 I begin projecting into the future. So, naturally, I started down that rabbit hole. I began thinking of everything and everyone I had met and experience that led me up to this moment. I thought of all the good things that had happened to me. I thought of all the friends I had made over the years. I thought of all the times I was sad. I thought about the continuous abuse I had suffered at the hands of my brother 20 years ago and the violence I endured 10 years ago. I thought back to a time when I preferred to end it all, I thought of the time I felt like the people I loved most were turning their backs on me, and I started tearing up…and somewhere before the 20 kilometer mark I snapped out of it. Somewhere in my mind I had recounted events and people up to around age 23 or 24, and then things began looking up.
I thought about art school and my art school friends. I thought about how my parents finally came around during that time. I thought about how I began understanding the world a little differently after studying nursing and anthropology. I thought about how excited I was to begin working at the ad agency full time. I remembered how much I wanted to design for mobile. I remember getting filmed for my university, gushing about how much I wanted to start my own design business and travel the world with it. I began thinking of my friends, old and new. I thought of my supportive boyfriend, my gassy cat, the guy who sold me my running shoes. I thought of all the kind people I had met on this marathon and triathlon journey and about what cause I wanted to fundraise for when I begin my 70.3 training.
As the kilometers ticked off one by one, I was getting increasingly sore and tired. I thought of my fundraising efforts and all the women who needed the help of Dress for Success to transition from welfare to work. As the run got harder and harder — theres a 13 mile hill climb, if you didn’t know — I thought of those mornings where Shant would lead a run on his bike and I would try to keep up. I played that game a bit in my head. When I ran out, I switched it to my first 6 mile run around Lady Bird lake with my friend Barce. When that was over, I began thinking of my group training runs with my friends at work, who always managed to head out for a post-work jaunt around the neighborhood with me. I can remember days where I felt like slacking but everyone got me out of the door.
Somewhere along kilometer 35, it became quiet in my head. I had finally emptied it of all thought and ideas. It was just silence for awhile. I was actively ignoring the music blaring in my ears. I had passed a beautiful Greek countryside with rolling hills and small villages. I passed a small industrial area and now was in the suburbs. The buildings began getting closer together and the rain and wind became significantly stronger. I pulled out the plastic bag I had neatly tied away at kilometer 5. My fingers were tingling, my legs were numb, and I was shivering. Thinking it was dehydration I took some sips out of my hydration pack and concluded that it was really because I was cold. Running in 40 degree weather with wind chill, drizzling rain, and California summer weather running gear will do that to you.
At around kilometer 39 or 40, I was met with a foil blanket from a nice emergency guard who had lauded my accomplishment thus far. As he wrapped the shiny blanket around me, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Now, go finish the race you started.” I was finally in downtown Athens and it looked similar to the morning after a rainstorm in Bangkok. The roads were closed, and people were on the sidelines clapping their hands and yelling “Bravo!”. To my recollection, the only other person to have ever said that to me in that way was Shant’s mother.
I neared a familiar sight, the Syntagma Square and the House of Parliament. I ran under the first inflatable arch right after kilometer 42. I tried to pick up the pace as I saw the next arch and was only able to pull off a small trot. As I passed the second metal arch, what came into view was absolutely beautiful: the giant Panathenaikon Stadium, in full marble, in full glory. By that time, I could feel the pain leaving my body — if only temporarily — as I sped up to a run. Volunteers were cheering us on and as I crossed the finish line, I could not believe the journey I had just gone on. My energy was spent, I was shivering, but I finished the marathon with a smile on my face. After months of planning and training, it was all I could ask for.