My 2014 Athens Marathon.

I remember leaving home and walking to the underground station, the plastic bag with my kit and bib number slung across my shoulder. At 5:50 on a Sunday there was hardly another soul on the streets, but there was already a couple with similar bags on the train platform and more arrived by the minute. On each station more and more people in running gear and the same blue bag boarded the train, silent for the most part, although I did manage to extract a nod and a smile from a couple of them (hey, l wasn’t on the London Underground, so I was determined to acknowledge the people I was going to run 42.2km with!).

By the time we got to Syntagma Sq (one of the points at which we would board the coaches to the starting area) the train was full of runners: Exiting the station we were a stream of blue bags – this photo really doesn’t do justice to the sight!

2014-11-09 06.06.31The organisation was even better than in 2011, with volunteers at the top of the escalators and along the very short walk to where coaches kept arriving, picking up runners and setting off for Marathon, 40-odd km away. It was obviously much busier than 2011 though (it turns out there were double the number of runners in the marathon race) and it took about 5′ to board a coach, which is still pretty good!

En route we were regaled with pre-recorded greetings and instructions of where and when to drop and collect our kit. It gave me a chance to remember what the route looked like in reverse (as we were driving out to the start point). Even having run it before, there was too much noise from the coach’s brakes straining on the prolonged downhill on the way to the start for my liking – which of course would translate to runners panting uphill on the way to the finish! My only other minor gripe was that the pre-recorded messages insisted on pronouncing the “route” as the “rout”! Little did I know…

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But the starting area put a smile on all our faces, albeit a nervous one! Limited in size (one of the constrains of having the race on the original route is that you can’t modify the start area to hold more people), but with volunteers everywhere (with helium balloons with an i attached to them, as in information!), who were giving out water bottles, plastic covers to keep us warm and were generally very smiling and helpful (and why shouldn’t they be? They were getting a lift back to Athens!)

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Gradually more coachloads arrived, the sun climbed in the sky raising the temperature further and the rain of the previous day evaporated quickly, adding to the humidity in the air… The music from the speakers changed to a Greek song describing how “this soil that we walk on will cover us all”, but we still mingled about smiling unawares…

2014-11-09 08.38.35Eventually the time came for us to get in our starting blocks, the athlete’s oath was sworn (we love our bit of ceremony in Greece as well!) and we were off! Through a combination of the traffic around me and a conscious decision to take it easy, the first km was appreciably slower than my target time for the first section, but I didn’t mind at all: it was developing into a hot day and running in a group of sweating runners on a road that was drying didn’t help one bit! In fact I remember that it was somewhere there that I started talking to myself, like I would to Demi when we run together: little mumblings of assurance that this was the right pace, advising myself to take it easy to begin with and see how the day developed: In any other gathering I’m sure I’d get many strange looks, but marathon runners are a strange sort, and talking to ourselves is one of our more minor eccentricities! I also started singing a Neapolitan song that had become an earworm, inwardly for the most part.

My pace began to pick up a bit in the second and third km, but I was always there to keep myself in check with little mutterings of “there, no faster than this now”; or “wow, ease back a bit, it will be a long, hot day” etc. The fourth km went past, we turned left for the loop round the tomb of Marathon (where the Athenian dead of the battle in 492 BC are buried) and the first water point. On the road to the tomb there was greeting of runners coming the other direction (i.e. had completed the loop and were heading back to the main road) and a bit of banter, but then it was our turn to head back on to Marathonos Av and continue towards the next village of N Makri. I was still very happy with my running, keeping a reasonable pace and I completed my first section (0 – 10km) marginally slower than my goal, but very relaxed about it.

On the undulating section that followed (10 – 15) I was faster than I had aimed to be, primarily because I expected it to be all uphill and had set my target pace accordingly. Still, I continued to coach myself and mumble advice regarding taking it easy, but looking at my splits now, I see that on the genuine uphills I went (on average) at the pace I had set myself – perhaps 2” per km slower.

As I entered the 16th km, I remember taking a lot of heart from the thought that I had completed over a third of the race already and I was feeling very relaxed, relatively fresh and in complete control of my pace! I had to make a quick pit stop behind a tree (first time ever in a race!), but it wasn’t a big deal in the scheme of things and I could see the people I had been running with a bit further down the road, so I knew I hadn’t lost too much time. Besides, given the heat, I wasn’t really going to push myself for my target time, although I felt I had a good race in me. The 16th km had the most demanding hill yet, but that meant that the line of warm bodies thinned out a bit and a most welcome suspicion of a sea breeze blew over the coast and up to the road we were climbing.

That section of the route is lined by pine trees and is genuinely beautiful; there must also be eucalyptus trees in there somewhere, because I could clearly sense their distinctive smell. I find it grows stronger when there is humidity in the air. I have mixed memories from that smell: My first memory of it was from summer camp in Athens, which had an athletics track the back straight of which was lined with eucalyptus trees. I was never much of an athlete at school (I enjoyed playing some sports like tennis and volley ball, but always purely for fun, which meant the PE teachers had given up on the likes of me and concentrated on those they considered having team potential) and running was my absolute nightmare! Anyway, evenings at the summer camp were dedicated to sports, and the smell of the track’s eucalyptus trees accompanied my feelings of exhaustion and inadequacy as I desperately tried to complete a second lap around the track at a completely inappropriate pace.

I had since made my piece with that smell (summers on Greek islands saw to that) and coming up to the mid-way point of my fourth marathon feeling strong, even the memories of me struggling round a track many years back felt part of the collage of what makes me a runner. But I digress.

I have said nothing so far about the other runners on the course, the many spectators out to cheer us, some waving flags, others handing out little branches of olive trees, all shouting, all encouraging us to go further. The municipalities on the marathon route hold short (1,000m) children’s races before the first runners come through and they and their families had stayed out to watch us, medals hanging from their necks, adding to the atmosphere.

The following two km were downhill and then (from the 18th) the slow climb to Stauros junction, at the 31st km started! I was surprised to see that what I remembered as a long hill was in fact broken by the odd level section, but even so, my pace slowed more than I had planned it to, and at that point I felt the first pangs of disappointment as I had to acknowledge that I was going to miss my target. Still, with a strong last section (11km downhill) I was on for a respectable PB, which given the conditions I’d gladly settle for.


The first pangs of discomfort came a bit after half way point. Niggles behind my knees, my hamstrings began feeling tense and – eventually – cramps developed at the tops of my calves. I tried adjusting my running, lifting my knees a bit more (it had worked in training), varying my pace a bit, but in vain. The pain kept getting worse, so on the 25th km I had to stop by a First Aid point and ask for help. They gave me some cooling gel to rub on my calves, took my number and sent me on my way. I realised after the race that I was diluting my High5 electrolyte tablets too much: I mixed half a tablet in each 500ml water bottle given out, instead of a whole one that was closer to what I was used to and what High5 recommend.

The gel hardly provided any relief and so it went, running, walking a bit, stopping at another First Aid point and so on to the 31st km and the top of the hill. But it was all going to be downhill from there, surely I could manage that?

You know what it’s like when you race falls apart, when what you have set out to do is lost and then, minute by agonising minute, you see even your “settle for” goal slip by and – try as you might – there is nothing you can do but try to hobble along after it, only to break down into a walk a few hundred yards later? You enter a little world of your own, a parallel run: those runners that pass you looking strong (anyone who can continue running looks strong to you) belong to a different race, and that is the race the spectators are cheering. They are cheering the athletes who overcome the discomfort and continue running, while you (in your own head) have stumbled and are about to pull out.

The downhill brought no relief and despite a stop at a third First Aid point, my discomfort (can I call it suffering yet?) only increased. The pain behind my knees was so bad I couldn’t even walk and when I stopped and sat down on the pavement to seek some relief in folding them, it only took them a few seconds to begin hurting again so I had to get up, pretend to stretch (I was too tense for anything to actually stretch!) and limp along.

I can’t recall everything that went through my head, but l know it wasn’t pleasant. I hadn’t stopped mumbling to myself throughout, part encouragement, part complaining to no one in particular, but when I heard my own voice telling me I couldn’t take any more, I knew my race was over.

I’ve read the experiences of a number of runners who had painful races but at the crucial moment dug deep, found the strength within them and refused to give up. It was nothing like that for me: By the 37th km (5.2 measly kms before the end and deliverance!), I felt completely drained, physically and emotionally, and I had no alternative but to find a marshal and pull out. I was close to tears and wondering what sort of a horrible person I was that after the past 5 months this was going to be the one thing to reduce me to tears: not finishing a race for pity’s sake!

There was no rage against the dying of the light, no Will to tell heart and nerve and sinew “Hold on!”, just a little sadness that my first DNF had to be in Athens, in “my” Marathon. A lot of self-pity for my pain and a foregone debate on whether I would still allow myself to wear the finisher’s T-shirt (shame, because it was a nice one this year).

I think it was not entering the Panathinaikon Stadium I minded the most and the practicalities of how I’d meet up with Demi and everyone else who might still be waiting (my phone had already given up the ghost).

My hobbling towards the marshal became a bit less slow and – more from habit – I picked up a bottle at the water station at 37.5km rather than stopping. I put the two half-tablets of High5 zero l had left in it and carried on running.

The talking to myself gradually changed tune, the pain became manageable and as I emerged from Pheidippidou Str (the last uphill on the course), I was declaring to the world (in Greek) that “there is NO WAY I am not going to finish this! Not a chance!” and picking up pace to something resembling my overall target race pace. I had began overtaking people again and that was another boost: I was not in the parallel universe any longer, I was back in the race: Half an hour late, but back in it nonetheless! Even so, I had to make sure I didn’t make the mistake of going full out – I didn’t know how long the relief would last for and there were still 3 km to go, but I felt I was running properly again! And it was a wonderful sensation!

Past the War Museum, left down Herodou Attikou Str and it looked like the most beautiful road in the world! A downhill straight lined with trees and people four deep, all cheering us, crowding onto the race course as it crossed Vasileos Konstantinou Ave and into the Stadium! And what a beautiful stadium it was, from the first glimpse of the marble structure over the trees, to when it was revealed in its full glory as we passed under the arch signalling the end of the 42nd km!


I completed the race in what felt like a fluid fast run, but what video evidence later revealed to be a tensed up jog.



As I crossed the finishing line I heard my name been called and there was Demi and her mother, my sister and Niko and a family of good friends who had come to see Demi run the 10k race on the day (also finishing in the stadium) and had stayed on to watch me finish.


l followed the route round the stadium to where we were handed our medals and then out to collect my bag. The cramp returned as I came out of the stadium and I had to stop a number of times on my way to the collection point. lt was only 2 or 3 minutes walk away, but it must have taken me at least 15 to reach it. l kept asking the volunteers where we collected our bags from, hoping one would say “why Mr Symeonides, we have yours here”, but the answer never changed. l had a few choice words for the organisers’ decision to hide our stuff at what seemed like the far end of nowhere, but of course it was the right decision: not only did it avoid congestion at the exit of the stadium, but the short walk eventually got rid of the pain and I presented an almost respectable sight when Demi, Alexia etc met me.


They all seemed quite relieved to see me, walking and alive and everything, and I was greeted to another of the completely undeserved hero’s welcomes that is the real reason I am addicted to marathons!


But I too was so pleased to see them, relieved to have finished despite it all and glowing in self-satisfaction for my persistence and subconscious stubbornness that l didn’t mind one iota about the slow time or the pain along the way. “These things happen” I reasoned and they all add to the collage.


In the mean time, congratulations are due to the unsung, real heroes of the day, Demi and Niko who overcame a complete lack of training and a series of long running injuries (respectively) and finished the 10k race in times they should be proud of and with much less fuss! Congratulations all around and good luck to Alexia in 2015 pushing a pram! 🙂






I love you Athens! (though you hurt me so…)


It’s hard to know what to write about Sunday’s race: looking back I am presented with such an overwhelming mix of emotions, memories and sensations… some are very unpleasant, others – the majority – extremely happy… I really do not have the words to share the experience!


As most of you will know by now, I finished the race, but at a much slower time than I was hoping for: At 04:12:something, it was 28′ slower than my PB and 21′ slower than my course best – which also happened to be my first marathon ever!

It was a very hot and humid day, an hour before the race the temperature was 20o C with 88% humidity and it just kept getting hotter after we left the coast and headed into the built up areas… While I was feeling good, running well within the limits I had set myself and taking on plenty of fluids, I started suffering from very painful cramps high in my calves from (I think) the 25th km onwards: I had to do a lot of walking, stopped at three First Aid Points along the way for cooling gel / spray and – at one stage close to the end – just sat down and folded my knees because any other position was just too painful! Having given up on salt sticks during my training (you will remember that they did not agree with me), I relied on High5 zero tablets for mineral supplement, which were great, but I think I had diluted them too much for the demands of such a hot day. Proof that when I eventually put two half tablets in the last bottle at the 37.5km water station, I was very quickly able to run again, picked up a decent pace, covering the last two km appreciably faster than my target pace! If only I had thought of it sooner, and what an idiot I feel for not trying it earlier!

But even having just written that paragraph, having relived all the negative experiences of the race, having reminded myself that what I trained so hard for ended in, let’s face it, failure (after all, I didn’t train or a 4h plus marathon, nor to walk with a grimace of pain), I still can’t wipe the wistful smile from my face at the memory of the day… It is common for runners who’ve had a bad marathon to vow to not run another, only to change their mind a few months later as the memory of the pain subsides… Instead I would run Athens again tomorrow given half a chance, under the very same conditions (but with more High 5 tablets)!


There is probably an element of bias, I accept. After all Athens was my home before Preston or Huncote, Marathon (the starting point) is where I spent most of my summers building castles in the sand, learning to scuba dive and free diving. But still… I’m not one of those Greeks who sees their country bathed in a golden light and lament every moment they are away, so it’s not all the effect of nostalgia! I genuinely appreciated the course much more this time round, I felt much more in control of my running than other times, I loved the fact that not only were there water stations every 2½ km, not only did they give out water bottles instead of those silly plastic cups you get in most races, but you could call out to the volunteers and specify whether you wanted your water bottle with the cap on or off! To say nothing of the usual assortment of bananas, sports drinks, gels, and – oh, luxury of luxuries on such a day – sponges dripping with cool water!

There is also something about how the Greek public (and I include here non-runners) sees their marathon… There is a discreet pride about it being “the one” and it being such a well organised and well run event, even by international standards (a rare occasion of Greek organisation being pretty damn good!). Also, as it is a point to point race from a relatively well known coastal village outside Athens, it’s easy for everyone to get an appreciation of the distance involved (“you ran here from Marathon?”) and I think this shows in how people view the runners and the event. And there is one final thing… It’s a genuinely inclusive event, costing only €40 to enter (€20 for affiliated runners!) for the mid range entry package and entries don’t close for around 5 months after they open in March. So none of that staying-awake-till-4am-to-enter-the-ballot-and-then-find-out-six-months-later-that-you-aren’t-in-it-anyway, which we seem to consider normal for London!

But I digress… The point I am trying to make is that I have become very, very fond of this race: I loved it the first time I ran it, when I had exceeded my expectations; and I’m absolutely hooked now, when I had a terrible race, went through a lot of pain and on the 37th km thought I couldn’t take any more!


Although this isn’t what I – or I suppose you – expected me to write about when I started this post: Instead of a description of my run, it’s ended up an outpouring of love for the race that gave me so much pain!

But I suppose my Sunday was so emotionally charged that I needed to let some emotion out before returning to the more down-to-earth realm of descriptions…

Which I will do in the next few days with a more factual description of my race. Bye for now!




Anyone hear the one about the runner who did his back in 6 days before his marathon, filling a window box? 😦

With any luck it will be ok on the day, but it again reminded me that – as much as we take it for granted – getting to that start line intact is an achievement in itself!

(It was such a stupid injury to suffer after months of training, that I’m not even upset about it! More incredulous, stoical, and somehow more relaxed about Sunday than I thought I’d be this close to the event…)


Ok, last long run done on Sunday, and I have to say, I’ve had a narrow escape!

I started coming down with a cold the Sunday before (i.e. over a week ago), but I managed to do my workout (a progression run) on the day, even if I opted for the relative safety of the treadmill… On Monday and Tuesday it had become a full-blown feverish cold and I was worried a bit whether I’d be in a position to run on the weekend (as I’ve written before, some of my long runs have been a bit hit-and-miss, so I didn’t want to miss the last one), but thankfully my cold eased by Friday, so I was able to go on a gentle 10k run with Demi on Saturday and felt well enough to do my long run on the Sunday.

With a heavy heart, as I wasn’t 100% well, I opted for the treadmill again, as I didn’t particularly want to get stranded miles from home and have to make my way back in a drenched t-shirt in the wind. Apart from mind numbingly boring (even with an audiobook), the thing with treadmills is that they are a very inaccurate representation of the real thing and for that I have found them a false friend in the past. Still, they have their uses on occasions, and Sunday was one such.

It went ok, I’m pleased to say, the nutrition and hydration plan I’ve settled on (after the failed experiments with the Saltcaps of a couple of weeks ago) worked a treat, and I’m so happy I know what I’m doing on that front!

I once again adjusted the incline on the treadmill to simulate the inclines on the route. Yes, the hill (especially the long, middle one) is serious, but on a positive side, I felt that breaking down the route like that helped me very much mentally. In sort, I’ve broken the route down in 5 parts, each with its own theme (and target pace):

Athens terrain

  1. Start to 10km: This starts as a mild downhill (till about the loop around the Tomb of the battle of Marathon), so I intend to take it at a steady pace, but without getting carried away – there is still a long way to go!
  2. 10km to 15.5k: The first hill: slow down accordingly, try to keep a balance between remaining fresh (it’s still early in the race), but without sacrificing too much time. After all, this is followed by:
  3. 15.5k to 18.5k: A nice, fast, downhill section, but keep it steady: The aim here is not to shave time (what, maybe a minute? minute and a half?) off, but to recover from the previous hill and making sure I am fresh for:
  4. 18.5k to 30.5k: The ascent to Stauros! The 12km that will make the difference to my race, I think. In 2011, I ran this on average about 30” per km slower than my average total race time, so that is a useful rule of thumb as to how I should approach it. Just think of it as run in itself, and not the 3rd quarter of a full marathon!
  5. 30.5k to 42.195k: All downhill! Whether this is a good or bad thing will depend on the state of my knees by then, but mentally… it makes it so much easier to will yourself up the preceding hill knowing that at least the last section of the race is (in theory) the least challenging.

I also remember that once I had crested the top in 2011, the one thought that filled my mind was “there’s no way I’m not finishing this now!” That of course was my first marathon and I didn’t know what the last kilometers would feel like, but it’s a pleasant recollection and one I will be hanging on to! 🙂

So that’s it! Even if I feel a bit undertrained, I’m resisting the temptation for “one more” long run “to get it right”. Instead I’m sticking with my programme and running the Leicester half on Sunday as my last progression run and to make sure I’m comfortable with my race number and gel holder. I’m just grateful to have solved my hydration / nutrition quandry and to have booked my pre-race massage…

Not long to go now!

The day is getting closer…

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I’m reaching the business end of my marathon training plan, and I’ve got slightly mixed feelings: On the one I think I’ve done as well as I could with training consistency, considering all other planned and unplanned demands on my time since I started in July; with perhaps one exception (the long progression run last week which went terribly wrong), I feel I’ve been able to follow my plan and run the distances, paces, repetitions etc it included; I’ve have avoided injuries (he writes touching wood), and the few niggles I had at the beginning of my training seem to have gone.

On the other hand I still have missed more sessions than I’d like (crucially, including a couple of long runs in September), I have not been able to do much strength training or conditioning and I somehow can’t see myself completing the marathon in the time my plan is based on… I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the Athens route is quite hard, with a long hill from the 18th to the 31st km, so you have to pace it very carefully: Make the most of the relatively flat first 18k, but at the same time don’t set off too fast, and remember to keep enough in hand for the 13km long hill that follows. And if you are still strong at the 31st km, you can try to shave a few minutes off your time in the final 11km (gently downhill), but they will never be enough to allow you to run a negative split race. So you have to have a pretty good idea of your (realistic) target time and run the first 18k accordingly. And while I know I’ll be slower than what my plan says (less-than-perfect training and that bastard hill!), I’m yet to decide on my realistic target time.

That’s part of the reason why I joined the Leicester half, which is a local race which I enjoyed immensely last year and which this year falls on the first Sunday of my taper. I hope it will be a pleasant distraction from the training runs, give me an idea where I am fitness and training wise and – hopefully – boost my pre-race confidence a bit!

On other news, I got the letter informing me I didn’t make it through the ballot for London this year and, while I’d love to run for charity again, I don’t think that I can realistically commit to the pledges most charities ask for (most around the £2,000 mark), not with all my time already as stretched as it is with work and everything else…

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My original fall-back plan was to enter Paris (it’s two weeks before London and as my parents live there it would work out very nicely), but I think I’ll sleep on it… perhaps even see how Athens goes before signing up for the next one…

But that is all for another day – the priority today is to have a decent rest and then a decent long run tomorrow!

Keep on Training!


There were no noteworthy running encounters last week, no colourful characters from Rocky’s Philadelphia or nose-in-the-air runners, only September’s glorious moon for company during the past few sessions.

I am having to adapt my training (the long runs in particular) these days, as it seems we’ll be busy all weekends in September, doing one thing or another. This usually means seeing friends on the weekend, eating and drinking far too much, then leaving the long run for Monday night and distributing all other sessions through the week as life permits… I’m still on top of it though and I’ve not – yet – missed anything more crucial than the odd easy run in a week, but I know it is going to be a struggle fitting everything in over the next few weeks.

Generally speaking, I’m encouraged with how my training is going: the interval and – especially – the tempo sessions are hard but I see them through at the pace my plan requires, and I have been completing all long runs as prescribed (with aches and pains that usually come with upping the distance again, but nothing that lingers after a day or so). Now, for serious runners, following a training plan to the letter is taken for granted, but my approach has tended to be just muddling through, ticking off as many sessions as I manage to and hoping for the best! I’ve tried to do better this time round, and I think to a great extent I’ve succeeded – so far!

Had I more time, I’d like to be able to fit in more strength training (I know this would make the long runs less painful) and I miss my easy runs on the weeks (like last one) when I can’t fit them in. I enjoy these immensely, just making the route up as I go along at an easy pace and reminding myself that running is not always about reaching your physical limit…

In the mean time the weeks pass, and here we are with less than two months to go… That thought makes me feel very unready! Still, with 6 more long runs to go before tapering (inc yesterday’s which I’ve deferred to today), there is plenty of time to build the distance, although I’ve no idea how I’ll maintain my target race pace on the day!

Still, that’s not for now. Now I just need to stick with the plan through another busy period, see if I can add some strength training back in my routine and try to fit more miles in the week!

A bit of love, a bit of hatred, but something…

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So the results of the vote last week are in, and a clear majority of 60% recommend that I keep smiling in the face of the unfriendly and sometimes downright contemptuous runners I tend to meet when I run in London. You are obviously a much more civilised bunch than I am, because my instinctive response was to meet unfriendliness with a scowl; but there lies the slippery slope into anarchy, chaos, the breakdown of society and – worst of all – discourtesy! And that we shall not tolerate.

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But as a lovely contrast to my post from last week, today I became the object of a very vocal outburst of support and encouragement: I was staying in a different hotel than usual, so my morning run (6 x 4’ intervals) took me along the south bank of the Thames, from Lambeth Bridge to HMS Belfast and back. On the way back, I was holding on for dear life on my fourth interval past Borough Market and the Clink when a big black guy standing under the railway bridges saw me approach him and cried in an American accent “way to go man! Drop me five!” and offered his open palm for me to slap. He carried on offering encouragement and as I re-emerged into the sunlight I could still hear him shout after me “looking good, looking good, keep going man!”, which made me feel I was in some Hollywood film and that if I turned back I would see that a crowd of children had followed me out of the market and up the steps to the nearest monument!

I love it when little things like that happen, even if I know full well that it is all a bit of fun and not intended as an earnest compliment or in-depth-appraisal of my running form, pace or physique (none of which usually move the masses to vocal expressions of adoration!) I suppose the only earnest compliment there, if there is one, is for being out at that time of the morning / afternoon / evening and putting miles in. And not giving up when you look as beat as I am sure I did then. At least that’s what gives me the urge to spur another runner on, when I’m doing the watching.

There have been a number of such incidents lately: on my Sunday long run, I passed a boy with his father in the village of Thurlaston and he too (the boy that is) started shouting encouragement, gave me a high-five and run next to me for a while. And then, on the same run, after many miles, detours and loops in the countryside, I was leaving Huncote in the direction of Narborough when a lady cyclist who looked like she had struggled up the hill to Huncote, still found the energy to tell me to “carry on, well done!”

Encouragement is much more common in races of course, but there are still stand-out instances that stay with you: Demi, Alexia and Niko at the 32nd km of my first marathon (in Athens), when I had resigned myself that no-one would see me run; the girl in Rome that egged me on in Piazza del Popolo, when my cramp had gotten so bad that I had to walk; or the old lady, again in Athens, who – almost in a whisper and with a lump in her throat – offered the equivalent of “well done boys” (“μπράβο ρε παιδιά”), more to herself than us; there was something about her that has left a great impression on me, something that suggested there was a story behind what brought her out to that stretch of road between villages to see us pass…

I love running, and the memories it gives me. Alone, not passing another living soul for miles; alongside someone else, at pace or more relaxed; or interacting with people I pass, whether earnestly or in jest. And in the end, it seems it wasn’t the “rudeness” of the Regent’s Park runners I minded: I now know it was their indifference.

So I will leave you with this (a line of which I stole for today’s title):

Still in the groove!

I am pleased to report that my new attitude to training and running persists! I wrote last week:

“I also feel much calmer somehow, no longer worrying about the November date or the training that I will or will not be able to fit in my schedule over the coming months; I just run each session at a time, not worrying so much where it fits in the whole, each run a gift to myself…”

And it seems that there was more truth in that than I thought when I was writing it: my running workouts have stopped being a chore and returned to being a real treat – yes, even the intervals that really test you and make you feel your chest can no longer contain your panting lungs! It’s that new (or rather re-found) outlook that has meant I’ve sought out every opportunity to go for a run – and for a second week in a row, I’ve used a work-related overnight stay in London to will myself out of a warm comfy bed much earlier than I needed to and go for intervals in Regent’s Park – today sporting the new Huncote Harriers training top no less! I was really proud of myself (I know it’s commonplace for most runners out there, but I’ve repeatedly admitted that early morning runs are not my thing) so I rewarded myself with a decent omelette and croissant for breakfast in the hotel and walked the 2.5km to the office in the sunshine!



That was on top of the first Cooper test I did after work yesterday: not part of my plan, but I think I’ll include them on a monthly basis, just to give me an indication of how my fitness is (hopefully) improving as a result of my training. Thing is, every training session feels very tough (ok, apart from easy run days), so I think an objective measure of my fitness would help.

On other news, there was no long run for me last Sunday (every so often my plan will substitute these for a progression run, which is actually crueller in its own insidious way!), so I took the opportunity to do a strength workout as well. Unfortunately the miCoach app has been playing up recently (I think they are preparing to launch v3.0 and for some reason that has necessitated messing up the current version!), which meant I couldn’t start my next Strength and Flexibility programme, so I went with one that I had designed for me at the gym in my last three-monthly assessment. It’s short and sweet (over in about 25′), but it seems to hit all the bits that matter and how! I think it is the kettlebell swings that I find particularly hard, not necessarily when I’m doing them (although I do try to go as heavy as I can), but 1-2 days after… They leave me feeling aching all over and most surprisingly drained of energy in a way I’ve not experienced with strength training before… I read about them a bit, and they seem to provide a comprehensive workout (which could be why they seem to tax me so much), with low risk of injury so they are staying!

So I’m pretty pleased with how things are progressing training-wise, although of course there is a long way to go still. The only change I think I’ll make to my routine is to add something to strengthen my upper back: My shoulder / shoulder blade area seems to get stiff on long runs, and I think it’s calling for some attention… a desk job doesn’t help much, I suppose! Any suggestions?

My only regret is that I haven’t been on a club training night for a long time. It’s usually because I’ve been away, or because I had a specific workout of my own to do on that day, but I’ve hardly ran with the club all summer! I’ll see if I can tweak the sequence of my runs in a week to keep Tuesdays open for a general run with the Harriers.



Exploring London, rediscovering Athens

It’s been a strange three weeks, but at least one good thing came of them, running-wise: I’ve stopped thinking!

To put it into context, I had to do a lot of travelling (much of it unplanned) for work and personal reasons, all of it involving long, tiring days and strong emotions. Every time I packed though, I made sure my running shoes went in the case first (and my Garmin last) and (most importantly) I made sure I put them to good use when I reached my destination! Here’s the running highlights of these past three weeks:


1. Early morning in Regent’s Park

I’ve previously lamented that not being a morning person, I miss opportunities to get runs in before breakfast. I genuinely regret it, since on the few occasions I’ve managed to get out for an early morning run, swim or other workout, I’ve absolutely loved that time of day and the buzz it leaves you with afterwards. Well, finally I managed to do something about it, and despite another disappointing business dinner the night before (the advertised “dinner” turned out to be a few canapés and chunky chips) and maybe a few too many glasses of wine to compensate the calorific deficit (well, it was a “networking event” -hics- after all!) I dragged me and my empty stomach for an easy morning run up to and around Regent’s Park.

I loved running up a sunny and empty Tottenham Court Road, over the remains of the night before, past the first commuters of the day and into the park (ok, stopping at traffic lights and still almost getting run over wasn’t as fun). I was surprised at the lack of other runners on the streets at that time, but that changed once I got to the park: A true cross-section of the running community, from casual joggers, serious runners and some very fast boys and girls were running along the paths criss-crossing the park. But the most memorable image of the morning, as I was glancing at my phone for news that was to come two days later, was the sun reflecting off the golden dome of the Islamic Cultural Centre:

20140729_065906_Outer Cir


2. Two coastal runs in Athens

A few days later I was in Athens for the funeral of my father, who had died unexpectedly two days after my Regent’s Park run. The evening before was a Sunday and I resolved on an evening long run, as much to clear my mind as because I had already missed too many training sessions recently. As I was staying with my sister at the south suburbs, I went out for a 2h coastal run from Voula to the old airport and back. It was light when I set off and I was treated to a lovely sunset over the islands of the Saronic Gulf and on the way back it was the rising moon that was reflected on the sea.

The evening was hot and humid, so my pace was slow (speed wasn’t the goal here anyway), but I enjoyed running on the significant pedestrianised sections and along a route I hadn’t ran before. A particularly pleasant surprise was the number of other runners I saw along the way, it seems that the sport has really grown in Greece! I felt the old British runners dilemma when I came across the first few (do I smile? Nod? Ignore?), but it turns out that the norm in Greece is to lift a hand in greeting and – breath permitting – engage in a little chat with people running in the same direction as you.

It was on this run that I came across the following piece of graffiti and this remains my only encounter of running related graffiti anywhere! I like to think of it as a call to a very different uprising in Greece…



The second run was a much shorter, steady run the day before I flew home. We started with Niko (my sister’s fiancé) and it was on the same coast, but headed in the opposite direction this time. Away from the busier pedestrian areas I had used the last time and towards some little tavernas at Kavouri. Reaching the turning point (the end of the paved path), I couldn’t resist continuing a bit further on, following a track up a little wooded hill till it wouldn’t go any further: It was dusk and turning back I took this photo of where we had come from:



I’ve always known Greece would offer some outstanding running routes, but I always expected these to be away from the large cities and into the countryside, of the kind that my favourite Greek running bloggers (1) write about: running in the rain in the Peloponnese, or perhaps on island paths leading to some secluded beach… So it was a lovely to come across one in Athens itself, and it led me to wonder how many more unexpected routes exist in and around Athens… Recommendations welcome, and I look forward to try them out on future, happier visits!


3. Back home

So now I’m back, eager for a bit of normality and concentrating into getting back into a routine: catching up with work, doing all those things I had said I would around the house and (most importantly, as far as this blog is concerned), following my training schedule on a daily basis and not by exception! But I also feel much calmer somehow, no longer worrying about the November date or the training that I will or will not be able to fit in my schedule over the coming months; I just run each session at a time, not worrying so much where it fits in the whole, each run a gift to myself…

Yesterday for example, after the afternoon downpour, I went out for speed intervals (12 x 1′ @5k race pace with 1′ recovery), and the only thing I can remember crossing my mind was an awareness of the brightness of the evening light on the soaked roads, and a reflection of a bright white cirrocumulus in a huge puddle, sailing on its way to rain on someone else…

I expect my outlook on a number of things has changed subtly since my last published post (in some cases perhaps too subtly for me to fully appreciate yet), and one of them is that I have returned to enjoying running as an end to itself – and that is altogether a much healthier state of affairs!


(1) such asαγγελικη-κοσμοπουλου and


Knackered after 0 miles

This week hasn’t gone that well… for some reason I have been feeling more tired each morning than the night before and my days have been filled with 6 -hour return commutes and full working days in between; on the days when I have managed to work from home, I’ve still had to wake up at stupid o’clock as we have work going on in the house and there have been workmen coming and going…

…Which has all meant that I’ve not managed to run once this week yet, but I still feel very tired, sleep-deprived and I’ve started to put back the (few) holiday pounds I had managed to lose since I came back… I’ll still try to salvage something from the week though: hopefully get some more sleep tonight, do a long hard tempo tomorrow (yippee…), Sunday’s LR as scheduled and – if I feel up to it – some stride intervals on Saturday (the last such session before tapering begins). So no core or strength training this week, but I finished one strength programme last week and I can start the next one fresh in a few days’ time.

On a more positive note, I did my first outdoor serious (> 21k / 13m) LR last Sunday on the usual hilly route around the villages and it reminded me that doing the same distance on a treadmill (whatever the incline settings), does not compare with the real thing: it does not compare in terms of the value of the workout (psychological as much as physical) and it certainly does not compare in term of the enjoyment of the run: the cool breeze that comes as an unexpected relief when you need it most, running along tree-lined lanes then next to golden fields in the summer sunset… Or letting your mind wander in a way that it cannot do in the confines of a gym, stationary on a treadmill (where as fast as you may run, you never go anywhere…) Absolutely beautiful, Bradgate park next!

So… a frustrating week where I feel I’ve moved backwards rather than forwards… No serious damage done though and at this early stage of the preparation I hope it won’t make much of a difference on race day  – as long as it stops here.

On the other hand… On the other hand, I was hoping I’d be in a very different position in the fourth week of my training: I had hoped that by now I’d have shed some of the excess weight, built some momentum in my training and even recovered most of my fitness. Instead, I feel like I’m starting from square one all over again.

But marathon training wouldn’t be any fun if it was all plain sailing, would it now?