Athens: A Marathon Holiday…

Jonah Andersson February 15, 2012
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Olympic Stadium by: jeffbr13 (Flickr)

From climbing Kilimanjaro to walking the Great Wall of China, it seems there is a new trend in putting your body through its paces on holiday. If you’re an excercise-aholic then the annual Athens marathon offers the perfect opportunity to combine some summer sunshine with the challenge of a real endurance race- with a dose of culture, history and delicious food thrown in for good measure!


Why Athens…?


There are now 500 marathon races worldwide each year, but the annual Athens event remains the original and, many argue, the best.

Athens is, of course, synonymous with ancient civilisations, historical monuments and the Olympics. Legend has it that it’s also the place where a soldier namedPheidippides collapsed and died, having run 26.2 miles, without stopping, to announce that the Athenians had beaten the Persians in the Battle of Marathon.


In 1896, when the International Olympics Committee formed and started to plan the first modern Olympic Games, a French delegate named Michel Bréal was so captivated by the legend of Pheidippides that he proposed the inclusion of a long-distance running event to celebrate the story. Other delegates loved the idea and the legend was used to drum up interest in the games. Bréal even donated a silver trophy for the winner and the marathon as we know it was born.


The first marathon was the final event at the 1896 Athens Olympics, and inspired replica races all around the world with Boston being one of the initial cities to follow suit.


This year’s race…


This year’s race takes place on Sunday November 11th, which gives you a good ten months to get training! It’s open to anyone over 18 and there’s no qualifying time so amateurs and professionals alike can take part. You can use BUPA’s training planto help you prepare for the challenge, if you plan to run.


Temperatures in Athens in November peak at about 18°c, but with the race starting at 9am it should be much cooler for the bulk of the run.


The course…


The route starts at the battlefield in Marathon which Pheidippides is said to have run from, and follows his route to Athens. Today, the terrain of the 26.2 miles (42.2 km) is wholly tarmac, which is worth bearing in mind when choosing your running shoes – look out for good support and cushioning. The first 12km of the route is fairly flat, with the next 19km being made up of gently sloping hills and the last 11km providing a downhill finish.


You’ll be following the very route that was used in the 2004 Athens Olympics and with the race ending at the world-famous Olympic Stadium, so you’ll truly feel like an elite athlete as you cross the finish line.


Once you’re in Athens, make the most of it…


You’ll probably want a day or two of chilling out by a swimming pool or on the beach post-race. However, once you’re up to it there’s a whole host of things to see and do in Athens; from devouring delicious cuisine, to exploring the ancient ruins, to shopping in quaint markets!


Where to recuperate…


If R&R is top of your agenda then take a trip to Greece’s original Fish Spa (Aiolou 45) and let the garra rufa fish sooth your worn feet or enjoy some reflexology or a traditional massage. There’s also the Hammam Baths (Melidoni 1) where you can enjoy a full body scrub and then a traditional massage on warm marbles- booking is advised. Finally, why not bag yourself a bargain at the fleamarket in Monastiraki or hit a more modern shopping precinct on Ermou Street where you can reward yourself for all your hard work and commitment?


Where to eat…


Greek food is world-renowned and Athens is home to some incredible restaurants. Favourites include Strofi (25 Rovertou Galli) which offers traditional Greek dishes- the feta parcels and baklava are both recommended – and a view of the Acropolis to die for from the open-air top level; Oroscopo (42-44 Antinoros Street), where the fantastic service is regularly praised and beautifully fresh seafood is on offer; and Funky Gourmet (Paramithias 13 & Salaminos)- the destination for cutting-edge, experimental haute cuisine, prepared by classically-trained chefs. What better way to replenish the calories you lost running the marathon?


What to see…

If you’re after some culture, you’ll be able to find it in every nook and cranny in the city! You must, of course, visit the famous ruins and there are plenty for you to choose from, from the big names: the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Erechtheion , to the lesser-known Temple of Hephaestus, the Agora and the Odeum of Herodes Atticus.

Where to Stay…

For under £400pp, the 4* Polis Grand is right next to the Acropolis and close to the old streets of Plaka, where markets are held. The hotel also has a roof garden where you can chill out after a long day in the November sun. There is also, the 4* Hotel Titania is in the historical hub of Athens, with a Greek brasserie restaurant for guests and a top floor piano bar that has stunning views of the Acropolis. It’s located between Syntagma and Omonia Square, so you’re in the right place for exploring the city and seeing the marathon.

How to Get There…

Athens is easily reached from major UK airports such as London Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh, with easyJet Holidays. The flight time is just over 3 hours and you’ll arrive in Athens International Airport, just 20km from the main city centre, just a short bus or taxi ride away.


Category: Greece, Outdoors
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Jonah Andersson

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