This month was…unforgettable. Amidst online teaching, I headed down to Athens for the Authentic (original) Marathon from Marathon, Greece to Athens, Greece. This was the most “proper” training I had done for a marathon, even including the Ironman. When we arrived back at school in September, my friend, Tess, and I sat down and worked out our marathon training plan including some long weekend runs (30k, 35k) aside from routine running during the weekdays. This marathon also happened to be the same weekend of online Parent-Teacher Conferences; a huge schedule conflict that influenced Grant to skip the trip. Here was the schedule: Thursday evening fly down, all day Friday and Saturday online parent teacher conferences, dash out to get our bib numbers after saying ta-ta to the last parent, and then marathon on Sunday. I stayed a few extra days (well worth it). I taught online, and wandered around when I wasn’t due for class.
The day of the marathon was one for the books. As “the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn” (if you can’t quote the Odyssey in Greece, then when can you?) arrived, the four of us from ACS boarded a bus from Athens proper to the town of Marathon. We were in Marathon town by 07:00 solid, and didn’t start running until 09:45. This staggered start was a COVID precaution; another precaution was that every single runner of 9,800 was fully vaccinated. Let’s say that we were very warmed up and STRETCHED by the time 09:45 rolled around.
The actual event was good … then ugly … then good again. Let’s just call it a roller coaster. The original and authentic roller coaster marathon. The Athens Marathon is considered one of the most challenging road race marathons due to its elevation change. Here are some fun stats: Total climb: 352 m (1155 ft) – Total descent: 299 m (981 ft) You might be thinking, “Whoa! So much downhill! That is easy!” You couldn’t be more wrong. After climbing the “hill” for 14 km, there is no pain like downhill pain. I was one of MANY people who pulled over to the side of the road (or heck just in the middle of the dang road) to stretch calves, hamstrings, abs… anything that can be stretched was stretched. To make matters worse, I couldn’t get any food down after 25k so 25-42k was pure pain. It felt like someone was weighing down my legs and it took all of me to keep forcing one foot in front of the other.
Kilometers 37 and after were rough and tough; my pace decreased, but I took the advice from someone earlier in the race. He told us to “just keep following the blue line” – a line painted on the road to mark the entire route from Marathon to Athens. At one point, it became a mantra – follow the blue line… follow the blue line. Just like Dorothy. Despite all the pain and cramps, the fans along the route were second to none. Each mile had people cheering us on. Children towards Marathon handed out olive branches. A nice woman in Athens gave me an American flag. Adidas Cheerleaders danced with pom-poms near the city center. When I arrived at the end in the picturesque Olympic stadium, I knew it had all been worth it.
…And then I found a corner and sat down. And then I willed myself to get up, and take ten steps. And then ten more. And then twenty more. All I could think about was sleep. Sleep. Must sleep. Ten more steps. Where are my friends? I don’t even know I am dying. Sleep. Take emergency blanket out of my pack. Sit down. Ten more steps. Is this what it feels like to die? Drink water. No, don’t drink water that hurts. Ten more steps. Until I was back at my apartment. Sleeping. Sleeping. Grant (on the phone), wake me up in two hours. ….
It hurt. But I don’t regret it…. And I would do it again.
When not teaching online, I explored Athens. Never in my lifetime did I think I would stand on top of the Acropolis and gaze at the timeless construction (and current reconstruction). The Parthenon was made to pay homage to the Gods. How am I so fortunate to see this epic monument? How lucky am I. My only regret is that Grant didn’t see the Parthenon. And that he didn’t see me get yelled at by the security guard – apparently you can’t put your marathon medal on an ancient rock for a photo? Whoops. Where were my manners honestly?… Still high from my Olympic feat of running 26.2 miles apparently.
Back in Sofia, Grant and I stepped into mid-November with rock climbing, and, shocker, more running. Grant joined the likes of the mountain goats when they stumbled upon him and his climbing buddies at the Lakatnik crag, just a few minutes away from a series of tiny Bulgarian villages nestled in the mountains 90-minutes north of Sofia.
A week after Athens, I found myself at a trail run in the “Bones Meadow” (literal translation) with my friend, Ventsi. The third place girl for my distance was just in front of me on the uphills, but darn those Bulgarians and their irresponsible speeds down hills. She slipped away for the third place win. Don’t worry, I’ll get her next time…
For Thanksgiving break, we made our way to the dreamy town of Kovachevitsa in Southern Bulgaria. With road construction, a 3.5 hour trip south became 5.5 hours. Let’s just say we kissed the ground when we arrived in Kovachevitsa… or I should say that we kissed the cobblestones. This quaint and picturesque town is made up entirely of slate. Houses, roads, roofs, you name it; it is made of slate. And it is beautiful. Grant and I went up to the Brother’s Tavern after our arrival for some divine homemade food and wine/rakia.
The next morning, we lazily walked about in the fairy tale that is Kovachevitsa. We made our way up to the mountaintop where there is a sweet church and overlook of the town, then all the way down to the river that runs through it. For dinner that evening (Thanksgiving to be precise), our bed and breakfast hosts made an exquisite four-course meal fit and true to a feast.
The location in general was phenomenal and a must if anyone travels to this sweet village. We were told the actual population of the village is 36.
When Grant and I were wandering around, we saw many properties and old bed and breakfasts for sale. It’s tough to know if the village is simply getting smaller over time, or if Covid has hit hard in this part of the country. The hours slipped past as we got lost in a day dream fantasizing about buying a fixer-upper and running an eco B&B.
We headed back to Sofia on a different route and arrived back in the expected three hours. After teaching online for over a month, we received an email to return to in-person learning on November 29th. A Begach Tech Run later with friends (Geri and Douwe) and we reached the end of an unforgettable November.