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My Marathon - Fatma Memetoglou
My Marathon 8 November 2009
I ran my first ever marathon yesterday in Athens. As my muscles are sore, my movements are limited and I can barely lift my left leg, I am asking - was it worth all this trouble?
When you are surrounded by people who talk fanatically about “Running” in every meeting, you think they are all obsessed and this level of obsession is not normal. To be honest I thought they were all carrying somehow, a crazy element in their soul. They were certainly not normal, there was either something missing or overwhelming inside them. I searched for this element in every runner I met. As time passed by I saw that they were not crazy - at least not all of them. They were normal working people with families, living simple lives like most of us. After my first theory failed, I started to think there must be something special about these people. Maybe they were born with a special gene that makes them more active than the others. They have more energy so they start using this energy in marathons, in triathlons, in swimming, in cycling.
After I started learning more about marathon running I realized yes there was something special about certain tribes in Kenya and Ethiopia. But these people were not Kenyan or Ethiopian. They were all within the boundaries the ordinary.
As time passed I realized I produced these theories in order to justify my non-active life. I hated any sort of activity. I hated every single stride of running, I hated my heart pounding in my chest and mostly I hated even the tiniest ache in my legs. While I was just observing these people and running from time to time, my husband ran five marathons one after the other in less than two years. With each marathon he ran, my curiosity grew. What is so special about running a marathon? If it is so beyond one’s ordinary capabilities how come they do it? Why do they cheer each on other so frantically? Is there something I am missing?? But I never dared to ask myself – “can I do it too?” Whenever I caught myself asking this question I immediately changed the subject in my head. After all, it was too late for me to start running - I am almost 40 years old. You don’t spend 40 years sitting on a canapé and suddenly stand up and say “I am going to run 42km”. This does not happen. It is not easy. Then I met Marie. She runs the marathon in 3 hours and 7 minutes; she never ran nor did any sports in her life until she was 34. No, not only she runs but she also holds the second best time in her country. My third biggest excuse went down the drain.
In the meantime the continuous propaganda about the philosophy of running, the physiology of running, biochemistry of running, biomechanics of running, The Spirit of the Marathon never ceased. However, none of these arguments and discussions could penetrate through the shell I had made for myself. I decided that running is ok but it is not for me. It is for the others. I support them but I will never do it myself… I might run 10 -15km at the most.
For the first time in my life at the beginning of July, one day after the 13km Smokovo race which I finished easily, the idea of running a marathon passed through my mind at the speed of a light. I told this to my husband (Yuksel). He did not lose a second and handed me a book titled “The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer “. Apart from the catchy title, the first paragraph talked about people who had never run more than 5 km in their lives but finished the marathon. The marathon they participated was in Des Moines, Iowa, birthplace of one of my favorite writers, Bill Bryson. The combination of non-runners finishing a marathon, Des Moines, and the satisfaction I had felt after Smokovo, made me read more and more. The level of inspiration and curiosity increased as my knowledge deepened. The last and most amazing inspiration came when I read about “Marathon Monks”. Why not? I said to myself. I have the inspiration, the tools, the time, the support, everything I need. Why not? So in a beautiful afternoon at a beautiful party by the pool having had some wine and great food, I announced that I was going to run the Athens Classic Marathon. I immediately regretted the announcement, but there was no going back.
4 months later, exactly 8 days before the race, my anxiety began with no apparent reason. Everything was in my favor; I followed the training program precisely, never missed a run, completed my long runs successfully, and did more than the book said. I set the right goals for myself. I was careful with what I was eating and drinking. The weather was going to be excellent on the marathon day. I was going to run my first ever Marathon in Athens, in the birthplace of the marathon. What else did I need? Why was I so afraid? As soon as I expressed this feeling I was showered with the support of friends and my family. I thought they couldn’t help me - I was wrong again. Every message I received from friends gave me strength. I told them that I was afraid and they all reassured me that I would do just fine. My husband and my daughter said “you did everything right, why you are so afraid? We know you can do it”. When my husband who had done it successfully 5 times reassured me, I started to believe in myself. Now I was not as afraid of a failure, I was simply enjoying the support and spoiling myself with it.
The Marathon day.
We met with 3 other runners at 6 o’clock in the morning to go to the Panathinaikon Stadium which is the finish point for the marathon. My biggest supporter, my husband, was driving the car. In the car the others were complaining about the rain, but he said, “it is not a problem actually it is to your advantage”. Somehow only his words affected me. We took the bus to Marathonas village in the pouring rain. The journey seemed to take forever. How was I supposed to run all this? Again I remembered what Yuksel said: “you can do it just follow my instructions”. I decided to stop worrying and try to enjoy it. My goal was simply to complete it with no time limit, so I should enjoy it.
When we arrived at the Marathon Start Venue there were few people around. In less than 10 minutes it was packed with runners from all over the world. Because of the rain we were all covered with plastic bags from a dry cleaner. In the mist of the raindrops and humid air I was watching and enjoying the funniest fashion show. Some had covered their shoes with the plastic bags, some wore them like pants. Some turned them into hats covering their heads. While we were walking around waiting for the start signal, three tall guys in white body overalls covered from head to toe emerged from the crowd covered with plastic bags. It was as if there was a nuclear spill somewhere. They had the best protection from the rain but somehow they seemed like the odd ones. It was amusing to see athletes struggle with these bags. We slowly moved towards the stadium for warm up and stretching. There were many athletes running and stretching. We joined the crowd; as we were running slowly I noticed three guys in a line with their backs turned towards the stadium, facing the fence. Five meters away there were another five doing the same. They were not stretching like most of of the others; they were passing urine. I felt as if I was in an open gent’s room. We joked that they were doing a “Complete Body Stretch”.
I didn’t realize how the time had passed; they were already asking us to move towards the start line. While waiting for the start signal, my eye caught a digital board indicating 91% humidity and temperature of 16 degrees Celsius. They also announced that next year would be the 2500 years anniversary of the Marathon.
In the chaos of the crowd, music, announcements, balloons and the rain, the race started. The beeping sound of the athletes passing the start line seemed to last forever. I was one of them. Amazing how I dared to do this!
The first kilometers of the race pass through agricultural areas; the only spectators you see there are from Pakistan which added one more color to this event. With Gianni who was also running his first marathon, we decided to run at a slow pace and enjoy it. Apparently I was the one who was enjoying it whereas Gianni was struggling to keep the fluids in his stomach. Unfortunately he was not well at all; he vomited just before the race and was not even able to speak. I decided to run slower than I was planning but it didn’t help him. After we took our first gels at the 7.5 km point, his color changed from pinkish to blue, which made me worry. He obviously had a bigger problem than I thought, as we passed two medical officers, we decided to stop at the next one and ask for any help they could give us. That is what I could think at that moment; there was no need to push him if he was not going to enjoy it. I thought: it is only the beginning of the Marathon, if he is not well now things can only get worse. But I was not going to make this decision for him. As we approached the 10 km we spotted two medical officers and decided to stop. As soon as they heard that he has been vomiting they said “you should not continue”. He asked if there was anything they could give him but they insisted that he should stop. At that moment he told me to go. I didn’t understand what was happening but immediately realized that he was not well at all. I asked him if he was sure and he said yes. I left him there. I felt bad for him as I know how hard he had trained for this marathon. On a couple of Sundays we saw him doing his long runs. I knew he wouldn’t be coming back to the race, but I was still hoping that he would surprise me coming from behind. A few times I looked back but could not spot him anywhere.
Now I was alone. It didn’t feel good. I had to pull myself together. When I heard a Greek runner saying “it is good to run in the fresh air, they closed both lanes to the traffic”, I realized they had closed down everything for us so I should enjoy it. At that point I started to look around; on my right was Mount Penteli covered with clouds. The road was washed clean by the pouring rain, and the air was cool and fresh. I was neither hot nor cold. The sky was full of clouds but it was not dark. Few people were out to cheer but that didn’t matter. I had Kasia waiting at the Ethniki Amyna metro station. I had my family and many friends in the stadium. I was not alone even now; actually there were other runners around me. We were passing through a beautiful green valley; I could see the sea, sky and mountains, dogs barking excitedly.
I listened to my body: everything was perfect full of energy, no aches or pain. I started to sing. In no time I passed the hardest part and reached the 32 kilometer mark. From there on it was downhill, and following Yuksel’s instructions, I started to increase my pace slowly. When I reached a pace which I liked, I noticed I had the same pace as another male runner from Poland. Without realizing we started to run close to each other. Sometimes I was leading sometimes I was following his pace. While I was feeling a bit bored I passed the Nomismatokopio station; it gave me strength to think my friend was waiting for me at the next station. I started looking at people and trying to spot a family with children. I knew they would be there and it was reassuring. I was saying to myself “please be there please be there”. And there they were!!! I saw them from far away and started shouting; I didn’t know I could be so loud. Thinking that they had come all the way to share my excitement and support me it boosted my energy and morale. I started running even faster than before with the energy my friend and her family gave me. Again, as Yuksel had said, I gave all I had towards the end. In no time I caught up to the Polish runner who had also slightly increased his pace. With every step I took I was coming close to my goal and closing in on the stadium. I started to think about all the people who would be there. I started to think that my family will be proud of me when I complete the race in such a perfect condition. The most enjoyable part of the marathon was when I turned the corner of Irodotou Attikou from Queen Sofia’s Avenue. I could not see the stadium for the trees but I knew I wasn’t far at all. I went faster and faster. I heard someone shouting my name. I turned towards the voice - it was Despina and her family. She was saying bravo - such a lovely feeling to see faces you know and you are almost there. Fifty meters further down was my daughter who was taking pictures. I was so happy that she saw me finishing, I shouted her name as loudly as I could. Twenty meters later I heard my name again. I was running so fast I couldn’t see faces anymore but I knew who it was... One more time I was pumped with energy and I knew many people were waiting for me in the stadium, especially Yuksel who trained and supported me until the last minute. I increased my pace again since I had energy but slowed down in front of the spectators. Just to inhale the cheering they were doing for me, it was incredible. I sent them kisses and finished the Marathon.
All I wanted to do now was to hug my husband, my daughter and cry, see my friends and get my Olive Crown. Aches and emotions started running together as soon as I stopped. When I arrived at the benches where my friends were and I saw all of them standing up and applauding I couldn’t keep my tears back. It was another wonderful moment of the marathon; I think I was very lucky I had so many people gathered there to congratulate and share this moment with me. I am grateful to them all. They also had my Olive Crown but it looked a bit funny. What happened was a women stole mine a couple of minutes before I entered the stadium and they had to rush to find an olive tree and make a new one. Again my friends didn’t let me down. Now one day later I am still in pain but proud of myself, of my husband and daughter, of my friends who even from far away supported me. It was one of the best days of my life and the first time I enjoyed every minute of the whole day.
|Bib: 8211||Athlete: MEMETOGLOU FATMA|
|Start:||01:27 (time behind race start)|