Seven Continent Quest — 1 Athens Greece
Carl Byington, owner of the engineering firm PHM Design LLC and currently living in Ellijay GA, is one of only about 500 people in the world to run a marathon on all seven continents. In this latest installment, he shares some of his experience of traveling to Athens Greece in November 2006, about 3 years after he nearly died in a rock-climbing fall.
The Athens Classic Marathon has a long history. It doesn’t actually start in Athens but rather in the town of Marathon near an ancient battlefield. It was 490 BCE when the heavily outnumbered Athenian army battled and successfully defeated the invading Persians. The Athens Marathon, and the basis of all modern marathons, is the legendary run of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who was sent to run from Marathon to Athens to announce their victory. After covering the approximately 26 miles and delivering the news, he allegedly succumbed to extreme fatigue. This seemed the perfect choice for my attempt to run a marathon again after my injury recovery.
The plan for attempting this marathon evolved slowly over several months. After more than a year of building up leg strength and restoring my mobility by walking many miles, I hatched a plan with his best friends, Nick and Mike. We would sign up for the Athens Marathon on a lark after a long telephone call. I had no idea whether my injured ankle would allow me to complete a full marathon, but if I was going to fail, I would fail on an epic legendary run, following in the steps of Pheidippides over the course that was developed for the first official marathon race in the 1896 Olympics Games hosted in Athens.
My training was unorthodox. I could not risk injuring myself by running the typical miles one does to train for a marathon. Instead, I trained for hours on an elliptical and indoor bicycle, building leg, core, and cardiovascular strength while minimizing impact loading on my ankle. Prior to getting on the flight to run in Athens, I had not completed more than about a 7 mile long run during my weeks of training. This strategy was risky for a 26.2-mile race.
Race day is always a bundle of nerves. Woulda, shoulda, coulda, fill your brain with doubts and what-if worries. The relief always comes as you just start executing. Just run. Listen and run. Let your mind go. It is a meditative release.
The run itself had many memorable moments of camaraderie and struggle. The pain was significant at times but was managed through ibuprofen and acetaminophen during and ouzo after the race. The finish was magnificent relief and joy. As I rounded the corner to come into the Olympic stadium in downtown Athens, I could see the finish line. I raised my hands in victory. Not a victory over any other individual. A victory of effort. A victory of perseverance and determination. A victory of recovery. A victory to honor those who helped me do so. Athens will always be number 1 in my quest for this reason.