The Athens Marathon is called the Authentic Marathon for a reason: at 5:30 in the morning in pitch darkness, you get in a bus and are driven from Athens out to the town of Marathon, the bus ride through the very early morning darkness seemed like it took a good 45 minutes of driving in one direction, which was a sort of psychological preparation for understanding just how far you have to run back.
We finally reached what was basically the countryside next to some hills in the early morning light, let out, and led to a little track and field area. It was exciting to converge out in the middle of nowhere with thousands of runners, and to see one bus after another bringing more and more runners to all join you in the run back to Athens.
The route back started out with about 8K of a flat road through the country, and then turned into a road which increasingly went through little towns and suburbs of Athens.
Starting at 12K, the route turned into one hill after another which continued until 30K at which point the incline increased sharply as it went up to 31K, which is where I started to see the first runners lying on the side of the road being taken care of by medics.
After that monster hill took the wind out of everyone's sails, we were greeted with a 10K downhill run the rest of the way into Athens. The only problem was that by that time it was 12 noon and the Greek god Helios was shining down hotly on our heads from directly overhead. I kept running steady, though, and although I got my slowest marathon time of the 23 I have run (05:09:05), I am pleased with my performance, I never really felt broken but just that it was a hard race, and the final stretch into Panathinaiko stadium, a unique-looking stadium based on the ancient Greek stadium built for the 1896 Olympics, is something I'll never forget.