In the centre of a colourful crowd, who smiles, yells, cuddles up, takes selfies, jogs to keep their legs warm; I am waiting for the gunshot and the race to start. I feel that I won’t be able to hear it because of the noise and my anxiety.
The loud music on the speakers and the words of the race coordinator make our adrenaline rush. A big athletic feast in the centre of our city, runners of all ages on the road and friends, relatives & tourists that are passing by clap and wish us a safe finish!
I try in vain to concentrate. It is not like when I run on my usual race route of 10km for the last five years. I am in front of a challenge for my muscles, my heart and my mind. I am a little afraid.
Somehow like this I am at my first half marathon.
I have said to myself three months ago “Irini, do something extraordinary for you and for turning fifty !”
Talking to myself, Ι realise that Ι am well prepared even since I am practising by myself. I am a runner but only a beginner in the long-distance races. I have been trained on slopes, Ι have been practising gradually by running 10k’s to 15k’s, then 18k’s up to 20k’s, Ι have taken good care of my nutrition, filling my body’s energy storage, Ι have asked for useful tips from runner friends with more experience in the long-distance races, Ι am well rested, Ι have slept well, Ι have my leggings pockets full of energy jellies for the last kilometre of the race.
I centre myself and Ι am ready, concentrated on the challenge ahead, waiting for the bang!
Tip No1: Κeep your strength, the route is demanding.
Tip No2: Κeep your tempo steady, even on the downslopes, do not run faster.
I start to run using a really slow tempo till Ι get warm and take control of my breath. Yoga practise has helped me a lot in that. After the first 3-4km Ι find my tempo and Ι promise to myself to keep it steady till the finish line.
I enjoy the route passing by various historical places, that I have not seen them for a while, or either I have not noticed them when I pass by them in the daily routine: Andrianou Gate, Panathinean Stadium, the triangle Dromeas statue, Hilton hotel, National Art Gallery, my favourite Alexandra’s Avenue where on the right, on the small roads of Gyzi region where I started to go out when I was a teen, the Areos park where I learnt to ride my bicycle as a small girl, the Patision street where I used to pass daily as a student and the grandly Historic National Technical University of Athens from by which I am honoured to be a graduate.
What a beautiful city Athens is! When I run in the empty from vehicles roads, I find the city to be beautiful in a different way.
Quite so, in a nostalgic and soulfully mood, I have reached unconsciously the 13th kilometre. At that point, I start to search for my first hydration break and I confirm that the jellies are still in my pocket. There is a reason for them being there.
At the 18th km, everything becomes harder for me, my leg muscles are burning! My Heart and breath are still holding up well, but I feel they are running out too.
My Personal Tip: “In training, you have to listen to your body, in the race you tell your body to shut up.”
I have promised to myself to finish running throughout the whole route keeping my tempo steady. So I keep my mind focused on my goal. There is a goal in every race, run faster, run more, run with a steady tempo, run without stopping.
And I am at the 20th having the Panepistimiou street spreading in front of me as an enormous hill. And I wondering has it being always so uphill!?
Tip No3: Keep the jellies in your pocket until Panepistimiou Street, it is the only way to deal with it! Eat them and keep running.
I reached the finish line, running for two hours and thirteen minutes with a pair of exhausted legs, a body full of endorphins, the hormones of happiness and a soul ready to fly.
My challenge was over, and my performance was great!
I run for many years, the last five regularly and I participate in races too.
I run not because it keeps me fit and strengthen my hearts muscle. I run because I enjoy it, it sets my soul on fire, it makes me happy!
I run because it is a kind of meditation for me, my moving meditation. I stop thinking while I run, it empties my mind, I concentrate on my breath. I hear only my breath and my heartbeat. I speak with my soul!
I run because it improves my self-confidence!
One kilometre is better than zero, slow or fast it does not matter, everyone has his own pace, for sure you can do it too!