I went to Greece primarily to run the Athens Classic Marathon, which is the original course that Pheidippides ran in 490 B.C. It was, without question, the hardest race I’ve ever run to date. For starters, it was pouring on the morning of the race. There I was, dressed in my singlet and shorts (and my hotel-issued red trash bag) in a vain attempt to keep myself dry and warm.
We were bussed from the Panathenaic Stadium (where we would eventually finish) to the start line in Marathon. Once we got to Marathon, we still had an hour to wait before the start. While I was waiting, I had the unique opportunity to meet and talk to Edwin Kipchom, an elite Kenyan athlete, who ended up finishing second in the race! He was amazed that I was an African-American (he mistook me for Kenyan) and I, of course, was dumbfounded that I was standing around casually chatting with an athlete of his caliber. He encouraged me to simply relax and finish the race. As he jogged away to warm up, he shouted back to me “success!”
I knew the race would be difficult. Despite the rain, I knew the course itself was going to be a tremendous challenge. The first 10k of the race was all downhill, and I was doing well. I hit the 5k split in 29:30. I reached the 10K split at 58:34. I was feeling pretty good after I’d shed my trash bag and long-sleeved t-shirt. But then—the gradual incline, from which we’d experience a rolling course for the next 32.2K began. By mile 7, my knee was in agony (the incline, plus the rain were beginning to work against me). It’s one thing when you’re running a marathon and you see the splits marked as miles (there’s only 26), but when the splits are marked as kilometers it’s 42K, and it’s mentally tough!
Then I made the mistake of eating a half of a banana around mile 10. I was crippled by gastrointestinal distress shortly thereafter, and I ended up having to take a 5-minute bathroom break. But, that actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because while I was waiting my turn, I met an American couple, who were living in Berlin, who reminded me to simply “enjoy the journey.” I was running in Greece after all!
At that point, I simply released my need for speed. I walked when I needed to, which was several times; I stopped by the medics to get my knee sprayed with this awesome cold mist. And I just took in the scenery around me. I dedicated miles to friends and loved ones; I had several deep mental conversations with God; I cried; I laughed; I clapped back at the spectators, and I let myself ENJOY THE JOURNEY.
When I approached the Panathenaic Stadium (which hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896), I knew my mom and dad, my husband, and most importantly my daughters, would expect to see me finish strong, so I ran the last 120 meters with all I had left in me, and I finished the marathon in 4:34:46. Not my best finish, but certainly my most rewarding.