From Greece...finishing in the 1896 Stadium, running historic ground, finding ancient writing on bedrock!
This is my 17th annual "pilgrimage" to the place where our sport began--both track & field and marathoning.
There is something very special for marathoners in following the footsteps of Phidippides (over 2500 years ago) from the plain of Marathon to Athens. If there is one race that I'd recommend including on your "marathon to do list", this is it!
The Greeks invented the Olympics hundreds of years before Phidippides was born. This was the first regular event in history that inspired a world-wide truce, and elevated the pursuit of running excellence as something be respected and supported by itself. Messengers, like Phidippides, were very capable professionals who were the weavers of the fabric of Greece.
These messengers were amazing. Not only were they expected to be ready to run 50 to 100 miles or more when needed, they negotiated treaties and business deals, investigated and gave recommendations to leaders.
Every year I learn new information about the background of the historical events that produced so many of the concepts we take for granted in our society: freedom, respect for the individual, the right to choose our leaders, etc. But I must give credit to Apostolos Greek Tours. The knowledgeable guides, the ease of getting around, the access to information is not provided by any other tour group I have investigated.
The 11 day tour members get to run on trails that I believe are similar to that experienced by the ancient messengers--and on the grounds where the ancient athletes ran. I feel a connection in the personal empowerment, the dedication, the attitude boost and the vitality bestowed by a run. After thousands of years, some things are constants.
This year's race was unusually cold (50F/9C) with a strong wind. Fortunately it was behind us for most of the race. My Apostolos Greek Tour runners liked my description of the course at first: only one hill. The qualifier was not so well received: it's 13 miles (21K) long. But once I explained how to use my run-walk run method, a lot of the anxiety left the room. During the race, it was common to hear the beeping of my run-walk-run timer. Many of our runners who were using my method for the first time ran personal records on this course that is usually about 20 minutes slower than an average course in the US.
The guides on the trips to Delphi, Mycene, Epidaurous, Acropolis, Sunio, museums, etc. filled in many background stories and facts that have not appeared in the books I used as a history major in college. As more and more sites are investigated and studied, more information is released each year.
While the Greek citizens are concerned about the future of their economy, very few are demonstrating. This diverse culture has weathered crises that were much greater than this one. We did not see any protests during our trips.
A highlight for me is running on a trail system to the top of a hill, near our hotel. There are ruins of what I believe to be a messenger lookout station. Last year, Barbara and I discovered, carved in the bedrock, messages which have been verified as being of ancient origin.
There are new surprises every year!