Thessaloniki. It’s like a city tried to develop whilst keeping their archaeological finds from their past so that things got built above and around the finds. This meant that they are still visible to the modern tucked under motorways and squares with the dig as their central site in the middle of district blocks. Artistic and sometimes political graffiti covered whole buildings. Orange trees lined avenues with actual oranges on them, some only at the top of their branches, having been picked by commuters or fallen to the ground naturally. It was an odd combination of past and present that was somewhat beautiful and inspiring all the same. It’s early Byzantine influence still present with surviving churches and their Pay As You Pray booths attached to them in this way it is very much unlike Athens which holds on to its pagan mythological background and is much more the metropolitan city. The only real reminder of the old Greek tradition is the range of Mount Olympus in the horizon over the harbour. Hail Zeus! The longer I spent in Thessaloniki, named after the half-sister of Alexander The Great, the more I found. We’d assumed we’d seen all it had to offer on the first day out of four but every time we ventured out we’d find something new from the old churches, unique shops, and crazy hidden markets behind the high streets. We found those markets by spotting a white bunny on a corner one afternoon. Naturally we decided to follow it and within a few turns it’d taken us to these bustling markets were it started bothering the fruit and vegetable stores for lunch. It held the Fish Market as mentioned in the Greek Guide. They were hidden behind the thriving high street with their all familiar European Kiosk booths. There were a great deal of shops dedicated to selling very good Christian icons made from wood, oils and gold leaf that were rather pricey because Thessaloniki used to be a site of Christian pilgrimage during the early years of its development. There is always something to see and do. Aristotelous Square at ground level of the hotel would hold everything from Greek dancers to organized pillow fights with a woman whose job it seemed to be to feed the birds there consistently every morning. It definitely seems suited to night life as clubs were open well past dawn with patisseries and coffee bars for folk to keep up the fuel dotted every few meters. I feel as long as you have a morning or afternoon spare each day to dedicate to walking, with a good map, you can discover all Thessaloniki has to offer within a 4 day trip. Highlights to me were the Archaeology Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture which were a short walk from the infamous White Tower. I also liked the random art installations along the harbor such as this umbrella piece.
It has a very strong character. That white bunny wasn’t a figment of our imagination.
I feel I sufficiently carb loaded the week prior with pasta meals. Now that I’m vegetarian I’m getting more non processed carbs in naturally. I’m trying to keep processed carbs for before running and stick to fresh fruit and veg meals as my nutritional basis. This means that when I run I’m burning healthy fuel and I feel like a clean car, powered and ready to go, not sluggish trying to desperately process slow bad food. I had not much choice as a vegetarian in Greece so I confess I did eat more seafood than I normally would so I guess for a few days I was a peski for complete lack of other options if I didn’t wish to spend the entire weekend living off Greek salads.
Easter Sunday was the day of the run. The first Easter in years that I’ve not gorged on chocolate and actually participated in something healthy. I woke up at 4:30 am in the morning, a time which should be only dedicated to the morning after the night out before, and dressed ceremoniously into the running gear. After a stroll in the dark along the harbour which progressively filled with runners I walked to the coach pick up just past the White Tower illuminated with white lights in the early morning sky. The drive there didn’t feel all that long. We arrived in Pella at 6am and the little City Hall was already full of runners getting changed for the run. Instead I walked down to the start line and had a coffee whilst listening to the music as they set up the start line the dawn rose and more runners filled in.
The race started at 8am which was promptly when the rain started. It chucked it down for a solid 17 miles. I asked a medic on a motorbike for a rain cover at one point as my fingers were starting to loose dexterity and he returned with a clean bin bag with holes in it for head and arms. He was quite a happy helper and said hello whenever he passed me thereafter to make sure I was ok. The course was relatively flat with only a few rises, notably at the start in the town and then at half way and a smaller one closer to Thessaloniki. Drummers played at intervals to provide an atmospheric beat. I ate well, with an energy gel every 10K and bananas at the middle aid stations. Towards the end I managed to keep down an organic 9bar I’d bought from a health store on the high street which gave me the energy I needed to finish strong. At 23 miles the pains kicked in and I had to run walk the rest of the way. I was so glad they didn’t raise their head any earlier. At mile 25 the 5k finishers realised I was running the marathon and shouts of “Bravo” and applause saw me to the finish which gave me the mental capacity to get through it mentally when I wasn’t really feeling 100 %. I felt fantastic, like a celebrity, and I thank them all for that. One thing I love about Greece is how supportive the crowd and runners are about their sport.
One pleasant shock was that every porta loo I went in had toilet roll in them. Actual toilet roll. I’d packed my race pack with a packet of just in case pocket tissue and didn’t need them. I’ve never been in a single race ever where they’ve had toilet roll in the porta loo’s by the time nature has called.
My time, despite the rain and my health, was 5 hours 26 minutes and 42 seconds. 13 minutes off my Portsmouth Waterside Coastal time so not a PB. Faster than Athens Marathon though so maybe classed as an International Marathon PB?! I’m still proud of my time though considering pain got in the way and has impacted my training. I’ve only trained 13 miles a week with no runs longer than 8 miles. I’m glad to see my current marathon fitness has still held strong. I didn’t injure myself and only had muscle soreness to content with over the last few days. I must have looked well dodgy using a bottle of Volvic Strawberry water on the train from Stansted to Bristol as a Foam Roller substitute at 8am on Monday. The things you do to make the pain more bearable!
The Stats Marathon Number 6
Distance: 26.2 Miles
Steps: 48, 112
Calories: 2, 456 burned
Heart Beat: 159 bpm
Average Speed: 4.2 miles per hour. 12:19 minutes per mile.
Thank you Greece for another fantastic race!
Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.