Sunday, October 7, 2012

3000 runners storm the streets of the Greek capital in We Run Athens 10K...

ATHENS, Greece--One of the fun parts of the gig I have with this blog is the opportunity to meet and visit all sorts of folks from around the world.

Such was the case Sunday, when I attended the We Run Athens 10k race (left/photo by Paul Merca) through the streets of downtown Athens as it bypassed several notable landmarks throughout the city.

While the city's big annual race is the Athens Marathon from historic Marathon to the finish in the Panathinaiko Stadium where the 1896 Olympics were staged, along with the finishes of the marathon at the 1997 IAAF World Track & Field Championships (which coincided with my first ever visit to this city; I've been privileged to come to Athens seven times since) and the Olympics, this was the first time a road race of this scale was staged completely inside the city, according to my host Angeliki Choundi of event sponsor Nike Hellas.

Approximately 3000 runners took to the streets of Athens, clad in their black We Run Athens shirts with the distinctive green lightning bolt logo.

One of the central themes of this race was encouraging participants to use social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter, to share their experiences in today's race, by posting photos on their pages, using the hashtag #werunathens in tweets, and of course, sharing their maps, distance and times by uploading the results using their Nike+ accounts.

As the stream of runners crossed the finish line at the Zappeion Alea, retired two time Greek Olympian in the heptathlon Aryiro Strataki (above/photo by Paul Merca), whose last major international meet was the 2009 world championships in Berlin, and who now works for the Greek athletics federation, explained to me that a race like this as recently as five years ago was only a pipe dream.

She said that with Nike's help and engagement with the local running community, they've been able to enlist the help of local coaches to come to Nike running clubs set up within Athens with their local stores (much like the running clubs in cities in the US with a NikeTown or similar Nike-owned retail store) and design training programs for runners of all levels in order to participate in events like Sunday's We Run Athens.

Quite honestly, when I saw the company's release on the We Run series way back in August, I was intrigued at the thought of coming to Athens to visit friends, especially since the Seattle Seahawks didn't have a home game this weekend, there was only one significant cross country meet that weekend for this blog to cover (Western Washington Invitational), and I hadn't taken an international trip in 2012.

In short, the timing was perfect for me to check out this race.

Once the trip was arranged, the only thing that put a damper was the fact that I had again strained my right Achilles tendon three weeks before the event.  After explaining my situation to the Nike Hellas folks, and thanks to large doses of ice and aspirin, I went ahead and ran the first two kilometers of the race at an easy 9-minute per mile pace, dropping out past the US Embassy, and walking back to the start to grab my camera and shoot the finish of the race, the images of which you can see by visiting the blog's Facebook page.

While I certainly was disappointed in not being able to finish (at my age, you have to be realistic), I have to admit that I had absolutely no expectations at all.

NOTE:  Special thanks to Nike Hellas for their help and hospitality during my stay in Athens, Greece.

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