A bright future beckons for a resurgent Athens Marathon

Athens Marathon
Organisers

Runners sported green headbands and wristbands as part of the launch of the "Runner's Forest" project to raise funds to plants trees along the course as a response to the forest fires. Photo credit: Victah Sailer / AMA 

It was a day of records in the ‘Athens Marathon. The Authentic’ on Sunday (11) as a record 18,750 runners lined up for the classic 26.2-mile race while 55,000 runners took part across the programme.

The Athens Marathon starts in the village of Marathon in the suburbs of the Greek capital and finishes inside the Panathenaic Stadium, home to the first edition of the Summer Olympics in 1896.

The race also has a five-star certification rating from European Athletics Running for All, ensuring participants that the organisers have fulfilled a stringent set of safety and quality checks.

But the organisers are not content to rest on their laurels, looking ahead to possible further expansion by spreading this celebration of distance running over two days to accommodate an even greater number of participants. What is certain is that Athens retains its historic status in distance running circles and the lure of completing the classic marathon course is something which draws runners to the city from across the globe each year.

Kenya’s Gladys Cherono, who was awarded the Best Marathon Runner of the Year by AIMS (Association of International Marathons and Distance Races) on the eve of the Athens Marathon at the yearly Gala in Athens, said she would like to run the course one day. Berlin Marathon founder Horst Milde, who received an AIMS lifetime achievement award, also implored every runner to take part in the Athens marathon at least once.

The growth of the Athens Marathon over the last decade while the country has endured deep economic hardship and austerity has even surprised Kostas Panagopoulos, President of the Hellenic Athletics Federation (SEGAS).

Not so long ago, the marathon was attracting a still impressive 5000 participants each year but this number has nearly quadrupled in a very short timespan. “The truth is: this is a surprise even for us. Our plan was to improve the Athens Marathon year after year but we couldn’t imagine such a fast growth in only seven years.

“Greece has suffered a major economic crisis so the growth of the Athens Marathon was at the same time as the country was going down in terms of the social and economic situation,” said Panagopoulos.

Not only has Greece suffered from economic hardship over the last decade, parts of the country were buffeted by deadly wildfires this summer, causing loss of life, widespread damage to property and scorching large swathes of the course.

The town of Mati just after the ten kilometre checkpoint was particularly affected by the fires and as a response to the devastation caused this summer, the marathon organisers launched the “Runners’ Forest” project. Runners were given a green bandana or headband to wear as part of the project to raise funds for a tree planting scheme along this particularly affected section of the course.

The Athens Marathon has been a palpable force for good from a socio-economic as well as a humanitarian standpoint and Panagopoulos is confident the race will continue to grow further in terms of its reach.  

“I believe the ‘Athens Marathon. The Authentic’ will continue to be this incredible event we have created over the last few years. We have the know how, we have dedicated people, we have the Federation, of course and we have excellent volunteers and we have the authorities – so we can do it and we will.”

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The European Athletics Quality Road Race standards act as an assurance for road runners throughout Europe. They distinguish between races that respect the standards and those that haven’t sought certification or assessment, and form the foundation of Running for All, a strong, recognisable brand for running activities throughout Europe.

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