On Friday 23rd June 2017 the 3rd SNF Run organised by the Niarchos foundation took place in homage of Olympic day. The race that started just before 9pm, included 2 distances, that of 6km and 10km. Both races started at the iconic Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic games were held in 1896, at the centre of Athens and while following different routes at the start, both finished at the Stavros Niarchos Park at the south coast of Athens. The 6km route is a really fast one as it has an elevation gain of 23m and an elevation loss of 104m, so one can go really fast there. Regarding the 10k route that I took part in, it is not as easy as I had expected. There is an elevation of 53m, which (apart from 4m) is all in the first half of the race, while there is a total of 135m elevation loss. For the 10k we took a right turn to exit the Panathenaic Stadium and went up Vasileos Kostantinou Avenue, where in about 1 mile we went 30m uphill. We then turned into Vasilissis Sofias Avenue and ran towards Syntagma Square to turn into Vasilissis Amalias Avenue. For me the nicest part of the race as it was a pleasure to run on these beautiful empty from cars Athenian avenues at sunset. It was surreal. We then turned right into Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, possibly the fanciest and most beautiful street in Athens, as it lies under the rock of Acropolis with a view to the Parthenon. This was the second incline of the race, about 17m of it in about half a mile. Apart from it being uphill, it was really hard to overtake people there, the street is quite narrow and I was a bit stuck. After about 800m on this road we turned back on ourselves and headed back into Amalias Avenue, this time turning right into Syngrou Avenue that we followed all the way to the end to take us to the finish line. At the finish, we were given nice wooden medals, retrieved our things that we had left in buses at the start point and were given water and bananas. There was a true party atmosphere and the park looked stunning in the evening. I rested for a bit near the river before joining my friends. We took lots of pictures of the amazing looking Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC), which amongst other things hosts the new opera house of Athens and the national library of Greece. The run was part of a festival that included lots of exhibitions as well as indoor and outdoor concerts, so there was a huge outdoor stage set up for the concert that was about to start. There was also a very impressive fireworks display.
This is a race for everyone, for the very fast people that will start at the front but also for every Athenian that wants to take part. The run had a non-competitive character (even though we had chips) and its aim was to promote athleticism and encourage participation, which I think was absolutely achieved.
Registration for the race was done online and was free. The pre-race pack included the bib number with chip as well as some very exciting fluorescent glow sticks filled with crystals that are activated when the sticks are bent.
Getting to the start was straightforward as we arrived by metro to Syntagma square and walked/ran for a few minutes to the start. We were able to leave our bags at the vans that were at the start that were then taken to the finish for us to pick up. In order to help runners return to Athens to take the tram/metro home, the organisers had buses departing from the Niarchos Park directed towards the Panathenaic Stadium, but these took a long time to come. When they did come there were too many people wanting to get on them, so after being pushed around and managing to get on 2 buses and having to get off them as I could not find a seat, I gave up and walked to the tram stop. When I arrived, there was hardly anyone there and I didn’t feel so comfortable. The tram took at least 20 minutes to arrive. Next year I will plan a different exit strategy. Lots more buses are needed to accommodate the huge number of runners taking place.
During the race there were two water stations for the 10k, one at about 3.5k on Amalia’s Avenue and one at Syngrou Avenue. Water was given in cups, which is impossible to drink unless you stop. Also, as it was so hot and humid (about 27oC despite it being so late in the evening) that I needed to pour most of the water over my head, so one cup was not enough. Bottles would have been better. The race was very well organised with lots of volunteers and closed to traffic.
My SNF 10k run
This was the first time I took part in the SNF run and despite most of my friends running the 6k, I insisted on doing the 10k, as this is what I run to check where I stand in terms of my fitness. Also, I am too slow in the short distances so I usually opt for the longer races. We arrived near the start by metro which was about 10 minutes away from the Panathenaic stadium and as we were a bit late we ran through the National Gardens to the start, using this as a bit of a warm up. What a site this stadium is and what memories it brings back, those of the Athens marathon.
For a few seconds I got back the emotions of this glorious day in November, not just of last year when I broke 4 hours for the first time, but of all the times that I was lucky enough to manage to get to the finish line. Enough of the daydreaming though, I left my things at the buses that were going to transport them to the finish line and after a bit more warm up got to my start block and a few minutes later off we went.
The first mile was tough as it was uphill, so I couldn’t do a fast time for the first couple of kilometers, which I normally try to achieve in other races. I got quite tired running to the top of that hill but once we turned to Vasilissis Sofias Avenue I felt great and loved running in this grand Athenian avenue at the twilight. However, even though I was passing lots of people I was not running fast enough considering that this bit was downhill, my legs were heavy still recovering from Wednesday’s interval session at the track. I stopped to drink some water as my throat was so dry due to the heat and humidity, poured some over my head too and then turned to tackle the second hilly bit of the race that was under the feet of the Parthenon. Despite feeling tired and a bit frustrated as I could not get past the slower runners as that stretch was fairly narrow, I turned to look at the steps we take when visiting the ancient theatre of Herodion for concerts or the opera. I think I smiled and wondered whether there was a performance on that night and whether other people were having a less painful Friday evening, We reached the top of that street and turned back to where we came from to pass the 5k mark, which is where my heart sank as I passed just short of 24 minutes, a disaster for someone aiming for a 46-47 minute 10k. I was suspecting that I am not at my best recently and going from 46.30 minutes for 10k to 48min was a nightmare coming true. I turned into Syngrou Avenue for the long downhill second half of the race but I was in no mood to enjoy it anymore. On top of everything as I had started in a slow block there was no one my speed that I could tag along with and try to get some decent pace. I still tried to remember that this was an amazing experience, running through Athens on a summer’s evening. So many people were out there giving this a go, people of all shapes and ages, with children and prams, having fun. I managed to break away from my self-obsessed thoughts regarding my 10k time and took a look at the other side of Syngrou Avenue leading into Athens, it was solid blocked (because of us), what a sight. But people seemed to be waiting patiently in their cars despite the heat and the humidity, staring at us going past. With 1km to go I tried to pick up the pace (in vain) and only when we turned right heading for the finish line did I see the light at the end of the tunnel and sprint finished in 47.06. If this was a flat race I would have been happy with my time but my concern was that I should have been faster due to the big downhill section. But then there was also those uphill bits in the first half… I’ve decided to think this was not a great result and that my real 10k time is closer to 48 minutes but I will soon do a trial in the track to confirm so that I know where I stand. At the finish I went on to get my lovely medal, some cool water and a banana and then wondered towards the river where lots of runners were resting and hanging out, admiring the lights of the cultural centre across the river and a bit of free space to move around in a gorgeous environment.
The cherry on the cake was the amazing fireworks display that started in a little while that excited all of us as if we were children once more.
The evening ended in a less exciting way, as we had to wait for ages for the buses that were supposed to take us back to Athens to get on the metro that would take us to our friend’s car that would then drive us home. I got on two buses but had to get off as there were no seats so at that point I gave up and went for the tram that would take me slowly towards home, which however took about 20 minutes to appear. A few more buses running into Athens would be great for next year.
This run was a great experience. I loved warming up in the National Gardens, I loved waiting in my starting block inside the Panathenaic Stadium, I loved running through the centre of Athens under the shadow of the Parthenon and loved the Niarchos Park. This was a celebration of Athens and of life. Well done to the organisers and I hope this race happens year after year for many a time to come.