As the opening leg of my effort to run 6 marathon distances on 6 continents in under 5 days, I made the decision to start with the easiest continent for me – Europe. Since I am already in Europe it made the most sense and would be the easiest since I know the city so well.
6 Continent Tour – Marathon Run 1 In Thessaloniki
The city that my run took place in was Thessaloniki in northern Greece. It is a beautiful city on the Aegean city with a lot of history and culture as well as a modern presence as well. Like most other places in Greece, it has been hit with the crisis situation over the last several years and that is evident by the number of empty buildings and signs for sale and rent. But, it still remains a beautiful city with a wonderful people.
Since all of my long runs took place on the same exact route for months, I knew that there would be no surprises for me. Since it was the very first 26.2 mile run of the week, I also knew that I had to take it very easy. It is easy to move quicker in familiar places, especially when you are on rested legs after months of high-mileage training. But, slow and steady was the name of the game!
The Starting Time
I was originally going to begin my run at 2PM on September 6. That would give me an easy 5 hour cushion that would allow me to get back home, eat quickly with my family, and then head to the airport for the trip to Cairo. However, in the weeks leading up to this run, I saw that the temperatures were not yet dipping down at all from their summer levels and made the decision to start the run early in the morning – 4:15AM. That way, I would have time for some rest and time with my family in the afternoon before heading off around the world. It was a good decision as temperatures that afternoon were in the high-90s with high humidity. I already knew I would deal with that the next day in Abu Dhabi so I thought it would be nicer to get some slightly cooler weather. 🙂
In Greece, the hour of 4AM can be a funny one. That is because there are still a lot of people that have not been to bed yet and are making their way home or to another event while at the same time, there are people who have just gotten up to enjoy the early morning, fish, or just a part of their routine. That morning let me see both ends of that as I passed many people.
The Early Miles
I started on a main road outside of the city of Thessaloniki. The route took me past the local airport and then on to some of the shopping area with stores like Ikea along the way. On Sundays in Greece, almost nothing is open (except cafes, restaurants, and some small shops) so at no point did I have to deal with shoppers heading out for the morning.
After 5 miles, the route slowly began to go uphill. It peaks around mile 6.5 and then drops as it makes its way to the Aegean. That part is one of my favorites as the route along the sea is beautiful and it let me see a lot of the early morning activity with boats and fishermen. It took me from mile 7 to my turnaround point at 13.1 miles along the sea. Around mile 10, I picked up a recently renovated boardwalk that takes visitors and walkers to the city’s historical highlight – the White Tower. It is pretty much at the entrance to that part of the city from the boardwalk and from there, people have access to a whole host of shops, stores, cafes, restaurants – you name it!
Water, Water, Water!
The great thing about running in Greece is the easy access to water. There are small stands about every 1-2 km on the main roads and there is a fixed price on .5 liter bottles of water – 50 cents. That makes it easy to plan for hydration. Since I was running with a Camelbak, I opted for full liter bottles at a few different stops which are still a somewhat reasonable 80 cents to 1 euro for a cold bottle. Very nice and easy to access!
The Last Miles
On the return, I got to enjoy the sun coming up even higher. That not only burned off the pre-dawn humidity but it also began to give a hint of the day’s high temperatures. Fortunately, by the time I began to feel the brunt of the heat, I was already at about 21 miles and knew that it would be over soon. This run was really no different than my countless 26+ mile training runs on this same course so I knew exactly how to handle different parts of my course so that I would not get tired out. Walking hills for endurance events like this can be key and that is something I observed diligently!
Numbers & Stats
I finished the first of six marathon runs in a time of 4:45 which made for a pace of 10 minutes, 52 seconds per mile. As I mentioned before, I did not stop my watch so that was complete time and included my stops to buy water, fill my pack, traffic stops (not really many on this one) so my time is inclusive of that.
My course saw 531 ft of elevation gain and 558 ft of loss with a low point of 7 feet and peak of 203 feet. My heart rate stayed at an average of 144bpm with a high of 169bpm. My caloric burn was 3,108 calories.
It was good to get #1 out of the way! When tackling an event like this, it is all about taking things one step at a time. If I had thought at the start of this run that I had another 157 miles in front of me on 6 continents, I would have seen my heart rate jack way up! Instead, it is just about the foot in front of you. It was a dizzying event to be sure, but by taking it one foot at a time it was not only doable, but also allowed me to enjoy the areas around me.