A chal­leng­ing race where ‘not giv­ing up is a vic­tory in it­self’

Last year’s Athens Au­then­tic Marathon win­ner pre­par­ing for Novem­ber 13 run

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY TASSOULA EPTAKILI

As a teenager­grow­ing up on the eastern Aegean is­land of Chios, his ini­tial in­ter­est in sports was basketball; it turned to track only af­ter a coach spot­ted his tal­ent. In 1997, at the age of 14, Christo­foros Mer­ousis took the gold for the 2,000 me­ters at the Un­der-15s Pan­hel­lenic Cham­pi­onship af­ter just three months of train­ing. Af­ter that he ded­i­cated his ef­forts to the track.

“In the early years, most of the lo­cals on Chios who saw me run­ning thought of me as some ex­otic species of bird, an alien even,” he tells Kathimerini.

In 2012, af­ter do­ing well in 3-, 5and 10-kilo­me­ter races, he de­cided it was time to try some­thing dif­fer­ent and set his sights on the Athens Au- then­tic Marathon. “I was look­ing for a new chal­lenge; I needed it,” says Mer­ousis. In 2013 and 2014 he came first among the Greek run­ners, while last year he bagged the gold with a time of 2:21:22.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in this year’s event, on Novem­ber 13, will be some 50,000 run­ners. The event has be­come such a suc­cess that around 9,000 peo­ple had signed up for the shorter, 10 km race just a few hours af­ter the of­fi­cial web­site had started tak­ing reg­is­tra­tions.

“It is such a hope­ful sign that more and more Greeks are dis­cov­er­ing the joy and ben­e­fits of run­ning. There is so much to learn from sports,” says the 34-year-old ath­lete who is also a po­lice of­fi­cer on his na­tive Chios. “Hope­fully, it’s not just a fad.”

Mer­ousis stresses the im­por­tance of prepa­ra­tion, say­ing that as the date gets nearer, the “tar­get is qual­ity, not dis­tance,” and that he runs 25-30 kilo­me­ters ev­ery day. Be­cause of un­suit­able con­di­tions at the lo­cal arena he has to run out­doors in the street, which is more dan­ger­ous.

Is he ner­vous about this year’s Athens Marathon?

“Of course. But I will do my best, even though when it comes to the Athens Marathon, not giv­ing up is a vic­tory in it­self.”

The night be­fore each race, Mer­ousis en­vis­ages the en­tire 42.2-kilo­me­ter course, stretch by stretch. He also draws up a plan that in­cludes how he will deal with any pos­si­ble up­sets that may oc­cur, such as cramp.

“The tough­est part of the route is from the 21st to the 28th kilo­me­ter, which is steep and uphill,” says Mer­ousis. “The most pleas­ant parts are the first 10 kilo­me­ters and the fi­nal stretch from the 32nd kilo­me­ter, where there are more spec­ta­tors giv­ing their sup­port and giv­ing us strength.”

In the runup to the race, he avoids foods that are high in fiber and on the morn­ing of the race has a break­fast of bread with honey and a plate of plain white rice. Once it’s over, it’s “any­thing my heart de­sires. Def­i­nitely a dessert, some­thing with lots of syrup.”

What ad­vice would he give a first­time marathoner?

“Love what you do. Be pa­tient and per­sis­tent, and lis­ten to your body.”

In 2013 and 2014, Christo­foros Mer­ousis came first among the Greek run­ners, while last year he bagged the gold with a time of 2:21:22.

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