Saturday, 13 November 2010

In the footsteps of legends...?

[If you want recent posts: pls scroll down: this post is always on top]

Rowena ran the original Marathon to Athens route for the 2500th anniversary of the marathon event. The 26.2 mile route is a gruelling and lonely course through desolate stretches between the towns, along a highway, including a 13 mile relentless climb and steep descent to the finish at the Olympic stadium. And you can be a part of it without having to work up a sweat.

Over the years I have had a lot of generous support for big charities for big causes. This year I wanted to feel closer to the causes I am running for and for you as supporters to be closer to the causes you donate to. Living in London I see firsthand, work alongside and volunteer on a wide range of local issues. I see that there is so much that can be done on a small scale at local level that will have a knock on effect and long term impact that far outweighs the size of the donation.

East London Community Foundation (ELCF) is a grant-giving organisation that works to provide small amounts of money to grassroots organisations. For every pound donated, ELCF will obtain at least another pound in match funding from the government, increasing the value of your donation, without any cost to you. If you gift aid your donation, it will be worth £2.56 for every pound donated.

Your donation will be used to support many different small community-based charitable projects in East and North East London. You can have a say: use the comments section of the website or email me to tell me what causes you’d like to see the donations go towards. It could be working on domestic violence, a self-help group for people with disabilities and their carers, a sustainability project, social activities to bring older people out of isolation, or an activity to engage with anti-social children, to name but a few examples. Whatever it is used for, it will put local people at the heart of making a difference in their own local areas. And as the beneficiaries of that funding go on to achieve more, thanks to our support of their projects, so your donation continues to give.

I know times are tight, so I am not asking for big contributions, even the cost of a congratulation pint after a marathon will go a really long way. If I could get every facebook friend to buy me a pint then we’d have more than £1200 to spread across the community from those donations alone – not to mention giftaid and match funding. If you’re not able to donate, why not send this link to a mutual friend.

Thank you.

Donate here.

PS I did it! New posts will always be below this one so please scroll down to read on. Or back.

Friday, 12 November 2010

How the money works

A friend recently asked me how much money the charity gets after paying my airfare so I thought I'd let everyone know exactly how it works: they don't pay me to do anything! And they get all the money raised. And then a bit more.

First of all, I decide on what event to do on my own. I don't respond to charity advertising saying "do this event" or "guaranteed places" because I am looking for a charity with low fundraising overheads. So about two weeks before the marathon, East London Community Foundation was the charity that had passed all my checks! I look at their accounts, I look at their overheads, and I look at their impact. If it was a larger charity, that did a lot of fundraising with individuals like yourselves, I would look at their fundraising ratio - that is, how much it costs to raise a pound. But as ELCF get their money from trusts, government and major donors, they don't have costs for things like advertising campaigns and producing ribbons etc.

Next step, because this is the first time ELCF have had someone fundraise for them as an individual, we need to set up an online giving page. There are a lot about as it's a money making exercise. The people behind the websites take commission from every donation. But not Bmcharity, which is why ELCF chose them. They're good like that when it comes to money.

And yes, if you're a UK taxpayer, you end up giving them a little bit more, thanks to something wonderful called Gift Aid.

So back to the cost of the airline ticket. That's me! I paid for the airfare, the hotel, the entry fee and any running costs! Same as last year in Berlin, where I even flew over a first aider and a support crew! Yes I could just donate that money straight to charity and not run a step, but where's the fun in that. But also, I know about great charities and the causes they do, and I have a large number of contacts that I could spread that awareness to. Even if I got £3 from all of them it would be great. And those who can't give, might read this, and remember, and when they become a successful City worker, might remember to do a little something for a great cause.

So there's the finances laid bear but please ask if you have more questions.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Why I run for charity

A columnist in yesterday's Observer newspaper explained far better than I, why I am running for this year's charity. He writes from Islington, the situation in East London is worse. Read the full article.

"I have become a small a part of David Cameron's "big society". Islington is my corner of London and, contrary to stereotype, latte-slurping, croissant-nibbling liberals do not fill its every street. Around the islands of prosperity laps a grey ocean of poverty. Islington is the eighth-poorest borough in England, with suicide rates that can match the worst in the country. About one-third of its residents are in social housing, although where they will be living after government commissars have cleared the poor from their homes is anyone's guess.

"Local charities had already done what Conservatives and Liberals want them to do and formed a campaign group, Islington Giving, to raise money and volunteers to fill the gaps left by the shrinking state. After writing a few press releases – as I said, my contribution was shamefully small – I have learned that there is little point in leftists denigrating volunteers, particularly if they are scoffing at those who are more willing than they are to give money and time to others.

"Public-school conservatives are in power, however, not the left, and their prejudices matter more. I accept David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith are not members of a conspiracy of plutocrats but well-meaning men, who look at the billions spent to keep millions in idleness and wish to reform the system. The trouble is that they do not understand how the system mistreats the poor and inarticulate. Inadvertently or not, they are ensuring that the law will not hear their appeals when they protest against injustice.

"I doubt many Observer readers understand either. To be educated and middle class is to know how to raise your voice without losing your temper; how to ask in an icy tone for a bureaucrat's name and the contact details of his superior, while leaving the question: "Do you know who I am and how much trouble I can cause you?" hanging in the air."

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The ultimate playlist / confession

So what music kept me going or was in the arsenal ready for the worst or best of situations. Some of it's pretty embarrassing.

Adagio In G Minor for Strings and Organ (after T. Albinoni)
The Adhan (Call to Prayer) Yusuf Islam
Africa Toto
Any Second Now Depeche Mode Speak & Spell
Are You Strong Enough to be My Man Sheryl Crowe
At the End of the Day Amon Tobin
Beggin' Madcon
Black Hole Sun Soundgarden
Blame It On The Boogie The Jacksons
Blue Monday 88 New Order
Brilliant Mind Furniture
Bring Me To Life Evanescence
The Bucket Kings Of Leon
Camaro Kings Of Leon
Can't see me Ian Brown
Canned heat Jamiroquai
Chasing Cars Snow Patrol
Cherish Madonna
Chocolate Kylie Minogue
Circle In The Sand Belinda Carlisle
Closer To You The Wallflowers
Con Te Partiro Andrea Bocelli
Crystalise The XX
The Cure - Kiss me, kiss me
Daniel Bedingfield - I Gotta Get Through this
Devil Inside INXS
Don't Cha (Feat. Busta Rhymes) - Clean The Pussycat Dolls
Dont stop me now Queen
Down To Mexico
Down To The River To Pray Alison Krauss
Dub Be Good To Me Beats International
Easy Money Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Enjoy The Silence Depeche Mode
Eye of the Tiger Survivor
Eyes like yours Shakira
The Final Countdown Europe
Finally Ce Ce Peniston
Fine Time New Order
Fools Gold The Stone Roses
Freak On A Leash Korn Feat. Amy Lee
From paris to berlin Infernal
Galvanize The Chemical Brothers
Genie in a Bottle Christina Aguilera
Going Under Evanescence
Gold Digger Kanye West Feat. Jamie Foxx
Gonna Fly Now (Theme from "Rocky
Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) C+C Music Factory
Goody two shoes (don't drink) Adam and the Ants
Haunted Evanescence
He Wasn't Man Enough Toni Braxton
Heartbeats The Knife
Heaven Is A Place On Earth Belinda Carlisle
Hold Me Now The Polyphonic Spree
Hungry Koisheen
Hurdy Gurdy Man Donovan
I've Got You Under My Skin
I Used To Dance with my Daddy Datarock
I Walk The Earth
I Would Die For You Garbage
In'Nilta Yusuf Islam
Indian Style Sona Family
InGrid - Tu est Foutu InGrid
Jennifer Lopez - JLo - 18 - Waiting For Tonight
juanes - tengo la camisa negra reggaeton remix
Jump Pointer Sisters
Jump Around House Of Pain
Jupiter Planet Suite
Katrina And The Waves - Walkin On Sunshine
Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain) INXS
Kissing You Des Ree
la bouche - like the deserts miss the rain
La Luna Belinda Carlisle
Lay All Your Love On Me ABBA
Leave A Light On Belinda Carlisle
Let The Bells Ring Nick Cave Listen Like Thieves INXS
Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground - Perfect Day
Love Cats Cure, The
Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong Moulin Rouge
Love Like A Fountain Ian Brown
Love Really Hurts Without You Billy Ocean
Love Will Tear Us Apart Joy Division
Lovely Day Bill Withers
Lullaby The Cure
Mad about you (MTV unplugged) Sting
Magic Ladyhawke
Maps Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Michael Jackson - Don't stop till you get enough Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson - Micheal Jackson - Billie Jean
Moulin Rouge - Le Tango De Roxanne
Murder On The Dance Floor Sophie Ellis Bexter
My Immortal Evanescence
My Last Breath Evanescence
The Name Of The Game ABBA
Need You Tonight INXS
Never Let Me Down Again Depeche Mode
Never Tear Us Apart INXS
New Order - Everytime I See You Falling I Get Down on My Knees and Pray
No Ordinary Morning Chicane
Nobody Hodges, James and Smith
One day like this
One Fine Day (John Ciafone Remix) Jakatta
One Of Us ABBA
Oxford Comma Vampire Weekend
Oye Come Va Carlos Santana
Oye come va Santana
Pictures of You The Cure
Plastic Bertrand - Ca Plein Pour Moi
Poison Alice Cooper
Portishead - Glorybox
The Power Snap
Prayers for Rain The Cure
Pump Up The Volume M/A/R/R/S
Push It Salt-N-Pepa
Quiet Dog (you maintain the rock) Mosdef
Ready to go Republic
Red Dress TV on the Radio
Ride On Time Black Box
Right By Your Side Eurythmics
Runaway Horses Belinda Carlisle
Seether Broken feat Amy Lee.
Shackles (Praise You) [Single Version] Mary Mary
Sing Hallelujah! Dr. Alban
Slow Kylie Minogue
Soggy Bottom Boys feat. Dan Tyminski / I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow (with band)
Somewhere in Between Kate Bush
Song 1 Best of Acid Jazz
South Side (Remix) Moby ft. Gwen Stefani
Speak like a child The Style Council
Stay Shakespears Sister
Summer Rain Belinda Carlisle
Summertime DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince
Sunday Shining Finley Quaye
Sunflower Paul Weller
Super Trouper ABBA
Sure Shot The Beastie Boys
Sweet child of mine Guns and roses
Tainted Love Soft Cell
Take a Walk on the Wild Side Lou Reed
Take On Me a-Ha
Tarik Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
Tell That Girl To Shut Up Transvision Vamp
Temple of Love Sisters of Mercy
Tengo la camisa negra Juanes Juanes
That's not my name The Ting Tings
Theme To S'Express S'Express
thethe - Infected
This Will Be Our Year Nobody
Three Imaginary Boys The Cure
Throw your arms Around Me Hunters and Collectors
'Til You're Numb LAB
Together Again Janet Jackson
Together In Electric Dreams The Human League
Toy Soldiers (Single Version) Martika Michael Jay
A Tune For Jack Lemon Jelly
U + Me = Dan Black
Umqombothi (African Beer) Yvonne Chaka Chaka
Un-Break My Heart Toni Braxton
Under the Milkyway Echo and the bunnymen
Underneath The Radar Underworld
Unwritten Natasha Bedingfield
Walk Away Franz Ferdinand
Walk This Way Run-D.M.C.
Welcome to the Jungle Guns and roses
What A Girl Wants Christina Aguilera
What You Need INXS
When Heaven gets dirty LAB
The Winner Takes It All ABBA
Wuthering Heights Kate Bush
You Only Live Once The Strokes
You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) Dead Or Alive
Young Hearts Run Free Kym Mazelle
Your Ghost Kristin Hersh
15 Steps Radiohead
These boots are made for walking - Nancy Sinatra

Friday, 5 November 2010

26.2 hours of marathoning

Midday October 30th: We’ve just completed a shakeout jog – the last run before the marathon, a 20 minute waddle around the hotel. This involves a navigational nightmare as we try and find a park, and an injury tantrum as we try to avoid the bad paving stones. We end up running in a small park around a Orthodox church and past idle homeless folk or old men with little to do. The path is mostly off-road, littered with tree roots and slippery gravel and we whinge about how strange parts of our legs hurt, how hard it is and how much we really need a toilet.

Back at the hotel we give running tips, on request, to two girls looking like the Canadian Olympic team – “run on the main footpath along the highway – it’s easier”.

1pm – we are sitting alfresco at NewBurger ordering baked potato, fries and wedges and baguettes. Carbohydrates anyone? We try and encourage each other to have one more mouthful but at this stage I feel bloated and nauseous.

Left: a bit of a carb feast for lunch

3pm – we take a Metro to Monastiriki and take in the ruins, the sights and smells. I decide I want to buy anything that has Athens Marathon on it. There’s a lot of beaming at complete strangers in marathon tshirts and running shoes in a sense of camaraderie. I’m really conscious about any one or the crazy tiny tourist train running over my toes.

4.30pm – return to hotel. Let the preparations begin. Chia seed energy drinks are made. Clothes are laid out in advance. A list of what to do in the morning is written out. I’ve packed my running belt and my pre and post-marathon kit. Twice. Keep drinking water: 3litres for today. I get help stretching my IT bands – my right one is tight. My arches have been cramping – maybe from sightseeing on foot. I prepare when I am going to have drinks and gels and what my visualisation techniques are for both keeping calm and coping if anything goes wrong.

6.30pm – the lifts are crammed – everyone is at motivational pasta parties. The Americans had dinner at 430 so their night is ending and they are trotting back to their rooms with autobiographies of great American runners under their arms. Every full lift bellows “good luck” as a runner gets out for their floor.

650pm – it takes us a long time to get to the top floor of the Hilton for the Sports Tour International pasta party. It will take guest speaker Ron Hill even longer. Realise that I am very antisocial and pick the quietest looking table to sit at. Polite and strained conversation reveals dinner company to be: proud parents of a very humble and discreet but very good runner; a first time Aussie male and his non-running (“isn’t there anything to eat but pasta”) partner and a group of five women (a mix of experienced and first times) power walkers.

700pm – Ron Hill provides inspiring stories that I can’t relate to because they’re about how finishing over 3 hours was demoralising. But he does say that between kilometres 8 to 32 it’s all uphill, so just keep your head down and relax.

830pm – Dinner is over. All the smart runners have left the table. Or all the runners who are staying in the less classy Novotel and didn’t get the luck of the draw to stay in the uber swish Hilton and have to travel back to their hotel. Blurry pics taken from the Hilton’s posh bar overlooking the Acropolis.

2130pm – watch tv. Finally find American drama that is mind numbing. Set four alarms for five am.

2200pm – try to sleep

2300pm try to sleep. Listen to the white noise of the hotel. There’s a distinct buzz.

November 31st 0200am – wake. Listen to white noise. Feet are cramping.

430am – sort of wake

0500am – listen to alarms going off inside the hotel. Shower, dress. Visit toilet four times. And then again.

530am – outside the elevator are people pumped before breakfast. In the breakfast area, everyone is efficient but silent. There is a swell of energy and movement, mostly directed to any carbohydrate food item. Everyone is wearing souvenirs from other events. They look fast. Pah.

555am - milling around in lobby. Last minute photos. Some people have empty hands – no pre or post kit. Just a tiny gel belt. Some of us have santa sacks.

0600am – on the bus. We pass the 40km mark. Try not to look. Or think what that might mean. Some Americans start pointing and talking about hills loudly. They look like mountains. They start tracing the course. I shhhhush them . A man behind says that it’s better if you don’t know what the course is like as you focus on it when you run it. I heart that man.

20km mark. Don’t look. It will really be this far?! The scenery is roadside industrial and warehouses. I save it for the run and try to sleep. It takes one hour for the coach to get there – it will take the winner slightly over double that. Real marathon runners must certainly ditch the bus.

0700 – off the bus and straight to the loo queues. It’s sunny but cold with lovely music playing and a MC who is so jolly and comical that by 9am we will feel like he’s a friend. I am jostled along the loo queue by an Irish woman over dramatising the cold, which seems rich. As each person gets to the head of the queue, they reel with the opening of the toilet door. The smell is unbelievable. When it’s my turn, I retch, and then like anyone who’s ever worked in adult learning disabilities, I set about cleaning the toilet! The MC is talking incessantly. It might be important...

We change out tracksuits and into arm and leg warmers I have made from old tights and wrap in plastic. There are some pretty inventive disposables including Primark dressing gowns, and paint protection suits. The MC continues to berate people and plead “please drop your bags off if you want to be part of history.”

0800 – drop bags off in bag area. I realise I have forgotten my special energy drink and go back to retrieve it. I then realise I have also left Imodium in my bag. In a brave but confident nod to my bowels, I decide to risk it. Queue for the toilets. Again. The MC is now begging people to drop their bags off. He is almost crying. His desperate “parakalo” is very amusing.

0830 – Watch people take a warm up lap near the start. Join a mass scrum for the start line. Try to keep calm while inhaling people’s armpits and not trip on the steps and barriers. Take my place at the back of the seventh grid. Zorba the Greek music is playing and I squat a lot to get my legs warmed up. As the music gets faster, I feel I might be risking injury and looking like a fool.

0845 – Depart grid for toilet. Debate at length about going to the toilet on the spot. Instead get warmly received by a nearby taverna owner. I heart taverna. Runners are still queuing to get their photos taken with the marathon flame.

0855 – Joan Benoit Samuelson is here! She’s going to say the marathon oath. We raise our right arms and pledge that it’s the taking part that matters.

0900 – The gun fires, the MCs voice is breaking, the first block starts, the balloons are in the air. I tread on people’s toes as I attempt to stretch and offer a hug to a nervous first timer. Americans beam at me. They do that, Americans.

0915ish – Block 6 – that’s me - starts. The MC is squawking with excitement. It’s autopilot; you don’t even have to think about what to do as you’re jammed in with other runners, so you just jostle along with the motion. There’s a stream of beeping as we all cross the start line. The road opens up – the sun beats down on us and the cold muscles quickly warm up.

The kilometres fall. I watch the clock for pace. I have a secret plan that I would like 4.59.59 but only if it’s possible. I even did the maths the night before. I get pushed at about 3kms, quite heavily in the back, by someone who looks like they’re gone out to get a pint of milk and I go flying. I am more winded than furious.

5km 36:35 perfect pace and timing.

10km 1:13:08 – this is 3 minutes slower than I wanted but I don’t care that much at this stage. The drink stations start and as it’s hot, I am going to use every stop and take water to pour over me and keep my body temperature under control. I also don’t want to dehydrate. There is a little niggle in my right foot which turns out to be absolutely agonising tenderness because of my existing pronation and because of the constant camber from the hills. I gel my legs and when the pain is excruciating I actually strip my foot bare to spray fake ice on it, promptly choking on the menthol camphor fumes. Swallow some ibuprofen. I have rationed myself to three. Every kilometre mark is celebrated with a high five.

There are little old ladies and men in waistcoats standing by the side of the road. He shouts bravo and she waves branches of olives. Little children hold out their hands to slap them as they run past and sometimes I swerve out to do so. Migrant workers from much warmer climes stand by the roadsides looking very bemused.

This is the main road from Athens to Marathon and for all I know, the only road. The houses are mostly market garden farm houses. The towns in between are like those roads from airports to the city selling furniture, a giant toy shop, a big pet shop, fake ancient statutes, massive terracotta pots. The farmhouses sell surplus pumpkins and veg.

21,1km 2:45:07 We do a little dance and a whoop at 21 km. A man points out there is a special half way marker we can officially whoop on. The timers scream as we wave our hands in the air and celebrate. Every step we take now is less than we have taken already. Result. We walk a bit to control breathing and pain in that foot, and take water better. I am swearing at my foot, a little angry and bitter. Because everything is going ok and I don’t even have an injury, just this bloody pain. I run right on the top of the road so the camber is less.

On a hillside, sunny and a little rural in feel. Belinda Carlisle comes on my ipod and we screech to leave a light on for me. Later, when my ipod takes a moment between songs, I realise how very quiet and still it is in the country. There is no sound of the city, no traffic. Just silence. Which would have made my singing very annoying.

An official coach passes and we look up to wave at what we expect is the volunteers; friendly students and boy scouts who have been marshalling and handing out water and helping making things happen. But the bus is empty except for the already injured. Alongside me, a girl, my age stares vacantly at the window focused in the mid distance on nothing but her own disappointment. Her eyes are red rimmed with tears. I have to look away.

There’s a big guying running backwards a lot. I thought it was a technique but I learn that he is looking for his wife. There are loads of people from Hydrabad, which seems a long way to come... A Sikh man stands by his house and associated market garden stall but doesn’t wave back at the folk from Hydrabad or me.

A man is on bended knee facing his running partner – a woman. It’s not a shoe lace, he’s really on one knee – he’s proposing, we come closer and the diamonds in the ring catch the sun. And then she shakes her head. Those of us passing are shocked. He turns and walks away with rejection written in his posture. The passerbys have covered their mouths in shock. I turn around to see if they will keep running – he has kept walking, heavy footed; she stands stock still. The whole thing makes me feel a bit nauseous, I feel that bad for them.

Along the way are brown road signs: Athens Classic Marathon route. I beam every time I see one. People are having pics taken with them and the statutes of runners and soldiers that pop up on the route. It’s great to see people really enjoying themselves. Except that couple...

In fancy dress, there are of course the collection of Greek warriors and a few Goddesses. They get an extra cheer as we go through the towns.

At about 27km, I part ways with my running buddy with a heavy heart. There’s a rhythm in my gait and I want to go with it. The race face is on. The trance feet are in action. The hands are doing their little hand thing which is either like robots holding wafers between fingers or some cute little foetus clutching thumb thing. I am passing people. A lot of people. Very exciting. I realise I won’t make 4.59.59 but it doesn’t bother me. In fact, it makes it all much more relaxed and fun. I don’t have to watch the cumulative time and just keep an eye on the pace. I feel really strong but keep a reality check on myself. I won’t let myself step up the pace by more than a minute a km before I get to Paula’s pavement.

30km 3:57:59 – I feel so good that I won’t let myself admit it in case some bizarre jinx puts me out at Paula’s Pavement.

35km I won’t even celebrate as I pass the point where she pulled out of the Athens Olympics. This is also where I bonked in Berlin and where fuel starts to run out. I respect the distance way too much to even think about celebrating now. But I allow myself to pick up pace a little. I realise I don’t know where 20 miles is in kilometres. “The marathon is 20 miles of running and 6 miles of truth.” As I don’t know where truth starts, I don’t mind...

There’s a highway flyover which we go under. It’s shade! Shade shade shade! The only shade that has been on the route except for two small olive trees in a verge. But afterwards we have to crawl over a steep ascent out of the flyover and most people walk it. Alongside, in the shadow of the flyover, are people sitting, eyes blank, waiting for the medic bus to take them back to their bags.

Athens approaches. I don’t even realise. There are more banners and arches but this is really confusing and I don’t know what kilometre I am at. My Sportsband is completely out. I figure I only need to run for half an hour. I keep checking my watch for what feels like five minutes just to see a single minute turn over. But I am still having fun.

I pass the Hilton hotel and the amazing running man statue. I know I must be nearly home. But what kilometre? The route doesn’t go the way I think so there’s at least another kilometre, maybe two. I pass parliament and wave at the guards with the pompoms on his feet. He doesn’t wave back. There are crowds everywhere and they are saying Bravo Bravo. There is also some shade from the buildings. I am flying now – or so it feels and I love it. Runners who have finished stand by the road. One man sees how much I am trying and gives me a great smile and encouraging words. Very nice but where am I? And how many bloody kilometres?

I round a corner and there is the Panathinaiko stadium and I can’t help but smile. And I as leap the ramp into this historic place I choke up a little because this is amazing. This is part of history. This place was built in 329BC and hosted the first ancient and modern Olympics and I am in it as an athlete. And I am in it with a smile on my face. And I am absobloodylutely loving every minute of this. My face is a contortion of joy and emotion. But where’s that bloody finish?! 195m away is the official finish – right inside the stadium. I have the energy to run as fast as I can towards it and even lift my arms and whoop with joy over the beeping of the timing chips. And as I walk towards my very heavy gold medal, which an old lady places around my head, Queen’s “We are the Champions” plays over the tannoy and I burst into happy tears.

Finish: 5:17:59 or 5.16.29 depending on which result you want. To me, it was fun, and it felt “fast” and that’s all that matters.

Finish pics

General pics

You can view the route by helicopter using Google earth (must be installed) and it takes 4 minutes.

Athens by numbers:

  • Start: 01:20 time behind start of block/race
  • 5km: 36:35
  • 10km: 1:13:08
  • 21,1km: 2:45:07
  • 30km: 3:57:59
  • Finish: 5:17:59

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A piece of history

"If you want to be a part of history, please drop off your bags to the bag check in now!" pleaded the MC at the start line of the marathon in Marathonas - and he wasn't joking. Not that the trucks were really going to whisk away our bags for the 26.2 mile (1 hour winding road trip) back to Athens, but that we were really going to be a part of history.

Alongside the flame of Marathon, the awesome Joan Benoit Samuelson led us through the athlete's oath, and with right arm raised, and under a burning morning sun, we toed the start line with Samuelson, Raymond Bett and a number of stocky Greek men dressed as historic soldiers.

This was an marathon with hardly any flat surface, along motorways and highways and the only shade from a motorway underpass (that you then had to climb). But it was also an event passing ancient Greek statues, where old ladies passed you sprigs of olive leaves and robust men clapped and called out bravo. Where finally, as you entered the city of Athens, guards with pompom slippers supressed a smile and the crowds egged you into the wonder of an ancient stadium lined with flags and cheering masses and you really felt you were a part of something very special. So special, I didn't stop my watch, didn't care about time, just cared that I ran with a smile for nearly every step, that I sang Belinda Carlisle on a Greek mountain, that I returned to the finish with a sprig of olive branch in my cap, no injuries and a fast second half. And as I shouted "victory" on the finish line, I was very pleased I didn't follow history and then die!

See some pics.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The final pack list

Running stuff

Spare top, legs, socks, undies, run bra, 2 caps, 2 hair band things, 4 socks, 6 hand made limb warmers, disposable poncho, disposable silver foil warmer, Camelbak, bum bag, arm holder thing

Still to pack: running top, little back pack for holding in luggage

Misc and logs

8 safety pins, plastic bag for shoes, small tape for labelling bags, cable ties, lacky bands, adhesive labels, 2 marker pens, 2 books, Athens guide, maps, greek phrase book, 2(??) mindless books to read when stressed, torch for reading when insomnia hits, spork x2, swiss army knife, aussie tattoos, stickers, clip on koalas, euros, spare wallet, lots of credit cards


Massage gels, Rescue cream, Rescue remedy, 1 compeed blister plaster, 2 blister packs, toothbrush, tooth pasge, 19 ibruprofen, nail file, moisturiser, relaxing bath gel, amoxicillian x 4, razor, sachets of shower gel, hair brush, shampoo, lacky bands, hair clips, plastic airport bags, sachet of sunscreen (2), Vaseline (2), anti chaffing gel (sachet), wet wipes, glide, vitamins (multi, fish oil, bone bilding stuff), nuun hydration tablets, sports beans x 2, gels x 8, arnica spray, tea tree oil, rescue remedy balm, arnica cream

Still to pack: plasters? Deodorant, ventolin and becotide, nail clippers, massage stick?? Yellow ball?? Chia seeds, limes, stretch cord


Samsung charger Europe, nokia charger, 2 euro adaptors

Still to pack: camera, batteries, mobile phone, ipod shuffle, nike sport band

Undecided: ipod nano, heart rate monitor

Other clothes

Trackie pants, sunnies, jeans, denim skirt, one nice top, black long sleeved top, 4 gaudy tshirts themed on running or Australia, bathers, Aussie scarf, spare Saucony,

Still to pack: vibram 5 fingers

Let the carb loading begin

Last year, my special diet consisted of eating pasta the night before. I consequently bonked at 35km and struggled to finish.

This time, I have learned that I need to carb load for four days. Yes reduce my diet to carbs for four whole days! Today is day one and the ingredients are:

2 bowls of cereal
potato salad
jacket potato
pasta / rice salad
fruit loaf 4 slices
bananas 2
nuts - all day
carb drinks 2

And this is the easy day...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A walk in the park

No I haven't got to that stage where I think any run is a walk in the park, that's just what I did after my 10km run. A walk in some woods anyway.

That said I guess running 10km shouldn't be a massive deal after running 20 mile but I did whimper a bit in the first 5km and I did actually get so hungry that I willingly consumed one of the eight gels I was carrying for practice in a bumbag.

The shiny new Nike sportsband tells me I ran 10km in one hour. It's a goal to run in 59 minutes. I regret deeply not turning the timer off at the long traffic lights...

Press release: East London charity runs historic Athens marahton

For immediate release


East London community needs will have their profile raised this weekend when a Tower Hamlets office worker takes to the hills of the 2500th Athens Classic Marathon event to raise funds for the East London Community Foundation charity.

The East London Community Foundation (ELCF) is a grant-giving organisation that works to provide small amounts of money to grassroots organisations in Barking & Dagenham, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

Local office worker Rowena Harding, 35, was inspired to run for the Foundation as a result of the budget cuts that she felt would have an effect on local people.

"Over the years I have supported big national charities but this year I wanted to feel closer to the causes I am running for, especially after the drastic budget cuts which will make life harder for so many East London residents. I work and volunteer in Tower Hamlets and have lived in Waltham Forest so I have seen firsthand that there is so much that can be done on a small scale at local level that will have a knock on effect and long term impact that far outweighs the size of the donation that these organisations and activities run on."

The marathon, which takes place on October 31, traces the original 26.2 mile route from Marathon to Athens, as run by a solider Pheidippides to announce Greek's victory over Persia in the battle of Marathon in 490BC. The foot solider ran the distance, announced victory, and then died from exhaustion.

“This is going to be a tough run,” said Harding, “because of the hills and the threat of warmer temperatures. This is the same marathon that Paula Radcliffe stopped by the road side and cried. I hope I don’t end up like that and most of all, I hope I don’t finish like Pheidippides!”

Rowena is challenging East London's high profile and wealthy businesses to join in her marathon effort on her return by organising an office fundraiser. ELCF Director Anja Beinroth says this is a fantastic opportunity for local businesses to give back to the community. "East and North East London is the most exciting part of London: it is the site of the largest regeneration programme in Europe, including the planning and construction projects linked to the Thames Gateway, the Olympics, the extension of the M11- Cambridge corridor, Crossrail, the extension of the DLR, and the new international terminal for Eurostar at Stratford. Yet the area is marked by deprivation: Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Haringey, Barking & Dagenham and Waltham Forest are all within the 28% most deprived areas in the country, and parts of Redbridge and Havering experience similar but unrecognised levels. This is where local community activity can make such a huge difference."

Rowena is hoping that staff in locally based big businesses such as Royal Bank of Scotland, Nomura and Aon will consider wearing their gym kit in the office for the duration it took her to complete the marathon, and contribution a donation or "penalty fine" as a result. Businesses interested in taking part can visit


Notes to the Editor:

1. For more information on ELCF or for case studies of the charity’s work contact: Anja Beinroth (Acting Director) on 0300 303 1203 or e-mail .

2. To speak to Rowena contact: 07985 198 770

3. To donate visit

4. Community foundations are experts in revitalising local communities through effective charitable giving. Over the last 16 years well over 15,000 private sector donors have used the services of a community foundation to ensure that their giving has been invested to make the lasting difference that they want to see. Community foundations now manage over to £250m of committed endowed giving and it is estimated that most people in London will live or work within 2 miles of a charitable project that a community foundation has supported.

5. East London Community Foundation, a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee, works with donors who can be companies, individuals or organisations such as private charities and faith groups for example, to promote local giving to support local community and voluntary groups.

6. A grant-maker in Barking & Dagenham, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and the City of London, the Foundation is working to establish a range of charitable funds to meet the needs of its local communities.

7. This year the Foundation will make approximately 150 grants totalling approx. £0.5m to local community and voluntary groups. Over the next 3 years the Foundation is aiming to develop endowed funds with a value of over £1m by working with donors who appreciate that by preserving the capital value of their gift and using the annual income for grant making a permanent community fund can be built which will support local voluntary action for ever.

8. Under the Grassroots Endowment Match Challenge, an individual’s donation of £10,000 could become a personally named fund worth more than £25,000, which will support local community needs in perpetuity. For Higher Rate taxpayers, the net cost of such a donation will be £7,500 or less. The donations of local business and other organisations can also be doubled.

9. For more information please go to:

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Get out yer dodgy gym kit fundraiser

We've all got a secret drawer of lycra or a sports bag full of terry towelling. Now is the chance to actually get some mileage out of the dodgy gym kit you've bought over the years all in the name of charity.

Once the marathon is over, commit your organisation to a fundraising day where staff wear their dodgy gym kit for the same time it took for me to complete the marathon.

You get the uncomfortable realisation of how long the marathon is, while giving those long-forgotten leg warmers or Pat Cash style headband the most use it's had for years.

Those who don't come in gym slips donate a minimum of a fiver, those who make an effort reduce their donation to the price of a pint.

I'll even offer to come to your workplace and lead a stretch session in my old lycra ninja outfit.

And we all get to laugh at the pics afterwards.

More information about how to run this fundraising event will be posted in due course, so either sign up to the RSS feed, email me to register your interest, download a poster to get your office in the mood or visit the donations page.

Get the look: dodgy gym kit elite wear

Friday, 22 October 2010

Logistics nightmare

There's something to be said for doing a home marathon. You know how to get there, you speak the language, and your favourite fluffy toy or tshirt is around if that's what you need hours before the start line.

The realities of an overseas marathon are a bit more stressful. I've learned how to write asthma in Greek, have a laminated tag on my shoelace saying "salt, water, sugar, ambulance". I've worked out how to get round the train strike, and to get from the finish line to the hotel, but not from the airport to anywhere.

There's an airport muzak playlist needed, then a "I can't sleep the night before playlist", a meditation playlist, a running playlist...

I have to battle with the iron to get my name on my tshirt. In Greek and in English. It doesn't help that I broke the iron last week. It does help that Rowena in Greek is Pobena.

And then there's the suitcase. Not wanting to spend the day before dodging striking staff members and translating hayfever, my baggage contains:
  • spare running kit.
  • tshirts that you would only wear at a marathon (big oversize American style running slogans)
  • massage oil, arnica gel, deep heat, massage sticks, strange foot toys, belt for reaching hamstrings, vaseline
  • a handful of ibubrofen, immodium and various other tablets for any imaginable ailment
  • comfort food
  • an array of electrical gadgets, chargers, ipods, phones, heart rate monitors, running chips, adaptors and batteries.
You get the idea...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Little charity: big gains

I'm so excited to be running for East London Community Foundation this year. It appeals to the social entrepreneur in me to give to a grant giving organisation that supports grassroots activities. It's also an absolute joy and challenge to work with a charity that doesn't have a special marathon fundraising team or infact any special fundraising team and get made to feel like they really value what I am doing.

Currently, the director, who probably has very important things to do, is still making sure the charity gets on an online giving website for me. I knew some of these online giving sites took a lot of fees and upfront payments from charities but I was shocked to learn quite how much. So ELCF are making sure they get the best long term deal for the charity, which is a nice reinforcement that they don't throw away a penny.

I was very disappointed with some of the big charities who didn't reply to my requests for information over the last six months. I think ELCF could make a few bob training some of those charities about how to make a supporter feel valued! But seriously, if I ever felt like the pressure was on, it's now, fundraising for a target of £1500 for a foundation I really believe in and that I think is very important for the future. No one has asked me to do it and no one has set the limit. But I figure if I can run 26.2 miles and I'm not a runner, surely I can get £1500 out of people who might not normally give to this charity...

Sunday, 10 October 2010

This will be my only boast

In the marathon, anything does and will happen. If it’s not nerves, it’s the sheer volume of running with thousands of people, in a different country, in a different place. Lots of things you can’t control. So yesterday, I ran my only little event: the Rowena Harding 20 miler. Last year this was a really important distance. I ran with a cycling support crew and I ran and I ran. We expected me to fall over – after all, that time last year, I was registered in a marathon as a walker. But I kept running and we both looked very surprised when I got back home in one piece.

So this year, I decided to celebrate the 20. It was something I could control, on a route I knew, just me and African running dogs at the canal. Of course, what I didn’t bank on was food poisoning the day before, and spending much of the preceding morning with my head in a bucket. Oh well, the show had to go on and I went for the 20.

I whinged at 3km, I cried at 3 miles. I had a right paddy under the West London fly over. And there was a shouting and screaming fit at Little Venice. I figured as long as I kept my legs turning over it would be ok. And soon 7 miles came round and I felt a little better, got into a rhythm, got lost in Islington, kept the legs turning over and found myself in Hackney. Hackney! Hackney is a destination – not somewhere you stumble into from Willesden Green. Once I had passed my third uber trendy grungy canalside cafe I knew I had to go back west. And with a little whimper of joy at the 11 mile mark, I did just that, turned around and did it all again.

I finished in 3hrs 46. I was pleased just to finish. The next day, I realised that I had completed the last long run, and that nothing but my own mental demons and an unfortunate but unlikely accident with someone dropping a suitcase on me, was going to stop me from taking the start line in Athens. I sent text messages to my physio, osteo, pilates guru to say thank you for all her help and choked back a little emotion and whispered myself a little “bravo.”

On your marks...