The Athens Marathon is unlike any other race in the world. Every November, thousands of athletes follow the route from Marathon town all the way into central Athens. Here is how to participate and what to expect if you are in Athens!
The Athens Marathon – A unique event
Every year, on the second Sunday of November, the Classic Athens Marathon takes place in Athens, the Greek capital. It is a popular event, attracting thousands of participants and spectators.
The route begins at the small town of Marathon, and ends in the Panathenaic Stadium in central Athens. The length of the route is exactly 42.195 kilometres, or 26.2 miles.
Origins of the Ancient Marathon race
So what’s the story behind the Authentic Athens Marathon? Let’s go back to the times of Ancient Greece and find out.
In the early 5th century BC, a few years before the Golden Age of Pericles, the Persian Empire attacked the Greek city-states. These wars, known as the Greco-Persian Wars, began during the reign of King Darius I.
A decisive battle during these wars was the battle of Marathon, which took place in 490 BC. Even though the Athenians were aided by a small group of people from Plataea, a town close to Thebes, they were still greatly outnumbered by the Persians.
Regardless, the Greek forces managed to beat the invading army. According to Herodotus, the great historian, the Athenians only lost 192 men, while the casualties for Persians rose to 6,400.
An ancient Greek messenger runs the first Marathon
As soon as the Greek states won the battle, a Greek messenger, Pheidippides, set off to carry the victorious news to the city. According to legend, he exclaimed the historical phrase “We won” (nenikikamen) before passing.
Fun fact: Nike, the famous sports brand, took its name from the Greek word nike / niki, meaning victory.
There are a few different stories about Pheidippides. In fact, Herodotus claims that Pheidippides had ran from Athens to Sparta. Allegedly, he covered 219 kilometres, in just one day, in an attempt to summon the Spartan army against the Persians.
According to the Greek writer Plutarch, the messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens was not Pheidippides, but a person by the name of either Thersippus or Eukles. A century later, writer Lucian mentioned a herald named Philippides.
It is unlikely that we will ever know exactly what happened 2,500 years ago. But what is certain is that, when running the Authentic Athens Marathon, athletes follow the route of ancient heroes who helped shape the iconic Greek civilization.
Route of the Athens Classic Marathon
Here is an outline of the route of the Athens Authentic Marathon:
- The race begins at the Marathon Start Venue in the town of Marathon, or Marathonas in Greek
- Athletes follow Marathonos Avenue, taking a short detour around the Marathon Tomb, a war memorial dedicated to the heroes of the battle
- The route continues on Marathonos Avenue, passing by the areas of Rafina, Pikermi, Pallini and Gerakas
- Eventually, the runners reach the urban area of Stavros on Messogion Avenue
- The route continues on Messogion Avenue passing by the suburbs of Agia Paraskevi, Kato Chalandri and Cholargos
- Having passed by the Katechaki Junction, athletes continue on to Michalakopoulou Avenue, and turn right into Fidipidou Street, named after the ancient messenger
- Runners then follow Vas. Sofias Avenue, and turn left just before the National Gardens, on Irodou Attikou Street
- The final destination, the Panathenaic Stadium, is now less than a kilometre away. Athletes complete the route after a short run inside the stadium itself.
While these are all asphalt roads, and the inclination is not too steep, there are some uphill and downhill parts. The Athens Classic Marathon is considered to be a rather difficult route.
This explains why the best time ever recorded during an official Marathon in Athens is considerably higher than the world record.
World records for the Marathon Race
The first modern Classic Marathon race took place during the 1896 Olympics, which were held in Athens. It took 2:58:50 for the Greek Marathon winner, Spyros Louis, to run from Marathon town to the Panathenaic Stadium.
As of November 2021, the world record for the Marathon is 2:01:39 hours. The record for the Athens Classic Marathon is a little longer – 2:10:37 hours for men and 2:31:06 for women.
The Kenyan athlete who holds the world record, Eliud Kipchoge, has also ran the route in just under 2 hours, but that is not considered an official world record. You can read more about him here.
(I find it absolutely insane that someone can run an average of 20+ kilometres / hour and keep the pace up for a couple of hours!)
And since we are talking about records, the oldest Marathon runner who participated in the 2021 Athens Marathon is Mr Stelios Prassas, at age 90!!! You can watch a fantastic, inspirational interview in this short video.
It should be noted here that the Marathon route was never included in the ancient Olympic Games. There were several types of races back then, but not the Marathon race.
How can I participate in the Athens Marathon?
The Athens Marathon always takes place on the second weekend in November. Registrations generally close about three weeks before the Marathon weekend, but the races are often fully booked long before that.
If you want to participate, don’t worry – you don’t need to run the entire Marathon!
There are three races: 5 kilometres, 10 kilometres and the full Marathon race at 42.195 kilometres. The Authentic Marathon race is also available as a Power Walking race.
In 2021, the 10 km race took place on Saturday, 13 November. The 5 km race and the Classic Athens Marathon happened on Sunday, 14 November.
These guys running the full Marathon chained to each other seemed to have lots of fun, even though Averel was missing.
Weather in Athens in November can generally be sunny, pleasant, and ideal to run a Marathon. However, sometimes it might also be cool and rainy, like in 2019.
If you are travelling from abroad for the Marathon, keep your eye on the forecast, and also keep you fingers crossed for no rain!
You can find all relevant information and register on the official website: Athens Authentic Marathon.
Traffic restrictions in Athens on the day of the Marathon Race
If you are visiting Athens, or have recently moved here, you should be aware of the traffic restrictions on the second Sunday of November.
The main avenues, i.e. Marathonos, Messogion, Vasilisis Sofias and Irodou Attikou, remain closed to the traffic from early in the morning until 5 – 6 pm.
If you stand anywhere along these main roads, you can watch the runners compete. It’s also a rare occasion to see those streets without any traffic.
Note: If you happen to be travelling to / from the airport on that day, it’s best to use the Athens airport metro.
Athletes run past “the runner” statue, located just outside the National Gallery
The race begins at Marathon at 9 am. The first athlete usually reaches Nomismatokopio / Cholargos / Ethiki Amyna / Katechaki metro stations around 10.30 am, and gets to the Panathenaic Stadium a little after 11 am.
Why not go out there to support them, and enjoy the festive atmosphere!
Here are all the traffic restrictions for Saturday 13, and Sunday 14 November 2021 (link in Greek).
Frequently asked questions about the Athens Marathon
Here are a few questions often asked by visitors:
Can anyone run the Athens Marathon?
The Athens Marathon is open to everyone, as long as they are over 18 years of age. No qualification is needed in order to participate.
Does the Athens Marathon sell out?
Yes, it’s possible that all races in the Athens Authentic Marathon sell out. If you want to participate, it’s best to register early, to avoid disappointment!
Where does the Athens Classic Marathon start and finish?
The Athens Classic Marathon begins in Marathon town, at a distance of 42.195 km from central Athens, and ends at the Panathenaic Stadium.
What is the average Marathon time?
Based on previous races, the average Marathon time is around 4.5 hours for men, and 5 hours for women.
What is the world record for the Marathon race?
The world record for the Marathon race is held by the Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge, and is 2:01:39.
More guides about Athens
I hope you have enjoyed this article on the Athens Authentic Marathon! Here are a few more guides you will like if you are in Athens:
- 30 best things to do in Athens
- What to do in 2 days in Athens
- 15 free things to do in Athens
- Plaka neighbourhood in Athens
Hi! I’m Vanessa from Athens, and I love providing information about my city. I’ve always admired Marathon runners, and their extreme willpower. If you have ever ran a Marathon, whether in Athens or elsewhere, I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment right below.