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Interview

The Marathon Girl – Maria Polyzou

The Marathon Race is not simply a major, popular sporting event, a difficult competition, or an exhausting 42,195-metre race. It is more than that. The Marathon Race is a bridge between the past and the future, an inexhaustible source of values and ideals. Ιt is the triumph of the human will. In the summer of 2010, the 2,500th anniversary of the historical battle of Marathon and Phiddipides’ legendary run, Maria Polyzou, who holds the Greek record in the marathon race, announced her goal to honour Pheidippides. It took six full, laborious, painful dramatic days for her to complete the 524 kilometres from the Acropolis to Sparta and back to Marathon. I ran the Pheidippidian Feat, the 524-kilometre double Spartathlon from Athens to Sparta and back to the Tomb of Marathon. In 2010 Greece was celebrating the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon. I decided to honour this anniversary by following in the steps of Pheidippides,the Athenian runner, who went to Sparta on the eve of the Battle of Marathon to ask for help. I wanted to identify with our history and ran this distance, paying tribute to the 192 Athenian soldiers buried at the Tomb of Marathon. It was a difficult decision, and the endurance run was tremendously challenging. I have been running since I was 12. I liked running long distances and was soon captivated by the Marathon. When I was 14, I asked my coach if I could run it and he naturally refused. I was 18 when I ran the Marathon for the first time, achieving the second best ever time in Greek history. The following year, I competed in the Pan-Hellenic Championship and came in first in the Marathon, with a time of 2:44:49. I have run a total of 36 Marathons since then and have broken the Greek long distance record 14 times. The crowning moment was finishing the race at the Tomb of Marathon and paying tribute to the Athenian warriors. What else? I remember that I had run 170 kilometres by the end of the second day and my feet burned and ached more than you could ever imagine. They had swollen so much that I couldn’t put my shoes on. So I asked for a size 42! I wore those shoes until the fifth day of the race, until even those no longer fit. I was forced to cut out the toes so they wouldn’t be too tight and so my feet could breathe. The pain lasted for about three months after the completion of the feat – and I wasn’t able to stand upright for more than 2 minutes at a time, I wanted to sit or lie down. At the beginning of the race my haematocrit was 42 and it had fallen to 29 by the end – imagine the physical deterioration. That I survived and completed the 524 kilometres was a miracle. Following in Phiddipides’ footsteps, I was able to do the impossible, drawing on my body and soul, just as he had done. I thank God for every new day, as every feat is achieved with His will… I feel like I am capable of doing anything I set my mind to. I feel lucky to be Greek.

The Spartathlon, the historic ultramarathon, will take place on 27-28 September 2013, starting at the Acropolis in Athens and finishing at the statue of Leonidas in Sparta.
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