SPORTS

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

TASSOULA EPTAKILI

TAGS: Athens Marathon, Interview

As a teenager growing 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-, 5- and 10-kilometer races, he decided it was time to try something different and set his sights on the Athens Authentic 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 first-time marathoner?

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

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