Crete Marathon 2019

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The Venetian Harbor of Chania, Crete.

The Greek island of Crete has a special fascination for Greek mythology lovers like me. It is the setting for two of the most popular stories: the one where Athenian prince Theseus killed the half-man half-bull Minotaur in his lair, the Labyrinth that is the Knossos Palace and the one that tells of the flight of the imprisoned palace architect Daedalus and his son Icarus whose waxed wings melted when he flew too close to the sun.

History records show an advanced Minoan culture that began in 9000 BC and thrived in 2000 BC. They were known for their construction techniques, anti-seismic protection, indoor latrines, and sophisticated water systems. No wonder then that Venetians came and settled in the island. What they learned here they probably applied to manage the canals in Venice, Italy.

Richard and I took the three-hour Ryanair flight at 13:35 from Brussels South Charleroi Airport on Saturday, April 20, 2019. We landed past 17:00; Greece is one hour ahead of Belgium. I booked our private transfer for 25 euros through Crete Lux Tavel; the female driver was waiting for us with our name on it at the arrivals area.

The driver led us to the pick-up area where her husband was waiting in the car. We made small talk throughout the 20-minute journey. We got out of the car at the parking area beside the Firka fortress. Cars are only allowed into the Old Town until 11:00 AM. The driver walked with us until we reached our hotel, Domus Renier Boutique Hotel. She also generously gave us a small bottle of Greek wine as a gift. Very nice!

Domus Renier Boutique Hotel is part of the Historic Hotels of the World and is located right on the harbor. The hotel used to be the home of the noble Renier family of Venice. Our room had an outdoor Jacuzzi area. We also used the free Handy, a cellular phone provided by the hotel. It offered free local and international phone calls and unlimited browsing.

We dropped off our luggage and walked to the Mosque of the Janissaries. Race expo and bib pickup was at the mosque, also called Yali Tzamisi, along the Venetian Harbor on Saturday from 10:00 to 20:00. Registration fee was 25 euros.

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I received my bib, a string bag, a nice towel, the race shirt, an olive soap, and Cretan honey samples.

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The walk back to the hotel was slower while we checked out the dinner options along the way. Restaurants lined the harbor, and the restaurants employed guys who were aggressive in chatting people up and promoting the menus. We finally decided on the restaurant at our hotel. Grilled chicken and chicken risotto satiated us nicely. I noticed immediately that restaurants here would offer dessert or drink on the house. We politely declined this time, took the stairs to our hotel and called it a night.

Hotel breakfast was from 08:30 – 11:30. I made arrangements for breakfast to go at 06:00. The start and finish line was in front of the municipal market, an easy 10-minute walk from the hotel.

I bumped into my British friend Martin again. This guy is running all the time and all over the place! He’s done 1,300+ marathons to date; I’ve seen him in British marathons and in Sevilla, Spain earlier in the year.

There were not that many marathon runners this year. The bulk of the runners were doing at 10K, 5K, and 2.5K later in the morning. The crowd quickly thinned out as everyone settled into their running paces. The day warmed up very quickly. The race was covered live on television.

The course was out and back, with the first few kilometers along the coastal road. I love running beside the sea; it provides not only serenity but a sense of movement with the waves gently lapping on the shore.

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Aid stations had plenty of water, energy drink, and bananas. There were spots of live and recorded music here and there. The course is not flat but not too steep either.

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I ran with my usual pace and slowed down towards midday when the sun was at its hottest. I was at the 4.7K mark in 32:56, the 21.1 mark in 2:41:45, the 40K mark in 5:27:34 and crossed the finish line in 5:44:51, just a few minutes shy of the six-hour time limit. I apologized to Richard for being slow again; I complained of the heat and the elevation. Richard assured me the conditions does not matter since I still finish the race in around the same time whatever the weather and elevation. So very true!

Richard took some pictures of the area while waiting for me. His face was already red from being out in the sun so long waiting for me.

They gave me a finisher’s bag to take back to the hotel with us.

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We also stopped for frozen yogurt.

I took a shower and rested while we waited for our couple’s massage at Al Hammam spa at 17:00.

The massage was nice; I loved the combination of oil and hot stone used to massage my back but I couldn’t stand the heat from the hot stones when they were placed along my spine.

The massage finished and there was still sun out. We walked along the harbor again, looking at what people were eating. The lighthouse provided the perfect backdrop for our post-race photo.

We settled for dinner at Faro’s restaurant at the corner. We ordered a huge fish mezze. They also gave us complimentary raki to go with our seafood order.

We slept in the following morning and came down for breakfast at 09:30. Richard found a creative solution in my desire to upgrade my engagement ring. He placed the napkin ring on my finger!

I planned us to go to Heraklion that day to see the Knossos Palace. We took the Ktel bus at the bus station. Fare was 15 euros per person and the travel took three hours; the bus made several stops along the way to pick up passengers. We took a taxi (10 euros) when we arrived at the Heraklion bus station by the port.

Knossos Palace entrance fee was 15 euros per person or 8 euros for senior EU citizens and residents.

The palace was not that big but I could easily imagine the minotaur roaming the halls, devouring virgins sent from Athens until it was killed by Theseus.

We took another taxi back to the bus station where we caught the 14:30 trip to Chania.

Dinner was at another Venetian harbor restaurant, again with complimentary vanilla ice cream and local Greek wine.

Tuesday was another leisure day. I went for a short run after a late breakfast. I went all the way to the lighthouse to take photos and  run further to complete a short three-mile run.

We had a 13:00 late checkout. We left our bags and browsed through the municipal market and various souvenir shops to kill the time.

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By 17:00, we were on a taxi to take us back to the airport for our 17:55 flight back to Brussels.

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The trip was refreshing. We did not have to rush to catch a flight immediately after the race, and we got to see a lot. I hope we come back to do this race again. Next time, I would like us to take the 2.5 hour ferry ride from Heraklion to Santorini and spend a day or two there. I also need to remember to pack us some warmer jackets next time. It got cold in the evenings!

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