Signifying the finish line of the prestigious Classical Marathon race, Athens, Greece, still struggles to be identified as a runner friendly city. So what are the conditions missing to keep the running enthusiasts ... running?
Modern Greeks may better be described as frivolous car-users than patient runners, despite the Marathon’s tradition in Greece. However, in the last couple of years, running has become popular in Athens. It makes you wonder if this is influenced by an economic crisis, which drives people to seek affordable activities to stay fit. Accessible and easily enjoyable for anyone seeking recreation, running is an excellent option.
Before condemning Athens for not being remotely close to the formula for the ideal running city; we have to take into consideration all the features that make a city friendly to runners. These qualities can be discovered by observing cities which are always high on the lists of world’s best running cities.
A plethora of evenly distributed places to train is a prerequisite in urban design for runners to keep busy. The presence of scenic trails near the city adds variety and exhilaration to the experience. In cases where there are no trails long enough for distance running, the combination of quiet city streets, parkways and park trails is preferable. Temperature and humidity are significant factors that could radically improve or worsen the running experience. Apart from space and climate, the successful blueprint of a running-friendly city comprises of two other elements: the motive and the support.
Friendly competition achieved by local events and races, is strong motivation for many runners and can trigger more interest for the sport. The communities that care for the safety and comfort of runners should provide all the necessary conditions to aid them, hence embracing the continuation of this urban activity.
Drawing back to Athens, its citizens from central neighborhoods are enclosed in concrete with scarce green space and few linked pedestrian networks. Popular to runners, but problematic, the National Gardens, Ardittos Hill, Pedion Areos Park and the Acropolis-Filopappou area, are known as the best places to run downtown. High temperatures, short distances and the hustle and bustle of the city are major distractions to runners’ determination. Without community support, poor or no lighting (as seen at Ardittos) combined with illegal activities after sunset (common to Pedion Areos) are huge drawbacks. Additionally, even though routes near archaeological sites can afford unique views, as Urban Trail Runners promote, masses of tourists and visitors may unintentionally blockade the runners.
Nevertheless, the large participation in various races held recently in Athens shows that the urban runners are growing in numbers. Sponsored by top-notch sportswear brands, the Marathon, half marathon and smaller races are attracting thousands of contestants.
In viewing Athens for its urban running traits, confidence runs low but hope runs high. For the time being, running enthusiasts can enjoy themselves with the beautiful running trails located in nearby Athenian suburbs.
What makes your city great for urban runners? Is there any room for improvement?
Credits: Images by Kalliroy Pneumatikos. Data linked to sources.