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Classic Marathon: Bemidji man runs the historic route

If you're going to run marathons, you might as well aim high.

Christopher Hoffman of Bemidji packed his favorite running shoes and competed in the Athens Classic Marathon Nov. 8 in Greece. He has run in many races, but this was only his third marathon. He competed with 4,600 runners on the original 24.85-mile course from Marathon Bridge to Athens, concluding with a lap in the first Olympic stadium (Panathinaiko).

After completing a master's degree in special education at Bemidji State University, Hoffman, who loves history, decided he would treat himself with this trip. It was part of a group tour of 40 runners from throughout the world on an 11-day trip.

"Traveling in a group really helped," he said. "It was so congested it worked out great that someone else handled all the logistics, especially driving. Within 150 miles of Athens, you can see all the oldest ruins and museums. I saw them all."

Hoffman prepared for the trip by studying the history, culture and the language of Greece. He said his approach to marathons is, "Don't train too hard. So far it's worked for me."

He finished the marathon in less than five hours.

"My time was too slow," he said. "I wasn't acclimated to the time change. I felt tired before I started."

Hoffman said it was the toughest course he's run.

"The first 10 kilometers were flat," he said. "Then it was a 13-mile incline. It was gradual, but you could tell you were running uphill."

He added that it didn't help that it rained the first half of the race. During the race Hoffman said he was humbled as several runners passed him wearing sandals and carrying 80-pound shields and armor, just as the original Greece runners would have worn.

Legend has it that the soldier Pheidippides ran to Athens from the battlefield at Marathon, delivered the message "Niki!"" ("victory" over the Persians), then collapsed and died.

During the race, Hoffman proudly wore a BSU T-shirt, which sparked many conversations.

"The final lap in the old Olympic stadium was the most exhilarating experience of the run," he said. "You could feel the history all around you. It was just amazing. I marveled at all the historical sites. I was walking through ruins over 2,500 years old. I got to see fascinating artwork and the food was incredible."

He said the hardest part of the trip was leaving home during the first weekend of deer hunting, but he did get a deer with a muzzle loader when he returned.

Hoffman earned a medal, a vase and a finishing T-shirt. Along with his laurel wreath and a poster, he said he plans to make a display in his home.

He said he'll spend winter cross country skiing and snowshoeing, training this spring to run the Fargo Marathon in May and Grandma's Marathon in Duluth in June.