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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 23 July 2016
18 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 23 JULY 2016 Penny Marathon 2016 Where the four-legged are the stars and the reason LEONARD SYMEONIDES ummer holidays started on Saturday, and what better way to start two weeks of rest and relaxation, but to wake up at 6.00 am and run a half marathon in support of Greek stray dogs and cats? Unfortunately there is a serious problem with homeless dogs and cats on the Greek streets, a situation which has not been made any better during the recent (and ongoing) financial crisis the country is facing, with more animals being abandoned and government authorities finding themselves more stretched. While there are no official figures, a few years ago the BBC estimated there were around 1 million strays in Greece. It is a problem that, even in the best of times, most authorities paid lip service to solving: the last concerted effort, and not always a humane one, was made in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics (Greece's last party), when there was concern that the sight of strays would spoil the image Athens wanted to project to the world. S The burden has therefore fallen on concerned individuals who, each on their own or by forming charities, have made a great difference by providing veterinary healthcare (including immunisation and sterilisation), food and – the ultimate prize – a new home to thousands of stray dogs and cats. They have also been very successful in drawing attention to the problem, raising public awareness and sensitivity and influencing the passing and implementation (the latter not always a given in Greece) of laws for the protection and welfare of all animals and making sure that cases of cruelty and abandonment are brought to public attention and prosecuted through the courts. One such charity is Penny Marathon, named after Penny, a dog that did not receive the help she needed and who died on the streets of Athens. She inspired the first Penny Marathon in 2012, a fun-run on the route of the Athens Marathon, but on open roads and in July (and believe me, there is a reason why the Athens Marathon is run in November). Penny Marathon has since grown into PHOTO: ELIAS JOHN. a registered charity, working to generate awareness and funding for a number of charities which provide hands-on help throughout Greece − and Australia (the founder, Eleftheria Prodromou lives in Sydney). The ‘marathon’ part has also grown and improved year on year, and in 2016 it was held simultaneously in five cities across two continents: Athens, the island of Salamina, Kalamata, Chania and Sydney. I took part in the Athens event, which has evolved significantly from that first run in 2012. The route has been redesigned to start from the centre of Athens (more convenient to get to) and now follows the coastline to the SSE, finishing at a pet-friendly café in Vouliagmeni (called Rumours - they are worth the mention). For the majority of the way, it is run on wide pavements, pedestrianised streets or footpaths, and when we did have to join the main carriageway we were kept safe by the many supporting cyclists who formed a screen to keep the traffic wide as well as showing us the way. There were drink stations every 5 km or so where the group of runners and supporting cyclists stopped and regrouped, and where people who didn't want to run the full distance could join in. Apart from the cyclists who followed us for every step of the way, there was a sizeable support team travelling by a convoy of cars, and moving ahead to set up the next drink station in time for the runners' arrival. We were greeted with much noise, cheers and the sounds of cameras clicking as we arrived, and isotonic drinks, water, bananas and an assortment of crisps and savoury crackers were laid out to keep the hydration and salt levels up! There was first aid provision as well, but fortunately it was only needed to treat a cyclist's minor graze. I've run in a number of professionally- organised races, with hefty entry fees payable upfront and large corporate sponsors backing them, but they have nothing on this jolly band of enthusiastic amateur volunteers. The care they showed in selecting the route (safe, picturesque and the sea breeze kept it bearable as the heat went up), the peerless DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM PHOTO: ELIAS JOHN.
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