Leaving at 0230 to drive to Gatwick for a 0555 flight was perfect preparation for race day. The race started at 0200BST (0400 local). I landed around midday to be greeted by Dimitrios. I love Dimitrios- he said I looked 32years old! The journey from Thessaloniki to Litochoro took just over an hour. I could watch Mount Olympus rising before me. The village was red tiles and white washed walls.
The temperature was 35 °C. I could see the Aegean ocean in the distance. It was all glorious. Just the matter of a small run to do! The distance of which has grown since I registered. It was 65 km but I have since learnt it’s 71 km with 5500+m of elevation.
I spent the afternoon walking up to see the valley of the Mountain of the Gods. Blackout blinds turned out to be a winning formula as my room mate (Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn) and I slept in until 0800. I had a small jog before a greek breakfast awaited. Lots of yoghurt, cakes and delicacies.
Not wanting to underestimate the race I had an easy day. Up at 0230, flapjack and coffee, bus at 0315 and start 0400. Not many starters- 65. The main event was definitely the marathon as it was part of the Skyrunning series. I did not enter the marathon knowing my skill set was not best placed to tackle such Skyrunning courses which is defined as ‘running in the mountains above 2,000m altitude where the climbing difficulty does not exceed II° grade and the incline is over 30%’.
Oh how I laugh now! I should have done the marathon. It was far more runnable by all accounts.
I spent 14hrs 9mins working on my weaknesses. The first 5km or so was up a road from Dion, past the archeological site and so I made sure I started conservatively. These pictures were taken the day after the race when Katie and I headed out for some sight seeing. They are from the ancient city of Dion dating from 5th century BC. In the Hellenistic period (which covers the period of Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following year). Dion became the religious center of Macedonia, gaining importance and entirely developing into a city. Zeus, the King of Gods, was worshipped here, and the Olympic games were held in honour of Zeus and the Muses, goddesses. Alexander the Great sacrificed to Zeus in Dion before he began his campaign against the Persians.
Then the Romans arrived, in 169BC and added to it. Just amazing!
In 1806, Dion was rediscovered by the English explorer William Leake and the site is still under excavation. Anyway back to the boring bit…..
The course then hit the trail from Koromilia to Petrostrough which was steep single track and rocky but runnable on and off. There was a small water fountain “Itamos” next to the path which provided lovely cold spring water. We climbed from about 300m to just 1900-something-m in 10km. After an hour the poles came out and pretty much stayed out for all day.
The trail ran uphill in varying angles of slopes, through all sorts of vegetation, with the sound of the river coming from the deep ravine of the Orlias gorge below. The route guide remarked…’the dense vegetation creates the feeling that a little further it is lost but that does not happen‘. This was true I often felt I was cutting my own trail but never felt lost as such.
At Koromilia there was a refuge which held an aid station. It was about this time I was waiting for the sunrise but typically it was slightly cloudy so I missed out but the views were immense down to the ocean.
The track at its beginning was hardly visible it did exist and too us up to a wooded ridge before passing through a large plateau lying in a dense beech forest. I seem to remember an infinite about of pine cones on the floor throughout the whole course. They conveniently acted like roller skates under my feet which was useful until I was fed up of slipping over on them!
Eventually the pine trees with the white trunk emerged and these grow at high altitudes so I knew I was nearing the top, 1940m at Petrostrouga . The path then descended – well I got have slid down on my arse the whole way if it wasn’t for the dense pine trees.
Again we headed back up which took us up to a ridge line with sheer drops on both sides. I couldn’t look down so missed on the views. I had to just keep moving forward. Heights are my most favourite thing! The descent was steep shale and I actually enjoyed skidding down.
I knew now it was just one more up and down. The journey up to 2917m Mount Olympus was so long but so beautiful. We crossed snow fields, colourful wildflower meadows and wild horses. The mountain itself has many peaks and felt like a horse-shoe shape as I climbed up through the centre of it.
The descent was again comprised of loose shale before reaching more boulders and rocky type terrain and finally technical forest paths with roots and rocks. We wound our way down from 2900 to 300m over about 16hrs and it took me hours- about 4 I think! I was so lame at the descent!
We past the most glorious springs of the river Enipeas which looked to tempting but on reaching the water my legs were not terribly co-operative at flexing to let me get to it. The was still 400m of climbing to do in the last 10km and this was in the form of steps- 840 to be precise. It was a tough finish on sore legs. To my memory there was about 10km in total of runnable trails. The course truly tested me in all aspects of my trail running weaknesses- hiking, descending and ridge-line crossing with confidence. I have to say it was a great days training, I nailed my nutrition and I got no blisters or felt any injuries returning, but a slightly empty finish as it was not a very competitive field. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Greece and exploring these new trails but the event to do was probably the marathon distance for that real race experience.