“To succeed in life, you need two things: Ignorance and Confidence’’ – Mark Twain
Having made the decision to choose SPARTATHLON as my “target race” for 2015 and wanting to ensure that I finish the unforgiving 246 km race in the city of Sparta within the official cut-off time, I started looking at various ways of training to make it possible for me to do so.
I am definitely certain that IGNORANCE was on my side when I signed up to participate in a race so killing and tough on the human bodies. CONFIDENCE, on the other hand, was completely absent. I was therefore desperate to find ways to boost my confidence and started searching for a long road race to put my limits to test. That was how I decided that Euchidios Athlos is to be a good choice for this purpose. Despite it being a much shorter distance race, I reckon that its start at midnight and the many long climbs will allow me to test my mental preparation for a race run mostly entirely during the night.
Origin of the EUCHIDIOS ATHLOS:
This race was started in year 2000, after Antonopoulos Panagiotis (Race Director), inspired by the Greek Mythology, decided to revive the legend of a soldier named Euchidas. In 479 BC, after the overwhelming victory of Greek Army against Persians (Battle of Plataea), the Plataeans called upon Euchidas for a very special mission. The Greeks believed that the presence of the Barbarians Persians in their land contaminated the sacred flame burning in the altar of their town. Euchidas was given the task to run from Plataea to Delphi to bring back to Plataea the holy fire from the Apollo Temple. After 24 hours of running through difficult routes of ravines, forests, mountains and narrow paths, he was to become the legendary hero who successfully delivered the holy fire to the city of Plataea before losing his life immediately thereafter, and hence became the eternal hero in the Greek Mythology.
When the race first started, it was only half the journey of what Euchidas was believed to have made, ie. from Plataea-Delphi (107.5 km/67 miles), but from 2005 onwards, a longer race was added as a choice for the participants, incorporating the complete journey, ie. from Plataea -Delphi-Plataea (215 km/134 miles).
Since the time the race was founded, there have been unfortunate ups and down for the organisers, most of the time with the low number of participants. Sometimes, the race has to be cancelled due to this. Surprisingly, there is a high record of registrations this year (170!!) and this made me decide to register and run part of Euchidas’ paths, ie. the shorter distance race of 107.5 km.
A few days before the race, I had the opportunity to spend some great moments with Hannis in one of the most beautiful region of my country, exploring villages, monasteries, and mountains of the famous Arcadia situated in the central part of the Peloponnese peninsula. We spent 3 amazing days, basking in temperature close to 30 C and the priceless relaxing moments certainly did well for my mental strengthening. I would say that these are the best conditions in preparation for a long race like Euchidios Athlos.
This year, the organiser decided to start the shorter race at midnight. Being a doctor who does several weeks of night shifts every month, I find this to be an advantage for my overall performance. The night before race, I met up with 2 good friends, Errikos and Kyriakos, and we chatted till the early hours of the following morning, allowing me to sleep in late until around 13:00. For the entire afternoon, I was just relaxing at home and catching up with my family. I was surprised that I managed to get another hour of sleep later in the evening before leaving for Plataea from Athens!!
My Support Crew for this race was made up my wife, nephews (Manolis and Dimitris) and good friend, Helen.
|Me & Hannis|
|Dimitris, Me & Manolis|
|Helen & Me|
At around 20:00, we had a short “meeting” to discuss my strategies regarding my eating, drinking and racing gears. We left Athens at around 21:00 for Plataea, the Start Point for the ‘One Way Race’ (107.5 Km). Earlier on the same day at 08:00, 29 brave runners had started the ‘Two Way Race’ (215 Km), starting from Delphi to Plataea and then returning to Delphi again. We saw some of them arriving at Plataea while I was checking-in for the race (1 hour before midnight) and I was wondering how they would make it back the same way, after having run for so many hours, and in the middle of the night! Most of them were walking instead of running, and they looked really tired and destroyed. All we could do was to cheer them on and to encourage them to carry on.
As I have mentioned in the beginning, the main purpose of me joining this race was to increase my lacking confidence. Despite all the hard training I managed to do in between my work shifts, I was not sure at all if I was doing it right. I needed a test, to check if my training for Spartathlon was done ‘correctly’. Having studied the finishing time of the previous winners in this race, who have also run in Spartathlon, I reckoned that I would be able to get a rough idea of my own fitness/endurance when I run this race. My plan was very clear – to start fast and keep the speed for as long as I possibly can. My main aim was to secure a podium place – no matter in which position. Before the race, I had taken a look at the list of participants but with me living abroad and not running in any road races of my country, I was not very familiar with which runners I should look out for in order for me to keep up with. Deep down, I was running against myself, trying to push as hard as I can from the very beginning.
After about 500 metres from the Start, I find myself leading the race with a ‘police’ car accompanying me in front for almost the next 50 Km.
When I checked my time at the 40th km (2:57), I realised that my pace was rather too fast and I asked from my crew to inform me of the time difference between me and the runner behind me. I was told that he was only 6 minutes behind. With this information, I decided to keep my pace, hoping that the gap would increase.
I continued my lonely run in the middle of night, climbing the Elikonas mountain, but the strong Northern winds was very strong and it almost blew me away. Everything around me was in complete darkness, making it impossible for me to enjoy the scenery but I could smell the trees and see the shadows of the mountains surrounding me. All these, and the silence of the night, made me feel very happy and blessed to be running there at that moment.
My happiness was however, interrupted every time I met my crew at the aid stations. They were informing me that I was being ‘chased’ ferociously by the runner behind me, who was getting closer and closer to me. Due to this pressure, I made the decision to spend as little time as possible at each aid station. Most of the time, I just ran through without stopping.
**Checking my watch after the race has ended, I was surprised to find out that I had only spent 2 minutes and 40 seconds in total for my stops at aid stations…!
Thanks to the generosity of my sponsor UltrAspire, I had two vests (Alpha), and some of the aid stations where I stopped to refuel, I would hand over my empty vest to my crew and have it replaced with the second one which had already been pre-filled with water and food supply (gels, bars) in the pockets.
This way, I did not waste too much time having to have them refilled when I was there. I did not waste a single second to think of what to eat and drink at the stations. Everything was ready and packed in my vest pockets to be consumed while I was running. The only time I stopped to properly refuel myself was to have my mother’s tasty chicken soup, blended with potato and rice.
Despite all my time-saving effort, with only very few short stops at very few aid stations, the runner who was chasing me from the beginning of the race (Spyros Agathos), finally caught up with me close to the 80th km.
|Spyros on his way of overtaking me|
He gave me a very comforting and encouraging pat on the back while overtaking me. With only another 28 km before the Finish to go, I did not for once give up. I carried on with my pace, trying to keep him within my sight.
Initially, he managed to create a big gap between us, but while I was dealing with the last cruel, long 12 km climb to reach Arachova, I noticed that the gap was getting smaller and on some occasions, I could see him walking instead of running.
|Spyros seen walking|
I pressed on with whatever little energy I have but I was already too tired. Having been informed that no one is threatening my second position (the third runner was almost 1 hour behind), I decided to take it easy and simply run in a way to ensure that I finish below my target of 10 hours.
|Me running in the midst of ths stunning landscape|
|By this time, my parents & George had arrived to join us|
|"High five-ing" with my Mom!!|
After 9 hours and 56 minutes, I finally crossed the Finish Line carrying a torch given to me by the organiser, representing a modern Euchidas, bringing the holy light of Delphi.
My family, Helen and other spectators were cheering me on and we celebrated yet another of my amazing ‘’journey’’ together. This time, it was very emotional for me because for the very first time, my beloved nephews decided not only to be there for me at the Finish but also to crew and support me during the entire race! All these years, I had been trying to give them some motivation to start running by talking about my races and running together with them. It had never worked, unfortunately! I hope that after this experience, something will move them and the experience will contribute to make them see running in a different way in the future.
We spent the rest of the day leisurely and visited the nearby village of Galaxidi. What a bliss it was when I finally had some ‘real’ food with an amazing view of the sea with all the mountains surrounding it on the background! It was one of those moments you wish will never end.
By the time I woke up the next morning for the Awards Ceremony, my body was already almost fully recovered. I did not feel much pain or fatigue. I had only 2 small blisters on my feet that never bothered me, and all my nails were intact for first time after a long time!
The organiser Antonopoulos managed to create a very informal, fun and unique atmosphere at the Ceremony with his unpredictable temperament and his irresistible spontaneity.
|Me & Antonopoulos|
Unfortunately, I witnessed again (in Greece) the total indifference of the local community to this fantastic event and the lack of support of the local council for the great race. The Award Ceremony was made to take place on the busy main road connecting Delphi with nearby towns. The roads were not allowed to be closed due to this reason and the police officers were seen stopping the traffic every 5 minutes just for the winners/runners to accept their prizes and then re-allowing the traffic flow and stopping the ceremony for the next 5 minutes. I felt like being interrupted by advertisements while watching television!!
In summary, I would say that the Euchidios Athlos is a very beautiful race, perfectly organised and very well-marked along its course of 107.5 km. The volunteers and organisers gave their best despite their limited financial means at a very difficult time for my country. I hope that this year's unprecedented explosion of registrations (almost double from previous years) will continue as a means of paying back the effort and the passion given by its organisers.
As far as I am concerned, I definitely achieved more Confidence after my performance at this race and this will push me to train harder for the next 4 months. No matter what I do, standing at the Start Line of Spartathlon 2015 is going to be the most difficult challenge of my running career and I will really have to seriously dig deep to find a way to cross the Finish Line and touch the statue of Leonidas at the end of it.
I hope that my next posting about Spartathlon will be of good stories and experiences. Until then, I want to thank my wife, Hannis, who is always beside me, following my journeys and supporting me like no one else, to make my crazy dreams come true.
Special thanks also to my beloved nephews, Manolis and Dimitris, for their amazing support and coming to share my passion for the first time.
Thanks also to my good friend Helen, who is always available for my mission (this time as a driver/physiotherapist), George Klados, who came all the way to cheer me on and to UltrAspire (Xaris Kanakis), for always providing me so generously with its amazing products!
|Me & Helen|
|George & I|
Last but not least, my great gratitude to my parents, who have become my most ardent fans and been following me in all my races in Greece, after many years of trying to make sense of why I was making myself suffer without any meaning in those long-run trainings when I was younger. They are now hooked to the ultra – marathon races which I am participating in and want to come to every one of them!!
**More photos of the race can be viewed from Hannis’ Facebook Page at : www.facebook.com/RunAndRaces