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near Díon, Central Macedonia (Greece)
Probably the most exciting race I have ever taken part. Both before and during the race itself! I have been waiting for this one since January when I decided to (and could!) register. ~44km up and down the famous Olympus mountain, ~3200m of climb and almost 3000m downhill.
0,0k at 20m - Archeological Park of Dion. This is where tha race starts every year since 2004. This year about 700 runners took part, so first few kilometers were a bit crowded. It didnt bother me at all as I planned to start the race slowly and keep my strenghts for entire distance. Until 4th km, it's all asphalt with very mild grade (~3-4%). All done with one huge 'river' of runners - cool stuff.
4,6k at 160m - 1st water station. I drunk maybe 2-3 bites from my bottle so no need to bother with this one (most runners didnt). Route turned right onto dirt road first and a bit of trail later on. Since it was still huge crowd and path got narrow, the 'river' turned to something more like a queue, slowing down everyone.
6,3k at 320m - Church of Ag Konstantinos. After another short section on asphalt, route entered the real trail in the forest. This time the queue got really dense and there was no way (and no point really) to pass anyone in front. The tempo was ok for me, maybe a bit slower that I would do myself, but at this point I was actually happy about it thinking it will help me survive all the race later.
10,1k at 1000m - Refuge of Koromila, first big aid station with snacks and drinks. Still crowded at this point, I managed to fill my bottle and grab some salty almonds, and left the station quite fast. The crowd got much smaller now, I had at least 4-5m in front and behind me and could easily overtake others (or being over taken :-D). Route entered awesome forest so dense I couldnt see the sky! It got kind of dark. I continued with some small group that was doing exact tempo I wanted all the way up to Petrostrouga.
14,5k at 1930m - Refuge of Petrostrouga, another big aid station. At this point we got out of the forest for a while to enter the station. Pretty much the same routine and I was climbing again. Now it started to be everyone's individual race - no groups, no lines, bigger wider paths. I was actually keeping to over take more than being overtaken and I was feeling very strong. Probably due to the fact that until now I was actually climbing much slower than planned. At Petrosrouga I was already ~15min behind my schedule.
After passing a bit of forest again, I arrived at probably the most difficult section - climb to Skourta. Very short, very steep climb of about 30% on some loose small rocks! And in full sun! It went ok, but slow.
17,0k at 2405m - Skourta. Smaller aid station, mainly with isotonics and water. I ate my gel and refilled bottle to continue slow climb for a short while after the station. Then the route entered alpine landscape and got a bit flatter... After another 10min I arrived at Oropedio - wide flat valley at the foot of Throne of Zeys! It got a bit cloudy and views were a bit difficult but still it does do the impression :-D
19,8k at 2650m - Refuge of Ch Kakkavas. In theory halfway point of the race and most importantly the end of climbing (since I was a rookie in this race, I was about to be proven very wrong :-/). Anyway, another big station and longer stop for myself as well. I really took my time to eat and drink and refill properly. I felt very good, but still didnt want to risk do far from the finish line and at such high altitudes.
Leaving the refuge, route circles around the valley at the foot of throne of Zeys, crosing some snow as well :-D. It's fairly flat section with few and mild ascents (nothing above 5% or so). After about 1.5k I arrived at highest point of the race at ~2730m altitude and nice fairly flat descent began.
It got a bit more demanding just before refuge A, where grade got much bigger and path was full of rocks! Probably I felt my first fatuigue signs here...
24,1k at 2100m - Refuge A. Still feeling pretty good! I didnt rush anything on the downhill, kept nice comfortable pace and my legs were pretty fresh. Again I took my time on the station, drinking and eating properly. Now long and steady downhill with ~17% grade to Prionia was ahead of me. And it went very good! I passed few runners keeping company with one of them all the way down.
NOTE: GPS track from this section is way off the real path, but it gets ok again in Prionia.
29,5k at 1130m - Prionia. Big parking lot and last big station. Again took my time and still felt good. We left as we arrived - in company of the same runner as I think we liked each other's effort.
Again first few km from Prionia went well and we kept overtaking tired runners (as I managed to figure out post race, we advanced from Refuge A to Prionia something like 10 positions, from ~105th to ~95th).
32,3k at 850m - Small water station next to the monastery. My companion fell just before the station and got some moderate injuries (scratched knees and so) and I was left running alone. Still ok, still running comfortably.
The route started to get more technical at this point! Full of routes, rocks, mud, water, sleepery wooden stairs etc... I didnt think it will take huge impact on my running but it actually did :-/ I started to slow down every bigger downhill and walking all the ascents (even the easiest ones!). By the time I reached 37th-38th kilometer I was done :-/ My legs were stif like stone and my pace dropped significantly. And I started to be overtaken by bunch of runners every few minutes... My optimistic goal time of 6:15 was way gone (I think it was gone before Petrostrouga where I stayed in queue with slower pace), my realistic goal time of 6:30 was just fading away at this point, and I started to fight for 6:40, then 6:45 and then even thinking of not exceeding 7h!!!
NOTE: once again GPS got lost and the track is way off (pointing to another side of the valley :-P). It got ok again justy before the village.
42,7k at 440m - entering Litochoro. Boy I was happy to finally get off the trails (never thought I will feel like this!). My legs were dead and I really wanted to run on something flat! Reaching the village (and realizing I will make it ~6:50, so no 7h+!) gave me new powers and I managed to finish in style :-P Great fatigue, great race! Moderate time but f%$k it! Next time I will make it below 6:30.... :-P
Official time 6:50:48
Overall rank 101st (M30 60th)
I mark it very difficult as it is very difficult race even for fit and experienced runners! As I said, it was the best race I have ever run and I will deffinately do it again...