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  • Zagori Mountain Running – Half mara

     Dee27 updated 4 years, 10 months ago 11 Members · 18 Posts
  • Vangelis

    July 22, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    So… We have come to Zagori on Friday afternoon (and the web connections are horrible, so no commenting on everybody’s runs, sorry for that… ☹ ). We are staying in Monodendri, a village where both the Tera (80k) and the half (actually a bit less, 20k) from the four races (Tera: 80k, Marathon+: 44k, Half: 20k and Entry race: 10k, the first two on Saturday the last two on Sunday) have refreshment stations. We are expecting a couple of our good friends, Katerina & Dimitris who, together with Sarah, are all three running their first trail run, the ten k. After a small adventure (in the gas station the guy has put to their car unleaded gas instead of diesel petrol that the car engine uses!!!) and a three-hour delay they arrive on late Friday night… Saturday it is first of all having a coffee, then going to the main square of the village to marginally see the first two runners of the Tera do a quick stop for water and a bite (they are so unbelievably fast and they’ve already run 60k!). Then we’re going to the village Tsepelovo where the race secretary is for the day (and also the start and finish for the Tera and the 44k) to pick up our numbers. We stay walking and looking around and taking in the atmosphere and even see the Tera first-place finisher, a new course PB with 8:28:06 (to me this is such an unbelievable time for >5100 m elevation gain… it reads as impossible as flying over the Atlantic or jumping to the moon or something…). We walk around the village, sit at a tavern next to the main street and clap the runners as they pass by for the final 500 m, they are SOOOOO amazing! We eat a modest (ahem: Sarah orders something called “the plate of the bear” a combo of plate of pork-cheese-potatoes-I don’t know what else) lunch, then walk around a bit more and go back to the car to drive back to our village. Some more walking around for the three of them while I am sitting with coffee and a book. The shadows are getting longer and longer and we should all be getting an early sleep, so soon everybody returns to our rooms for the pre-race sleep. And that’s certainly more than all the intro you’d ever have needed dear bugs…

    At six o’clock the alarm rings. We are up in a minute. We make coffee, eat some pumpkin pie (I also down a cereal bar and that’s all the fueling I’ll have for the race: a long story of not going to get my favourite gels early on and then when I went last week and the shop was closed I decided not to go with anything untested yet…). A quick shower to wake up and we’re quickly in the car driving for Kipi, the village where the action will begin and end today… We drive over the mist covered Vikos Gorge, a truly breathtaking scenery. As always, we arrive pretty early, about one hour before my starting bang. It is cold so a bit of warm up not only for the sake of the race but also to get warm (yes, it’s me the guy usually nagging about the heat… remember?…). Sarah will wait for our friends to come (their race is at 9:00, while mine starts at 8:00) -while also trying to find a discrete place for a pre-race toilet, as it seems that the village school toilet which is the only one available is flooded.

    Driving to the start line

    So at eight o’clock sharp: there’s the bang. The village square is the starting point of the race and we run for some ~350m, then make a u-turn and pass through the village again. Everybody is happily running and on both sides of the street friends and relatives re cheering us on! As we’re exiting the village, I see my friends Dimitris and Katerina who are arriving for their race. Shortly after the exit we turn left towards a three-arched bridge (called “Kalogeriko” bridge). We run across the bridge (which is, as all bridges here, nasty to run on as it’s unevenly placed stones forming though an unbelievably beautiful arc)  and will continue for about 2.5 k in a path. The path is well cleared, still full of protruding rocks and roots, so we’ve got to be very concentrated on placing our steps. We already have a view to the Vikos Gorge, it’s already very nice to go on the path but, going single file after a while -as it gets really narrow- there is a sort of traffic jam (not as bad as last year, as I am more to the front, but again you cannot run all the time but rather alternate running and walking). At ~3.5k we reach the bridge of “Kapetan Arkouda” (literally would translate to “Captain Bear”). From there starts the first uphill of the race (there are three major uphills, one here, one at 7k and one at 16k). People start making stops and, even though I am not running, I am briskly walking and have found my rhythm so I am overtaking and not overtaken. This uphill will go up from ~720 to 900 m of altitude in 1.5 k of distance. Up there we come across the first refreshment station (only water) in the village Dilofo.

    From there starts the first steep downhill (they call them “staircases” here, literally staircase-paths carved on the rock). As during the previous year I am most concerned about the downhills, but as I’ve done more trail running, I know a bit better how to handle it. So yes, where last year I was only overtaken by others, this time it’s a mixed bag. I almost stumble upon a guy who was changing the hand holding his mountain batons (I shout at him I’m overtaking him from the left but he’s so surprised he drops one stick and we marginally miss each other). The downhill goes for ~ 2.5km and at parts it is pebble-y (which to me is the worst!) until we reach the (dry in this season) river in the Vikos Gorge. We run alongside and in the river for 200m (the stones are very tricky all round and big and pebbly and I chicken out of running in the river bed, but rather walk veeery cautiously and this time people are passing me throughout). At ~7k we reach the second uphill: another stone step-path. I am behind a lady that somehow is very much sharing my rhythms: going slower where I need an extra brearh and faster where I think I can go faster. Somehow reassuring when you can follow the pace of others (but I guess it can also trap you into a comfy torpor of not pushing to your limits). Anyway, I don’t think I could have overtaken her earlier than the moment I indeed did.

    As I am lost in the bliss of the landscape at some point I momentarily turn my ankle, but it’s not twisted, no pain, so all is well -just a scare!… After I’ve overtaken the lade I don’t see anybody in front of me and at some point I find myself completely alone, no runners in front or behind (at least not close enough), no sounds, only me and the forest and it’s as if I’m in a training run, all me and my thoughts and my stresses and my insecurities and at the same time all these are fading away and it’s the transcending moments of running where the “me” and the “nature” get devoid of their limits and I am momentarily lost (or found 😉 ). But some minutes later I hear voices in front of me and see a couple of runners and the magic is gone… Anyway. The path will bring us to the village of Vitsa (~10k), where there is a short flat hundreds of metres. Even though the next village (Monodendri, the place were we’re staying for the night) is uphill next to Vitsa we go on the trail again and arrive in the Monodendri main square at 11.2k. It is already over 9:40, so I start being seriously hot and walk the last metres to the station. Water-water-water and half a banana, most people are staying for a while, but I don’t want to rest because I know the more time I spend here the tougher it will be to get going again. So I am off!

    As we exit Monodendri the second “staircase” starts, a steep downhill of a 1.500m stone step-path leading into the gorge again. At some point I stumble on a root and as I bend abruptly to keep my balance I overstretch my right leg and am afraid I’ll get a cramp but all is well, just a momentary scare. We reach the gorge and the river bed. We will go in and out and next to and in and out and in the river bed again and finally along until we reach another bridge, the “Misios Bridge” (~15.5k). Shortly after the third major uphill starts: the stone step-path of the Koukouli village. On the outskirts there’s a spring (naturally with a standing queue of runners wanting to drink and be refreshed) and in the village the 3rd Refreshment Station. At 17k is the first moment when I’m feeling so hot I seriously doubt my wish to run the trail mara next year: how will I do it, if I can’t stand the heat for half the distance? No idea, but this run isn’t over yet, so I need to concentrate again on the work at hand. The last “staircase” is the one of Koukouli, a downhill of ~600 m. At some parts it’s rather technical so I’ve got to be really concentrated and watchful. It will end in the gorge again which we will cross over another bridge (the “Kontodimos bridge”), exiting which we will end up on the path to the village Kipi, again. A final uphill to reach the main square. To my joy Sarah has already finished her 10k (she had tried to call me but no mobile network in the gorge of course!) and is running next to me for the final ~200 m. I cross the finish line and am SO thirsty that I first grab a bottle of water, then give my timer (they have this chip that you put around your shoelaces) and then remember to stop my garmin… Wow!…

    So… Assessment: From last year’s 3:23:51 this year’s 3:05:32 (official time, my garmin says 3:05:46) is a certain improvement. Most importantly last year after the end of the race I felt zombified for ~ 1 hour while now I was tired but could generally operate (drink water, go to the toilet, eat spaghetti, communicate with other people, stretch etc. 😉 ). Still, I had a secret hope I would go below 3 hours -and it had been boosted by the fact that I was indeed just over 1 hr and a half at 10k- yet I didn’t. Certainly should have handled fueling better, but this last week was SOOOOO horrible work-wise and I just couldn’t even think of going downtown yet again for new gel-purchasing and then new gel-testing etc. So a bit of a disappointment, as I didn’t run up to my secret hopes. Still, as this was a trail run the most important take home feeling for me is that I fully enjoyed and I came out of it all in one piece and without any injury. I am a bit concerned about my aspiration for a proper mara next year as I really fear I might not be able to handle the exhaustion and the heat (but on the other hand I hadn’t prepped for a mara this year, maybe first prepare and see how it goes… no need to worry just yet…).

  • Ian S

    July 23, 2019 at 4:23 am

    Super write up there, you drag us all in on that one. Pics are great and looks like a great place to run. Also sounds like you need to be very careful on that route, the pebbles, staircases, tree roots etc are all part of the trail experience, but tricky. Great you survived the few moments of muppetry.  Knocking 18 mins of last years time is superb, all your training has paid of nicely and you should be proper chuffed with the time on this one. It’s great you never felt like a zombie also, again, the training is paying off.

    As for the Marathon,  is it 2 laps. Either way, you should go for it. You got another year to hone your training and fuelling etc and as for the heat, you just back of the pace and enjoy. Will probably be wise to wear a hydration pack with bladder so you got constant water.

    Congrats on a great run, sounds like a great weekend you all had.

  • Dorothy Meikle

    July 23, 2019 at 6:17 am

    Fantastic write up of your adventure.  Beautiful photos.  I felt I was there. 😊

  • Vangelis

    July 23, 2019 at 8:14 am

    Thank you both for the comments! @ian_spriggs No it isn’t. It is an entirely different route that has some parts in common with the 80k. You can check the mara-route here:

  • Ian S

    July 23, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Looks like a good route, and hilly. Which is not bad as means no racing. Were not the speed merchant mountain goat type who threatens the podium so stock up with food, hydration pack, and off you go. Bit of hill training beforehand though I think.

  • Vangelis

    July 23, 2019 at 9:02 am

    @ian_spriggs We’re not?… BAAAAAAAAA! (joking! of course we’re not…. 😉 ). Thanks for the advice. 🙂

  • Richard Woodfield

    July 23, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Great account of your trail adventure Vangelis – lots of memories I should think – and very evocative photos.  Well done on staying upright amongs all those knobbly and steep sections.  Excellent improvement on your previous time as well.

  • sharnie1

    July 24, 2019 at 7:35 am

    What a great write up, a really enjoyable read getting the full flavour of the event – plenty of opportunity for muppetry in this one but you coped magnificently with the terrain and bringing together all the experience you have gained on the trails over the last year together to knock a big chunk of time off last years run – well done you 🙂 – another year will see you ready to tackle that marathon – with such a stunning course it would be simply rude not too 😉 – the pictures look amazing and it really does sound like a beautiful race.  Can’t wait to read next years write up 🙂

  • JillyMP

    July 24, 2019 at 8:14 am

    Wow, loved your write up V, really did feel as if I was there with you, very evocative. Forget the heat and tough terrain, not sure I’d be able to do it under 4 as I’d be staring, open mouthed, at the scenery.

    Don’t be disappointed, you knocked so much time off and have realised where improvements could be made with fuelling, plus how many people get to run that?! Definitely reckon you can do the full mara, with the right training you would smash it.

    Thanks for sharing your exploits, congratulations to you and Sarah!

  • meercat58

    July 24, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Awesome write up and amazing performance over such a tough route V. Big congrats on the time 18 mins is a fantastic amount to knock off 💪💪💪

  • Sharon McShane

    July 25, 2019 at 10:43 am

    Fantastic write up V and a super result, 18 mins is a huge chunk of time knocked off and on such a difficult course too. Think if you’d had your usual gels you’d have gone sub 3 but as you say the work situation didn’t allow for that and probably would have contributed to feeling tired.  Well done though and plenty of time to get the training done for the mara 🙂 🙂

  • Vangelis

    July 26, 2019 at 7:02 am

    Thank you all! In case anybody’s interested to get an idea of the route & landscape, check this video that someone has uploaded on youtube:



  • sharnie1

    July 26, 2019 at 8:29 am

    That’s a great film and what a stunning course – those bridges are beautiful, the riverbeds looked really hard going – though some of the super cautious descending did make me laugh a little 🙂 one of those events though that you have to stop occasionally to just look around and appreciated the beauty because the rest of the time you’re too busy watching where your feet are going 🙂 stunning 🙂

  • Ian S

    July 26, 2019 at 9:36 am

    That looks like an excellent route. Perfect off reading where you can forget the pressures of pace etc. Loads of scope for muppetry and have not heard you can put sides on a bridge, I’d be sticking to the middle of them. If the mara is similar then definitely one to do.

  • Vicky Pixi

    July 29, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    @vangelis SORRY!! Iv only just managed to sit and read this, i kept meaning to but didn’t want to just skim over it 😉

    WOW What a superb write up – thank you for taking your time and sharing it with us.. us runners do love a good running read 🙂

    HUGE WELL DONE on that course pb – thats a cracking chunck knocked off AND even better you could actually function straight afterwards, that just shows how much your endurance and running fitness has improves from your last year.

    And this route is not to be sniffed at, it sounds and looks absolutely beautiful and soul destroying at he same time. I have a feeling that next year 😏 you WILL so get under that 3hr mark V.

    Very well done again 🙂


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