I signed up for the Olympian race for many different reasons, the most important were that it is a qualifier race for another race on my bucket list the Spartathlon in 2016, I love the Greek hospitality and the weather is bound to be nice right?
The 180.1km had to be completed in less than 28 hours and along the way there were 19 cut off points so a bit of a stressful race for a slow plodder like me.
The days leading up to the race had been really nice and warm and temp hitting 30C, but as we toed the start line in the Ancient Nemea we were graced with temps of 20C and soon it started to rain. Not ideal for a desert rat like me. But luckily I had the brains to pack my warm winter running gear – that the said clothing was spread out in my drop bags along the route was another story.
The first 20.5km were on road and not too hilly. After CP 3 then it went in to the hills and trail – the rain made the path slippery and muddy and I soon took my first stumble. And soon after that we got hit by torrential rain and the temp dropped to 4C needless to say I felt a bit miserable as I did not have my waterproof jacket with me and my fingers, legs and feet started to go numb.
At CP 4 I had said goodbye to my support crew, my husband Allan and his virtual sidekick via SMS Lee Harris who was sitting comfortable in Dubai. Luckily I met the lovely Georgia an amazing Greek runner who chatted with me as we ran downhill as fast as possible without overdoing it – we just wanted to warm up and get to our drop bags. Finally down from the mountain and found my drop bag with my jacket, gloves and hat – cup of tea and moved on as my long running pants were at CP 6 – only 7 km or so away.
Got to CP6 and no long trousers!! OK, get a move on and run to CP7 – surely the trousers must be there.
CP7 and the 62km mark – and I was re-united with my long trousers. Grabbed some apple sauce from my drop bag and filled up my hydration pack with Hammer Nutrition– a good 22km mountain section up Mount Menalo was waiting for us. It was now 10pm and the cold weather was really setting in. They had promised down to minus 1C during the night, I had laughed it off as surely it cannot be possible in Greece in the month of May!
Soon I stopped running there was no way I could run up that mountain – so my headlamp and I ventured in to the forest. Georgia and a group of other Greek runners were also walking and we kept each other company for a bit. After a good 12 km of walking up hill – it started to go downhill and as I had face planted once I wanted to make it down slowly and in once piece. I was getting rather annoyed as I had a bright headlamp behind me, and remember thinking ‘come on stop drafting and run past me’. As I was about to stop the light disappeared and I was glad to be on my own again. Soon after the light was back again – seriously pass by and leave me to focus and battle my way down this mountain! I stopped and there was no one there – and then I saw it – it was full moon and that was the light that had been following me around the forest.
Had a good giggle and carried on down the mountain. Finally back on asphalt and could see the lights from a small village below. Ran down the mountain pretty fast as was hoping the temp would be warmer down there as we had just been up in 1,500m and the -1C was getting to me.
Got to the CP and the volunteers offered me a blanket and a chair – but I declined grabbed some pasta and off I went again. As they say be aware of the chair!
The next couple of CP went past in a blur – just remember climbing up one hill after another – luckily in a way most of the night section was on road, so the chances of taking another tumble was slim. I started to count down the hours to sunrise as surely it would be warmer and also I would get to see Allan again.
Finally daylight – off came the headlamp and started to take in the beautiful scenery – we were now running towards Perdikoneri CP 11 (105.4km in to the race) and as the race organizers describe it: start climbing on a grueling track on a completely bare mountain. The track is narrow with rocks, some landslides here and there and there is a precipice on your right. However there is a very beautiful view over a blue lake down below the valley.
Sadly it was really cloudy so could not see the blue lake, but nevertheless it was the most peaceful part of the whole journey – no cars, no people apart from other runners – just birds singing.
Soon I could see the village and I could see Allan as well – it really perked me up and I was soon skipping down the road to the next check point and it did help that my hydration pack was 2 headlamps lighter!
We were all under the impression that we were on a home run now– all downhill and on road. How wrong we were! should have studied the route a bit more in detail. Soon we were back on trail and it was unforgiving when you have been on your feet for a good 127km.
Just before we got to CP 15 and 150km they threw a river crossing in for good measure. They gave us plastic bags to put over our shoes, which made the crossing rather slippery and with the strong current my tired legs were wobbly and really had to focus not to lose balance and end up in the freezing cold water.
OK, at CP 15 – 30 km to go surely it is going to be downhill from now on – I asked the volunteers at the CP and they just pretended not to speak English and make some hand gestures and Allan looked at me and said he had left the course description at the hotel. I knew they were all lying to me – and gritted my teeth and started to run and as soon as I turned the corner I saw that I was going on trail again and yes! Uphill! It took me 15 min to climb one really long hill, the stones were lose and kept skidding backwards at times and it was so steep that it was hard to breath, my feet were sore from hitting all the stones and it now started to get rather warm.
When I finally came to CP 16 I was in a huff and puff – but soon realized that I had managed to cover 160 km (100 miles) in 23 hours and 33 min – a good 10 min faster than I did my Berlin 100 miler in last year and Berlin is on a flat course! I was thrilled but not for long as saw I had more trail and uneven terrain ahead of me – oh great 12.8km of this!
Allan stuck a water bottle in my hand and said that Lee says you should eat – and for once I did as told. Off I went again. And powered on and made it to CP18 faster than expected. Allan said his goodbyes as he wanted to get to the finish line – by car I must add.
Finally out on road – even terrain and no more rocks or stones. CP19 soon ticked and 5km to go. I can run 5km in one go surely. I started to run down the road towards the finish line – looked at my watch and looked again – only one minute had passed. Did I hit the stop button by mistake? OK, keep running – nah, let me walk for a bit and see what is up with the watch. Ah, the watch is working just fine. OK, run again surely I can run for 8 minutes and walk for 2 minutes. Look! there is a countdown on the road – 4km to go. Let me stand here for a minute and reflect on my journey. OK, off I go again surely I can run 1km. Nope, not working out - time to reflect on my journey again. Oh, hang on will do Lee’s 20/20 – run 20 steps and walk 20 steps. Yeah, it is working I can do 20/20 and overtake people.
Soon I saw cars and I thought got to run to the finish line now – but hang on this is not the finish line another 500 meters to go! Back to 20/20. I can see Allan! Come on legs run! cannot walk across the finish line!
And phew… 180.1km, 12,000 feet of altitude gain and 26 hours and 40 minutes later I crossed the finish line.
The race director was on hand to place wreath made of wild olive branches on my head – felt like a true Olympian, and there was Allan – my very supportive crew – quick SMS to Lee the virtual support crew in Dubai. Without the 2 – I would most likely have damaged my legs on the downhill, forgotten to eat and not have had the moral support that is so needed when you are mentally drained.
Allan ferried me back to the hotel – straight in to a nice hot bath – a nice toasted cheese sandwich and a nice cup of tea and then off to the awards ceremony. What an amazing event, the volunteers and organizers were priceless, new friends made and I sincerely hope to see them all again in a few miles.
Thank you Anja for an Awesome Report and for an Awesome performance ..Congratulations again on nailing such a tough Ultra ..look forward to your next Race and report ….