Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Just the tail left,we ate the donkey: The Rodopi Advendrun 100.

As I sit down to right this I feel a mixture of feelings, excitement about what a fantastic event this was and the adventure I had. A sense of achievement and pride in finishing this challenging 100 miler. I discovered this gem of a race a few years ago when looking for something different. I kept coming back to the Rodopi webpage over time looking at it. Watching youtube clips and really wanting to get there. It is easy to place restrictions on ones self.The logistics of getting to the start line held me back. Not speaking Greek the travel involved meant a fair bit of public transport and planning and the expense of getting there, where all restrictions I had placed on myself from moving forward and doing something I wanted to really do!

A brief description of the race from the webpage "Rodopi Advendurun" (ROUT) is an ultra-endurance trail race with elements of adventure, which is held every October at the Rodopi Mountain Range, in northern Greece.  Until 2012 the race was called "Rodopi Ultra Trail".  The course is 164 kilometers (100 miles) and has +8000 meters elevation gain (approx).  The area where the race is held is one of the most characteristic forests in Greece and is part of the Rodopi Mountain Range National Park, an area of rare natural beauty and biodiversity (habitat for bears, deer, wild goats, roe deer etc).  The time limit (cut-off) of the race is 40 hours.

I signed up for the race whilst I was on holiday in Greece in May. I planned my journey in advance and every now and again I would re-check my details.My training had gone well and on the 17th October I flew out to Greece with a big grin on my face. I stayed in Thessaloniki on my first night then traveled upto Xanthi by train which takes 5 hours and cost 9 euro's. I stayed there over night then got a taxi up in to the mountains which cost me 50 euro's. 

Once I arrived I met Christo's one of the race director's. I was made to feel really welcome. I collected my race number and was pretty pleased with the goodies in side, there were two Northface bags a holdall and rucksack with my race details on them so if I wanted they could be used as drop bags. The next person I met was Niko's and Manus. Niko's on asking how I had got here said not to worry about by return journey to Thessaloniki, they would arrange a lift. This was great news as I did not fancy negotiating the journey back tired and sore. I found a spot to put my tent up, It was very warm around 24 degrees. It felt surreal finding myself there, I had a walk around and spoke to some people and had something to eat. I then sorted out my two drop bags. When I went to leave my drop bags in the tent I felt like I was missing out on something. The majority of the bags where very large and there was even a couple of small suitcases! My drop bags consisted of gels and waffles and some warm gear for the night. 

The technical brief was at 7.30 pm. The temperature had dropped so it was nice to get into the warm. The brief was held in a big cabin with a log fire.As I sat down and looked at the banners hanging from each race held, I noticed Nikos had won this race 3 times! The race brief was first carried out in Greek then English. I met Kristian Morgan another UK runner, it was nice to no there was some one else from the UK. I picked up on a number of things, the race first 25 miles is also the last 25 miles and there is a 50 mile loop. Once out on the loop things get remote especially as we get up to the top of the loop near Bulgaria. Its very remote and this is where nature has been untouched for a long time, we were advised not to worry about the wildlife as they will tend to stay away. Christos put the emphasis on the decision we make dictate's the adventure we have and whether we finish. He said we do not check your kit, so if you have not brought what has been suggested this is down to you. He said that the last 25 miles are the toughest and you need to save something for this, honestly this will be the hardest part for you with the climbs!
Course profile.
After the brief I went back to my tent settled down and slept a good sleep, The custom is to wake us all with the ringing of cowbells. This happened at around 4.30 am. I got up and got ready and made my way to the start. It was warm to me, but to others it was cold, I looked at what some people where wearing and thought you will soon be overheating. I grabbed two cheese and ham rolls and had a coffee. The atmosphere was electric, we soon gathered at the start for the off!  A count down and ringing of bells and we were off. It was one of those moments as I crossed the line, I had gotten here and now it was time to realize the dream!The first 7.2 k is on a dusty old road through woods, it was dark as we started to go down, the first 25 miles there is a lot of down There are 20 check points where you are checked off to make sure you get through safely and to keep account of runners, there are no supply's of food or water at the CP's. Only at the 6 main aid stations supply water and food. Within the first few miles I toe punted a big rock with my big toe it bloddy hurt and I knew this would cause problems, the road down to the first CP Levaditis wound its way down. I was keeping a nice easy pace. And soon was met with someone shining a torch and pointing us down in to some woods, this was Theologos  the trail now got steeper with switch backs,this was heavy going and it was soft underfoot. It was humid now and I was chatting to an American guy for a while here. 

Once we got down we had to make are way through some over grown woods, we crossed are first small stream here then we started up an ascent, it was getting light now and I stowed my torch away, my plan for the race was to run all flat and downs and hike the ups. We came out of a clearing and was met by Cristos and others. CP 2 was around 10 miles in, the going was slow and the ground underfoot was quite technical. Rocky in places or tree roots meant you had to keep your focus or risked tripping and potentially a long fall down into some valley below. It was nice now the sun was up and it was getting really warm. I started to work a bit harder now and was soon caught in my first pole train! I have never used poles, but a lot of runners had them on this race. The path was quite narrow in places so it took a while to get past the train.

The views started to open up with some of the days first of many spectacular views. For the moment I resisted the temptation to get the phone out for a picture. Into more woods and we started a steady a climb again, I could here a waterfall  and see a stream down below, it was humid as we going up. There was the same group of runners at this stage of the race. I was feeling good and enjoying the experience. I remember coming over a bridge, these have been hand built and we had a few to cross, no handrails and cobbled together with odd bits of timber. And covered in old sacks to add some traction. I thought to myself these will be fun in the dark and when tired! I came up out of a gully to CP4 Mylos, I was checked off and we had about a 5 k flat to run alongside a river. After this was a long slow exposed hike up the side of a mountain, the temperature had risen and it was around 24 degrees. It felt hotter as there was no wind. Picture of guys going up hill?

We made are way to the first Aid Station called Prasinada, it was in a small village and the Aid Station was in like a school yard, there was plenty of food on offer soup and sandwiches. I filled my boots and ate as much s I could and drank and refilled my water bottles. I spent a matter of minutes here before heading out. From here we went up again into more of the forest and the next CP was a place called Silli. I was not really keeping track of time and was now pretty much on my own. I was just really enjoying the experience. 
The next main Aid station was Zakadia at 25 miles the ascent total when I arrived here would be 1660 metres. I had seen this aid station on a youtube clip so it was a real buzz getting here.I had a drop bag here so  changed my top. I had a wind proof jacket and this would see me through for some of the night till my next drop back 25 miles further. I ate and then checked my feet out. My big toe nail was lifting out of its bed from toe punting the rock in the first few miles, I was wearing a pair of Scott Kinbalu's suprtrac. They are quite generous around the heel and the skin around both heels had become blistered and macerated, on some of the trail there was sand which was now embedded into the skin. It was manageable although sore. I cleaned my feet as best I could and rubbed sudo cream into them. 

As I was leaving Cristo saw me, it was bloody hot and he told me I now have one of the biggest climbs. He offered me this caution. Take your time stop to rest and breath as you go up. I started the steady ascent luckily it was back into the forest so it was shaded. I was enjoying myself and with the heat I was drinking loads, as the streams where mostly dry water had been put out at extra check points. There was a group of us running at the same pace. That is when you could run. It started to get darker slowly I was watching where I was going there are plenty of places to drop off and have a nasty tumble. I came across a couple the lady was looking for her headtorch and could not find it. I gave them a spare I had and put mine on. We was coming up to Krusovo, this was an aid station with a drop bag, it had started to get cold as I ran to get here. I was looking forward to putting on some warmer gear. The ascent total to here was now 3390 metres. My legs felt ok, I think this down to a lot of hiking. I saw a fire blazing up ahead as I ran down what felt like a corridor of trees, as soon as my headlamp was spotted cow bells rangs and shouts of bravo. It was around 8.00 pm.

I was well taken care of here soup and coffee. I got some sandwiches in to.  It was cold by now and I was keen to get moving, I retrieved my spare headtorch from  the couple I had lent it too. I headed off up the trail and was soon into the woods and down hill for a bit. At some point I head a bear roar down in the valley below, this made me move a bit. The trail was so well marked. As it was mainly forrest all you had to do was shine your head torch on to the trunks of trees and you could see red fluorescent disks shining back at you. Every now and again I would turn my head torch and look up at the stars in the sky. It was amazingly clear.  I had been on the go for 14 hours and being out in the middle of know where I started to hear things, like some one was running up  behind. I knew this not to be true but it made me bit jumpy. 

Into the late night I saw a headlight walking towards me, I wondered what was going on, I had been careful  to keep track of where I was going. it was another runner who thought he had got lost saying there was no markings ahead,he looked tried and a  little distressed. I reassured him we were heading the right way. He was Greek and we spoke to pass the time, it was his first 100 miler. Every now and again he would head off ahead of me, he was taller and his running walking pace was quicker. Then at some point I would see a head torch coming back towards me. I showed him how to scan the tree's to look for the markers. I guessed he was just tired. At one point he was ahead and all I could see was the fluorescent stripes on his leggings caught in my head torch beam. In the dark he looked like he was just walking up into thin air. He stuck with me for the rest of the night. 

At one aid station I was so tired I need a couple of minutes for a power nap. I jumped in a car and had 5 minutes. That's all I needed. We got to Pryamida and had some food, I did not have much of a stomach for it so ate little, we had a lot of downhill now. The race really started for me here, we were getting to the point where we would be chasing the cut off at Check Points and aid stations,day light started to break. My  mind and body was fatigued, looking at my pace chart and where I thought we were was hard work. The next checkpoint we got to I believe was Mega Rema at 110 kilometres. We was told we need to get moving. Even with being told this I was to fatigued to retain this information. I kept looking at my pace chart and I got it wrong, I said to the greek guy we needed to run more as was not going to make the cut offs. 

I started to run more the morning was errie with tired eyes, my feet hurt and every lump and bump I felt, but I ran, what took over at this point was the importance of finishing the race I was not going home with out a medal. My companion from the night could not keep up. I ran hard and kept running I was running over terrain and up climbs I had talked myself out of earlier in the race.I came through some bushes to see the next CP. I was confused, this was not what I was expecting. I had expected to be at Zarkadia at 128 kilometers, not here at Tsataki, my fatigued mind had not been able to take in any information form previous CP and my pace chart was just some bit of blurred paper in my hand. I had 7.3 k to run with being on the up all the way, it was rocky underfoot and hard going. I had less than an hour, I really had to push and I was soon running what felt like a fairly hard pace.

They say the first 50 miles are ran with your legs in a 100 mile race then the next 50 is with your head, I had for most of the race given myself the message that a lot of this course was to hard to run, but now as I ran I got connected with what was important, and that was finishing and getting the medal at the end, I started to feel good and although my legs where fatigued I soon started to over take over runners who where depleted and where not going to make the cut off, I came to a road and rounded a corner I saw the Aid Station Zarkadia, they were packing up. I came storming up  the road and heard Bravo and people clapping me in. I had made the cut off with a minute to spare.I had been on my feet now for 27 hrs 59 minutes. I was quite overcome with emotion at this point and confused thinking I had 10 hours to cover the last gruelling 25 miles. The race Director said take your time you have 12 hours to finish. I was well attended here I ate and try to tend to my feet. 

I left with the safety team not far behind me, these guys where great and had to stay behind me as I was at the back. It started to get hot again and as I tried to run when I got some flat that was on exposed parts of the mountain, I did the best I could with moving as fast as I could. My guts where now playing up and food was not staying in for long. I kept getting in what I could and I was drinking a lot of water. I just kept going quite confident I would finish. I arrived at Prasinada for the second time, it was afternoon and scorching hot, my feet hurt as ran into town. Agis was waiting here for me, the race director Elias was also here and had spoken to Agis about getting me to the finish. He had done the race before. Agis was a really nice guy and great to spend sometime with, before we set off I ate some cous cous that was strong with garlic, I would regret this soon. 

Agis and I set off, he was thinking clearer than me and and we arrived at the next point on the time he said. There had been a flat 5 k but my stomach was on the go so not pleasant. Once we got past Mylos and we was heading towards Talia is started to feel really tired. My feet where sore any miss placed footing that knocked my heels reminded me of how sore my feet were. I felt a bit pissed off and knowing some of the bigger climbs where to come and this did not help. I was drinking so much water with sweating. We got into some woods and Agis had mentioned Theologos would be the hardest it was over 600 m up on tired legs and in the dark. The climb seemed like it would never end we had over taken one runner earlier, but he had caught us up, he had been shuffling with poles at one point. When he passed us he was running. Agis was up ahead moving well, I was tired and every now and again I just had to stop. I must of been on the go for 37 hours at this point, As we went up one of the safety team said to me. We have a greek saying. You have eaten the donkey, just the tail is left. I knew what he meant straight away. 

It was getting cold and every now and again with knowledge I was nearing the end I was running bits even the pain in my feet did not bother me, as we went up the switch backs I could see Agis's headlight and the guy before him. The switch backs seem to never end and it did not seem this far on the way down! As I neared Levaditis the last CP I could see headlamps and shouting, one of the safety team said, It is the race director he has come to get his photo with you. I could here him shouting I am here just to see you, I want to get my photo taken with you. It felt special, his daughter took a photo of us together. And I headed off on the last 7 k on a slight up hill, I had roughly an hour and 14 minutes. I think Elias and the other thought I would not make it. One of the safety team said to me can you run, you need to push. I tried and stopped after a short while. I caught up with Agis and the other runner, I said come on lets run together and finish. Agis said to go on his ankle was really sore and had been for a while. The other runner did not answer then started to run off on his own. 

All of sudden I knew I was not going to make it unless I started to run and keeping running. The guy from the safety team was running with me, I asked him if he still had the gel he offered me earlier he did and I necked it. I was buoyed up now and started to catch the runner in front of me. I stopped I was worried about etiquette now. I said to the guy from the safety team, do you think is ok for me to over take the other runner. Of course he said go for it. I went for it and somehow started to sprint, I ran past the other guy and kept I running. My stomach was churning and it was pretty uncomfortable, my headlight was on its way out and then it went. I pulled out my back up. I would turn it off so I could see if the last runner was catching me up. I did not want to get over taken. I kept thinking of the medal and every corner I rounded I kept saying please God let this be it! The end seem to be taking forever. Then out of the darkness stepped a figure and said 5 minutes to the end. 

I got to the end I could here voices as I rounded the corner saw Elias he had not been expecting me he was jubilant and shouting, I rang the cow bells and Cristos joined us. I ran to the finish line, Christos hugged me and said well done. Look at that time you are the real winner. I had 6 1/2 minutes sprare. Christos said I had made an Impression on Elias at Zarkadia, he said I to Christos I want the British guy to finish,  Christos said to him he will finish! I was truly humbled at the end, Christos took me back to HQ and took my shoes off for me. I had two big horseshoes of bulging white flesh around the heels with ingrained sand, I could see a couple of blood blisters deep under this skin. And I only lost one big toe nail, it was lifting out of its bed. The medic attend my feet, I ate what I could then had a cold shower. 

You think I would of slept well! Not so my sleeping pattern was shot for 10 days after I just kept waking up, wide awake. I loved this race and highly recommend it as an adventure to be had!

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