In this episode of the Podcast It's a long road we will talk about how I managed to break into one for the first time ultramarathon the 100 km barrier and more specifically in the race "In the footsteps of heroes" on 01-08-20 from Thespies to Thermopylae.
The race and the route have special historical characteristics, since Demophilos in 480 BC. with the 700 Thespians he made the same way to meet the rest of the Greeks among them and the King of Sparta Leonidas with his 300 men to face the hundreds of thousands of the Persians and all the other nations of the Persian Empire.
The match in question had a festive character as it coincided with the 2500th anniversary of the historic battle of Thermopylae.
And so the time has come for me to break the 100km barrier in a race, with my 2nd ultramarathon (Ultra), the 3rd International race "In the Footsteps of Heroes" 102k on 01-08-20 from Thespies to Thermopylae.
In the middle of the pandemic due to COVID and after we had completed the first general lockdown, it might have been the only one race that managed to take place during that period. I was in a strange phase, incomplete training but the main thing was that I was one of the first to get sick from corona and for good. Those of you who listened to my previous Podcast will remember that I mentioned some things about that time, after I was hospitalized with severe pneumonia for 12 days on oxygen and one step before intubation. Fortunately I escaped her and everything went well and fortunately I recovered quickly and the main one did not leave me a single penny.
So I didn't train as much as I should have and with only three months between the day I left the hospital and the race. I thought about it a lot, but my will to break the 100 km barrier for the first time, even if not with the better conditions were especially possible. I felt that nothing could stop me from conquering this dream as well. When I announced it to my coach Basil Onion, of course he tried to talk me down for my lack of proper preparation, but after seeing me persist and be stubborn he tried to put me on as adaptive a schedule as possible to make up as much ground as I could. My big trump card and hidden ace up my sleeve was none other than my friend him Tasso Karagiannidis, experienced ultramarathon with special distinctions and with many Ultra (super distances) in his legs. Together we would run once more and really only knowing that I would have Taso by my side I was not afraid of anything.
The race itself excites and intoxicates you because of the special importance of the route and of course the finish in Thermopylae, under the statue of Leonidas. Where Demophilos in 480 BC with the 700 Thespians he made the same road to meet the rest of the Greeks among them the King of Sparta Leonidas with his 300 men. They stood against the hundreds of thousands of the Persians and all the other nations of the Persian Empire. They gave a Battle that left them in World History. They fell betrayed, but stood up, illuminating with their sacrifice the Eternal Faith and the Struggle for Freedom. The fight had a celebratory character as it coincided with the completion of 2500 years since the historic battle of Thermopylae.
The start of the race was from Thespies on 01 August at 20:00 right under the statue of the King of Thespians Demophilus. Together with Tasos, we started from Thessaloniki to Thermopylae, from where we would take the event bus to take us to Thespies at the start of the race. We had plenty of time ahead of us and after we made a stop to get a good dose of pasta carbohydrates, we were on time for the bus. We also met other athletes there and of course our conversations were about the specific race, whether anyone has run it before and various other things. I had made my own material preparation, trying to think of what I might want during the route, taking into account the weather, the time of the race, since it would be at night and of course the long hours required. Tasos, more relaxed than me, arranged for there to be only a few gelatos at a station about midway.
In Thespies, the organization offered us pasta about two hours before the start of the race, and of course I ate two portions to fill myself up. It was my first time running during the night, but it was this unknown to me that tested me even more. I felt in every way strong and ready to conquer another goal.
The whole event was a celebration. Perfectly organized, with many feeding stations where you really could find everything, with hundreds of volunteers you could feel by your side at every moment, you could easily understand how much it has been loved and embraced by the local bodies. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire 102 km route was like a big party and almost at no point during the race did you feel alone. I had absolutely no problems the whole race. It flowed so beautifully and because you have the luxury of talking because of the not so much volume, you don't realize how time is passing. As I said before, I was running with my friend Tasos and we developed and analyzed so many topics of discussion that at some point I asked him "Hey, Tasos, so many things that the two of us have discussed in so many races and especially in this one, I don't have talk for so many years with my wife!". It's nice to have company, but again in these kinds of matches you will always find someone to talk to and you will always know someone from a previous match.
At various points during the race, I massaged the muscles of my legs with Arnica Arpagophyto Gel cream, ideal for bruises, arthritis, muscle inflammation and joint pain. The Arnica plant is traditionally used to relieve muscle and joint pain and I use it myself both during and after big races.
We covered the first 24 kilometers in 2:34. Our pace was neither fast nor slow. Five hours later at about the 42nd km at 01:03 I was at the lion of Chaironia, in a place with a very long history. A point where the Thebans buried the dead of the famous Sacred Company of Thebes, a unit made up of 300 elite and highly trained men of the Theban society and who fell in the battle of Chaeronea, and the Macedonians where they built a mound, a small hill that is where they buried their dead.
The battle of Chaeronea, in which the Macedonians emerged as great winners, was decisive for shaping the political situation in Greece. It was held in 338 BC. between the Macedonian kingdom and the allied armies of Athens, Corinth, Corfu, Lefkada, Achaia, Megara, Acarnania, Evia and the Boeotian Common, whose leader was Thebes. The battle of Chaeronea essentially marks the starting point of Macedonian dominance in the political affairs of southern Greece for almost a century, since there Philip II, king of Macedonia, managed after many years of bloody campaigns and intense diplomatic consultations to subdue the last pillars of resistance to his plans for dominance in the Greek area. In that battle, the eighteen-year-old son of Alexander also participated, whose contribution was decisive in the outcome of the battle. Alexander, at a critical moment, attempted a bold action indicative of his leadership nature and qualifications and rushed with his detachment against the cut off Holy Company and managed to kill many. In total, the strength of the Macedonian army amounted to at least 2,000 horsemen and over 30,000 pedestrians. The battle was characterized by particular cruelty and valor and was very deadly. More than 1,000 Athenians were killed while at least 2,000 surrendered and became prisoners of war.
Another feature of this race was that at every gas station there were abundant quantities of refreshing and juicy watermelon, a fruit especially beneficial for those who exercise and run. Watermelon is known to consist of about 90% of water. Two slices contain only 80 calories and 21 grams of carbohydrates. It contains natural sugar which makes it a much better choice than added or processed sugars. It also contains vitamins A, B6 and C, which enhance running endurance and help prevent muscle cramps. It improves performance, due to the carbohydrates it contains, it helps the body recover, relieves muscle pain and naturally hydrates.
I covered the 51 km in 6 hours and 6 minutes. At 64 km we were at an altitude of 165 meters and followed by the longest sustained uphill that lasted 9 km and about 1 hour and 40 minutes to the peak. Of course, in between and at station number 11 of Agia Paraskevi, somewhere at the 58th kilometer, a big and at the same time the most refreshing surprise awaited us. I am referring to the frozen pomegranate juice they offered us there. It may have been the combination of fatigue and heat with 32 degrees and 46% humidity, but I really will never forget how refreshing and delicious it was and how strongly it had a positive effect on my body as well as my mental and emotional state. Real balm that got me really excited and sent my morale levels sky high!
At 10 hours, somewhere around 73 km, I had reached the maximum altitude of the route, 700 meters. At that point in the race I felt for the first time in my life what it's like to be sleepy and run at the same time. So a caffeine gel that I kept for these occasions I can say helped me for good.
The pleasant part was the termination since the route from the 600m altitude drops to 13 meters and is about 13km which was done with 6 minutes/km. In 10:27 we passed the 78th kilometer and finished on August 2nd in the morning with a time of 13:33:17 and an average pace of 7:58 per kilometer. 58th out of 123 total runners who started the race. Not bad for my first 100. However, the last three kilometers were all money. It was dawn for good and in the background the statue of Leonidas stood out, where we would finish. My legs were so heavy, the fatigue especially great, but on the other hand I felt so many substances flowing through my body, my adrenaline had reached red and my longing for the finish which now seemed so close was so great that it gave me a boost and literally put wings on my feet. 6:04, 5:54 and 5:48 per kilometer was my pace for these last three kilometers. And when I saw the statue of Leonidas and finished, you can't imagine how full, proud, happy and happy I felt! Another goal achieved, another challenge for me completed.
One thing that particularly bothered me in this race and taught me lessons for the future was that towards the end of the course my arms felt particularly swollen. Coupled with the fact that the scales the next day showed me about 4kg heavier it put me in thoughts and concerns and I looked it up to see what was going on and then I wrote to my coach.
" Santa Good Evening,
I would like to ask you something. In my last big race of 102km I noticed that my hands were very swollen. I searched the internet and read something about the hyponatremia phenomenon but I didn't understand why it happened to me. Because I was drinking too much water and it diluted the sodium or because I needed electrolytes (generally from a point on I didn't want to drink any more electrolytes but preferred plain water). What should I do in the future so that I don't have the same issue?'
And the answer from coach my
"The issue you mentioned with the swollen hands is indeed related to an electrolyte disturbance. It was a mistake to drink only water, in these cases when you are full of electrolytes and only want water you should use the salt tablets. And of course these are not for continuous consumption, but for 3-4 hours when you want to take a break from electrolytes, it can cover you. At the same time, throughout the games you should consume foods with salt (crackers - chips, etc.)"
The phenomenon of hyponatremia is therefore particularly serious since it can also cause death. It particularly troubled me and I can say that it stressed me out and made me think. Me because I was fed up with the gels and all that I was drinking, somewhere in the middle of the route and then I stopped taking electrolytes through my water and I wasn't even taking the necessary salt pills. So I shot it for many hours in plain water and nothing else. How could I imagine that drinking too much plain water would have the effect of dangerously diluting the sodium and putting me in this situation? But I suffered and learned.
I really don't like to drive 80km, I went into the process of running these and even more kilometers. When you decide to run such races it means that before the start you marry training with your life and your life with training.
Returning to our base was another difficult test, because with so much fatigue accumulated in our bodies we had to drive about 4 hours to get back to Thessaloniki. Luckily there were two of us, so I started driving with Taso sleeping somewhere in the middle of the journey and when I couldn't take it anymore, he took over driving. Monday, the next day I remember was even more difficult since I had to wake up at 4:00 to leave for my job abroad. I was struggling to walk and my body was so strained that I could hardly keep it upright. Anyway, a route that I did every week, that time it turned out to be a whole Golgotha and endless. I couldn't stand it and somewhere in the middle of the route I parked somewhere and took a nap for an hour or so. The rest of the day after I finished my shift I remember spending it lying in bed and watching movies.
First of all one marathon race and how much more an Ultra requires the absolute readiness in terms of physical, mental and mental.
To run this kind of race it takes a lot of courage to be at the starting line and a lot of strength to reach the finish line.
It is a deposit of soul. A personal bet that requires sacrifice. Discipline, endurance, pain...
Although long distance races are known for their loneliness, I never felt alone. I had the company of my faith, my friends, my family, my wife and my children, who kept me sober and replenished all the energy my body was stealing.
Long distance is so demanding and the thoughts and will between continue and give up come so often and so strongly with one trying to dominate the other. Here is where through the Long Run we mentally train ourselves to find clever and manageable ways to outwit both our negative thoughts and our physical fatigue. The management of pain and fatigue is another feat since beyond sports activity it also has ramifications and an impact on our everyday life and in other areas of our lives, making us even more resilient, stubborn and generally stronger.
The biggest percentage of people who don't have what they want is only because they gave up at some point. They gave up on their dreams and goals. And life owes no one and never gives to those who need, but to those who deserve. Never stop dreaming! The more we believe in a purpose the more obvious it becomes. Give plenty of space to your dreams so that they become reality at some point. Fight for them, because if our dreams die we have nothing left.
Thank you so much for listening to me!
Until next time, Be well be healthy and always do what we love and what makes us feel good.