25th Podcast

In this episode of the Podcast It's a long road I will try to describe the pain of long distances, the physical and mental battles that every athlete has to fight and what drives many runners to do such extremes.


Hello my friends,

To tell you the truth, I had no intention of doing a Podcast in August and I was ready through social media to wish you a good rest of the summer and a good rest to those who continue or will start their holidays. But after the last match Ultra that I ran, I received many messages from various friends of the show asking me to document in an episode my experiences through this new test that I passed.

On July 30-31, 2022 I ran the 5th International race "In the footsteps of heroes» 102k from Thespies to Thermopylae. A fight that I describe in detail in an earlier one Podcasts, but this time I say to expand more on the emotions I felt during the ride and really convey to you as best I can how I experienced the approximately 13 hours of continuous running.

I am writing this Podcast on Tuesday, just two days after the race and still strongly feeling the signs of physical fatigue on my body. So with my muscles still tight and my thoughts and feelings fresh from this fight, I will try to describe as best I can what the pain of long distances and the battles that each athlete has to fight. Many battles, but above all with the mind.

It is incredible at the starting line to see so many runners who know that in the next hours they are called to fight their own battle with their mind, their inner world, with their whole being. It is incredible that all these athletes they have set up at the starting line knowing that for the next period, and specifically all night long, they will suffer, they will be in pain, they will grit their teeth and fight. But although they all know it, they are consciously there at the starting line. But the main thing of all of them is that none of them is going to win anything material. It is only a moral issue and it has to do with the inner struggle and search of each one. Most for a purpose, always moral and not material. Just for a thumbs up and nothing else, but also for a medal that will always remind them of these moments that are so important for everyone who stood on the starting line.

Someone in fact, where we were waiting for the start and preparing, compared us to the Ancient 700 Thespians who, like this, would also be preparing to go meet the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. And he was not wrong, since our preparations looked a bit like war preparations before the big battle!

The match started at 8 pm and the temperature was particularly high. From the beginning it seemed that this would be the biggest difficulty. In the games long distances and only for them, it is incredible that you see that most of the runners, even though they are from different regions of Greece, already know each other and this reconnection takes place with strong smiles, hugs and nice words. After all, up and down Greece the number of runners is not that great long distances so somehow somewhere everyone has run some race with the rest.

I once again had the honor and the opportunity to run with and meet other remarkable athletes that I only feel respect and awe for each of them and the history they carry in the running movement. Incredible people and incredible performances that when you refer to them you immediately understand what people you are talking about. And the main thing and what makes the whole thing important is that for the most part all these runners with incredible achievements are not bragging about themselves, they are not conceited and they don't want to prove anything, they just mention it only if asked and if the conversation there.

What incredible bonds are created through such struggles? And it couldn't be otherwise, because with these people you go through exactly the same test. At that moment you feel the same pains in the same places, maybe sometimes with different intensity, but you are there together sharing stories from your lives, when at the same time you are both suffering. Was there ever a time when there wasn't a strong bond between you that might last for a few hours, but lasts and stays etched in the mind and the memories created? And you may not talk for days and months or years, but when you meet again at another match Ultra you feel like you found an old friend, you feel like it was your other half, you feel great and the smile and the hug are completely genuine. Because within a few hours of common hard trial you may have confided in him things that you would not do to anyone else.

So I also had the opportunity to meet again Giannis Kalyvas. A runner with incredible potential. A runner with many kilometers on his feet, with many Ultra even 24 hour races, with tremendous experience and tremendous morale and character. Giannis in this race was running for his own purpose, for the memory of his father who he recently lost and who helped him in previous races as a companion. Giannis and I talked before the start and also for some kilometers at the beginning of the race. We talked about our lives, our plans, but also about some of our dreams. His anxiety was great, but his determination was even greater, since he was telling me that he would finish even if he had to crawl. Personally, with all that determination, his stubbornness and the strength painted on his face, I didn't doubt for a second that he wouldn't make it. And he even did it with a personal record!

I met Freddie, a runner my age who was running in the relay race and we ran together for about 15 kilometers until his own finish somewhere around the 50th kilometer. The reason was the music he was listening to. I was listening to very nice rock music from his mobile phone and to tell you the truth I was running behind him for a while because I liked the music. At some point I approached him, we started talking, we talked about our families, our place of origin, our interests and of course about running. It was Freddie's first long distance run, being a new runner and I could feel how great and how happy he felt to achieve one of his goals when a few months ago he hadn't even started running. A cheerful person with a positive aura and a nice personality, I was really glad to meet him and now we keep in touch through Social Media.

At one of the main race stations in Kato Tithorea in the main square of the village, I sat for a minute on a chair to eat some pasta. We were at the 61st kilometer and another athlete, Makis Nikolopoulos, was sitting next to me and we started talking. We continued together for the next few kilometers and almost to the finish line. We got through the hardest part of the race together. We were there together and we didn't know each other before. We gave each other courage and that's how we ate the kilometers together. Let's say one Marathon he was left alone. Come on again, let's finish, another 20 kilometers left and so on. Makis is one of the strongest and most determined runners I have ever met. Incredible road achievements with many kilometers on his feet and with huge experiences. He had run the Olympic Road for 180 kilometers and qualified for Spartathology, where he participated some years ago. Before our match, he had participated 3 months ago and in Euhideion Hyperathleo 215 kilometers, while he intended to qualify again for the Spartanathlon in the Race of the Immortals 3 months later, on October 22. How many kilometers he has written is incredible!

But what makes Makis even more special is his reason, his morals and his character. Things you can immediately understand and especially when you run and hurt together for a few hours. In these cases one gives courage to the other and the mind is forgotten. It is ideal in these races to find company to run with, because that way the kilometers go by more painlessly and the mind stops thinking about the pain and hardships. You spend yourself in other conversations, happier that they will make you forget the temporary sufferings you are going through. Makis really came my way at the best time and when the mind games were very intense inside my head.

Personally I strongly felt the urge to give up between the 50th and 60th kilometer. I don't know what happened to me but everything seemed wrong, without having any problems at all. I remember thinking that if the event bus passes I would ask to get on to end my suffering and especially knowing that the continuation is even more difficult. The thoughts between giving up and continuing they alternated strongly between each other. On the one hand I was thinking about the joy, the pride and how I will feel when I cross the finish line and on the other hand I was saying to myself what the hell do I want and enter such races? Where do I go and mess up every time and especially with such difficult weather conditions due to the intense heat? Instead of telling myself to be on a beach and lie down, I punished myself by running all night. It may have been a little bit to blame that at some point during the race mother nature also called me with strong messages and I was looking in the fields for a way to redeem myself, which happened and greatly relieved me.

From time to time I ran with another great runner Vangelis. In fact, for the last kilometers until almost the finish, we ran as a trio together with Makis. We had all just met and I will never forget the words of Vangelis who encouraged us in his own unique way to keep running so that our torture ends as quickly as possible. Vangelis is a phenomenon. The previous year he had even finished in the Spartathlon. What can you say? Only respect! I bombarded him with questions about his experiences and how he experienced this great race that is a dream of a lifetime for anyone who participates in Ultra races. Vangelis, 52 years old, although of great potential, had recently had COVID and was not in the best possible condition, nevertheless he finished in a very good time and was 20 minutes ahead of me. Of course, what can you say about an athlete when the previous year he had done and completed the crossing with the Spartanathlon? Becoming a Spartan is no small feat. For all foreign runners the goals are as follows: For those who run the Marathon it is to come to Greece in Athens to run the Authentic and for all long distance athletes it is to run the Spartathlon. They are the two most important races in all of humanity.

With these and with these it was dawn and we could finally see the beautiful landscape and especially Thermopylae where the finish line was. The last 10km though downhill the quads were on fire and refusing to obey. Finish time 12 hours 55 minutes, about 40 minutes faster than my last time in the same race. Finishing once again was a dream and even better since my friend Giorgos Karagiannis former champion Marathon, who did me the honor and came with me to help me especially on the way back by driving, was recording me with his cell phone. The temperature though 9 in the morning had already reached 35 degrees and we were so sweaty that there was no going any further. When I finally redeemed myself by finishing in front of the statue of King Leonidas of Sparta, I once again felt incredible emotions! Once again I think I learned new things about myself. Once again I admired other runners and was impressed by their achievements. Nothing but nothing is impossible. We can do anything if we try. Better to fail at something than not to dare. And only through our courage will we be able to evolve. Because this is what life is all about. The evolution.

The good thing for me was that I made it out of this match unscathed with just one blister and no extra black nails, but then again I was already missing 3 nails from a previous Ultra, so what more could I get?

The matches of long distances they are the only matches where you can experience such emotions and meet such people. Now will you tell me from a sporting point of view if you win anything? The answer is no. Basically after so many kilometers you are only harming yourself and your entire musculoskeletal system and not only. To subject oneself to running for so many hours at a time is just not normal. But also the pleasure of feeling so broken and flattened, how is it explained?

At the beginning of the race and as is natural, the body and the mind are in perfect balance. But when the pains of fatigue begin, then the mind takes over. Endurance runners are a group of people who tend to have a unique relationship with pain, and I wouldn't hesitate to call them masochists. Research has concluded that systematic exposure to periods of intense but limited pain can lead to short-term adaptations in pain perception and tolerance. THE pain it is complex and experienced differently by different people, but is inextricably linked to performance in endurance sports.

THE long-distance pain it is unique and undresses you. It brings you into a trance and makes you find yourself in another dimension. It becomes a spiritual and physical battle, a battle with your own self and you feel participating in all this with all your cells. To run such races you must first of all believe in yourself and your abilities and it is so beautiful to learn not only your physical endurance but also your mental endurance. Now, of course, what is it that draws people of a certain age to make such extremes, I would probably say that they are very strong internal psychological motivations and that they find their balance with this involvement with extreme distances.

Of course, I have said before in an earlier Podcast that the management of pain and fatigue is another feat since beyond sports activity it also has ramifications and an impact on our daily life and in other areas of our lives, making us even more resistant, stubborn and generally more strong.

Never stop dreaming! The more we believe in a purpose the more obvious it becomes.

I'm only 2 days post race and just today I recovered and was able to go up and down stairs without looking damaged. In fact, I ran and relaxed for 30 minutes and it benefited me a lot. Would I do it again? Will I run Ultra again? During the race and right after I swore I would never do it again. Today 2 days later and even though my whole body still hurts, I'm thinking about next year what goals to set and which Ultras to go down, since this year my racing calendar will close with two great back to back Marathons in London and New York and that's where I'll focus now! Unbelievable what a man is to you!

So with this episode I will close a series of 25 consecutive episodes, I will also need some rest and plan for the new season and I will give you an appointment again in 4 weeks, on Thursday 01 September with new episodes and with new interesting topics that both I and my guests will develop through this show.

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.

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