RUNNING to ZEUS

by Michiel Panhuysen / Ultra runner and ROUT Family member

The heat will be my greatest enemy in the Olympus Mythical Trail, I know. Running at high temperatures often give me stomach problems. But at the midnight start it is raining, I welcome the fresh drops of water.
The Greek consider the OMT as their hardest race, someone told me. The time limits at 27 km and 70 km are tight, the trail is quite technical and the elevation gain (7200 m) is considerable. A reason for me to start moderate, without losing too much time.

The start is at 250 m of elevation in the village Litochoro, the Greek version of Chamonix. Around km 30 the OMT passes at 2900 m. That means a lot of climbing in the first few hours of the race. The first high part of the race is impressive under a full moon, though clouds spoil part of a magic spectacle this year. During the race stunning views of the highest mountains of the country in combination with the Mediterranean deep below us create a feeling of being close to the gods. No idea why they call this ‘a human race’. It’s more a divine race…

Meeting OMT-rd Lazaros Rigos and ROUT’s rd Ilias and Christos in the starting area the day before the race was like a family reunion, the Greek ultra trail community is like a bunch of brothers and sisters, welcoming some foreign friends every year.

At Kakalos refugee having soup…

In the descend after the two Olympus peaks Christos (Katsanos) passes me by. I can see he feels a deep connection with this mountains. He runs like he’s wings under his feet, I say to him. He smiles. I look at him running away from me, his grayish long hair billowing in the wind…

After the first technical 40 km I get few times lost at a 4x4 track, without route markings. The route is easy here, but sometimes hard to find, it’s all in Lazaros’ trail philosophy. Besides, if you really feel uncomfortable with that, a gpx file of the OMT is available. At 50 km grilled meat, rice and beer is served in a mountain hut (Pigadi) where friendly volunteers do their best to provide the runners a five star service. It’s about lunch time.

At 70 km I find my dropbag. In this aid station no souflaki’s anymore, I’m a bit disappointed after Pigadi’s Michelin-star restaurant. No BBQ, but the sun is about to grill me in the 1500 m climb following, it takes me more than 3 hours to gain 10 km to a little hut (Livadaki). My stomach is so pleased by the food at Pigadi and the rain at night that it does not revolt this time. I take a quick nap in the hut to be strong for a long descend in the direction of the final part of the race. Though firmly warned for the slippery descend, most of the trail to Prionia is good runnable.

Vagelis Fakas and Nicole Maalste running together…

Night falls one hour after I leave Prionia. Where at sunrise I was excited about the rising sun opposite to the full moon, which gave a magic light, at sunset there is a new surprise of illumination. Some sparks in the dark forest make me believe I’m starting to hallucinate, which would not be strange after 36 hours without serious sleep. I try to think away the light sparks, but they get more intense after every switchback in the short last climb of the race. My brain tries to find out what the sparks can be, and if they are real, or just imagination. There is a significant difference between the sparks and the reflections of the square trail markers though. After five switchbacks I understand it must be fireflies. Great! Fireflies! They make me feel good: those dirty little creatures!

The final hour of the race is the superdirectissima in the last descent. In a 400 meter ‘100% Lazaros’ downhill I try not to break my ankles. In style me and some others arrive at the finish line. Some big smiles of Jakub, Lazaros and Christos, a medal and a beer straight from the river I just crossed.

I’m close to paradise!
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