Monday, April 17, 2006

7 day Race at Loutraki, Greece 1st-8th April 2006.

By Vlastimil Dvoracek

This winter I was facing a big dilemma: should I take a part in 48hr race in Brno, where I was owing to have a go at finally winning after four consecutive second placings? Or should I enter a week later 7 day race at Loutraki in Greece? Finally in this heartbreaking decision I decided for Greece. Firstly it was something new, a new challenge. Secondly, after enjoying good results in 6 day Race at Colac, Australia I was keen to find an opportunity to run 1000 km in one race.
I did not leave anything to a chance. My weekly running distance did not drop below 200 km. For the first time I was going to have some support in multi day race in the form of my nephew Lukas, 18. While most runners have always some support during races, for me this was going to be a luxury. For the first time I was not going to worry about basic needs and could concentrate only on running.

Originally the Ultra marathon Festival which included 6, 12 and 24 races was to be held on a 400 m track. Unfortunately an earthquake in January damaged the track so the organizer decided to hold the race on a 735 m track at a sporting complex about 4 km from Loutraki. I assumed that since the city is situated on a sea shore I expected the complex to be in the same area.
It was a shock when arriving in taxi from Corinth, about 10 km away, the driver did non turn towards the sea but the opposite direction towards the hills. Another shock was to see the track – my hope for some records disappeared very quickly.

I have run on a variety of tracks in the past but nothing could be compared with this. The elevations on the track was guessed by the runners to be between 10 – 20 meters. It was basically square with one side going up and steeply down, the other down. The other parallel sides were almost flat but far from ideal. To calculate the total elevation during over 1000 laps could produce an interesting figure.

24 hour race was keenly contested, the winner was Valmir Nunes from Brazil with 212 km . Normally he is capable to run over 270km. Only three runners managed over 200 km. So much for the track!

There were few more hassles before the start of the race. Firstly I was told that my helper Lukas was not included on Entry Form(?) so he would have to sleep in a tent. Eventually they found a bed for him in the 14 bed accommodation block. I was originally given the top bunk but fortunately someone swapped it for me for the lower one. I could not imagine myself claiming up after racing all day. About an hour before start I went for my race number only to be told by the organizers that I cannot start until I have paid my entry fees of 150 euro. I was trying in vain to convince them that I had paid it but unfortunately did not bring with me the receipt (a good lesson to learn). I had no choice but to try to organize quickly some money but fortunately the Race Director finally discovered that my entry fees were received. A little unwelcome hassle so close to the start.

After some criticism of the organizers I have to say that we were looked after well. In the canteen few meters from the track we received three warm meals each day and further refreshment on the trackside. Short sleeps were available in the accommodation block close to the track and toilets were close too so we did not have to run too many extra meters – apart from the hills…

Fortunately there is not much to write about the race itself. From the star I did not leave anything to a chance. I settled in the front position and already the first day I built up a sufficient gap on the second runner. All that was left for the following days was to maintain it. I did not sleep the first night at all, the following nights I slept for 2 – 3 hours. Only the sixth day due to shin splints I concentrated only on holding my first place without causing too much damage to my leg. I think I achieved both.

My nephew Lukas assisted me in this by keeping eyes on Finish runner Seppa and only when necessary I went back on the track to keep him at bay. Fortunately the seventh day he had enough of it and was not willing to throw another challenge at me. Looking back the seventh day did not enhance the race, especially since all classical races are 6 days. But it is only my view.
The lap counting was automatic by the chips we had recording every lap, every two hours the results were printed and the website was kept up to date so friend and family at home were well informed about the progress of the race.

There were 23 runners from 11 countries, about half of them known to me from previous races. The weather was typical for Greek spring – sharp sun and warm during the day, no shade, cooling down overnight to a pleasant temperature.

And a couple of observations typical for this race: number of stray dogs of all sizes and shapes running freely around. One gets eventually used to them. But I am still puzzled by the attitude of adults who let their little kids running around in this situation without supervision. The second one is very personal. I felt like running in a cage. I am used to running in parks or roads where there is some contact with general public even if only accidental. But in this sporting camp you could not see a soul apart from the participants of the race. Few spectators turned up for the weekend but that was all.

I have to admit that I fell in love with multi day races. During the week the participants grow close together, some you feel closer to than to others, just like in normal life.

One never forgets the closing stage of a race when everyone is so exited and happy for having successfully completed the race. It is an unforgettable atmosphere and feeling which I would like to repeat again in another multi day race.

1. Vlastimil Dvoracek Czech Republic 751.996 km
2. Seppo Leinonen Finland 731.024 km
3. – 4.
Constantin Baxevanis Greece 710.052 km
Gilles Pallaruelo France 710.052 km
5. Hiroko Okiyama (F) Japan 701.813 km

(Translated from Czech by Vlastik Skvaril)

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