ROUT 2013: Raw, Pure and Basic

Από 29 Οκτ 2013

Raw. I hear wolves howling at full moon. In front of me two Greek runners slow down. “Wolves”, I say. “Not wolves. Different”, says one of the two runners. “Maybe it’s just the whistling of the moving trees.” Wind blows strong and it’s quite chilly. It’s very dark too. I ran all alone last few hours through this remote impressive forest, the silence was eerie. The moonlight is magic. Even without daylight the views are stunning, but I’m glad I’m not on my own anymore in this desolate forest in the Rodopi Mountains at the border between Greece and Bulgaria.

Lazaros, one of the organizers of the ROUT, had seen a bear with two young, several days before the start, close to the spot where I and the two Greek runners are at the moment. “You can take bells with you, if you want”, Lazaros says at the briefing, with a knowing look. Bears don’t seem to like the sound of tinkling bells. Some runners are wearing these bells during the race. But in a way I hope that I meet a Teddy in the forest. A small one, that’s more afraid then I am.

 

 

Pure. The ROUT, the Rodopi Ultra Trail, is an adventure. One hundred miles long and rough. Not as technical as the Ronda dels Cims (Andorra) or the Echappée Belle (France), but it’s tough. The support of the runners is minimalistic, the distance between the aid stations is sturdy and the supply is basic: In the ROUT no comfortable ‘life bases’, the mega aid stations in France, Italy or Andorra, with a steady professional culinary supply, massages and hot showers on the course. At the ‘Spartan’ ROUT aid stations some very gentle and considerate volunteers provide basic food, and bonfires give some heat in the cold night. Beyond the six aid stations, the runners are on their own.

 

 The nature of the Rodopi Mountains is overwhelming, primal forces reign in this - for most of the Greek –unknown part of the Northeast of Greece. The ROUT has a start and finish in a mountain village, called Erymanthos, somewhere north of the deserted main road in between Xanthi and Drama (What’s in a name…).



Basic. An hour after I passed the trees that were howling like wolves, I smell smoke. Smoke is fire and fire is human activity, I reason. And human activity means ROUT in this case. Because in this remote part of the world, the only human activity this night seems to be done by runners and ROUT volunteers. I run close to the ‘Pyramid’, a landmark on the Greek Bulgarian border, halfway the race. Before the start someone told me about this spot. During the Cold War, landmines protected the border. Then I see the campfire that I smelled last minutes and two men who try to keep warm at the fire. They can see my headlight from a distance and yell at me. I don’t understand what they say, they speak Greek. “Hello. Good morning”, I try in English. “Good morning!” they answer. “How are you?” I stay some moments near the men at the campfire. They stay here all night for me and other runners. I cannot pass them without exchanging some words. The men note my racenumber on a list, say goodbye and wish me good luck. These men were very sympathetic. The ROUT is one big family. 

 

My stomach is my enemy this race and I’m very sleepy after the sun has set and the dark night started. My biorhythm switches to night level as soon as the ‘Big Light’ turns off, because I did not sleep – as usually- the night before the race. That pre race night in our tent we could hear the wolves. But it might as well be dogs, restless under the full moon. In the spooky atmosphere in Erymanthos, a couple of wolves are easily invented…


Did Finish. After a day and a night of running, when at seven in the morning the sun rises again, my ‘Wise Me’ decides that 123 km has been enough. Running for such a long time is not funny, it’s a foolish activity. I decide to stop more or less at Zarkadia, the before last aid station. ...The ROUT is one big family...My head is tired and my stomach faint. But the ‘Higher Management’ makes another decision. “Stick to your own rules”, my ‘Other Me’ (I might suffer from a mild schizophrenia) says: “This is what you paid for, this is what you wanted. As long as you don’t break a leg, you do not have a valid DNF excuse.” I sleep for 70 minutes on the ground in a tent along the road. When I wake up I feel re-born. I manage to eat some soup, the first thing I eat since my pre-race breakfast! Chances are turning. I don’t eat a lot, but it’s enough for the next ten hours. 

 



At Silly, a small village before the last aid station, I encounter Nicole, my wife. What a surprise! She decides to come along with me last 30 km of the race, a good training for her first 100 miler: Same race, next year. After a strong 90 minutes climb, around kilometer 155, we are received by an enthusiastic crew that offer me a Tsipouro and some Greek sausages from the grill. My stomach is my friend again, and tolerates the food and the ‘booz’. Two hours later at the finish, Christos, one of the supermen behind this running party gives me an emotional hug. An intense moment at the end of this impressive Rodopi race.



This race is a special experience: The combination of people, the strong natural powers, the idea that wolves and bears are always close and the full moon, that made the overall impression at night magic. The ROUT is one of these races that are raw, pure and basic. Races with friends, without unnecessary glamour and big money, where runners and volunteers overcome together the hard circumstances around campfires, where big slices of meat are grilled. Where close to these fires at night strong coffee, strong stories and strong local drinks are as important as the runners who sometimes seem to collapse on the spot. This is my game…

Μichiel Panhuysen

Michael Panhuysen Profession: Writer. 

"Semi Resident" in Litochoro

+ 5 Barkley ('12 '13 '14 '16 '19)
+ 5 PTL '15-'19
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