The dream is alive! An exclusive interview of Alexi Pappas and Ioannis Dagkoglou at Advendure!

Από 26 Μαρ 2020

Alexi Pappas is one of the "heavy assets” of Greece in track-and-field, as she holds the 10K track national record (31.36.16) and recently came close to break the Greek female marathon record by running 2.34.26 in Houston. She lives in Los Angeles, USA, but not long ago she surprised us very positively, after deciding to come in Patras, Greece, where under the guidance of coach Ioannis Dagkoglou started to train in order to run a major spring marathon and qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games. As positive as Alexia's surprise came to us, however, the outburst of the coronavirus pandemic dramatically changed everything in our lives and in sports as well, with the Olympics being moved to 2021. What are the feelings of an elite athlete when suddenly everything changes in her schedule? What additional problems do the pandemic poses in her preparation? Why she came to Patras for preparation and what differences she founds in training with the US. Is the dream lost or always alive? What are the new racing targets? An exclusive in-depth interview at Advendure with the Greek long distance champion Alexi Pappas and her coach Ioannis Dagkoglou!



[Advendure]: Alexi, you have chosen to do your basic preparation - in order to achieve a performance that will lead you to the Olympic Games in Tokyo - in Patras and under the guidance of Ioannis Dagkoglou. What was the rationale behind your choice? Ioannis, taking over Alexi you certainly have a great motivation in front of you, so it will be great if you tell us a few words about this collaboration; how it did occur and what you can achieve as a team.

[Alexi Pappas]: My goal is to run the Greek national record in the marathon and qualify for the Olympic Games – and in order to do that, I am going to need to run a personal best by several minutes. I am confident that this is possible, and I wanted to be in the absolute best situation with the most advanced and dedicated team to make this goal a reality. I believe in Coach Ioannis and his training, just as I know he believes in me, and I can feel the support of the community in Patras every day. 

[Ioannis Dagkoglou]: Certainly for me, and for every coach, it is a great motivation to train an athlete with the physical talent, athletic level and character of Alexi. Our collaboration emerged through an exchange of ideas on coaching and race planning issues, as well as racing goals with her team here in Greece - Hermes 1877 - where we both concluded that the best thing for her would be to come here in order to follow closely the final phase of her preparation for a marathon that we then thought she would run at the end of April. I cannot say specifically how far Alexi can go in terms of personal records, especially under the conditions that we are experiencing right now, but certainly the goal remains to reach the qualifying marathon time for the Tokyo Olympic Games that have now been postponed to 2021.



[Advendure]: Alexi, how is your preparation going so far, in a dystopian environment blocked by the pandemic of SARS-CoV-2? Target races are canceled, and even the Olympics themselves are in jeopardy. How does a high level athlete like you keep her motivation and dream alive?

[Alexi Pappas]: Right now, we are focusing on interpreting new information as it comes in and controlling what we can control. Luckily, with distance running, we are able to train through the quarantining and still be safe and responsible. All I need to focus on is staying healthy and putting one foot in front of the other.



[Advendure]: Ioannis, apart from the significant obstacles that you are facing due to the well-known bureaucratic and other difficulties of our country, the coronavirus has made it even more difficult for you and Alexi. Tell us about all this and how you manage to proceed with your preparation.

[Ioannis Dagkoglou]: Problems are a daily routine for me; I had enough before Alexi and now it’s still the same. In any case, I wouldn't call them “bureaucratic” but something else that I would not want to analyze or name now. What we do is manage the situation according to the data we receive, but always within the framework of our training program. For example, as soon as the stadiums were closed, we, like everyone else, came out. Then they let us in, but only Alexi and not my two main “assistants” and Alexi's running pacers,  Julian Manco that runs all kilometers with her and plays the role of co-athlete-pacer-guard and Isabella Kotsachili who does my translator, co-athlete, and helper showing to Alexi many exercises. I have to note that these two guys chose to remain here and help Alexi’s training program staying away from their families and they tell me daily that they have not regretted it at all.

I have tried hard to explain the particularities of the training program of a marathon runner -let alone of a girl who is foreign and came 15,000 km away from her home under these circumstances to catch the limit for the Olympics and to represent her country of origin- as well as the importance of having her own pacers in the stadium in order to be able to achieve her goal. Unfortunately, either some people took advantage of the situation to take other decisions, or my requests were simply rejected. Consider that it took just two hours to the authorities to decide to cancel the entry card of the Greek elite athletes preparing for the Olympic Games after they were postponed for 2021, and a whole week to decide to allow the free entrance to them.

Taking all those things into consideration, we decided to do solo training out of the stadium, sacrificing those few things that the stadium would offer us, we carry all the essentials in the car and we’re looking for a house to leave Patras, in order additionally to avoid the transport problems due to the traffic restrictions.



[Advendure]: Alexi, what differences have you discovered in your training philosophy with those you have experienced in the US? Are there changes in training, nutrition, environment etc. that help you? Tell us about Ioannis as a coach. Ioannis, give us an idea of Alexi's capabilities and the points that you are working with to reach her full athletic potential.

[Alexi Pappas]: The biggest difference that I have felt between the philosophy in the US (in my personal experience) and the philosophy here in Greece is the nutrition and also in the training mentality. I am eating more bread and carbohydrates, and also focusing on recovery, which is as important as training. In training, I am focusing on my form, which I have so much to learn from coach! Also, we are doing more sessions with no-stop-rest, which is newer for me. I am currently focusing on my speed, which I hope will help make marathon pace feel more reasonable!!

[Ioannis Dagkoglou]: Alexi has partly shown her abilities, she can do many things especially in the marathon in which just now starts to show her true potential. Just because the original race schedule has changed due to postponements or cancellations, we are now working on basic things, like speed and power that have been somewhat weakened lately and we will again engage with the marathon specific preparation when we set her target race in the future.



[Advendure]: Alexi, you have the national record in the 10km track (31.36.16), and you have recently run very close to the Greek marathon record, achieving 2.34.26 in Houston marathon. In which running distance do you think you have the most talent for and which do you like most as a racing philosophy? Ioannis, based on Alexi's 10K performance, do you think that breaking the nation's marathon record is near? What running distance fits her most as an athlete?

[Alexi Pappas]: I love distance running because, at some point in the race, it becomes mainly a competition against myself. How hard can I push? The 10k is a fun mix of endurance and tactical speed, while the marathon represent the ultimate mental and physical endurance challenge. I am excited to explore my endurance limits!

[Ioannis Dagkoglou]: Breaking the Greek marathon record time is just a matter of time for Alexi. I believe in her next marathon she will break it. As she has shown from her performance at shorter distances she is well worth not only for improving her own best time, but also to run much faster than the national record. Alexi is a good long distance runner, she can be one of the 3-6 best European female runners, but I think the margins are greater in the marathon where tactics play a big role and a runner can beat a better runner if he/she runs with a smart strategy.



[Advendure]: Alexi, how do you feel about life in Patras so far, even though you came here in a very difficult time for the city and its people, because of the coronavirus. What are your impressions about the food, the city and the people? What are the advantages and disadvantages of training in Patras in comparison with Los Angeles where you live and train? Ioannis, it would be great if you give us an idea of your daily training routine.

[Alexi Pappas]: I absolutely love being a Patras local. I feel very at home here, because I grew up in a place that was both close to mountains and the water. I enjoy the stadium and trails very much, especially because so many people love to run here. I see adults, kids, everyone is enjoying our sport, which is inspiring to me. My favorite place is Kalogria foresee, where I enjoy the natural beauty of these ancient woods. The forest actually reminds me very much of the San Francisco area, where I grew up: the smell of the pine needles and soft soil is very specific.

[Ioannis Dagkoglou]: Our training schedule includes two running sessions per day. We do a total of 12-13 workouts a week, usually in the two Parks of the city of Patras, the South Park or the very well-known to locals “Agias Elos” (i.e. Elos is the Greek word for the Swamp), as well as in the beautiful forest of Kalogria. We also have a lot of work with home strengthening and recovery exercises with massages etc. Eating and sleeping always early and paying attention to meeting other people - practically nonexistent – rarely and only for necessary issues.



[Advendure]: Alexi, besides your athletic career, you are involved in acting but you have also written a book. Tell us a few things about these aspects of your life and about your family so we can get to know you better.

[Alexi Pappas]: My father’s mother is from Rhodes, and she met my Grandfather when he was stationed in her village during World War II. They married ten days after they first met! I grew up in Northern California with my father and older brother (my mother sadly passed away when I was 4 years old). I love blending my athletics with the arts, and to that end I have made two films, Tracktown and Olympic Dreams, which are available to watch online! I also have a book coming out this year, a memoir.



[Advendure]: We're getting to the end of March and the situation around the world seems to be even more difficult and complicated, rather than being solved, regarding the coronavirus. Ioannis, what about your racing targets now that the Tokyo Olympic Games moved to 2021? Will you continue your cooperation with Alexi in the future?

[Ioannis Dagkoglou]: Racing targets will depend on exactly when the Olympics will take place in 2021. The European track-and-field Championship at the end of August remains the target, racing at the half-marathon where Alexi has this year's best time and one of the best ever made in Greece (half-marathon pass during the Houston marathon last January) and then possibly a marathon next fall. In the future, our cooperation will be examined on the basis on the jobs and obligations that Alexi has in the US.



[Advendure]: Alexi, what is your vision as a sportswoman for the future? Ioannis, by taking into consideration your cooperation with Alexi what message would you like to send to the athletic leadership of the country, but also to the young talented athletes regarding competing in high level?

[Alexi Pappas]: I hope to continue training with the goal of breaking the record in the marathon – and most of all, I hope that by doing this, I can be a role model for young girls in Greece who might dream of chasing their own athletic dreams.

[Ioannis Dagkoglou]: The message I would like to send is that the future of this place is the young kids who are working hard in the stadiums and who want meaningful, not theoretical support to be able to achieve what they really can. I would also like to say to our young athletes that only with full dedication and effort they will see top results and the distance from the world's best athletes to shrink.


Dimitrios Troupis

Photo copyright: az sports images, tracktown, runners world, Alexi Pappas

Δημήτρης Τρουπής

Κατάγεται από το Ξυλόκαστρο Κορινθίας και ζει μόνιμα στην Πάτρα. Συμμετείχε στην συντακτική ομάδα του Adventure Zone από το 2009, ενώ μαζί με τον Τάκη Τσογκαράκη ίδρυσαν και "τρέχουν" το Advendure.  Το τρέξιμο στα μονοπάτια των βουνών και η μεταφορά εικόνων και συναισθημάτων μέσα από τα άρθρα του αποτελεί αναπόσπαστο κομμάτι της ζωής του. Παθιάζεται με τους αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος, υπεραντοχής και  περιπέτειας. Έχει πολλές συμμετοχές και διακρίσεις σε αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος όλων των αποστάσεων, με έμφαση στους αγώνες ultra trail.  Θεωρεί ότι το τρέξιμο και η πεζοπορία στη φύση είναι μια εσωτερική ανάγκη του ανθρώπου, μας φέρνει πιο κοντά σε αυτήν και μας κάνει να αγαπήσουμε περισσότερο το περιβάλλον.



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