At the same time, Olympus is a very hard mountain, with absence of water, especially near the higher and mostly stony regions, and with very technical rocky trails. On the other hand, Olympus is a mountain with a vast alternation of amazing landscapes, very rich flora and wildlife near the low parts, and also with amazing views near the high peaks towards the Aegean Sea and the plains and cities, hundreds of kilometers away.
There where discussions for several years between the Greek Mountain Running community regarding a potential ultra-trail at the mountain of the Gods. The project was not easy due to the nature of the mountain. The idea was about an ultra-race that starts from the sea, follows the ancient path to the high-peaks of the mountain, crosses Zeus throne through “Stefani” and the other two high peaks behind it, and finally going through a very beautiful but forgotten area of trails at the back of the mountain, crossing deep forests and secondary peaks before getting back to the beautiful Enipeas gorge and finally reach the historical city of Litohoro.
Olympus Mythical Trail 100 K first edition.The dream became true for me and almost 140 other lucky athletes just an hour after midnight of July 6th 2012. A man’s vision and hard effort and the challenge of the hard and legendary mountain, were enough in order to gather an assembly of people seeking for adventure at the starting line of
Memories are very strong from this very warm and humid night. The starting of the race from inside the ruins of the imposing Archaeological site of Dion, the climb at the top of the mountain and the plateau of the Muses running into the mysteriously quiet and immersive atmosphere of the summer night, the amazing view of the distant city lights when crossing the 2.500 meters of Skourta ridge and of the sun emerging from inside the Aegean sea when traversing Zeus throne near the top of the mountain, the deep and beautiful Malta forest, the 360 degrees unbelievable view of Libadaki peak near the end of the race and of course the run through Enipeas gorge (known from Olympus Marathon race) are only some of the experiences that someone can actually live when running this race.
An ultra-trail of 100 kilometers and +7.000 of positive elevation, in such a harshness mountain could not be easy. It tests the athlete’s limits in a large extent. The start of the race inside the absolute heat and humidity of the Greek summer night, the low temperatures as the athlete climbs towards the high peaks that create a difficult to handle contrast, the hard stony trails during some of the extensive downhill parts during the race, the heat of the Greek summer during the midday, the steep ascent between kilometres 66-77, when the race elevates from 500 to 2.100 meters, and finally the surprising last 5 kilometres technical route that keeps the athlete at 100% concentration and hard effort till the finish line, are some of the elements that characterize – together with its history and beauty - the very special nature of this iconic ultra-race.
Olympus Mythical Trail 100 K story is about important history, great landscapes but also a high degree of difficulty. Of course, as I learned from my participation in the 2012 first edition of the race, the mental imprint to the athlete’s mind is also very high. It’s a race for building strong and emotional memories.
Lazaros Rigos, is the inspirer, organizer, technical director and soul behind the Olympus Mythical Trail 100 K. Let’s have a discussion about this year’s edition of the race, which coincides with the first ascent to the summit of Olympus back in 1913 from Christos Kakalos, Fred Boissonnas and Bod Bauvy.
[Advendure]: What is the philosophy behind the “motto” of the race, which is: Olympus Mythical Trail 100K – a human race?
[Lazaros Rigos]: Our viewpoint about the race - which is connected with the motto - is that to accomplish finishing this race on the mountain of the Gods is a human affair, although it requires transgression, an act that ultimately elevates the concept to a higher sphere. We want to highlight the athlete’s excess but within the human aspect, since everyone running on OMT is a human above all. Moreover, the "human race" motto is a “metaphorical game” with the human race itself, but always in relation to the divine element that characterizes Olympus Mountain, which is closely linked to Greek mythology.
[Advendure]: Olympus Mythical Trail 100K will take place on July 6th 2013, in the second edition of the race. Are there any significant changes at the technical details taking into consideration the experience from the previous year? What are the important race elements that a novice athlete should keep in mind during the race?
[Lazaros Rigos]: There are no significant differences compared with 2012, except for the time limit of the race, which dropped from 30 to 28 hours, after a detailed study of the results of the first race. Our intention is to keep the race in clear athletic levels, which will be reflected in the overall (and intermediate) time thresholds. The route of the race and its length will remain constant. Olympus Mythical Trail must remain a reference race that takes place on a reference mountain! Important elements of the race for the newcomer athlete are the rugged terrain, the prolonged move at high altitudes and the very hot weather conditions prevailing in Greece this season. It takes wisdom, strategy and proper distribution of athlete’s energy. OMT challenge is difficult and this is the proper way for an athlete to deal with it.
[Advendure]: Tell us a few words about the reasoning behind the design of the race’s route. The first quarter of the race is almost identical to Olympus Marathon route, so it’s already known to many athletes. What about the rest of the race? What are the most iconic parts of OMT100 K from your point of view?
[Lazaros Rigos]: The team that designed the route had an important limitation to face: to “carve” a path just 100 km! This fact has limited us to a large extent, but the final result was successful, since it combines both a great variety of mountain landscapes in areas which were relatively unknown to the general public and a key element to differentiate OMT from a small mountain race: the route has three “humps” in the profile, which means continuous difficulty and continuous testing of the athlete.
The fact that the first 25 km of the OMT route coincide with the first 25 of another race (Olympus Marathon), doesn’t mean a lot to an athlete who comes to race for the first time in Olympus Mountain. And remember that these first 25 Km are in the darkness of the night! The most iconic part of the route of the race is the one that brings the athletes ahead of the highest peaks of Olympus Mountain. An amazing feeling overpowers the athletes at this point, because it’s almost twilight for most of the athletes, so the feelings that these huge rock volumes exercise at the human soul, are even more powerful. In some cases the passage from this point is connected with the sunrise of the sun from deep in the Aegean Sea, thus creating an epic atmosphere.
Another special point is the Livadaki plateau, almost at the ¾ of the 100 km route. At this point the athlete enters inside the most virgin and unspoiled part of the route. A very wild and lonely landscape that causes a contraction and a mood to get over it as quickly as possible, especially when the night approaches! At the same time as you are struggling with this powerful landscape, you can see far away the peaks of Olympus Mountain throwing a strict look to yourself.
[Advendure]: There is a significant history element behind mountain Olympus and the race starts form inside the impressive Archaeological site of Dion. Is there a hidden “energy” behind Olympus and the surrounding atmosphere?
[Lazaros Rigos]: In the course of 3,000 years of history, humans always believed that this mountain was hiding energy that affects human lives. And it was no coincidence that the ancient Greeks placed on Olympus peaks their Gods abode. The start of the race from inside the archaeological site of Dion - a city of worship during the ancient years - is not a random selection and hides a symbolic notation. What we want is to connect the sanctity and the historical meaning of the place with the athlete’s effort to overcome the difficulties of the race. Emotionally, this option, charges with energy the athlete of the race, as it inevitably leads to associations that affect him positively. Generally, what I think about the other dimension of Olympus is that the whetstone of history that sits on the rocks of this mountain is the "secret" energy emitted by this mountain, which distinguish it from other parts of the world.
[Advendure]: According to the regulations of the race, “OMT100 K is for those who qualify as "experiential", i.e. for mostly dedicated athletes to the kind of races demanding self-supported philosophy”. So, it seems that Olympus Mythical Trail 100K is not for everyone?
[Lazaros Rigos]: Olympus Mythical Trail race is certainly not ideal for sports tourism! When we were at the design phase of the race, we decided to set the required physical standard higher than the commonly accepted average which other organizers usually set, without of course saying that by establishing this we set an exception or difference. We chose this athletic standard because the race is technically demanding and we did not want to jeopardize the safety of a moderate fit athlete. When you ask the athletes to respond to your invitation you need to know and who to invite. You need to know to what kind of guests your celebration is addressed. In OMT, the athlete begins his quest in the deep night and after the first 15 kilometers when he climbs from the sea level to 2.000 meters of altitude, he has to run another 20 kilometers above that level before starting to descend a little lower. And all this effort is done in a wild rocky field where he must be careful in his footsteps.
Without going in further details, I must say that being aware of our responsibility as organization we decided to be cautious in the selection process of the athletes that wish to take part at the race. One last thing: Olympus Mountain and its trails are really hard and wild and they are different from the crowded paths of similar altitude in Europe and America, something most non-Greek athletes realize only when they come here
[Advendure]: “As always happen on the mountains, the most horrifying views from a distance, look less hard when you’re onset” Fred Boissonas wrote at his memoirs from the first ascent to Mountain Olympus higher summit back in 1913. Olympus Mythical Trail 100K race seems very hard from an outsider perspective, due to the distance, the harshness of Olympus trails, the midnight start of the race and several other elements. I’m wondering if Boissonnas quote applies to this ultra-race too.
[Lazaros Rigos]: It is absolutely certain that the difficulties seem bigger when you look at them from far away and diminished when you become a part of them. This year’s celebration of 100 years of the putative first ascent of Olympus peak by Boissonas and the Greek Christos Kakalos, recently gave me the opportunity to deal with the history of the exploration of this mountain. From the information that I've studied, I came once more to the conclusion that the challenge is to have the first time; after that all become easier! Until 1913, all attempts failed, for no particular reason. But once someone set foot to the summit for the first time, the ascent became a routine procedure!
When two years ago we were planning Olympus Mythical Trail and we were discussing the issue with experienced friends, most of them shook their heads negatively, believing that this was madness. In 2011, I ran solo all the way to create the "previous" and to convey the message that it can be done. I knew how important it was for the Greek ultra-trail and mountain running community. The next year (2012) nearly 150 athletes stood at the starting line of the first race, of course motivated by the challenge but keeping in mind that it is already done by a human! I do not know yet how much less they would be, if there was not the successful attempt during the previous year. When the athletes are working collectively, as in a mountain race, they need to feel a confidence that hedges the initial difficulty that everyone senses that is very big. But when found inside the race, things certainly seem easier. The thought that someone else has already done it before, certainly helps in creating good psychology.
[Advendure]: The winner of OMT100 K first edition was Achilleas Christanas with a time of 15 hours and 40 minutes. You also ran the race solo, at least two times, so what do you think about the record progress during the next years. Do you have any estimation about how much this record can be improved?
[Lazaros Rigos]: The finishing time of the winner at the first edition of a race never last for a long time. It is known that the pioneers simply open the way for those who follow. Athletes of 2012 OMT first edition made a strong race; but they unfortunately had some mishaps on the trail, which cost them in time. I think 15:40 will quickly descend and in a spectacular way! Figuring however some factors such as the huge elevation of OMT (almost +7.000 m), the wild technical terrain, the high average altitude and the nighttime start of the race, I believe that in the next 3-4 years, hardly the record will fall below 13 hours.
[Advendure]: OMT100 starts exactly at 00:00 (12 midnight) Friday to Saturday, the 5th to July 6, 2013, from the archaeological site of Dion. Why did you choose to start the race at midnight?
[Lazaros Rigos]: The most basic reason is practical. The Greek summer is very hot and the longer period someone is exposed to heat, the less likely is to complete his effort. Starting midnight offers 7 additional hours of dewiness to the athlete. This helps him to successfully overcome the critical first part of his effort, having undergone minimal dehydration and therefore to be more protected from the dehydration issues. With the midnight start we intend to "push" the athletes in their difficult effort. But this practical thought brought also some emotional benefits to the athletes who live a unique experience of facing –when reaching the higher parts of the mountain - the lights of the villages and cities down below in the valley and the majestic coming of the daylight from the peaks of Olympus, a sight that will be unforgettable to everyone that runs the race.
There is also an important security issue, which we wanted to be addressed from the midnight start of the race. Starting in the midnight, the last athletes will pass through the exposed and prone to storm parts of the mountain before the time window that usually storms are erupted. Certainly, during early July the chances of thunderstorms in Greek mountains are reduced to a minimum, but when you organize a race you must take everything into account.
[Advendure]: Olympus Mythical Trail 100K takes place in the heart of the Greek summer. What about other things (food and restaurants, excursions, beaches etc…) that the area offers for a possible summer vacation together with the race?
[Lazaros Rigos]: Olympus Mountain is located in the region of Pieria, which is a prime tourist area, and accommodates every summer a large volume of tourists from many different countries. Consequently, a visitor to the area can find many options for accomodation that range from five star hotels to guesthouses and campsites or shelters on the mountain. And of course, one can enjoy the perfect combination of sand beaches and mountain – probably unique in Greece and elsewhere - with minimal movement. Suffice to say that the linear distance between the top of Mount Olympus and the sea shore does not exceed 12 km! The small town of Litochoro that hosts the headquarters of the Olympus Mythical Trail is located at the foot of Mount Olympus, just 8 km from the beach and it is an ideal destination that combines direct access to both paths of Olympus, and the coast. And it is no coincidence that for centuries this tiny state, although mountainous, was the base of great ship-owners!
[Advendure]: Last year we had 3 ultra-trail races above 50 miles in Greece, two of them inside Rodopi Forest National Park in Northern Greece (ROUT 100 miler and VFUT 128K) and OMT100 K on Mountain Olympus. This year the number increases to 5 races, with two 100 milers and an iconic 50 miler at Zagori National Park in western Greece. It seems that the ultra community grows in Greece with more races and more athletes every year. You have a vast race organization experience, so tell us a few things about this significant trend…
[Lazaros Rigos]: The development of mountain and trail running in Greece follows closely the progress that the sport has in every part of the world. The international scene of trail running is growing rapidly and organizational developments galloping, with federations and alliances of races springing up like mushrooms. Thousands of athletes travel around the world to take part in races. The human tendency to return to nature, through entertainment, culture and politics, it is an undeniable fact,while the ecological alarm sounds throughout the Earth. The attempt of the modern Western man to come closer to nature belongs exactly into this context, and it is realized through an energetic activity, such as outdoor sports in general.
The Greek mountain running community has experienced explosive growing rates during the past decade. The number of races increased approximately 30 times, with the number of athletes participating in these races to present a 40 times increase! The first generation of athletes has matured, and moved from smaller races gradually on ultra, on the grounds that ultra-trail offers greater thrills and much more challenges as a total experience. This explains also the flourishing of ultra globally. The mature part of the Greek community, therefore, first created the critical mass that resulted to the first ultra race in the country in 2007, and today enjoys the presence of 4-5 races over 80 kilometers, with at least 500 athletes participating, which is a considerable number, given that the total number of Greek athletes running on the mountains is nearly 7000 athletes.
I believe that in the near future the development of ultra-trail in Greece will continue at similar rates, indicating the progress of Greek trail running community. International developments and trends now go quickly on the Greek scene with instant online and multi-level information, which is also a result of shared knowledge and experience from individuals and communities with more experience.
The future of the Greek trail running scene prescribed auspicious, despite the adverse economic conditions that plague the country.
The river is not turning back ...
Just before the sunrise, near the high peaks of Mount Olympus
Above the Clouds ...
For further information visit the official web-site of the race: http://www.omt100.com
Photo ©: Lazaros Rigos, Goexperience, Olympus-climbing.gr