Today I met a Greek ultrarunner … in Greece, funnily enough

Today I met a Greek ultrarunner.

Coming down a dirt fire road, I was approaching the back side of the low mountain I had walked to the top of the previous evening after arriving in Kastorià. I was looking for the left turn that indicated would take me countouring around the north side of the mountain to meet up with the track I had walked out and back along last night before I found the correct track to the summit.

He was standing behind a tangle of blackberry vines and seemed as surprised to see me running down the dirt road in hydration vest and Salomon running shoes as I was to see him; even more so, I think. We called out kalimera to each other and I continued past, not breaking pace. He called after me in Greek, which I couldn’t understand, but he continued so persistently I felt I should stop and respond.

As he walked towards me, still earnestly talking, I interrupted him, saying, “English?” He stopped, suddenly uncertain. To give him more options I added, “Italiano? Deutsch?”, which are the other two languages I can speak fairly well. He didn’t respond to either of the latter two and had little English, but a lot more than my Greek, enough to enable us to coummunicate.

He was young, mid-20s I would think, and lean like a dedicated ultrarunner would be. Darkly tanned with dark hair and eyes and energetic like a tightly coiled spring. Over his singlet of technical fabric he was wearing a very lightly burdened vest, probably 2L. No brand name that I recognised and black like mine.

He was anxious to tell me how to get back to Kastorià, i.e. the way I was going. Apparently he did not assume that I might actually know where I was going and be competent to take care of myself. But I allowed him to show me the left turn, which he was eager to do, and in fact it would have been easy to miss, although I was expecting and looking carefully for it somewhere in the next 50 metres and would have found it eventually, had I passed it. It turned out to be a track through the grass marked with two concrete blocks.

Standing by the concrete blocks in the grass, his halting English allowed us to find out a few details about each other. His longest distance was 100 km and he told me he had run the Paranesti Virgin Forest Ultra Trail. When I showed blank ignorance, he stretched out his arm to indicate that it was east of where we stood.

We chatted awkwardly for another minute or two and then parted with an elbow-bump and mutual wishes for happy running.

As I picked my way down the narrow overgrown track back towards Kastorià, I smiled. In five months of regular training runs in Croatia, Serbia and now Greece, today for the first time I had encountered another member of my tribe.

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