My Return and Thessaloniki Marathon

Well as usual a few months have gone by and I have kinda let my Urban Trail Runner duties slip by. However now I am back, settled and have some great ideas where I can take this blog and the site. At the last update I was getting reading for Thessaloniki Marathon which took place back in mid April.


So first, a bit about Thessaloniki, for those of you who are not familiar with Greek geography, the city is located in the north of the country on the Aegean Sea and a short three hour drive from Sofia (its about 4 hours from where I am in Plovdiv). The city is one of our favorites in the region as it is a good stop over to or from your seaside vacations. As with many cities in the region, Thessaloniki is steeped in history having been found in 315 BC and being one of the most important regional cities throughout history. Along with history we have found the city has a wonderful food scene with wonderful restaurants, cafes and a laid back vibe.

Team BEGACH in front of the Alexander the Great Statue in Pella

Team BEGACH in front of the Alexander the Great Statue in Pella

The marathon itself is known as Alexander the Great Marathon because its starting point is in Pella the birthplace of Alexander the Great. The organizers bus participants out to the starting line. On the morning of the race this year it was overcast with a slight amount of drizzle. I was on one of the first buses to arrive to Pella and it was a bit surreal. The sun was just rising and small town was mostly still asleep. Most of the participants went straight to one of the two cafes in two to stay warm and have a coffee. The organizers handed out some plastic ponchos to in order to stay warm a little later. As the start approached things kicked into life and the small town filled up with runners. It was nice to see two other BEGACH guys at the start, especially when there was no plan in place.

Obligatory post race selfie with support crew
Credit: Larry Salibra

The race started on time and spread out quickly. The first kilometer was down hill as we passed a passed the ruins of ancient Pella and the local band playing their tunes. At the base of the hill you turn left (east) onto the main road that takes you all the way into Thessaloniki. The route follows this road for roughly the next 35 km, it is relatively flat with some small inclines fro time to time but nothing serious. I cannot say enough about the aid stations as they were located every 2.5 km (after the 5 km mark).  All the volunteers were great, handing out a selection of drinks and cheering on all the runners.  At the 35km point you cross into the city proper and face probably the steepest incline yet as you cross a fly over. Finally at the 37.5 km mark you make a series of turns off of the main road that brings you closer to the water. At the 40km point you near the Thessaloniki Ferry terminal and you get the opportunity to run the last 1.2km down the Thessaloniki waterfront. On your left there a people enjoying their frappes and on your right there is the expanse of the Thermaic Gulf. The finish line of the race is just past the iconic white tower on the sea front, where I was met by my wonderful girlfriend and ridiculous brother. 

Always capturing my best moments
Credit: @Coffee.moffee

Before I get into the nitty gritty of how the race went for me. I definitely have to thanks both my brother Larry, who was kind enough to join us from Hong Kong and my girlfriend for Madlen. As any athlete knows the ones closest to you often sacrifice just as much as you do, especially in the case of Madlen who puts up with my early mornings, long runs and sometimes worrying fatigue. So just a reminder to all my endurance friends don't forget to thank your support crew. Even when they make it a goal to capture your worst moments. 

Strava's Race Analysis, click for the full event

Strava's Race Analysis, click for the full event

As for the race, well that didn't go especially to plan. Now after adequate time to think about and digest the race, I definitely think I overshot.  I was more of less on pace until i hit the 30km point, but from about the 25km point i had begun to experience to mild cramping issues. In retrospect I should have pulled back on the effort then but I stubbornly stuck to it. The 35-40km section was a total nightmare with cramps reducing me to walking and stretching long sections. For the final bit I was able to man up and came across the line with a 3:24 a few minutes slower then my best but far off my goal.  If you're interested in checking out all the race details you can find the link by click the race analysis picture. I guess my most important take away is that I need to work more on my pacing and just race more in general. Thessaloniki was only my second road marathon and as anyone who has ever run a marathon knows, there are lots of questions marks in these races. Each one is individual and you need to learn to interpret what your body is trying to tell you.

Finally the end credit: Larry Salibra

Finally the end
credit: Larry Salibra

So what’s next, well in an upcoming post, I will fill you all in on what to expect from this site in the future along with what I have been up to since April.  Im looking forward to this focus that I have found here and hope that you will all join me on the road. For now feel free to share you thoughts or advice for the future.  As for me I am currently in the thick of trying to figure out my 2020 schedule I definitely want to work another marathon into the works but this time I want to to see if I can run things a bit smarter than I have been. 

Pirin Skyrun Vertical (almost) Kilometer Race Report

Its been too long since I wrote one of these. Ive been meaning too but life has gotten in the way. A quick update, I've been running a medium amount, focusing more on getting in more vert, June worked out to be 158km (98.2) with 4996m (16391 ft) of climbing. In July my plan is to push both those numbers a bit further with the only for sure race on the horizon being Rila Run (21km 2000m D+).

On to more important things....

Pirin Skyrun Vertical Kilometer is part of a weekend of activities including a 10 & 34km skyvruns. The location as the name implies is in Pirin National Park which is located near Bansko, Bulgaria. The races are organized by the same team that puts on Trail Series events. 

The start line at Banderitsa Chalet

The start line at Banderitsa Chalet


This was my first Vertical Kilometer, the race was set to start at 9:00am so that required a very early 5:30 departure from Sofia to make sure I was on time. The weather in the proceeding days has hardly been encouraging with a solid week of seasonably cold temperatures and rain in the lead up. On the drive down I also encountered a fair amount of rain as well. The check in process was quick as some people stayed in the area before had and there were only about 20 of us participating. During the race briefing there was a quick shower and we were informed that we would need to bring jackets as it was 5℃ at the top and windy.  

Vihren in the clouds

Vihren in the clouds

The start line was located at Banderitsa Chalet (Хижа Бъндерица). The trail lead quickly into the forest and after the first 200m the relatively flat running was over.  The first kilometer was the easiest of them all with only 182m of climb through the towering pine trees. As you pass the one kilometer mark you climb steeply above the tree line. The trail goes straight up a steep, washed out trail with lost of tennis ball sized rocks. As you top out this section you're 1.8 km from the start with total of 382 m and the next challenges appear across the meadow. At this point for me a quick rain shower passed, as you start the next climb you've just passed the 2km point aka the halfway point. The trail climbs steeply to the left over a series of long switch backs which brought us to a quick snow crossing then back to the climbing.  After negotiating a few tricky rock jumps and at 2.7km you've arrived at Biouvac shelter Kasana (заслон Казана) at 2445m altitude . To your left Vihren's marble peak towers above you (in our case it was partially in the clouds.

The Finish line

You now deviate from the principle trail and climb steeply to your right up the flanks of Kuleto. Quickly the trail steepens, yes thats possible now averaging 45%+ over tufted grass and rocks. Just below the end of the this steep portion we were inundated in clouds somewhere around 2600m (8530ft). As you return to normal 20% grades the grass begins to disppear. It was here at 3.6km where the race ended this year. We were just 400m and 140 vertical meters short of the Peak Kutelo, but the weather condition made continuing too dangerous. 

While this was my first vertical kilometer it was not my first race at these altitudes. However I have to say this was the first time I really noticed the altitude. The combination of the altitude and the steep grades really made the difference in my case. I entered the race only with the intention of enjoying myself and as another excuse to go to the mountains. From that point of view it was a total success!

I hope to update this blog more often so if you've made it this far, keep on my case to write more. Plus I also hope to make a short video (perhaps in Vlog format) showing you my vertical kilometer experience.