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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 6 August 2016
24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 6 AUGUST 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Running with the Gods ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS From as far back as he can remember, Stavros Michael has always been fascinated by long-distance running. Working full-time in the banking sector, much of his spare time has been spent following his self-researched and designed fitness program. But friends and family didn't realise how deeply his passion ran, until he signed up to compete in one of the world's hardest marathons at Mount Olympus, Running with the Gods. "Funnily enough, I came across the marathon because my mum (Member for Calwell, Maria Vamvakinou MP) showed me a clip of it. You see all these Greeks and people of different cultural backgrounds running on the mountain, up in the clouds and I thought to myself, 'I'm going to do it'," Stavros tells Neos Kosmos, unaware of the fact that he would be embarking on the most challenging psychological experience of his life. Despite his experience and excellent physical condition, the 23-year-old first had to qualify. Entrants were required to have completed a marathon in the last two years, with Stavros’ most recent at the time being the Melbourne Marathon, and two trail marathons - either half or full - at the altitude of 1,500 metres, "because it's not enough just to be able to run distance; you have to be able to deal with the terrain" - a concept he would fully come to understand on June 26. After venturing to Kilcunda and the You Yangs to fulfil the criteria, it was in January that he finally received his letter of acceptance. With a lot on his plate, the thought crossed his mind to give the race a miss, but he felt an unwavering pull. "I thought, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, so why not? I booked my flights, started saving up and working over time so I could go," he tells. A part of the Sky Events, Running with the Gods is considered the hardest in a series of challenging runs undertaken by hundreds of people from around the globe. In its 13th year, between 80 to 90 per cent of competitors are from Greece, with Stavros the first Australian to ever compete. After following a rigorous training program, the young runner arrived in the pictur- esque village of Litochoro, greeted by the Mediterranean summer and a two-day festival of events and carnivals in the lead-up to the event. "I felt like I was in ancient times," he says with a smile. "I've never seen a village like that. It was in the mountains, so everything was green; an old town surrounded by the valleys of Mountain Olympus." Bounding with excitement, it was upon meeting with his 800 fellow competitors – the majority of whom were experience mountain runners and hikers - that the doubts started to kick in. "I was one of the youngest, and they were all shocked at what I was wearing; runners, a singlet ... these people were wearing hiking running shoes, gloves, they had energy gels, and all this thermo stuff. They said 'you're not going to finish this'." Returning to his hotel room alone, and far from his support network, he had to dig deep to get his confidence back, but in hindsight he admits "I wasn't prepared for what was coming". The following day, the Greek Australian joined his fellow competitors at the starting line, Stavros setting off strong.
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