The night before the big race, we all met up at an informational briefing at 7:30pm Saturday evening, began a spaghetti feed around 8:30pm and enjoyed Greek music and dancing from the port of Rethmynos until late into the night. I slipped away around 11pm as my jet lag was still quite prevalent and I couldn't, for the life of me, understand why no one would want to be sleeping with a wake-up time of 0400 for a big mountain race!
Once back at the hotel, I packed a couple bags for the bus ride first thing and hit the hay! Wake-up came quick at 0415 and by 0445 I was out the door and walking the couple mile distance to the town hall where the buses were set to shuttle racers at precisely 0500 to the Mountain. We all loaded up and headed on our way. Our destination, the Nida Plateau at the base of Mount Psiloritis, a windy and mountainous two hour drive from town.
Once at the site, we downloaded our gear and within a half hour, took off on our journey. The race began at 0730 descending into the valley as we ran across lush green fields still shadowed from the sunlight of the morning where sheep and goats flocked together by the hundreds around us. Our course markings were the strangest, I had ever seen before... 2 red dots spray painted on rocks in the rolling fields, ever so often. It was a lovely "wake up" to be running through the dew misted, green fields with the wildlife so early in the morning.. It was almost almost surreal!
We followed the course markings along until we (about the first 10 male competitors and myself) began our ascent again after roughly a 10k through the valley. Once back up to the road where we began the race, we followed 2 red dots to the right off of the road and began climbing through bushes and boulders and were back in the sunny heat of the morning. The views behind us in the valley below were just stunning and looking up, this was going to be a challenging route however soon, we could find no red dots anywhere. After gaining about 400 feet in elevation, and working together to flank the side of this mountain, no one could find the course markings any further. We all soon realized we had gone off track as we watched the majority of the "middle of the pack" racers below on the road turn left and run down, at the same spot we had all turned right, heading up onto the mountain. We all did our best to descend quickly through those *painful* cactus-like bushes and boulders to try to catch our leads again but our detour must have cost us all at least 10 minutes time. Once back on track, up, up, up we went!!
We climbed for miles and miles it seemed.... Through, hills, rocks, snow and boulders. As we climbed nearer to the summit, the storm arrived and the heavy fog soon "socked in" the top of the the Psiloritis Mountain. Climbing became more intense, the rocks bigger, the slopes more dangerous and steep, the temperatures frigid with the wind whipping at us. At times, ropes were needed to cross snow filled steeps and this was definitely my lowest point of the entire race. I was just about 200m from the summit and I was frozen... My frozen body wasn't working together any further and my mind was playing tricks on me in the fog and let me tell you those course markings were HARD as heck to see!! Finally, I heard a bell ringing in the distance, kept pushing knowing it was close and soon after, saw the bell, the aid station and checked in with the "winterized" volunteers at the top of the Summit. I rang the bell quickly for America, had help refilling my pack, as my hands, face and arms were frozen and was back on my way... Finally, descending!!
I was still panicking a bit trying to see where I was going all the while looking for those dang red dots in the fog. Just when I couldn't pray any harder I began to bawl out of exhaustion and fear of getting lost when the Lord and my Savior sent me a trail angel. He came out of nowhere and together we worked to descend down through at least 8 miles of technical terrain out of that storm, piggy backing each other over boulders, rock and snow while in search of those course markings to keep us on track. Once out of the fog, we almost immediately, came to the end of the technical terrain. The boulders on the mountain we had humbly stumbled down stopped, just as we noticed a couple of balloons next to an old farm house when a road appeared. It would finally be my time to "take the breaks off" (👇🏼and for all of you that know me and my forte👇🏼) say goodbye to my trail angel, profusely thanking him for our time together.. And RUN the rest of this race as it should be run.
The road went on to overlook the entire valley for MILES and MILES as it turned, twisted and curved around the mountain side back and forth! It was an absolutely stunning sight after missing all chances for any 360 views while summitting Crete. I keep my strides short, my pace quick and my hips under me as not to pound the road too hard or burden my quads. But I still had anxiety over feeling the need to make up for the lost time at the start of the race after getting off course and I wasn't sure just how many people were in front of me or the number of women in the lead. At mile 16, people cheered in Greek, clapping loudly for me but I didn't understand what they were saying... I refused water and kept on through the final two stations, thanking the volunteers with hand signals as I passed. It wasn't until 2 miles from the finish someone finally yelled out in English, "You are the first woman, USA! Bravo!!" I've got to admit, I choked up a bit. Dang near the entire race, I had been chasing the lead women down ... And as it turned out, I was only racing myself. I could finally breathe... Second thought, "And actually win this race?!!"
In my final 2 miles, I decided to back off a little, giving my legs a tiny bit of a break. As I was still unsure as to if there would be any more uphill roads ahead, I just kept running down as far as I could see and toward the finish I breathed a LOT easier just knowing there was no one in sight or anywhere around me.
I kept a steady pace until I saw the 15 flags of each Country being represented along each side of the road that last quarter mile and I knew at that moment, I had won it. I pulled the American flag I run with with from my pack, unrolled it and proudly waved it in the air as I gave it my ALL that last uphill push through the arch at the finish. That moment was the first time in 8 years I have honestly been PROUD of WHO I AM and once again after so much heartache and trauma. Truly PROUD to have WON this race (in the Female standings, 13th overall) for my fellow Comrades and for my Country. I walked alone for a minute and thanked the Lord above, as I will always continue to do... But this time I really did it... I was bringing home the Gold.
After a quick shower, waiting in a line for the SAME shower with ALL male athletes (Ha!) it was time for the closing commencement ceremonies, podium finisher awards and another round of traditional Greek dancing in the streets to be followed by another huge feast... Traditional Lamb, rice and greek salad were served for all racers, staff, volunteers and medical supports. Once through, we packed up, heading back to the buses for the final 2 hour ride back to the town hall in Rethymnos where we said our goodbyes. What an incredible journey to have been privileged enough to be a part of.
And I just as soon as it began, it was all over with. Just like the reoccurring dream I have every few nights since signing up to conquer this mountain and it's race. Except that dream has now changed... And I now have reality to fill in the gaps of my dream world. And a trophy, medal, olive leaved crown and jar of award winning Cretian honey to always remind me of just how AMAZING the dream played itself out in reality. I'm still in shock today... I actually won it!
*Psiloritis International Mountain Race / First Place Female / 4:35:22 / Crete, Greece / 28 May 2017
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