The Kassios Dias running festival takes place on the Greek island of Corfu and features a number of trail races of varying distances, all held on the same day, that showcase the mountainous forest terrain. This year was the 9th running of the event, but the first time with all-new extended routes: a 35km “Twin Peaks” trail, 19km “Erimitis” trail, 9km charity race and a 1200m children’s race. I was taking part in the longer race, described by the organisers as: “a total of 35km and 2,100m elevation. It will combine the North-East side of Corfu, the two highest peaks of our island, traditional hamlets, forest footpaths, alongside the coastal area of the pure and unspoilt natural environment, our own ecosystem, Erimitis, which is abundant in flora and fauna, rare and distinct in this area only, there are three lakes (home to the otter Lutra Lutra) and remote paths which will make the event an unforgettable experience. The runners will have the opportunity to try out their ability and strength in what is considered to be a demanding race, on a variety of terrain, constant ascents and descents, constantly challenging the runner.”
The night before the race was quite stormy, and the rain was still falling along with a chilly breeze as we gathered by the harbour at Kassiopi for an 8am start. I had been fearing hot, humid conditions and a battle with dehydration, but ended up with some very Scottish-like weather which probably suited me a lot more than it did the locals! The route took the main road out of town and then headed for the hills, following tarmac for about a mile before turning off onto trail paths. The terrain from here on out was truly epic, probably the most technical I’ve ever seen, winding round dense forest and scrambling up (not-quite-so) dried up riverbeds, past abandoned villages and grazing goat herds, all the while climbing continuously for the entire first half of the race to reach the two highest points on the island.
The “Twin Peaks” were shrouded in cloud, so we were robbed of the views but the course was very well sign posted with orange markers, meaning there was no risk of getting lost, even on the more “vague” sections of trail. Once the mountains were out of the way, life became a lot easier as we headed back down to the coast, but roads were still an endangered species and it was fairly slow going navigating the slippery stones and mud. The final 5 miles hugged the coastline as the sun finally made an appearance, taking us along some pebble beaches before returning to the town and back to where we started.
I was intending to use this race as a stepping stone towards the Highland Fling and Cateran 55, but it quickly became an endurance test in its own right as the difficult terrain combined with the rapid early ascent to make the first 10 miles some of the most brutal I’ve ever run. The gentler second half made it easier to enjoy the race and the relatively slow pace meant that I crossed the finish line still feeling pretty good, ending up in 6th place overall and 3rd in my age category (full results: https://kassiosdias.gr/en/apotelesma/2019/ ). I would highly recommended this event, and Corfu in general, for anyone who loves hills, trails and good food afterwards!