After scraping to survive the half marathon on Skiathos and then eating and drinking my way through Greece, I approached the Oct. 5 run on Santorini with some hesitation. My concerns were for naught as the course on Santorini, while challenging, was more comparable to our local Yukon River Trail Marathon course than the Skiathos course I faced two weeks earlier.
The race began near Oia, the picturesque town of white-washed buildings and blue roofs, where visitors gather to see postcard sunsets. From there, participants run up a steep climb that includes natural steps and skirts along the bay overlooking the caldera of the old volcano. The early morning temperatures and light make it an enjoyable excursion and most participants are caught in the masses on the hill and at some choke points that require single-file traffic.
After scaling the first hill climb on a gravel trail, runners began a long descent to the road, before facing another long climb over the second hill on the course. It is noticeable in the distance. The orange race shirts given to participants stuck out in a long line along the trail rounding the mountain in the distance. The climb was on loose rock and trail, which made for a difficult and challenging climb.
After crossing the hill, runners rounded onto the city portion of the run at the five-kilometre mark and began running on cobblestone and cement walkways as the course entered the first parts of the main town on Santorini, Fira. By then, it was morning. Tourists were out and exploring, which added a new challenge to navigating the course.
The Santorini Experience is an out-and-back course, so the five-kilometre mark was the turnaround for 10 kilometre runners. The 15 kilometre runners knew they only had another two-and-a-half kilometres to their turnaround. Unfortunately, there was a long, casual downhill to that checkpoint in Fira, so immediately afterwards, runners were forced to run right back up the course. One runner took advantage of this and once he got back to the 10 kilometre turnaround, he had volunteers record his proposal to his girlfriend, to share with her once the were both done the race. That’s the sort of thing that happens on Santorini – engagements, honeymoons and weddings.
For racers, that out-and-back was the most frustrating part of the course. For all the beautiful views and enjoyable trails, runners knew they would be running back up every downhill portion. The lone exception was that runners took a different cobblestone trail at the 11 kilometre checkpoint to go around the second hill, instead of over the top on the return leg.
The start of the race featured a long climb over the hill, and this created a pleasant kilometre long downhill to the finish line, that my weary legs welcomed. The uneven ground did challenge fatigued muscles, but not to the same extent that the Skiathos run had done.
The Santorini Experience was a very enjoyable run that created a community event for all participants to enjoy.