The Hellenic Mountain Race 2023, taken on by Joachim Lindhart
We have been so lucky that friend of ours Joachim Lindhart has taken his time to write down his experience from the Hellenic Mountain Race 2023.
Joachim is 33 years of age, born just outside Kolding in Jutland. He has a B. Sc. in physioterapy and a M. Sc. in neurorehabilitation and works today with rehabilitation of disabled kids
When not working we have the pleasure of Joachim at some of our weekly rides and for chats about gear and stuff at our café.
Joachim recently completed this year Hellenic Mountain Race 2023, which according to rumours was one hell of a challenge with DNFs all over the place, Joachim completed the race, and here is his description of his journey.
Race report Hellenic Mountain Race 2023, by Joachim Lindhardt
I’ve been encouraged to write a somewhat thorough race report after completing the Hellenic Mountain Race (HMR) in Greece. The following will be a description of my adventure going through the Pindus Mountains. I will try to touch the following subjects: background, my bike, preparations for the race, and the race itself. I hope this can help others who wish to participate in HMR or similar races.
Unlike most who actually wish to participate in such events as the HMR I haven’t been riding bikes on a competitive level. At least not to the extend many of the other participants have. My search for bike adventure started in 2019/2020. By that time I had been riding road bikes for some years, and of course been riding regular bikes my entire life. But in 2019/2020 I bought an old Gazelle CX bike. 90’s steel frame with an odd and old 2x7 setup. Nonetheless this was the first bike I took out for adventures in the forest and on gravel. I was sold. That led me to buying my first actual gravel bike from BENBEN in Copenhagen. Since then my interest for bike touring and bike packing just kept growing. Since I am a competitive person I took special interest in bike packing races, and with my education in physiotherapy I was keen on finding out how far I could push my physical and mental boundaries. This eventually led to me signing up for the HMR in December 2022.
The first time I visited Ben and Ari in their workshop at Prøvestenen in Amager, I told them I wanted to go bike touring and that my aim was to eventually go for a long distance bike packing race. I don’t know if they believed me back then….
But in 2022 I came back to buy my second bike. A bike build for adventure. A frame welded by Ari and put together by Ben.
The bike is one of ten Special Edition adventure gravel frames build on Amager by Ari and Ben. It is a robust steel frame which can handle the extreme pressure put on the bike, when the adventure takes you further and longer. The bike was originally born with a rigid steel fork which is longer than your average gravel fork. It was produced like this to make sure it could fit a suspension fork without changing the geometry of the bike. The bike takes 29x2.2 tires and the geometry is made for hefty and rocky terrain, with steep climbs and hardcore downhills. Monster cross, hybrid off-road, adventure gravel bike, drop-bar MTB, gravel-X…. Success has many fathers.
As mentioned above I am a physiotherapist. I obviously have a big interest in the endless possibilities but also the limitations of the human body. Preparing for this race I had to imagine what kind of pressure my body would have to endure, and how to best prepare it for that. Before starting the preparations two things were clear to me. I didn’t want a strict training program and I wanted to plan it all by myself. I only felt comfortable doing it like this since when racing I would be alone out there. If I failed I didn’t want anyone to blame but me. This is not something I recommend for everyone. If you don’t have a basic understanding of the human physiology I would definitely recommend that you take or buy advice from someone capable of providing such. I’m sure that my preparations weren’t the most efficient and that outside help might have taken me further.
My initial training included a lot of kilometers. I live in Copenhagen and have no way of doing big climbs or accumulate lots of elevation. Therefore my thought was to go long and do so for many rides. For the first two out of six months of training, I did no intervals and I basically only did long slow distance. This helped me build a solid base. Getting closer to the race I started doing different longer and shorter intervals, and also a few sessions that included sprints and such. Although I always listened to my body and tried to change the pace on a day to day basis. If I felt like going fast I allowed myself to do that and if I felt tired I also allowed myself to go slower. Most important for me was building a foundation for riding big days with a lot of kilometers.
Hellenic Mountain Race takes off in Meteora in Greece. This was the inaugural edition and therefore I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Although the stats did give away some information. 950 km and 30.000+ meters of elevation. You need to be self-supported throughout the entire race.
The race started at 9 am with a neutral start from Meteora. The first kilometers took us through a singletrack which quickly scattered the riders. It was a quick 15 kilometer loop that took us back through Meteora before making our way towards CP1.
40 km in I got my front wheel stuck in some mud and crashed. Felt like someone hit me with a hammer just above my right knee. In a short moment I feared the race was over for me… I grabbed my first aid kit and used a bandage to put pressure around my thigh to try and keep the swelling to a minimum. Luckily there were no swelling in or around the knee joint but only muscular pain and swelling above the joint. So I decided to move on and at least try to push through the pain till reaching the first village. Making my way there I felt alright and pretty optimistic. When I arrived I was somewhat confident that I could actually continue the race so I kept pushing to get to Metsovo, which was my first planned resupply on the route. Quick resupply and back on the bike.
After 10-11 hours of riding it started getting darker but I felt good and decided to push into the night. After a few hours in the dark I arrived at a hike-a-bike section. I totally lost the track and found myself crawling through the woods while dragging and pushing my bike. This went on for an hour or two, before I found a somewhat rideable singletrack and got back on the route. Those hours felt so long and I felt completely empty.
On the first day of a race people aren’t that far apart yet and I had the chance to chat to some of the other riders. This is one of the best things about bikepacking. The community is so welcoming. Almost everyone is open for a quick chat. Even though some of those chats aren’t longer than two minutes, it’s nice to meet someone else out there.
The day ended in a small village where I slept in front of a closed Mini Market.
Stats from day 1:
19h 30min on the bike.
4500 m elevation gain.
My initial “best case scenario” was to reach CP1 in the first day. I didn’t even come close. The terrain and weather made it hard to move forward at the pace I wanted to. After a few hours of sleep and a quick breakfast in front of the Mini Market I started riding. Day two turned out to be one of the tougher days. I started out climbing down what felt like endless rocky and slippery stairs which led to crossing a bridge. On the other side of the bridge I had to drag me and my bike up similar slippery rocky stairs.
After climbing those stairs I finally arrived at a rideable section. This took me to Vikos Gorge, one of the many breathtaking views from the race.
After the loop to Vikos Gorge I again arrived at a hike-a-bike section. Lucky for me I started that at the same time as Andrew Chapman. A Canadian guy, we chatted on and off going down that section. We both had hoped to go faster and expected to be further then we were. We shared some stories from the road. Andrew lifted my mood and I felt optimistic to keep on pushing. After 3-4 kilometers of hiking in the wet grass a short gravel downhill led into the final climb to CP1. A tarmac climb which was rideable and nice.
Arriving at CP1 I met a lot of the other riders. All knew what waited after CP1. A long section of hike-a-bike to the Mount Tymfi Refuge. Some of the riders already finished the hike – and looked wasted from it. I ate a big meal since I heard the next 10 kilometers (5 up and 5 down) would be long. That hike was extremely tough. Starting the hike I met Theo, a Canadian guy I also chatted to on CP1. He was on his way down and looked tired but happy to be done with it. He told me I had a couple of hours to go to reach the top. Covering those 10 kilometers going up and down took 4-5 hours. Coming back into CP1 I was ready to eat again! Many riders decided to stay at CP1 to sleep. I thought about doing the same, but after a meal and a big resupply I felt energized and optimistic to keep on going. Leaving CP1 at 22:00 I thought about riding for a couple of hours and then get some needed sleep. Going back down the same tarmac climb that led me into CP1 was nice and easy. After the descent I remember from the Race Manual that I would go through an invisible but “rideable” track along a river. Only thing I forgot, this late at night, was what Nelson (race director) told us at the riders briefing. I think it was something like “you will hate me going through this part of the course”. And boy did I hate him. The track wasn’t rideable at all – definitely not in the dark. I only needed to go 4 kilometers in this terrain, but moving was so slow paced. It was pitch black and all I could hear was the river running down below the narrow track. Finally made it through after a couple of frustrating hours.
Decided to keep on going for another hour. Being soaked from hiking through the forest on the riverbank I found a hotel, where I could sleep for a couple of hours and my get some of my clothes semi-dry.
Stats from day 2:
17h 30min on (or next to) the bike.
3000 m elevation gain.
Coming out of the hotel after a couple of hours of sleep I immediately had to start a climb. In retrospect I would have preferred to do it at night. It’s tough to start the day with a long climb, but at least that got the blood going. I started with a stop at a baker where I ate some sweet pastries and had three espressos.
Before I started climbing I met Reeze. A south African guy I talked to during the first day. He went straight to the bus stop. The first two days had worn down his brakes and the pistons flew out of his rear brakes, emptying them from hydraulic fluid. He had to go to a bigger city to get it fixed. I felt sorry for him, he was fast and efficient on the bike so I hoped I would see him later in the race. I learned later that he scratched. The problems with the breaks and rain and cold just became too much. Many riders started scratching from the race. It is different from other competitive sports. It didn’t boost my moral to hear others scratch. It just felt a bit more lonely on the track. But I was determined to keep on going.
Day three was the day of big climbs and less hike-a-bike. Some tarmac here and there was nice and made the progression faster. After doing a long remote stretch I arrived in Metsovo in the night. Found a nice bus stop where I could sleep.
Stats from day 3:
16h 30min on the bike.
4900 m elevation gain.
Started with a long rainy descent. Wet and freezing I started a long climb. According to my garmin it was 21km of climbing with 1.300 m elevation gain. The climb was “on and off” some really steep section where I had to hike-a-bike and some more fast paced sections. This led to the highest point in the race just above 2000 m of elevation. It was cold, windy and still snowy on the top of the climb. But no rain and most of it was rideable. After long climb a short descent led to some rideable running hills, that almost felt like home. Not too steep and nice. The landscape was totally different though. Felt extremely remote and hostile, but very beautiful.
Eventually I descended into a historic and picturesque mountain village called Syrrako. Feeling good about my progression I didn’t stop for many photos. After the village a short descent led to a single track. Being on a gravel bike I hiked it. It was steep and I kept the brakes blocked. Halfway through my rear tire suddenly lost all pressure in a matter of seconds. Fuck. Side cut. Loooong and unfixable. I decided to hike the rest of the single track to get to the tarmac.
Like angels from above a couple who lived from their van waited at the end of the single track. They toured the world in their van with bikes. They decided to dotwatch the race and meet some of the riders. They offered me warm(!!) coffee and crackers. I tried to fix my tire but it wasn’t possible. So I inserted a tube and kept on moving. After 5 kilometers I was flat again. I met two guys when I was trying to fix the tire. Guy and Jose. Great guys who offered words of advice. I eventually put in my second tube since the first when lost pressure all the time. Same thing happened to my second tube. I told the guys to move on as I would have to stop and fix the pressure every kilometer or two. Eventually I decided to hike the last 10 kilometers in to CP2. It was a tarmac climb all the way there. I thought it best to make a decision from there. After hiking for an hour Jose and Guy suddenly overtook me again. They had made a wrong turn going downhill for 4-5 kilometers, which they had to climb to get back on track. Spirits where high though and I told them I would meet them for pasta bolognese in CP2.
Coming in to CP2 I learned that I could fix my tire in Ioannina. But I couldn’t do anything other than wait the night in CP2. Set me back 16-17 hours but that’s part of the game.
Stats form day 4:
13h 45min on the bike.
2800 m elevation gain.
After a good nights sleep in CP2 I went to Ioannina to get a new tire and redo my tubeless setup. Coming back to CP2 it felt so good getting back on the bike. After a few setbacks I was determined to finish the race. And having dropped back in the general classification motivated me to go as fast as I could.
I started with a tough climb from CP2. At the top of the climb there was a short hike through some snow. The race organizers had to dig out a path for the riders to go through. Crossing the snow led to a long path with big sharp rocks. Once again the views where the breathtakingly beautiful. But I had to stay focused on the path to avoid punctures or worse. This day didn’t demand a lot of hiking, which made me very happy.
After riding a few hours along a water reservoir I arrived at a restaurant. I met Kasimir in the restaurant and we both decided for some sleep in front of the restaurant. A short day on the bike given the time I had to spend to go to Ioannina and back. But a feeling of progression.
Stats from day 5:
12h 30min on the bike.
4000 m elevation gain.
After a couple hours of sleep in front of the restaurant I decided to leave. It was still dark as I left in the middle of the night, but I knew I had back to back gravel climbs so I just wanted to get started. Unable to make good resupply in the restaurant I only had a sandwich with feta for breakfast. Finishing the two climbs left the tank empty.
Coming into a small town I found a café. I ordered a pizza, five pieces of cake, two cokes, bag of crisps, and some sweets. Topped that of with some juice boxes and two chocolate filled croissants, 30 minutes of sleep and I felt good to go again. I was determined to make it to CP3.
There was some hike-a-bike during the day. One being long and really tough. But generally a day filled with more time on than next to the bike and a lot of beautiful surroundings.
Coming into CP3 was a 16 km climb. I really started to feel the wear and tear after a week on the bike. I arrived at CP3 in the night and decided to stay for some sleep.
Stats from day 6:
20h 0min on the bike.
4250 m elevation gain.
I woke up and decided this would be the last day on the bike. I wanted to go all the way, no matter what. I couldn’t imagine waking up one more time and getting the body going again. I did a big resupply in the city where CP3 was located. After a short downhill I arrived at a short but tough and steep hike-a-bike. Few kilometers on the bike and a long and extremely tough hike-a-bike followed. That path was narrow and I had to carry the bike for a big portion of that hike-a-bike. In the distance I could see Thomas, a French guy who I had met a few days before. He’d had stomach issues for the first part of the race, but was now feeling better. He really showed his strength and I was impressed by his determination to keep on going. That boosted my moral.
After the hike-a-bike a gravel climb with a lot of switchbacks followed. The descend was filled with switchbacks as well, and my hands felt numb from putting pressure on the brakes. Coming down from the gravel descend a 13 km tarmac climb followed. The weather had changed and I found myself climbing in 34 degrees Celsius. My system struggled to adjust to the hot conditions. At the top of the climb I found an oasis. A nice restaurant where I met Tom. An Australian rider with who I shared lunch. We had a nice chat and he moved on. Just as I was about to leave I met Quinda and Andrew. We had a coffee and a piece of cake. We rode together for 15 minutes before they stopped. Andrew had some bike related issues and Quinda was stopped for an interview, as she was the leading woman. She went on to win the women’s race.
Being determined to go all the way I didn’t think about places to sleep, only about riding. I knew from the race manual that the last climb would be tough. Leading in to the climb was a long bumpy ride with a lot of barking sheep dogs. Starting the long climb felt good. I felt like it would soon be over. But suddenly the tarmac stopped and a gravel road started. I had no power left in my body. At one point I lost the track and had to sit down on the ground and think for 10-15 minutes before figuring out where to go. I hiked up a steep hill to find the road again. Turns out it was a switchback which was easy to follow, if sleep deprivation didn’t trick your mind.
Getting to the top of the climb made me feel so good. Like it was all over soon. I had to do a short descent to reach the finish line. But it was so windy and cold I had to stop and put on some extra clothes, even though I only had 8 km to go.
Stats from day 7:
23h 30min on the bike.
7000 m elevation gain.
Arriving at the finish line in 17th position after 6 days 20 hours and 50 minutes on the course. 950 km and 30000+ m of elevation gain.
A lot of lessons learned from the race and a huge feeling of accomplishment.
That was my Hellenic Mountain Race 2023.