Trail Running in Greece – An Interview from a Female Trail Runner

Maria Malai is a famous athlete for Trail Running in Greece. She is a girl that absolutely loves nature. She likes to run on mountains but also to participate in many outdoor activities like rock climbing, mountain bike, slackline, skating, sea kayak, surfing, stand up paddling and many more exciting as such.

Maria loves adventure! She likes to live at the present, and live it at its fullest while conquering mountain tops. As she says “wherever you go in Greece you will always find a mountain to run”.

On Trail Running in Greece - An Interview from a Trail Running Woman

So, we welcome her interview, as it is exactly for what this blog is about; the adventure one can find in Greece through activities and sports.

Let’s find out more about her!

Full name : Maria Malai.

And you live in…: Athens.

What is your sport? Trail running.

What is your education or professional background in relation to your sport? Since I was a kid, I was involved with sports. I used to play basket ball, football. Yet, after the age of eleven, I was tentatively involved with track & field in a national championship level.

How many years you are involved with trail running? Since the last 4 years, approximately since 2013 (currently 2017).

Why trail running? Why did you start doing this? At 2012 I received a suggestion from Giorgos Dialektos, to participate in a race on the mountain of Parnitha (Athens, Greece), which now doesn’t happen any more. I thought it would be a cross country race, like those I run in the National Championships, so I went. During the race I was amazingly impressed, with all the surrounding nature. I got the 3rd place in that race.

Yet, when the race came to an end, I was eager to find out the next one to participate. That was the beginning. Since then I run solely in trail running races. I was won by the mountain.

In how many races have you participated? Around 70.

Were you involved with other sports prior trail running? Yes, with track & field. My club is G.A.S Ilissios, with which I started to run the first time. My discipline was at 3000mt steeplechase, and the long runs (3000mt and 5000 mt).

Do you have a motivational slogan that characterizes your life? Yes, live for today and the present.

What is the biggest challenge in your sport and how you handle it?  A big challenge is to finish an Ultra Trail run (over 50km). If you put your mind in it and train well, you can do it, along with the help of your coach.

On Trail Running in Greece - An Interview from a Trail Running Woman

What you consider your greatest success?  I think that all the races where I participated and managed to arrive at the finishing line, are a success for me.

What is the biggest difficulty in your sport?  The discipline with the training schedule. To be consistent on the schedule, while coping with limited time due to work hours.

What gives you the biggest satisfaction through your sport?  To run through places which I wouldn’t find with other ways. This really excites me. The feeling to step on the mountain tops and see the world from up there, is really exciting.

What do you do in your training, that you find important to do in order to feel successful?  To be able to complete and really follow a proper training program, in order to avoid injuries. That is important if you can keep along with it.

Do you follow any special nutrition or dietary plan? Please share.  No, I don’t. I really love food and I could never follow a specific nutrition plan.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? I have received plenty, but I will share one which is also my advice to all who do any kind of sports: The most important thing is to have fun with what you do and be happy with it! 

Name your heroes. Who is your inspiration?  I admire lots of athletes but I do not have role models. I don’t like to have such, since all those people who have role models want to be like them. My opinion is to not try to be someone else, because if you succeed nobody will remember you, but your initial role model. I like to be me, and have me as a role model. My inspiration is nature and to be able to run on mountains never been accessed before. I am in love with nature and I draw my inspiration by her.

Who taught you how to practice? Πως μάθατε να εξασκείστε; Ποιος σας βοήθησε; At my club, G.A.S Ilissos. I received lots of help from Giorgos Zorzos who was my coach there.

How important is equipment for your performance?  It is very important for an athlete that is involved in trail running. Without the proper shoes or clothing you may have serious troubles.

Please name some important/big events where you participated. What is your biggest distinction?  In Greece, in the Sky Running Championship. Sky Running Championship consists of 7 Trail Running races:

1) Taygetos Challenge

2) Parnassos Trail

3) Metsovo Ursa Trail

4) Olympus Marathon

5) The North Face Zagori Mountain Running

6) “Hercules” Oiti Mountain Marathon

7) Alpamayo Pro

An athlete must participate into 4 (at least) from these 7 ones, and also finish them in the predefined time. This is how to get rating in the league. During 2014 I the 1st place. I didn’t participate in 2015 due to an injury and in 2016 I won the 3rd place, following Glykeria Tziatzia and Dimitris Mpikas.

Why you think that exercise is beneficial for people? Besides the fact that is good for our health, sports and exercise open up our spiritual horizons. You get closer to other people. Sports unite people and diminishes any differences they may have.

Any suggestions for our audience? (Books, seminars, websites, coaches)? I love any book or movie related to running. For example the Adventure Film Festival in Greece, where I can watch movies related to mountains, sea, nature and speeches about all the related sports. Such events are really nice.

Why -according to your opinion- Greece is an ideal for your sport?  We have so many beautiful mountains. Even in Greek islands we have spectacular mountains, wild nature and a kind of beauty I never expected to meet there.

Please tell us 3-4 places in Greece, which are ideal for trail running.  My favorites and ideal locations for running, are Imittos mountain (Athens), Litochoro and Olympus mountain, Kardamili (Peloponnese) with Taygetos mountain and the island of Hydra. Hydra is a splendid place for trail running, without any cars (not allowed in the island) and with friendly locals.

Wherever you go in Greece, you will definitely find a mountain for running.

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