Interview with Thomas Pourlidas: “Running is my sanctuary, my harbor, it is a chance to be constantly optimistic in every aspect of my life”
In the beginning of 2020, the night of January 18th, we mentally stood beside him, waiting for him to cross the finish line in one of the world’s most famous races, Vibram Hong Kong 100. Thomas Pourlidas, had just achieved a huge personal running goal for “WonderRun” project, in order to financially support through sponsorships, the Greek Unit for Autistic People “ELPIDA”.
Since then, we got to know him better, we met him in Athens and Litochoro, and were happy to find out that the insurance consultant, resident of Oreokastro in Thessaloniki and an athlete of Vibram Hellas, has values and experiences that we would love to share with you, our dearest readers. Eventually, nine months after our initial encounter, we are more than happy to welcome Thomas in our “terrain” of iRun magazine…
• By Argiris Kritharoulas and Harris Manoussis
iRun: Dear Thomas, welcome to iRun magazine, we are very pleased to be meeting you again and that we are given the chance to talk with you about so many important news about you. Firstly, we recently saw you in a beautiful race in Drama, Granitis Trail, in which you conquered the 2nd place. Congratulations! You finished with unbelievable energy and joy… Was it the adrenaline of the race, the success of it, or… the warmest hugs of your family that were waiting for you?
Thomas Pourlidas: “Every race has its uniqueness. For me it was something extraordinary, since my sons and my wife were waiting for me at the finish line. All these years with my participation in longer distances I wouldn’t always have the chance to have them beside me, because of the long racing times, and the distance˙ races often being to far away from our home. I share my experiences from races with them, as well as my future plans. And yes, I feel very proud that they also encourage my efforts. The hugs at the end of the race gave me additional energy and we were so happy about it as a family!”.
iRun: We were really wondering, why didn’t you choose the longest distance?
T.P.: “It is true that I competed in a shortest distance race of 9km, after many years. However, I am still too slow for this kind of trail. The decision for my participation in the race was made while I was getting ready for the next ultra races that are coming, thus I chose the littlest possible physical strain within an already heavy training program. The next day of the race my training plan had 5 hours at the mountain with high altitudes. I wanted to run in Graniti Trail with all my heart, not only because it is a beautiful place, but also because of my friendship with the people behind the organization”.
iRun: What’s your opinion from that trail race?
T.P.: “In order for a race to be successful, it needs love and authentic interest on behalf of the organizers. This is what makes the Granitis race successful. It is a combination of the excellent work done on the trails, and the sense of hospitality to the runners. Also, the wider field area has a rich natural environment of rare beauty. In the spirit of recent days and the conditions that have been formed, the protection measures were respected, which is something that the organizers has insisted on, for the benefit of the sport that we have to preserve.”
iRun: What was the best part of the course in your opinion?
T.P.: “I appreciate that Granitis village still has a lot of hidden beauties, undiscovered for the most of us. I had the chance to be in the area while Frozen Peaks was conducted, as well as during the video shooting of the trailer for WonderRun. What stands out for me in the trail is the little monastery of Panagia, and the demanding ascent to St. Pavlos. Whoever loves mountains and mountain excursions needs to visit St. Pavlos. The colors of the horizon, especially during dawn, are truly unique. I feel blessed to have been there, admiring the view of a landscape that you will never forget.”
iRun: As a real mountain enthousiast, and trail running admirer, how do you really choose your races?
T.P.: “My racing calendar is done taking into consideration my goals for the year. From early on I decide where I want to compete, and I usually choose based on the difficulty of an event, for instance “GULAG 100” could be a future choice, like “Frozen Peaks 265km”, which I have done in the past. Another criterion in my decisions, is the mountains that I want to run, or even the bond that I have with certain organizers. Afterwards, my desires are compared to what is the most possible thing to be done, and my coach Stavros Baliotis is always the one that will advise me in the end. Generally, i am very disciplined in my decisions and i avoid last minute changes”.
iRun: Going backwards in July, on the first mountain race event after quarantine, Mythical Trail 106 km. You finished in the top10 athletes, improving your past personal record, in 2018, by 4 hours! How did you achieve this? How do you train and what are your motives while doing that?
T.P.: “I believe that improvement is possible only with systemic training. The truth is that I worked more consistently in the course of the last months, I paid more attention on my diet and I pushed myself to go after my own limits, especially in my interval trainings. If there is something that characterizes me it is that I focus on the things which I can actively affect, on how I can ameliorate on a personal level, and how I can work undisturbed exclusively for this. It is something I learned through my profession, and I carry it with me in my running way of life. There are no secrets, nor shortcuts, so as to succeed in your goal, only investment in yourself and move forward”.
iRun: Did you expect to have such a radical improvement of your performance?
T.P.: “I did expect an improved personal record in Mythical, and for my standards the outcome was very satisfactory. In the end I realized that I could have done better. The motive is to constantly improve yourself, broaden you own limits and try to surpass them, always working on that. You don’t have to compete anyone, nor copy someone, but you can learn from the best and put emphasis on your own wants. It’s your own effort, your own race, your own goal, to strive for the best version of yourself.”
iRun: After your race in Olympus you stated that your performance is solely attributed to your coach, Stavros Baliotis. Could you tell us more about the relationship that you have developed with him and how he helps you in reaching your racing goals?
T.P.: “I have been with coach Stavros for the past couple of years, and through our collaboration a lot of things have changed. Being a high level athlete himself, he is a running coach that puts his athlete to the center. In the course of time, he changed the way I think and put me out of my own athletic microcosm. He pushed me to try harder and that is equally important with the correct training approach that we follow. He is a man who believes in me like no other and has embraced my own goals and my racing goals like they’re his own, and for that is what matters the most”.
iRun: We would say that long distances have overwhelmed you, remembering the 100km of “Vibram Hong Kong” which you completed in January, under WonderRun effort. Do they make you a better person, simultaneously? And if so, why?
T.P. “Whoever is occupied with long distance races they overcome a point where they can’t come back. And this happens because this involvement affects a total of behaviour, philosophy and generally way of life. You appreciate the things that have true value, like the supreme blessing of good health through exercise and balanced eating, like nature, its usefulness and our obligation to protect it. You acquire the virtue of patience and prudence, not only during a long-hour race, but also in everyday life. Your relationships begin to change. A long distance race makes us more altruists, it builds human connection that are established by a pat on the back, by encouragement, by sharing our supplies whenever necessary, or by helping an fellow runner in need. It alters your relationship with yourself, with so many hours of solitude that make you think, review, and be okay with yourself. For all these and many others, you transform. You can reach the top, but the things you will experience on the way is what make you a better person, and what long distance races taught me and I believe is true in every aspect of our lives”.
iRun: Reading an older interview with you about the Hong Kong race, one word dominated: “Stairs!” What was that image or the best feeling that has stuck with you ever since, after all these months?
T.P.: “Even if a lot of months have passed, everything in my mind and soul is still very intense. As far as the competition is concerned, what stayed is the never ending stairs in combination with the landscape of spectacular beauty, which will accompany me for years. It is a race that I would be eager to run again in the future. I remember the night before, I didn’t sleep from the agony and excitement for the start of the race. My participation was a dream coming true in front of my eyes, in real time. Emotionally, my mindset and my anguish to make it to the finish line, is what has left its imprint on me. What had preceded the race was a huge effort on an organizational level for WonderRun while I was also getting ready in terms of training. When you travel across the globe, spending a significant budget, in order to exclusively run in one race, it means that your love for the sport is overflowing. And I love it a lot! I did receive a lot of love and real support and that was exactly what I was thinking whenever I needed a boost during the race.
The finish was a special moment in my life. Only those who love sports, running, the mountains with passion, can truly understand my feelings in that sacred moment. It feels like a small part of myself is still there, in the moment of finishing, a feeling of vindication and relief which intensified because of the special load carried by WonderRun, definitely magnified my emotions. These are the moments that will stay indelible, that don’t have a price for you to buy them, and you cannot borrow them either. You can only live them. For example, watching the sunrise in mountain Olympus, in my eyes this image, has the strongest value out of everything I have seen whilst traveling on 4 continents until today. This is my life stance, this is my goal, to experience those moments”.
iRun: Since you mentioned your personal project of WonderRun, should we expect a continuation in another mountain of the world? Is there something coming that will soon be revealed?
T.P.: “WonderRun is a personal racing project that serves a good cause by giving the proceeds from the sponsorships wherever help is needed. Our motive is very high, as well as my love for it. A determining factor is the development of COVID-19. There is no rush, the return to normality for all of us is what’s of utmost importance right now. I wish for a good timing when that happens so that I can combine it with my next adventure. However, the preparations for our “sequel” have already timidly begun.
Firstly I need to choose my next race by looking at the depths of Asia, or the other side of the Atlantic. WonderRun’s initial plan had a race within 2021 therefore we are waiting alongside with preparing. With the chance given, I would like to thank the Beetroot Design Group, since their logo, name and presentation of the projects is their creation. Efa Energy, ERGAKAT and Metlife have and will continue to support economically the good cause of WonderRun and I feel much gratitude for these collaborations. I would like to thank them, from the bottom of my heart”.
iRun: We enjoyed your excellent promotion video for your first adventure in Hong Kong, a product of your collaboration with Dimitris Katrantzis, the cinematographer and landscape photographer form Drama. Tell us about him, how your cooperation flourished and some background material from this project? Can we assume that you will be collaborating again on your next videos?
T.P.: “The promo video for the Hong Kong race is a shockingly amazing work with the signature of Dimitris. Wherever it was shown in and out of Greece, it received rave comments which gave a great momentum to WonderRun. It helped us on a communication level and essentially thanks to it, a lot of interest has sparked about our effort and participation. I met Dimitris during Frozen Peaks where he voluntarily assisted in the race. After many months I asked for his help for a shooting for the needs of our project, and the video was birthed thanks to his zeal to support WonderRun. We now share a great bond and it is very pleasant for me to speak about the man that captivates me with his work every time he shows it. His success is attributed to his undoubted talent and fitness that is necessary when you have to carry filming equipment in the mountains.
He is a perfectionist, and can crate a video with a plethora of scenes that when you’re with him you can’t even imagine, but his every movement, every shot has a meaning in the final result. That’s what happened in the shooting, where the weather conditions where very challenging, in the heart of winter, with wind and rain. I specifically remember him saying that we could do better. When I saw the video for the first time I was left speechless, how much better could it be? Only he knows… Personally I will be forever grateful to Dimitris for everything he has done for me and project WonderRun, which he did voluntarily by sacrificing a lot of his personal time. It was a gift for life that will forever be by my side. Even today whenever I watch it I still get emotional. For WonderRun to have its own videos is a luxury, which is thanks to him, and now he is a big part of the project. Soon, we will prepare our next promo video which will foretell the continuation of WonderRun and I am sure about the result, as well as everyone who watches Dimitris’s work”.
iRun: Thomas, we should note that a leading company in its sector, Vibram Hellas, has proudly chosen to support your racing efforts. How did your collaboration with “Gruppo Pagouna” came together and what do you enjoy most about it?
T.P.: “My collaboration with Vibram is going into its third year, although I feel like I’ve always belonged there. I am grateful being a Vibram Hellas athlete and brand ambassador. Through this collaboration I met and connected with people who mean a lot to me now, and I feel very proud to be part of this group. My future is inextricably linked with Gruppo Pagouna. We have overcome the narrow concept of sponsorship, support, etc., we are now united by the human relationship, the shared philosophy, the way of thinking. It is beside me in my every step even if through my personal races, or through WonderRun. Vibram Hellas is my athletic family whatever that entails and I really enjoy this relationship that we have established. With the chance given, I would like to thank the people of Vibram in Greece, Alexandros, Aris, Leonidas Pagounas, for the love and trust in my person”.
iRun: What do you believe to gain from running, in your professional life, as an insurance consultant at Metlife, as well as in your personal life, as a family man with two wonderful little boys?
T.P.: “As I mentioned before, running really changes your life. That is what happened in my case, I try to assimilate the lessons I was taught through this activity, both in my professional and personal life. Certainly, the patience and prudence that I acquired from long distance races have changed the rhythms of my life, while giving me time to make better priorities and appreciate the important things in my life. And what is most important, is my family, and I dedicate more time to share moments with them.
Simultaneously, the confidence you cultivate and your consistent effort are necessary attributes to achieve your career goals. Besides, I am in an active professional environment, but I have the full support of my colleagues, the management of Metlife, which supports WonderRun project. So the biggest benefit you can have is the balance you have in your life between family, work and sports. Running is my sanctuary, my harbor, the chance I give to myself to see everyday life from a different perspective. I am steadily optimistic about every part of my life. Simple things please me and make me happy, like an excursion in the mountains, the scenery that i am lucky to see when I get to the top. Happiness lies in simplicity and that is what I remind to my own children“.
iRun: Finally, will you continue your effort to change the world, as you have stated before?
T.P.: “The world can change, by changing our own selves, our own life. We consume endless time being occupied with other people when we could invest a little time in our own development and improvement. The two most important days of our lives is the day we were born and the day we discovered the reason why. Fulfilling a promise I made to myself fuels my own effort to evolve. It is a personal bet coming from a complex of experiences and beliefs that I have inside me. I feel very good that I am not alone in this journey, in this effort to leave a positive trace, through our action. Thank you for your support, interest and love.”
iRun: Thank you so much Thomas, we wish that you always find your bliss in simplicity, family and our beautiful mountains!