In Natural Born Heroes, Chris McDougall’s follow-up to his bestselling Born to Run, he tells the story of Churchill’s “dirty tricksters”. This makeshift squad – comprising such unlikely heroes as English archaeologists, artists and poets alongside local resistance fighters – helped resist the Nazi invasion of Crete by kidnapping a German general and bustling him on foot across the tiny, uneven tracks that network the island.
Modern trail runners can retrace these historic steps – there is even an ultra race that traces all 156.2km of it.
It is safe to say that stopping en route for a bit of R&R by a hotel pool probably was not on the resistance agenda, but a stay in Daios Cove today does not require a heroic effort of will. In fact, it is a wonderful base for exploring local paths before recovering by the sea or the pool with a glass of something cold. As for the food – well, a few more days at the hotel and I’dI would have had to enter that ultra race after all, just to burn it off. The hotel is in the north-east of the island, near Agios Nikolaos, about an hour’s drive from Heraklion airport.
When I mentioned to friends that I was heading for a few days in Crete, I received a few warnings about attempting to run while I was there. “Insane drivers” and “feral dogs” were muttered about. But over the course of four runs on the roads and paths around the hotel, I barely saw a car – and the only dogs I encountered were behind fences on private properties.
If you are feeling just a tiny bit heroic, though, there are some very steep paths for bashing out hill reps. Being solo, I mostly stuck to the tarmac; those venturing on to the trails should consider the uneven terrain, stony paths and sharp undergrowth when choosing footwear.
Crete’s temperature is good for warm-weather training – with the emphasis on warm. The best times to head oudoors are first thing and just before sunset. The best way to run is to tackle hills: the terrain is more suited to short, sharp reps than long, steady runs. Those who prefer air con and a rubber belt, though, are well catered for in the hotel’s gym, which is unusually large and well equipped; it includes treadmills with a view over the ocean. There is also a deck area where you can stretch out, either by yourself or in one of the hotel’s yoga classes.
By far the top attraction for tired legs, however, is the fact that every room at Daios Cove has its own pool. Sure, they are small – the size of a large balcony – but cooling down your legs in unheated water just five steps from your bed is blissful. Of course, there is also the sea to swim or dive in, plus a larger pool if you want to do lengths. Watching the sun set from that pool – or the veranda restaurants – is the perfect end to an active holiday day. Or, indeed, any holiday day.
Running further afield
Exploring Crete requires a car, but a trip to Samariá Gorge is a must. You have to be a seasoned trail runner – or a mountain goat – to run much of it, but even walking it is a proper training effort. On a previous visit to Crete, years before, I hiked down (not even up) the gorge and could barely walk to the plane home the next day. Admittedly, I wasn’t very fit at the time, but believe me: those aches were real.
Those seeking a goal more specific than “justifying another large portion of Daios Cove’s amazing homemade ice-cream” (although I would say that is a worthy goal in itself) may want to investigate the Crete half marathon, which in 2018 falls on Sunday 7 October. It takes place in central Crete, passing through small villages and olive groves and vineyards.
•Kate Carter stayed at Daios Cove. Some suggested trail runs can be found here.