Athens Ultramarathon Festival 2019 – 24hr Race Report

 

The GB Table – A Nutitional Wonderland

 

Back in 2018 I had to withdraw from Athens 24hr due to a knee issue which finally undid my race at 19.5hrs. This was disappointing but unsurprising given I’d experienced a period of inconsistent training and a string of setbacks since the end of 2016 after Barcelona.

This year improved somewhat as I managed to win the Essex 100, put in a reasonable performance at Belfast 24hr (200km plus) and complete my 4th consecutive Spartathlon, although sustaining yet another injury and a consequently slower time than planned. Cyclone Zorba dealt it’s hand too.  These were all lacklustre performances though as I knew I was capable of much better.

Following Spartathlon I realised that I was now in the unenviable position of no longer having an auto qualifier for the first time in five years, so if I wanted to avoid the ballot I would need to deliver a result good enough to renew my AQ at least for 2019, if not 2020, but this would be tough as the ISA have revised AQ criteria for 2020.

So with time now short and a desire to both secure an AQ and deliver a decent 24hr result I opted for Athens again along with fellow Spartathlete and all round good egg James Ellis. This time I was determined to be better prepared and hopefully injury free.

Pre-race build up

I was pleased to stick doggedly to the planned training schedule I had promised myself as preparation. This was a block of ten weeks of 100 miles or more, the highest consecutive block of hundreds I’d ever completed, topping out at 131.

Unbelievably on the final run of the final week of training with a week to go until Athens I tweaked muscles on the rear of my leg. It seemed to be lower hamstring/ high calf, so effectively behind the knee where the muscles cross. I was gutted and worried but didn’t panic.

I decided not to run another step until Athens and pray it would be alright. During that final week I pampered myself with saunas and hot tubs in the hope that muscles would relax and healing would be promoted.

 

My Amazing Wiife Gill Ready for Crewing Duties with Audrey Ellis (out of shot)

 

Strategy

I drafted out various scenarios for Gill who was to join me as support this year and we discussed at some length how we’d approach it. This was a team effort.

I had pace calculations noted for three ambitious targets, plus the same to reflect my existing PB and Sparta AQ requirements for 2019 and 2020. These were displayed in miles, kms and lap times, with anticipated mileage broken down to 1st, 2nd, 3rd quarters etc. This would help Gill give me speedy feedback at key points in the race by reference to a reckoner.

I’d planned to try to hydrate at least every 5k and feed/hydrate every 10k. I’d also decided that everything would happen on the fly as far as possible, uncluding shirt and jacket changes. I had no intention of stopping unless I had to.

At one point whilst I was formulating my strategy I had considered the idea of utilising walk breaks but I wasn’t confident enough in that approach so it didn’t take me long before I’d largely dismissed the idea.

With the benefit of hindsight however, I may yet incorporate it in to a future race strategy. Not least in order to minimise accumulated muscle damage which is known to increase disproportionately in the second half of the race.

James Ellis and I Psyched up and Ready to Rock!

Gill did a brilliant job of crewing, also noting key info on my pace, nutrition etc throughout the race and also helped relay messages of support and guidance to James Ellis who of course I shared a common goal with. That is, auto qualification for Spartathlon.

The course

Last year the course was as currently described on the event website, which was a 1km loop on a tarmac surface in front of one of the buildings that constituted the old Olympic airport. That benefited from light spill from the main road that ran adjacent to the airport. The problem with that course was that it had a hairpin turn every half km which played havoc with the hips for some runners.

I was pleasantly surprised therefore to discover that this year the course had changed.  It was now a combination of tarmac, block paving and concrete but dispensed with the hairpin following an out and back route from the start point within the main building, returning to enter the main building where runners completed a loop before exiting again.

 

View of the internal part of the course (courtesy Association of Greek Dayrunners)

 

This was beneficial for crews to protect them from the elements but also psychologically for runners as I’m convinced that every time runners entered the building to complete the last 150mtres or so of each 1km lap they would have benefited from the well illuminated building which would have countered the effects of sleep deprivation.

The Race

 

Coming in to complete another Km  (courtesy Association of Greek Dayrunners)

 

I was reasonably disciplined with my pace in order to follow the pace guidelines I’d advised my crew. To a large extent I managed to fall in line with 9:10-9:15 in the early stages, but drifted into a slightly faster pace over the early laps.

What did become abundantly clear was my injury which was posing problems already over the first few laps. I remarked to James that I would see how I coped managing the pain but not to be surprised if I had to call it very early. Drifting in to a slightly faster pace than was sensible was also exacerbating the pain and putting me on course for my most ambitious target which was too fast and unsustainable anyway.

On reflection I should have started at around 9:24-9:39 m/m (5:50-5:58 per lap) and still hit half way with 121 km on the board as I did, but feeling more comfortable for the second half. I will get it right I’m sure. I think the slightly faster start cost me about 90 mins between the second and third quarter.

Final splits info wasn’t available at time of writing as other events were still in progress, but based on available splits info I have gleaned from Gill (although not relevant in a 24hr) I hit 100 miles in 16:37:15 which is a new 100 mile PB for me and would have been an auto-qualifier in it’s own right if the race results gave an officially recognised 100 mile split result, but as they don’t in this case it wouldn’t have been accepted by ISA.

This was highly relevant for me as although I hadn’t planned to stop at 100 anyway as I was here to run my best 24hr, I probably would have considered it given I was running with a leg injury which I was only exacerbating by continuing. Madness really, yes but the thought of  risking a no show at Sparta was unthinkable to me.

Selection of splits…

50km                         4:38

100km                       9:46

161km/100 mile     16:37

200km                      21:53

216km                      Finish

With just over two hours to go I hit 200k in 21:53 pretty much my finishing distance at Belfast 24hr, which wasn’t a PB incidentally.  I still needed another 16k however and I was in real trouble with my leg and the affects of Rhabdomyolysis which of course I didn’t realise at the time.

 

Pre-race with James and Audrey Ellis (Courtesy of Gill Thomas)

I think it was around this point I had to pause for a few  minutes and get Gill to massage my leg  even if it meant losing a placing as I think I was either 2nd or 3rd at that point. I reminded myself that placing was irrelevant as the real goal was Sparta! What ensued was commical as Gill and Audrey did their best to afford me some privacy holding a towel around me as Gill tried to  sort my leg out.

On reflection I see that I screwed up over the last four hours by not taking on sufficient hydration and electrolytes. I’m normally pretty diligent on hydration and think I was largely better in this race compared to previous outings, but with 4 hours to go I seemed to throw caution to the wind as I focused all my attention on hitting the target.

The problem was the extent of the muscle damage from the injury to my right leg which was compounding the load on my kidneys still further by releasing more myoglobin in to my bloodstream. I was literally dicing with death but didn’t even realise it until well after the race.

I very nearly decided to call it as it was insane running in so much discomfort and exacerbating the damage. However the magic of Sparta is too strong and as James Ellis commented I must have called upon the power of all the running Gods to find something for those last 10 miles because I don’t know how I managed it.

I was seriously hurting but still frustrated by my lack of pace given the effort I was expending. Clearly something was amiss. Yes I was tired of course but it was more than that. I couldn’t open my pace up even if I tried which was just as well really as every time I tried I could feel the burn and tear of muscle fibres in my right leg.

The closing stages…

As James and I ticked off lap after lap I just wanted this ordeal to be over. My body was in trouble but my mind couldn’t afford to yield or else all the efforts of Gill and I would have been in vain. By this time James had edged slightly ahead of me and it made me smile that he was going to nail it. He was looking strong but also in pain.

I think as we acknowledged each other over those last few laps unspeaking but saluting each others efforts with knowing looks, we knew that the prize we had worked so hard for was in sight. With just 2km to go now I had 24 mins on the clock. I started to well up but not sure if that was from the emotion of knowing we were going to nail it or the release from the discomfort I was in.

They handed us our race number blocks to drop on the floor for the partial lap measurement as the magic 24hrs approached and as I crossed the mat for 216k I looked desperately across to Gill and Αudrey for reassurance it was in the bag.

As James and I had both exited the stadium for the last time we looked at each other and thought, we’re done! We agreed not to go a step further, gave each other a victory hug, masterminded our descent to the ground and awaited the lap measurer.

Auto-qualified and Out!

It was an absolute pleasure to run with James and an even bigger pleasure to see him nail his Sparta qualifier and achieve podium. Perhaps now he’ll realise he’s a far better runner than he realised. Spartathlon will be interesting.

We were quickly joined by Gill out on the course who snapped the great pic above. Gill, Audrey and James’ sister Maria were superb crewing us and this was a real team effort. Huge thanks to them all.

It was great to meet new friends and see some familiar faces out there in Athens including Aykut Celikbas (who ran a storming 100), Fionnuala O’Mara (who placed 3rd in the 48hr) Georgos Panos, Christos Sarefelntin, Angela Terzi (who set a new hellenic 24hr record), Rex Brillantes and Andrey Vasilenko. Apologies if we didn’t get to speak or I have neglected to mention you.

Congratulations to all of the winners and record achievers, including Vladimir Todorov Stavrev (24hr) and Andrzej Radzikowski (48hr)

Lessons learned

Don’t let your focus on the goal be at the expense of hydration and electrolytes. Hydrate consistently and sufficiently throughout the entire event and critically post race too.

Dont run with an existing injury. The additional byproducts of muscle breakdown from my leg injury compounded an already dangerous situation resulting in more myoglobin being released in to my bloodstream and other key markers being elevated to critical levels for my kidneys and heart.

This resulted in a very scary situation as I was admitted to hospital having developed Rhabdomyolysis and experienced similar symptoms to a heart attack and could have suffered kidney failure.

I had a CT scan, multiple blood tests and Ultrasound before I was eventually allowed home after an overnight stay. One more blood test the following week to check all’s well and they haven’t contacted me, so hopefully no news is good news.

It took around 10 days for my usual blood pressure to return and as I update this 14 days post race my body is probably still reeling from the hammering I gave it, although I feel so much better and have enjoyed a few glasses of red to celebrate my AQ finally.

So please be careful everyone. Be extremely diligent with hydration, electrolyte levels and don’t risk running with an injury. The prize for me was important yes, the risk I put my body through a definite no!

Have absolute faith in your planned pacing strategy and stick to it rigidly. Run more conservatively if anything, at least in the first half.

Final thoughts

This race was critical for me to start the year off positively, secure Sparta AQ and to run my best 24hr. Well the first two I guess I achieved but the latter was undermined by my injury and a slightly too ambitious early pace but it was nevertheless my best paced 24hr. I feel I have learned from this and I’m very encouraged to get it right next time.

Thanks to the organisers for a great event, to everyone for your fantastic support and most of all to my amazing wife Gill!

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2019 – A Big Year in Prospect Whatever the Outcome

 

Well after another mixed year due to missed training, a few niggles and losing my mojo somewhat, I’m hoping I can get some consistency back and start the New Year positively with a fresh approach to 24hr racing, so it’s back to Athens in January.

Rather than cut back in 2019 as I originally envisaged I’ve decided to plan for a big year and fashion it somewhat on 2016 when outcomes were positive and several big ultra’s under my belt served me so well, so following Athens I’m lining up the Canalrace C.I.C Canal Slam and Belfast 24hr.

Spartathlon is of course a goal race for me again but next year I may have to trust to the ballot for the first time in 5 years if I don’t secure an AQ at Athens. With the ISA having revised the AQ criterion effective for 2020 my minimum goal at Athens will need to take account of this.

Depending on how the year unfolds I may also have a crack at  Mark Cockbain’s Lon Las 253m in October, but there’s a lot of bridges to cross before all these races.

It’s now less than a month until Athens 24hr and I’ve trained hard over the last couple of months nailing big miles week on week.

It’s a tad risky but I’m looking for a solid block of ten weeks of high mileage before Athens. Previously I’ve never run more than five consecutive weeks of a hundred miles or more as part of a training block, but I’ll have hit ten consecutive weeks one week before Athens peaking at one hundred thirty to forty miles.

Not a great believer in tapering but will likely have a few days off or light training before Athens.

  • January 2019 – Athens 24hr
  • May 2019 – GUCR 145m
  • June 2019 – Belfast 24hr
  • July 2019 – KACR (Avon and Kennett Canal Race 145m)
  • August 2019 – LLCR (Liverpool to Leeds 130m)
  • September 2019 – Spartathlon
  • October 2019 (TBA)
  • November 2019 – Gloucester 24hr

Well all I can do is continue to train hard, rest and sleep enough, get my unilateral leg work back on track, step up the core work and stick to my revised race strategy. Oh yes – and take on enough calories! Only the outcomes will tell if I’ve got it right.

Thanks for the miles we’ve shared everyone and to anyone that has followed or shared in my exploits, thank you! I really do appreciate it. I hope your training goes well and you have a fruitful, injury free and successful 2019!

Have a great Christmas and New Year everyone!

Ian

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Spartathlon Report 2018

 

Pre-race- Chilling with my Amazing Support at the Emmentina, Glyfada

 

Summary

Following a second year of inconsistent training due to niggles I found myself lined up once again at the start of this amazing, iconic but brutal race.

This will be my fourth consecutive finish if I make it and there were some lofty expectations from fellow runners, but I knew I wasn’t the same highly trained runner of 2016 (the last year I had a good run of decent performances) so I was cautious and hesitant about what expectations I should set myself.

I’ve said it many times before but you have to believe you will cross that finish line before you start or else you wont.  It’s not arrogance, its just convincing yourself that you have it in you. It’s easier to persuade you’re sub conscious of this when you know you’ve put in the required training and you’ve had a run of successes, as success begets success.

Much more difficult when you’ve had neither for a while and this was my potential dilemma as I battled self doubt about what I would deliver based on last 18 months or so.

Yes I had a reasonable showing at Belfast 24hr and managed to somehow win the Essex 100 but in reality they were sub par lacklustre performances. I knew I couldn’t expect to excel and it would take all my experience and self belief just to finish Spartathlon this year. I didn’t set any expectations on time as I knew this would be foolhardy but obviously this didn’t mean I wouldn’t try to do my best.

I decided therefore that I needed to be more cautious this year, so I planned to hold back in the hope of saving something for the last third. Not my usual strategy as everyone knows.

What I hadn’t reckoned on though was being walloped by Cyclone Zorba which was to constrain my pace still further as I negotiated the torrential rain and ankle deep floods on the roads.

Whether this componded problems I was experiencing with an ankle injury I sustained around the 100 mile point I dont know but somewhere around the mountain I started to experience real pain in my ankle which was so debilitating and obviously decimated my pace.

I’m notorious for going off fast and am constantly criticised for it but as I’ve stated before I believe that regulating my pace to be slower than what feels natural to me adversely affects my gait. Whether this is what happened this year or not I dont know as other variables were introduced this year, including different shoes, cooler temperatures, incessant rain and hidden ruts in the road concealed by flooding.

As it transpired it wasn’t pretty this year as I had to basically trudge it in from around 35-40 miles out from Sparta. Not my idea of a performance or indeed a run for that matter, as I did all I could just to finish this year, but hey I will confine it to history and  move on.

All I wanted to do was finish and to take Gills hand to the King. I didn’t care about anything else. I knew I couldn’t do myself justice, but I hope to put that right if I can secure a place next year. First I need to make sure I earn the right to line up again at the Acropolis though and although I have a qualifier I need to try and renew my AQ, so its back to Athens in January for the 24hr.


Brief report of how it unfolded…

Once again I found myself in the privileged position to follow in the footsteps of ancient Athenian messenger Pheidippides as I embarked on my fourth consecutive Spartathlon as part of the unofficial British Spartathlon Team, supported by my wife Gill and In-laws Kelvin and Collette.

A race that epitomises the Olympic spirit, ideals and ethics. A race that unites everyone irrespective of background, religion, race, age, wealth, politics and so on towards one ultimate goal – a finish at the feet of King Leonidas in Sparta.

On my debut in 2015 I was delighted to finish, whilst in 2016 I managed to improve by over two hours for a sub thirty finish. However, last year I had it all to do, resulting in a lacklustre performance and I felt in a similar position this year.

Aside from lack of adequate physical prep I have been lacking in confidence over the last 18 months or so due to a string of issues and inconsistent training. Well you simply mustn’t play host to doubt in a challenge of this magnitude or it will be curtains before you even hit Corinth. This race will spit you out in an instant.

Self doubt I normally dispel quite easily but I admit it was nibbling away at me on this occasion. I needed to get a grip and a few light runs in the race build up with Simon Prytherch helped settle me down as they always do.

As I’ve said before this is the greatest setting to the start of a race you’re ever likely to find, whilst the finish in Sparta is an experience unmatched anywhere.

In terms of a mileage build up strategy I’d been constrained due to the enforced downtime but also caution on my part.

 

Ancient Corinth – Courtesy of Sparta Photography Club

As it transpired my strategy of holding back this year resulted in me hitting Corinth (50 miles) and Mountain Base (100 miles) 30 mins and 60 mins later than my previous two years attempts, so I had managed to discipline myself. This was also confirmed by me coming across Bob Hearn much earler in the race which surprised even Bob.

However, it was around the mountain that lack of training really began to take its toll again which was compounded by a niggle I was experiencing in my ankle. From that point on this combined with the worsening storm I was largely reduced to a trudge. Not good!

My crew however believed that once again calorie deficit was partly responsible. May be, but it is an area I need to get right.

 

Official Splits Comparison 2015/16/17/18

Splits         Km            Mile        2015     2016  2017    2018

Start –                                          07:00   07:00  0700 07:00
C/P No 4    19.5            12.11      01:38   01:34  01:36  1:45
C/P No 11  42.2            26.22      03:29   03:22  03:25 3:42
C/P No 22  81.0            50.33      07:14   07:03  07:14 7:32
C/P No 28  100.0          62.13      09:33   09:31  09:26 9:47
C/P No 35  124.0          77.05      12:31   12:22  12:15  12:34
C/P No 47  159.5          99.10      17:44   17:41  17:43 18:36
C/P No 52  172.0         106.87     19:49   19:38  19:54  21:08
C/P No 60  195.0         121.16     23:23   22:41  24:09 25:06
C/P No 69  227.0         141.05     28:10   26:46  29:43 30:42

FINISH      245.3          152.42    31:33    29:14  33:32 34:53

The table above speaks volumes.  When I hit the mountain during my best year 2016, I felt much stronger, energised and cracked on with confidence up the goat trail over Mount Parthenio, and ran down with a smile on my face. This year by contrast I was ambling, cold, lacked energy and feeling more despondent with what was developing into a dire performance, albeit outside of my control.

The Mountain – Courtesy of Sparta Photography Club

The positives for me were my support Gill, Kelvin and Collette and sharing some time with many of my fellow runners including Dan Masters and Dave Barker in the last third and coming across Carl Howells who was a breath of fresh air as he breezed along full of positive energy.

I knew this year was once again about damage limitation as last year, so I resolved to just finish at all costs. I figured the tide would turn in fortunes if I could qualify for subsequent years but new I had my own mountain to climb to return to where I wanted to be.

My crew had been great as usual but this year they were having to contend with Cyclone Zorba themselves which complicated an already demanding task. It was good to see them when I did and really helped uplift the spirits.

There were times I’m sure when they wondered if I would throw in the towel due to the Biblical conditions as it was downright dangerous out there. This was no truer than when I approached Sparta and Zorba was at its peak doing its best to thwart our efforts to reach the King.

I cursed that wind aloud as I refused to yield. I would not be denied and my crew knew that now although they had to wait an inordinate length of time for me to descend into Sparta. One step forward, three steps back it felt like as I dodged the debris caused by the storm.

I entered Sparta a pitiful sight I’m sure but just glad to finish. Gill and Collette took my arms on the final straight as we finally put this one to bed. Was I disappointed, yes of course I was, but beaten, no! No injury or Cyclone would have prevented me taking Gills hand to the King and I think Gill secretly knew that.

Many have said it was a huge achievement to finish under the circumstances and I’m grateful, but  I just want to confine this to history as a washout (no pun intended) and move on.

The usual crowds in Sparta weren’t in evidence of course and understandably so, given the storm but there were still hardy souls out there and my fellow Brits welcoming everyone home with great enthusiasm one and all.

Despite my disappointment I still feel truly privileged to participate and am profoundly grateful to everyone involved in staging and supporting this great race!

Congrats to all finishers and everyone that made the start line. You’re all winners! Special mention to Alastair Higgin for first Brit and Cat Simpson first British lady!

Awards Ceremony – Courtesy of Sparta Photography Club

Thanks once again to my wife Gill and In laws Kelvin and Collette for their amazing support. To my fellow runners, support crews, all the volunteers, medical teams, the ISA, Sparta Photography Club and anyone else I may have neglected to mention.

I still have lofty goals for this race and hope to be back to realise them. See you in Sparta!

Ian Thomas

 

I make no apology for concluding this brief report  as I did in 2016 and 2017 with these oh so apt words…

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”

Rudyard Kipling

Finally finished and so relieved – Courtesy of Sparta Photography Club

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Mid-season summary 2018

I’ve fallen behind with reporting this year, so I can only apologise to anyone who takes the time to read about my exploits. I read other runners reports of course and know it can be frustrating to wait for reports to be shared. Sadly this is only just a catch up.

In summary – decided not to run my 5th GUCR as I knew I simply hadn’t recovered/rehabilitated enough post Athens 24hr.

Closing stages of the Belfast 24 hour

I did make a last minute decision to enter Belfast 24hr in June which was an early test of my fitness. I did Ok with just 0ver 200k but nowhere  near what I’ve achieved before. It was encouraging though and I really enjoyed the event. I’ll be back to do it justice hopefully in 2019.

I decided I needed more reassurance with Spartathlon beckoning again in September, but I hadn’t pencilled anything between Belfast and Sparta, which was too long a spell not to run a respectable distance. I decided therefore on another last minute entry in the form of the Essex 100.

 

Essex Sub 20 100 Mile Buckle

 

Surpringly I managed to win the event in very hot conditions but in fairness it was well short of my best. Don’t misunderstand me, I am grateful for a win but it wasn’t a great performance by any means. Just being realistic.

It certainly was hot though, so much so that many of the 100 mile runners took up the option to drop down to the 50 miler, so I guess I shouldn’t beat myself up too much.

Next up I opted to run my 4th Liverpool to Leeds 130 mile which I managed to win back in 2016. I was really looking forward to it but sods law I sustained a mild hamstring strain several weeks out, so was forced to withdraw my entry before the start.

The latest is I hadn’t run from August 14th until beginning of September with Spartathlon now just around the corner, which is worrying.

I now need to do all I can to make the start line of my A race of the year and hopefully finish my 4th Spartathlon. This race certainly doesn’t take prisoners, so (as was the case last year) I have it all to do off poor prep. Nevertheless I will do my utmost to do well and that’s for sure!

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Athens 24hr Jan 2018 and General Update

Just a brief update…

I’d finally managed to get three months consecutive training in after a torrid year in 2017 which I was glad to see the back of. I was really hopeful of trying to start 2018 positively with a decent showing in Athens and apart from some interrmittnent knee pain I was quite optomistic, although I was concerned about the cold temperature, always my achilles heel.

Well weather forecast said it would be an average of low 7-11 with a high of around 14. This turned out completely wrong as it ended up being colder in Athens than Norwich UK, a bitter 3 degrees!

I’d decided to go alone for this event with no support at all so I knew I had to be disciplined with nutrition/hydration. I flew out the day before and had a pretty decent journey, but worryingly I twisted my knee either on the steps up to the plane or hotel, I can’t remember. I quickly dismissed it though as most runners bave had knee pain of some description before and my knee seemed to be no more troublesone than the usual pain I’d been having.

Come race day and I behaved myself by starting conservatively for the first time in a big ultra and was disciplined with my nutrition intake. I had plan a, b, c, d as usual and knew that I was capable of better than Barcelona where I debuted in 2016, hitting 218km.

I was going pretty well and ignoring all the fast starters which in itself was an achievement for me, but several hours in I felt twinges of pain in my knee and it just kept giving way on me. I battled on for a while but increasingly it looked like my race was over.

I didn’t know if it was Patella Tendon or ligament related but I knew I couldn’t continue at that point. Rather than call it a day there and then I decided to leave the track and rest my leg by laying on the ground indoors. I made a quick call to Gill back home who by this time would have gathered something was wrong. I said I’d continue if I could but things didn’t look good.

I knew it was early in the race but I had been steadily climbing the field up to 7th and had felt energised and encouraged by that despite the bitter cold.

After about 10-15 mins rest I tested my knee out and after a few false starts managed to get going again, although by this time I’d dropped from 7th to 13th. Surprisingly I managed to get a good sustained run going, but then the knee kept giving way on me time and again. Every time it happened, I stopped, walked a bit then tried resuming, which I managed, but increasingly it was getting more painful and frequent so I guessed I’d have to call time at some point.

I was now 19.5 hrs in to the race, 167/8 km and I had climbed back up to 5th, much to Gill’s surprise who was following me from home. However, I knew all my targets were now out of reach and I was potentially doing damage to my knee if I continued to run.

Yes I could have walked the next 4 1/2 hours but that’s not for me and running was the only way I could stay warm in the bitter conditions anyway. I had been running in a heavy duty Hybrid Montain jacket for many hours and still struggling with the bitter cold. If I was reduced to a walk, I knew it would be a pointless exercise, so I made the sensible but tough decision to stop.

It was dissappointing, as my pacing for this 24hr had been decent and I had high hopes of hitting decent numbers. It wasn’t to be though and as I sit here writing this about a month later I still have an issue with the knee frustratingly.

I’ve strenghthened my legs and hips incredibly over the last few months but I must get to the bottom of my knee issue if I’m to avoid a repeat of last year. All my issues have been on the same leg, so I know it’s likely that its probably alignment issue which all starts at the hip of course.

This would affect knee, ankle hamstrings, in fact everything in the leg, hence all my woes last year.  My focus has therefore been glute, hips, hams and quads work primarily, which I am encouraged by. I am certainly much stronger.

I am determined to have a better showing this year so in addition to the races I already had scheduled (GUCR, Liverpool to Leeds and Spartathlon) I wasted no time in registering for Belfast 24hr where I feel sure I can hit the numbers.

Of course this could all be undone if my knee issue isnt resolved, so I’ve researched extensively on rehab. I hope that if it is Patella Teninosis I have caught it in the early stages so I can take remedial action to address it. If its anything more serious then I will have to hope I can manage the issue until end of season and then get it sorted, but I’ve nevertheless booked an MRI and XRAY before my scheduled races start.

I can run my standard training runs and so far without any pain at all. Also no pain at rest. So I’m hopeful that with my comprehensive strength and flexibility program, all will come good! I’ll be testing progress via some longer runs shortly just to test stability more than anything.

Here’s to a great 2018!

 

 

 

 

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Spartathlon Race Report 2017

 

The Start at the Acroplolis (Courtesy of Gill Thomas)

 

Apologies this report is late and much less detailed than in previous years. I didn’t want to repeat stuff most of you are already familiar with and if I’m honest I’ve struggled to focus on reporting this year.

In a nutshell I ran similarly to previous years up until around 100 miles but suffered post the mountain due to my injury induced lay off’s this year.  Nothing can take the shine off finishing this amazing race though! Full report below…

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I was once again privileged to follow in the footsteps of ancient Athenian messenger Pheidippides as I embarked on my third consecutive Spartathlon as part of the unofficial British Spartathlon Team, supported by my wonderful wife Gill and In-laws Kelvin and Collette.

As others have commented, it is a race that truly epitomises the Olympic spirit, ideals and ethics. A race that unites everyone irrespective of background, religion, race, age, wealth, politics and so on towards one ultimate goal – a finish at the feet of King Leonidas in Sparta.

This year was especially important as a memorial race for the late, great John Foden, the father of Spartathlon who we are indebted to for bequeathing us this great legacy. A legacy which is considered one of, if not the toughest ultramarathons in the world.

On my debut in 2015 I was delighted to finish, whilst in 2016 I managed to improve by over two hours for a sub thirty finish. However, this year I had it all to do but against much increased odds.

I am the first one to say ‘know before you start that you will cross that line’ as there should be no room for self doubt when embarking on a challenge of this magnitude and yet, through no fault of my own, I found myself in the unenviable position of not being prepared, at least not physically.

An injury sustained following a 24hr race in Barcelona in December 2016 was the catalyst for my injury woes in 2017. Ironically this was my auto qualifying race for Spartathlon, but it cost me dearly. The impact was massive for me with a complete loss of my scheduled winter otraining and disjointed training thereafter.

Last year was always going to be a hard act to follow, having finished as first British runner in a time of 29:14. That was an improvement on my debut in 2015 of 2 ¼ hours so I was delighted. This year it was all about securing a finish first and foremost, which should in fact be every runners primary goal.

The importance the mind plays of course is vital and can help compensate for loss of training to some extent, but on this occasion it was paramount if I was to avoid defeat before I even left the Acropolis. This is incidentally the greatest setting to the start of a race you’re ever likely to find, whilst the finish in Sparta is an emotional explosion of love, respect warmth and camaraderie.

Having made the decision to start I set my expectations and knew my body would respond with no more – no less.

I was plagued with doubt about whether I had finally overcome the heel and hamstring injuries completely, but I tried to dismiss these as they were out of my control. I’d done everything in my power to rehabilitate, focusing on strength and flexibility sessions, physiotherapy visits for deep tissue massage, pool based exercises and multiple sauna sessions to aid safe stretching.

In terms of a mileage strategy I was limited of course due to the enforced downtime. It was really a case of a zero taper for me too in order to reassure myself that I was okay right up until race day and to replicate as far as possible the approach I adopted last year. The rest was in the lap of the Gods.

 

Night Section Before the Mountain (Courtesy of Sparta Photography Club)

 

As it transpired I was amazed that I was still able to hit Corinth (50 miles) and Mountain Base (100 miles) within minutes of my previous two years attempts. However, it was around the mountain that my enforced lay offs and lack of training mileage really began to take their toll. From that point on it was a case of really digging deep.

My crew however believed that calorie deficit was responsible, which on reflection I also believe was partly to blame. First mistake was forgetting to top up with chocolate milk early in the race and nutrition went downhill thereafter.

 

Official Splits Comparison 2015/16/17

Splits         Km            Mile          Elapsed 2015         Elapsed 2016       Elapsed 2017
Start –                                                  07:00                          07:00                      07:00
C/P No 4    19.5            12.11             1:38:36                       1:34:48                   1:36:40
C/P No 11  42.2            26.22             3:29:4                         3:22:00                   3:25:40
C/P No 22  81.0            50.33             7:14:43                       7:03:00                   7:14:45
C/P No 28  100.0          62.13             9:33:09                       9:31:46                   9:26:14
C/P No 35  124.0          77.05             12:31                          12:22:42                 12:15:20
C/P No 47  159.5          99.10             17:44                          17:41:35                 17:43:03
C/P No 52  172.0          106.87           19:49                          19:38:20                 19:54:31
C/P No 60  195.0          121.16           23:23:11                     22:41:34                 24:09:22
C/P No 69  227.0          141.05           28:10:46                     26:46:57                  29:43:04

FINISH      245.3          152.42           31:33:53                     29:14:36                 33:32:45

When I reached the mountain last year, I felt much stronger, energised and cracked on with confidence up the goat trail over Mount Parthenio, and proceeded to run down with a smile on my face. This year by contrast I was cold, lacked energy and didn’t deal with the cloddy mud on the descent very well at all.

I knew this years race was really all about damage limitation and I kept reminding myself that all I could do was my best in the circumstances. Trouble was I think this may so easily have manifested negatively, undermining my performance. It was difficult to know if it was a case of trying not to beat myself up or was I in fact providing myself excuses for a poor performance.

I soldiered on looking forward to arriving at Nestani believing things weren’t as bad as I thought after I checked the time after the mountain. The problem was I forgot there were three more CP’s before Nestani. This demoralised me a little but I cracked on. I wouldn’t say my head was down but I wasn’t really where I wanted to be mentally at this stage.

My crew had been great as usual but this year was taking its toll on them too and when I asked them to be at a CP later in the race than I had planned and then subsequently ignored them, this didn’t go down too well as you can imagine. It cost them much needed time, time which last year allowed them to get to and relax in Sparta.

As I entered Sparta utterly exhausted this year, I then compounded the situation by totally forgetting to take Gill’s hand as I approached the statue as I’d promised, resulting in us both feeling really low and Gill obviously upset.

So not a great end to an incredible journey as we wandered away from the finish and the awaiting British team. I didn’t want them to see us like this or sour the positive atmosphere they were enjoying. Everyone must have wondered what on earth was going on and why I’d seemingly ignored everyone. Apologies for that, but we needed some space.

This was all soon put in the shade though as Gill and I made up and joined in the celebrations, welcoming home all the other athletes. The crowds in Sparta were once again superb and created once again the greatest finish to a race you’re ever likely to witness.

Although it had been a disappointing year for me due to injury and lay offs, I am philosophical about it after enjoying a great 2016. I figured there was no better way of confining any low points to history than by completing a third consecutive Spartathlon regardless of the finishing time.

This is the purest of running races for me and one I devote my whole mind, body and soul to each year. I hesitate to say it is the quintessential race, as it is so much more. It engages, embraces and empowers the whole ultra-running community and its family, friends and supporters, Sparta and the Greek people themselves of course, the ISA, the media, Sparta Photography Club and many others. It permeates the lives of so many throughout the entire year.

It is a profound driving force for good in a troubled world. It inspires courage, nurtures friendship, love, humility and respect and reminds me every time I toe the line that freedom and democracy should never be taken for granted.

Each time I run this great race, I know it is viewed as honouring Greek history, but it is an honour for us runners too. It is a tribute to those that fought in that distant battle at Marathon and the historic run of Pheidippides.

I feel truly privileged to participate and am profoundly grateful to everyone involved in staging and supporting what is without doubt the greatest race on earth!

Congrats to all finishers and everyone that made the start line. You’re all winners! Special mention to Nathan Flear for first Brit and Sarah Morwood first British lady!

 

Awards Ceremony with wife Gill, Kat Ganly and Jay MacDonald (courtesy of Sparta Photography Club)

 

Thanks once again to my wife Gill and In laws Kelvin and Collette for their amazing support. To my fellow runners, support crews, all the volunteers, medical teams, the ISA, Sparta Photography Club and anyone else I may have neglected to mention.
Thank you!

See you in Sparta!

Ian Thomas

 

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”

Rudyard Kipling

 

Courtesy of Sparta Photography Club

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Mid-season Update

Apologies for the absence of posts this year, but there has been little positive to post about as predicted. It’s been a pretty torid year injury wise since Barcelona and I don’t like to dwell on negative so I’d avoided posting. Nevertheless on reflection I think it needs to be recorded. Last year was always a tough act to follow.

Back in May against my better judgement and off pretty much no training due to injury, I decided to run GUCR. This was a big mistake psychologically as I knew I wasn’t fit and knew I couldn’t expect to do well, which meant that I basically just participated.

I never usually start a race unless I can give it one hundred per cent, but a combination of missing my running, the pre-race atmosphere of GUCR and the need to test my troublesome heel over serious distance all conspired to pursuade me to throw caution to the wind. It ended up of course being all about damage limitation, although my heel held up so there was a positive.

As I reflected on the year to date and what might lay in store ahead, I decided to be sensible and withdraw from the Slam, forgoing the KACR to protect LLCR and Spartathlon. I then banked a solid 5 weeks of 100 plus mile weeks starting mid July and felt far more confident going into LLCR. I had no heel pain except for an occasional vague sensation, as though a nerve was trying to settle down.

Fast forward to LLCR and sadly my woes this year continued as I was forced to abort at CP 2 due to what I think may be a hamstring pull/tear.

I was very dissappointed as I thought I’d finally overcome a torrid year of injury to date. I was running well and feeling increasingly positive, but alas it didn’t last when I felt a sharp pain in my hamstring behind my knee about a mile or so out from CP 2 (24 miles ish) I tried some intermittent brief runs but knew it looked increasingly likely I’d have to stop as I’d only do more damage.

As I said I’d already decided not to start KACR to protect LLCR and Sparta, which I believe was the right decision. That helped me overcome the long delibilitating heel injury I picked up after Barcelona last December., so I could focus on regaining fitness with a solid block of training, so I’d felt optomistic, albeit cautious lining up in Liverpool.

I love running the LLCR and it has set me up nicely for Sparta in previous years but after this latest set back, I do wonder if I should have started. Not a great year, but 2016 was fantastic, so I guess I was due a year of contrast, at least in terms of racing.

However, it had still been a great weekend out as I obviously stayed around as a volunteer to support and keep Gill company for a change. It was great to see so many friends out there. I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing this great race from the other side and it helped me to appreciate even more the fantastic support, selflessness and warmth of the organisers, volunteers, supporters and runners of course.

Huge respect to everyone that finished or not, congrats to all slammers and of course overall joint race winners Paul Beechey and Paul Ali and Ladies winner Georgina Harrison for great performances. Thanks to everyone I shared some time with over the weekend. It was both heartwarming and humbling. Huge thanks of course to Wayne Simpson, Keith Godden and Dick Kearn for their immense efforts in staging these races.

Now it’s about doing everything I can to be fit for Spartathlon. The tide will turn I’m sure.

Thanks for all your support!

Ian

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2017 Looking Like a Tough Proposition

Well having finished off a great year in 2016, I’ve effectively been crocked since two weeks after Barcelona last December, so not a great start to the year.

Plagued with a heel injury, over two months of lost training and being zapped with a bug just before British Ultrafest 24hr, it was always going to be a risk. Temptation got the better of me with the thought of a slim chance of getting to Belfast playing on my mind.

As it transpired my heel gave up after about 6 hours, reducing me to an intermittment limp, and although I knew I didn’t have the fitness going into this one, I didn’t realise I was already going down with something before the race. I felt lethargic, laboured and simply lacking my usual energy levels. The next day I had full blown flu type symptoms.

I’m still experiencing pains in my heel, losing even more training, still not over this virus yet and frankly concerned for the year ahead. I may have to sacrifice one or two races in the interests of damage limitation.

Nevertheless, it was great to see so many friends at Crawley 24hr and Pam and Gil did a splendid job of staging a great event. I’m sorry I wasn’t in a fit state to do it justice on the day.

Congrats to Andy Jordan for a splendid win, to Wendy Shaw for first lady and to all other finishers.

Huge thanks of course to my wonderful wife Gill and In-Laws Kelvin and Collette for coming down to crew me. Fingers crossed I’ll overcome this heel issue and get back to full fitness asap.

Thanks

Ian

 

 

 

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My 2016 Season Summary

 

Start at Eldonian Village Hall (Courtesy of Gill Thomas)

Start LLCR130 at Eldonian Village Hall, Liverpool (Courtesy of Gill Thomas)

 

I’m grateful for what’s been a great 2016 for me. It’s been immensely enjoyable, training has been effective and results have been much improved.

Granted, I had a few scares in terms of niggles, but thankfully they all resolved themselves as I eased off where necessary and continued to listen to my body.

In terms of annual mileage it’s been my highest ever at 3519 none of which have been junk miles in my book. Doubles have featured heavily again and I’ve benefitted from strength and flexibility training.

I’ve met some great people along the way who have made 2016 an utterly memorable year. Can’t wait to share some time with you all again in 2017.

 

Key results:

  • 3rd place at GUCR in 27:43. This gave me a massive shot of confidence. I always believed I could go sub 30 here, but it was so elusive. I was just pipped to 2nd place but now know where I can do better in future.
  • 1st place at Liverpool to Leeds (LLCR130) in 24:28. Very pleased to finish 1st and a full four hours ahead of second place in atrocious weather conditions, although this wasn’t a course PB for me, as I hit 24:09 last year.
  • Sub 30 at Spartathlon in 29:14. I was absolutely delighted with this result but feel sure I’m capable of more. Unbelievably, I missed two auto-qualifying opportunities for Spartathlon 2017 via Spartathlon itself when I hit Nestani in 19:38, just two minutes too late and again as I finished in 29:14. If I’d have been 26 minutes earlier to finish in 28:48 that would have nailed it. Despite already having ballot qualifiers I still had it all to do. Thankfully, I had one last opportunity via a 24 hour race.
  • 6th Place at my debut 24hr track race at Barcelona in 218.44km earning me an auto-qualifier for Spartathlon in 2017/18. Given I wasn’t 100% for this race and it was my debut on a 24hr track race, I’m immensely encouraged in terms of what I could achieve on the track, despite it being tedious beyond belief.

 

I’m immensely grateful to my wonderful wife Gill and in-laws Kelvin and Collette for crewing me at Spartathlon and Barcelona, for the support of family and friends throughout the year, to all the Race Directors and volunteers and to all those runners I’ve shared some miles with. I can’t thank you all enough.

Wishing you all a great festive break and a wonderful New Year!

Ian

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Barcelona 24hr Track Race Report 2016 – Brief Summary (24 hores en pista Corredors.Cat – Barcelona)

 

Barcelona 24 hr 2016

British Contingent – Barcelona 24 hour 2016

 

Brief Summary

I arrived in Barcelona with my crew (wife Gill and in-laws, Kelvin and Collette) midday on the Friday and chilled out with fellow runners, as well as checking out the track.

Alas on the eve of this, my 24hr debut I had my third consecutive restless night, which meant hardly any sleep for three nights. This wasn’t good prep and concerned me greatly. Missing one nights sleep, even the night before, isn’t a show stopper, but the preceding two day’s too was a real problem and I knew it.

As it transpired I’m thankful and delighted to have hit my target of an auto-qualifier for Spartathlon by completing a total of 218.41km/135.6 miles and finishing 6th overall (4th male) My auto-qualification target for Sparta is based on the 20% better rule applied to the criteria ‘cover a distance of 180k in a 24 hour race’ Hence I needed at least 216 km for auto-qualification.

However, I know it was a lacklustre performance really. It could and should have been so much better for a number of reasons and had I had been on form I’m convinced I would have bad a better chance of getting closer to 240km.

I had to leave the track at least four times due to stomach issues and throwing up on one occasion, which really surprised me as I don’t usually suffer such issues. This cost me dearly of course and stomach issues continued to cramp my style for many miles.

Following some post race analysis and discussion with fellow runners I believe it may have been attributable to either my digestion struggling to cope due to the tiredness, the effect of the new track surface or unfamiliar nutrition. May be even a combination of all three of these factors.

 

Smiling in the face of Hell Pre-race

Smiling in the face of Hell Pre-race

 

Yes I was using nutrition I hadn’t before and I had forgotten my Tailwind but it seems that my body was struggling with anything I gave it. The end result meant that I simply couldn’t fuel properly resulting in a severely compromised performance and unusually for me my head going down, especially in the last third.

 

20161217_075309

20161217_075257

 

Nevertheless, my amazing crew who supported me throughout were just brilliant!. So too were all those in the British camp including Drew Sheffield, Paul Katsiva-Corderoy, Paul Ali, Nathan Walsh, Simon Prytherch, Stu Wilkie, Roz Glover, Wendy Shaw, Katharine Ganly, Rich Cranswick, Ben Atkin, Simon Atkin, Claire Shelley and many others supporting from the sidelines.

Also, Irish friend Don Hannon who was ever present shouting and high fiving as we ground out the laps, the indefatigable Sam Kilpatrick who always had a smile on his face and Billy Holden who like the rest of us dug deep lap after lap.

Huge thanks to Robbie Britton for his motivational shouts, tips, cajoling and keeping me posted as I thought my target looked in jeopardy. Also for helping to source items of my kit as the night closed in.

My tired brain had defaulted to miles instead of km during the latter stages of the race after a misheard message, causing unneccessary stress for me and everyone as I thought my target was now beyond me. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the results/splits board had gone down!

I was touched by the kind gesture of fellow runners Natasha Farid, Gary House and Jay MacDonald for sharing some latter laps with me to keep my spirits up and the dream alive.

I of course had started fast again I’m told which I’m sure didn’t help either given my tiredness, so I paid a price for that too.  Bob Hearn (the master of pacing) commented that I had ran the first four hours at Kouros pace 😊 Not very sensible unless you are Yiannis Kouros.

In those early hours I was averaging two mins per laps, but inevitably slowed, hitting the 100 mile split in 16:47. A 100 mile PB for me but of little significance, given there were still seven hours of running to do.

The track really took a toll on my body too and far more than I expected. Many other runners said the same. My quads, hips and surprisingly my lower legs/ankles were all trashed. The latter is not usually a problem for me, so obviously a track/shoe combination effect.

Three days later and I’ve just recovered from the worst case of DOMS I’ve ever experienced and although my initial thoughts after this debut are that I never want to do a track 24hr again I understand I have earned a free entry to next years race based on finishing in the top 5 and attaining the required IAU Silver Label distance of at least 200km.

Thanks again to everyone who tracked, supported and helped me in any way and congrats of course to Grant MacDonald for a superb overall win and to anyone else who toed the line!

 

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Lessons Learned

Although unavoidable on this occasion, three consecutive nights without proper sleep undermined both my performance, my state of mind and my digestion, so I must try to ensure this doesn’t happen again!

Track/shoe choice combination possibly contributed to nausea I believe, as well as the worst case of DOMS I’ve ever experienced. Interestingly this was primarily in my lower legs and ankles, which is a first, so I need to review shoe choice for surfaces like Tartan tracks.

Try harder to up nutrition intake even if the body and mind are rebelling mid-race and stick with the familiar if at all possible.

Start slower than two minute laps and ensure to monitor progress by taking splits of the 400’s as I originally intended based on test run stats.

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