Just a Brief Report
As I mentioned in my previous post I managed to get a solid block of ten weeks of a hundred mile plus weeks under my belt over the winter before embarking on my do or die Sparta AQ attempt at Athens 24hr in January.
However starting with an injury I frustratingly sustained on my final run in my final week of training no less, meant it really was nearly a case of ‘die’ because developing Rhabdomyolyis as a result dam near killed me.
The impact this had on me physically but more importantly psychologically forced me to reevaluate my year, withdraw from the start line of several big races and focus totally on Spartathlon. I figured that given what I’d been through to AQ for Sparta I wasn’t about to let it all be in vain. Spartathlon is in my DNA
Coming out early to Athens allowed for the usual pre race runs I prefer and which I really enjoy. Some I ran alone along the seafront and roads away from the seafront leading to the mountains and some with Spartathlon debutants Peter Abraham, Tom Burns and Mark Bissett. These runs are always helpful to diffuse any concerns, share knowledge and build camaraderie.
I must admit to breaking a golden rule though as I had a niggling doubt that the Saucony Freedom ISO I tend to run in these days were fit for purpose, as they were unproven over such a distance.
I’d planned to try out a pair of New Balance Beacon 2 back home but couldn’t get hold of a pair. So there was only one thing for it, disappear for several hours (much to Gill’s frustration) and hit Glyfada to hunt down a shop that sold them. Eventually I hit gold and snapped up a pair which I duly ran in before the race.
The assistant did try to persuade me to spend an obscene amount of money on some Nike Vaporfly but he was dealing with the wrong guy here. Not questioning the efficacy of such shoes of course as results have shown but it’s who’s wearing the shoes that counts.
Anyway, Friday arrived and I lined up once again at the Acropolis in all its splendour with an amazing bunch of athletes who had all earned the right to start this truly amazing race.
However, this time I had no idea what to expect of myself. Not the psychological prep I’m used to but I decided I wasn’t going to put any pressure on myself other than to commit to finish at all costs of course. I’d crawl across that line if I had to.
This was my fifth consecutive finish if I succeeded along with fellow veteran James Ellis who had secured his AQ with me at Athens in January. Alas I was gutted to learn later that James’ run was undone, although I would argue primarily because of the selfishness of others. James will be back and no mistake!
As for me there weren’t any pressures/ expectations from family, friends or fellow runners on me, but this was the first time I was lining up not having a clue how my body would respond.
Many will already know that I have to believe I will cross that finish line before I start no matter what. I know others hold the view that if you know you’ll cross the line then why even bother but that isn’t my take on it.
I never presume anything in an ultra of course and certainly not with Spartathlon, but if self doubt overwhelms you before you start then in my opinion you shouldn’t even consider starting as your race is already over.
This race is full of uncertainty, and a host of variables can conspire against you, so believing in yourself is paramount.
As last year I started relatively cautiously and held back in the hope of mitigating any disasters. Not my usual strategy of course but I was pleased that this year Cyclone Zorba didn’t revisit and we were treated to more typical Spartathlon weather which suited me just fine.
I shared some miles with many familiar faces including fellow Brit Alastair Higgins who delivered yet another top drawer performance finishing fourth! The weather was hot but I was happy with that and had prepared with several weeks of sauna sessions.
Not as effective as running in a heat chamber but still useful. Plus any heat training will have an effect on blood plasma, red and white blood cells and heat shock proteins. This was a fascinating area I’d been reading up on over the last few years.
It was sad to see someone in trouble by the time we’d exited Athens and were running alongside the Aegean coast. The heat was already taking its toll.
Somewhere before CP11 (marathon distance) I shared the road with Aykut Celikbas who was also going for his fifth finish but this year was particularly special to him as his brother Aytug was also running for the first time.
Aykut is a good friend and I’d say a great ambassador. I was delighted to learn that both Aykut and Aytug made it to Sparti. A fifth finish for Aykut!
As it transpired although it wasn’t a decent performance by me, I was nevertheless buoyed by my finish after a year of niggling doubts caused by the pasting my body endured at Athens.
It was well shy of my best finish in 2016 29:14 but still faster than the last two years so I feel I’ve turned a corner.
The finish has reassured me and has since fired me up, instilling some self belief and restoring some confidence. So much so in fact that I’ve a lofty goal now for 2020 but first I have to try for an AQ again which will prove much, much tougher this year with the revised criteria of 25%.
I attempted this at Gloucester 24hr in November but alas I think it was too close to Sparta, so on to Athens 24hr in January now for another attempt or else it will be the ballot for me for the first time in six years.
I should say that I believe the revised AQ criterion is justified and is a sensible and fair change.
I either lacked fitness, strength screwed up my pacing or else didn’t get my nutrition right.
I’m nevertheless undeterred and will compensate with adjustments to my training. More strength and speed work and a return to more road racing of 5k to marathon. It will all help I’m sure.
The jury is still out on whether conservative starts work for me, as I seemed to be struggling to hit my anticipated targets. I soon realised this this year when my usual target for Ancient Nemea was in jeopardy.
This was a problem as this is where I have historically donned night gear and picked up my head torch. I was an hour behind schedule this year and the night was drawing in.
The historical comparison below illustrates my erratic performance over the last few years and although I know the finish is what counts ultimately I still feel I’m missing something in training. I’ll get there though.
Official Splits Comparison 2015-2019
Splits Km Mile 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Start – 07:00 07:00 0700 07:00 0700
C/P No 4 19.5 12.11 01:38 01:34 01:36 01:45 01:43
C/P No 11 42.2 26.22 03:29 03:22 03:25 03:42 03:39
C/P No 22 81.0 50.33 07:14 07:03 07:14 07:32 08:02
C/P No 28 100.0 62.13 09:33 09:31 09:26 09:47 10:29
C/P No 35 124.0 77.05 12:31 12:22 12:15 12:34 13:45
C/P No 47 159.5 99.10 17:44 17:41 17:43 18:36 19:14
C/P No 52 172.0 106.87 19:49 19:38 19:54 21:08 21:52
C/P No 60 195.0 121.16 23:23 22:41 24:09 25:06 25:30
C/P No 69 227.0 141.05 28:10 26:46 29:43 30:42 30:28
FINISH 245.3 152.42 31:33 29:14 33:32 34:53 33:19
I didn’t negotiate the ascent to Mountain Base or transition over the mountain very well this year at all. I guess I just didn’t have the strength this year but not sure if that was mental or physical. One thing is for sure, I need to get my act together if I hope to return.
My crew had been great as usual but we have agreed that next year if I secure a place I will try running without a crew again as I did on my debut.
I entered Sparta more positive than last year but minus my flag which I’d misplaced, but making the decision to run in wearing my Union Jack vest solved the problem somewhat and actually went down quite well with the supporters.
The usual amazing Spartan crowds had returned this year and my fellow Brits were doing a grand job of welcoming everyone home with great enthusiasm.
As I entered the final stretch towards the King I joined hands with Gill and Collette and we ran the last fifty metres or so together.
I always feel truly privileged to run this great race and am profoundly grateful to everyone involved in staging and supporting it every year.
Congrats to all finishers and everyone that made the start line. You’re all winners! Special mention to Alastair Higgin (4th) for first Brit again, Ian Hammett for another top drawer run and 6th place and to Sarah Sawyer first British lady!
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 have lofty goals for this race and hope to be back to realise them in 2020. See you in Sparta!