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…
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.
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!
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.
See you in Sparta!
“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!’”