The Spartathlon warmup.

My training up to the GUCR was not what you’d call structured or specific, but I had managed to get a fair bit of mileage in, which included quite a few 45+ milers. I felt strong except for the feet which would still play up if I stayed on them for a long period of time. The feet were my only concern as this was going to take a long time. I knew that I was capable of dropping below 36hrs, but over 145 miles anything can happen. You really did need to get everything right to give yourself a good chance at a quick time. If I could stay on top of my fluid intake then I think I’d be ok.
These were my thoughts in the final week before the long weekend. I really like the fact that I don’t get that nervous before a race now. I thought I might with the GUCR, but no. I was conscious of the pain and effort that lay ahead, and I totally respected it. This was a race that should never be taken lightly!
I know that there is no direct relationship between someones GUCR performance and their Sparta performance but I really wanted to nail this race just for the confidence boost which would hopefully help me lots when I return to Athens later in the year to take on my main goal.
One thing I wasn’t sure about was the fact that I’d be running the race as an unsupported runner again. This meant that the organisers would feed me and move my drop-bag between cp’s, but other than that I’d be left to my own devices. This was no concern to me in that I knew that I should get around, barring injuries, but now that getting a fast time was rising to the top of my priorities I was beginning to wish I’d got together some sort of team. I especially think that having a buddy runner with me from the 65 mile point (not allowed one before here) would have really helped. The positive spin to this though was that in Greece I’d not have any support so this would be a more closer to reality practice run.
I had booked a train to Birmingham at 1700 on the Friday which would get me there for just after 1830. This went fine and gave me plenty of time to walk to the hotel about half a mile down the road. I was booked into the Travelodge in the centre where the race registration was happening till 2100. I took advantage of this so as to have one less thing to clutter up the morning. The hotel was by all accounts a dump in a very noisy area on the main strip with loads of awful chain pubs and nightclubs. I generally don’t like to use earplugs but had bought some anyway! Fortunately I wasn’t expecting to get much sleep due to the excitement of getting going. After finding my room which I was going to share with Stuart Shipley who I’d met before at Sparta and wasn’t due to arrive for another 2 hours, I made my way over to the O’Neill’s over the road to get myself a meal. As I walked in and headed to the bar I scanned around and recognised a fair few faces! It seems that many of the other runners and crews had had the same idea! I spoke to a chap called Dino at the bar who I’d met at a few other races previously. I ordered a massive burger and chips with a pint and sat down with Dino around an already busy table. I met many new people, both runners and their crews.The food turned up and within a few minutes I’d wolfed down the whole lot. Now I was ready to run! I hung around for a while longer chatting before Stu turned up. Twenty minutes later we said our goodbyes and made our way to our room up on the fifth floor where we both proceeded to get all of our kit ready for the morning. The lights went out, the ear plugs went in as it was very noisy out, and we both began our 5 hours of patchy sleep.
The alarm was set for 0430. This would give us plenty of time to wander over to the start in Gas Street which was very close for the hotel at 6. I had my normal massive bowl of muesli, we loaded ourselves up and left the hotel heading for Gas Street. Finally we were there! Just hand my drop bag in and a half hour wait and we’d be off! 
I grabbed a coffee just as we were directed down to the canal for the start. Dick, the organiser gave us a little chat as I rushed down my quickly cooling coffee. Then we were off. All that was left to do now was to run. It was as I chatted to others and overheard other conversations around me that I realised that most people had a plan. I didn’t! Well, unless you call running at my usual ‘ultra’ pace till I couldn’t, a plan. This didn’t concern me at all. In fact, if anything it added a layer of confidence to my race as I am now pretty content that my ‘running by feel’ is getting better and better. I am more often than not pretty happy after a race with my whole race pacing. It’s nice being able to do that without using any gadgets. Though I will wear a heart rate monitor this is more for post race analysis. I feel more in tune with my body than I ever have.
I ended up running with a chap called Phil who I’d ran with for a little while during the Lakeland 100 the previous year. I was feeling fine and was just happy to be running.
The weather was just spot on, being pleasant but not hot. There was some possible showers forecast for the weekend, but not much. As Phil and I passed through cp3 I was still feeling ok. Signs of soreness, but nothing unusual for over 30 miles. Phil stopped for a call of nature, so I carried on. I really wanted to do my pace. Now I was alone to do exactly that. 
I was starting to look at the 70 mile point as my first real milestone. When I last did it I arrived at the cp as it was getting dark. I ate a meal and left in complete darkness. I was on track to go a fair bit faster than this. When I arrived it was totall daylight with perhaps 2-3 hours left before the headtorch would be needed. I sat down and ate some flan, beans and eggs. This went down very well. I downed lots off water also. No issues with food or drink consumption yet! My drop back hadn’t made it to this cp yet, so I borrowed a torch from one of the crew in case I needed it before the next cp. I believe I was in 12 position at this point which was suprising to say the least. Still, I wasn’t even half way yet. The real race began now.
Five miles previously you were allowed to have a buddy runner. I had none, but was starting to see some people having to not worry about pace or carrying a bag.
I was now going to attempt to get to the next cp at 86 miles before needing the torch. I was feeling very sore now, but everything felt in order except for the usual sore feet. No worries, this could all be ran through. As long as the shins don’t go like last time.
I made it! I got to 86 miles before needing a torch. I was now regularly passing other supported runners crews which was turning out to be really great. I knew a few of the guys and everyone was being really generous and kind to me, offering food and drink and checking I was ok. This certainly helped pass the time especially as the night quickly drew in. I wasn’t concerned about the night though. It wasn’t cold if you kept moving and in 14 miles I’d be at the 100 mile point. That would leave a fairly mentally manageable 45 miles remaining. The 100 mile cp was also a hot food stop. I was really looking forward to some hot savoury food to eat as I was at the ‘sick of sweet stuff’ stage already. I was by now barely seeing anyone else. I was also tiring which isn’t too much of an issue except that I find that I really struggle to keep my focus on the pace. I find myself just dawdling along at some ridiculous pace, not due to fatigue, but just because my mind wanders. I find this very irritating, but still, my pace overall is still ok.
I finally ran into the 100 mile cp. The superb crew there immediately started to cook me a meal. Beans, Eggs, Bacon and meatballs. This went down very quickly. I again topped up my camelbak and drank lots of fluid. Just before I left, Claire Shelley arrived with her buddy runner which just happened to be Rob Treadwell. I said hi and stumbled off into the darkness. I imagine that they would soon catch me up as they were clearly currently going faster than I was. Sure enough, a little while later, they both caught me up at an incredible pace. I ran and chatted with them and quickly learnt the true value of the buddy runner. It was a vast improvement over my own pace. No dawdling going on now! I was very fortunate to tag onto this train for a few hours and be looked after by the support crew also. As we ran out of the darkness and refreshingly into the dawn we stopped at a ‘mini’ cp where Rob left us having finished his duties for the night and the next buddy runner seamlessly joined us. We ran together for a little while before Claire told me to go ahead as I was stronger. I certainly didn’t feel stronger, but felt that seeing as I was officially unsupported it was time to go alone anyway. I soon arrived at the 120 mile cp. I sat down and was offered a bacon sandwich which I really fancied. Again the crew were ace, really helping me in any way. As I sat there enjoying my sandwich, Claire arrived and was dealt with by her crew. Just as I was getting set to run, she left. As I started running and saw them both in the distance I realised that they were going at an incredible pace, one that I wasn’t even going to attempt to follow. It was as though she had just begun! I stuck to my own pace. Only 25 miles left! It was starting to warm up a fair bit now so I kept sipping water. I soon realised that at the last cp when the crew were filling my bladder, I said for them to stop as I didn’t want to be carrying too much weight for the final few hours. Well, I obviously hadn’t checked how much water I had, as I really didn’t have much left! Again this made me realise the importance of a crew! Oh well, I’d just have to ration it as best as I could. It’s sod law that this stretch was the first time that I didn’t see a crew out to scavenge water from, and happened to be the warmest it had been! Never mind, I’d survive. Fortunately, for once, I’d managed to keep on top of staying hydrated, so it would take more than a few hours to put me in any trouble. I was now in 6th place which was way above my expectations and heading somewhere towards 32 hours. It now took every piece of mental energy I had remaining to keep the pressure on my pace. I kept flagging. I had no idea where people were in front or behind so couldn’t afford to slow much more if I could help it.
Finally I approached the final cp which I was very happy to arrive at for the obvious reasons, but also because my throat was pretty sore from lack of water. I downed around a litre and put a couple in my bladder, then I was off to nail this thing!
The last 12 miles were long and painful. My feet were exceptionally sore. With around 3-4 miles left I approached a crew who were waiting for their runner. I stopped and they asked if there was anything I needed. They gave me a gel and as I was squeezing it down my throat, a friend on the bridge shouted down to them that some runners were coming! I quickly thanked them and dashed off. Now I really couldn’t afford to walk. Must keep the pressure on! All I had to do was hold on for a few miles!
I tried to not look around but couldn’t help myself having quick glances. I never spotted anything but nevertheless kept the pace as high as possible till I crossed the line. Within 2 minutes a pair of runners crossed the line! Wow, that was close. How fortunate that the crew inadvertently alerted me to the two pursuants. My finish time was 31hrs 24mins.
I was super happy (and still am!) with my whole performance. It all helps mentally for Spartathlon which is the years true target. My fluid and food management was not perfect, but certainly an improvement over my normal effort. Pacing was pretty good overall. And my recovery was pretty much completely full after around 5 days.
All in all a wicked weekend on the canal. I’m starting to really love the canals of this country.
From the finish, I had to walk to Paddington with my big bag, buy a ticket and sit on a train for 3hrs which was truly awful. I was in and out of sleep all the way and was desperate to stretch out and lay down. Thankfully I managed to be awake when we arrived at Bristol!
I am now 10 days into my planned 19 days of rest, but seeing as I am now fully recovered it makes it so difficult to not run! I just have to keep focused and keep faith in my techniques. The rest really seems to work for me. After this 19 days I plan to run the 104 miles of the Cotswold Way in one as my first run back. Very excited about that.
Anyway, that’s enough from me. This post has been more painful to write than normal for some unknown reason.

Happy running or if you’re like me, happy resting!

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