At the end of 2010, which was a very good year as I had finished and won the JOGLE, completed the Lakeland 100 and ran pretty good all year, I took on the Spartathlon and it annihilated me. I knew I could do it, but just had to have good preparation in the proceeding months and get the fluid intake spot on, as this is what broke me. So as soon as I had failed in Greece in 2010, I was itching to enter the 2011 edition. My sights would be aimed at Spartathlon. Everything else would be just stepping stones that would ultimately lead me to the toes of the statue of King Leonidas in Sparta. My opening race for the year was the Thames Trot, a 50 miler held during winter which I was quite looking forward to. I had a really good run with Rob Treadwell, which is great for the pace. We finished together in 6:53. A massive improvement for me. Shortly after this was the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series Ultra. 33 miles along the incredible coast of the Westcountry. The finest trails in the country I think! I had a great day even if I had turned up over twenty minutes late! I ran hard and even though I had overcooked it near the end I had a good result. Next up was the Wye valley Ultra. Again I had a good race. I wasn’t overly happy with my pacing and nutrition, but I still finished pretty strong and came in joint 4th place. Next up was the Endurancelife Exmoor ultra. This ranks up there as some of the finest scenery and trails to run on. I was very happy to finish in 3rd place seeing as the week leading up to it was a very sickly one for me. The following week was the opening day of Endurancelifes new concept event, Trailblaze. I decided to run the whole thing and was the only person to complete it. In fact as I write this, I am still the only one. I had an amazing day where my parents followed me in the car, and I had support from the Endurancelife team who paddled me across the estuary mouths in a kayak. Awesome! The following week I was in Scotland for the Highland Fling. This amazing event was blessed with incredible weather, which actually became a bit of a hindrance causing dehydration making the end a real struggle. I was happy though to come in the top 40 as the race was a national trail race amongst others so had pulled in a real quality field. My next challenge was to run on the Cotswold Way solo to try and get a black band as this was another Trailblaze course. It was an incredibly tough day but hugely satisfying and successful. I managed over 100km with no support. Then it was the Grand Union Canal Race. I was happy with my preparation and calmness compared to last time and was really chuffed when I finished a whopping 8.5 hrs quicker than the first time I’d done it! A real boost for the ever-looming Spartathlon. Next up was my long awaited success at running the entire 103 miles of the Cotswold Way in one go. I did take just over 24hrs, which is a little frustrating and means I will have to do it again. Drew and I did a decent length run up on the Pennine Way a few weeks after which was awesome. Then maybe my best performance of the year, the North Downs Way. I really enjoyed the day and was very happy with my time and position even though my experimental fast start possibly cost me the win. Then it was Spartathlon. Even though quite a lot of the route is far from inspiring, the whole experience is second to none. I of course made it and had a really emotional finish in Sparta. I can’t wait to return. Last week I received the entry forms for this years race. I will be running across Europe at the time so can’t do it. It’s pretty tough as the race is so special. After this I had the Brecons Ultra. Had a tough day due to dehydration but thoroughly enjoyed it. Then recently there was the Tour de Helvellyn, which was a truly stunning day in the Winter Mountains with my good friend Dave. And my final day was possibly the toughest of them all. My Trailblaze on the Offa’s Dyke was epic and never to be forgotten. I could never have completed it without the tireless support from Lou. Listing out my year of running has made me realise that 2011 was almost certainly my most successful to date. 2010 wasn’t exactly a bad year with my scratch at Sparta being the only blemish on a year that I had my biggest, toughest and most satisfying event yet, my win at the JOGLE. I feel that I have matured as a runner a lot last year. I am in far more control with my training and this in turn feeds my ever-growing confidence to take on the next challenge with a positive outlook. I don’t know where my limits lie, but it has become far clearer over the year (though it will never be clear!). I look forward to gaining a little more wisdom and gaining another year of running under my belt making me a stronger competitor. The year saw me take on not just the races but the personal challenges that I set my self such as the Trailblaze events which have been immensely satisfying. Covering 100 miles alone with support is really tough but with the knowledge that I will recover pretty quickly has enabled me to shoehorn a few of these in wherever there was a gap in my racing schedule. One of these was the Cotswold Way, which was an incredible day. The other 100 was on the Offa’s Dyke just a few weeks ago. There have also been the shorter races I have done which have been loads of fun, and have taught me that doing no speed work for 6 years and just running long and slow hasn’t dulled my speed to much. I also ran in my first two fell races, which were incredible experiences and have added another fantastic dimension to my running. I will be travelling up north more I think! I have also begun to realise just how much running has added to my life and what a positive effect it has had on me. I want to give something back. I will aim to do some race support this year. At the beginning of December I started a lunchtime running group at work that was purely intended to hopefully motivate people to come out for a short run. There is a nice little group who turn up on Tuesdays and Thursdays now. It’s really good seeing these people getting out and enjoying it then coming back for more. I also really enjoy it as it pulls me away from my desk when I would normally mindlessly surf the web. Who knows how it will grow as the seasons change! That brings me nicely onto the year ahead. 2012 promises to be by far my most challenging yet. At the beginning of March (soon!) I have the Trans-Gran Canaria which is a 125km run that takes you in a meandering route across the island. The challenging part about this one is the 8000 metres of ascent that has been squeezed in. Then there is the Viking Way Ultra. This is a new race that has been designed by my friend and fellow JOGLE finisher Mark Cockbain. And in true Cockbain style this promises to be an incredible sufferfest! We’re talking about a ‘British Spartathlon’ type of event that will be similar in length and pressure due to tight time cut-offs. But with the added difficulty of being on a trail which means the possibility of getting lost! I don’t think there will be a very high finish rate on this one! Next is the historical Fellsman. This is the 50th holding of the event that is over 60 miles on the Yorkshire Dales. Really looking forward to this one. At the start of June I have the Hardmoors 110. I have heard great things about how hard this race is so can’t wait to get stuck into it, especially as I have recce’d the first 40 miles of it with Drew. Three weeks later I have the Ultra Trail South West. The UTSW is a 100-mile trail run on the South West coast path. I have been waiting for a 100 miler on the dramatic and absolutely brutal coastal path for a number of years so I was very excited when I heard that Endurancelife were going to put one on. Shame it’s not North Devon and Cornwall so I would be near my parents place, but still it will be an incredible experience. A few weeks later I have another Endurancelife event. This time it’s a little different for me, being a triathlon. It is long distance (Ironman) and off-road. So the 2.4-mile swim is in the sea followed by the 112-mile mountain bike ride through the night and finishing off with a nice marathon trail run. Should be quite a mad experience for me seeing as I’ll be doing it for fun and will not be able to really train for the other two disciplines. Then I will rest for 5 weeks before flying out to Denmark where my Trans-Europe race begins. The race is over 4000km long and is spread over 64 days. There are no rest days. The route takes you all the way through Denmark, Germany, France, Spain and finishes on Gibraltar. This of course is my target for the year. Nothing else matters in comparison. Not to say that I won’t put everything I’ve got into my races, as I find it difficult not too, but TE can not, and will not be taken lightly. The race has only been held twice before, in 2003 and 2009. I have heard that Ingo, the race director say that this will be the last. This is taking a lot to finance. I have the race fee, the shoes, then of course the fact that I won’t be working for around 70 days! I need financial support so please excuse me for putting this on my blog, but it’s worth a punt. If there is anyone who could support me in any way, then please contact me. As I say, shoes and money is what I need. I can wear logos if necessary. Anyway, that’s enough of that. Also, I am currently developing (in the loosest sense of the word) my blog. I have already added a shoe review and plan to add more as time goes on, maybe a gallery etc. I’m kind of enjoying it, as I don’t really know anything so it’s a steep learning curve. So, check out my shoe review. There will be another one soonish. I will write again soon. Happy running.
So finally after a long year of waiting after my first failed attempt at the Spartathlon, the time had arrived to give it another go. This time I felt a whole lot more prepared. I felt like a more experienced, relaxed and confident runner. This all leads to being a stronger runner. I also knew how the race was run and half of the course. On top of all of this, my year had been my strongest yet with consistent performances in the Grand Union Canal race and The North Downs Way race. Recovery was markedly improved over previous years too. All in all, there was a lot of positivity buzzing around my head and this felt good. I was trying not to get too confident though as one of the many lessons learnt in Greece last year was that this was a race that should never be taken lightly. This is seen as the Ultra to finish when you speak to the incredibly experienced runners from all over the world that enter this incredible race.
Why does it have such a high attrition rate when on paper it may not seem so tough? Well, the answer is many things, but the one overriding, unusual (unique?) feature is the quantity of checkpoints. There are 72(?) of them and each of them has a board that tells you what time the cp closes. Usually being fed information like this can be alright as it can be a pretty healthy distraction, giving your mind something else to concentrate on other than the pain that is inevitable.The problem is that seeing as the cp’s are every 2-5km then you are almost constantly being informed of your progress whether that is positive or negative. Experience tells you that losing little bits of time here and there is pretty normal for a big one, but for some reason when you are constantly being reminded of this it creates a sense of panic. If you arrive at a cp to discover that you have just dropped 5 minutes since the previous one, for some reason, the need to try and make that back before the next cp seems like the only option, so you push on and reclaim the time. This in turn tires you out a bit and you will then lose time getting to the next cp! And so the cycle continues. The mental side to this race is incredibly difficult to overcome once you slip into this cycle.
Of course, the mental side to this race is not the only challenge to overcome. There is the 152 miles of mostly road that is of course pretty difficult, the heat is tough. And lets not forget the interesting challenge of the mountain that you have to drag yourself over at the 100 mile point in the thick of night.
I had booked flights from Gatwick on the Wednesday morning with a few other Brit runners. I couldn’t get in early enough on the trains so decided to travel up to London the night before and stay at some very good old school friends of mine, Rich, Si and Emily. I didn’t arrive till after 10 but we stayed up for a bit and had a drink. It was really nice to catch up. I got into bed at 3:30 and my alarm was set for 5:30. Nothing like a good bit of preparation before my biggest race of the year! When I arrived at Gatwick, I floated around the dull shops, burning time with a coffee. I soon bumped into Pete who is the British Spartathlon veteran, who I had met the year before. We chatted till our gate was called.
Now, just a quick bit of nonsense for you. My birthday is the 11 of November, or 11-11. Because of this, 11 has always been my ‘lucky’ number if I ever get asked. This year my birthday will of course be on the 11-11-11. My race number this year is, yes you guessed it, 11. The gate our flight was at had just been called. 11! I hope I don’t get to see many more 11′s around else I just may begin to think that there is something in it!
We met up with the other brits who were on the same flight. There was already a good bunch of us and I had met most of them which was cool. After a uneventful flight, we were in the airport looking for a sign that would direct us to a coach that would take us directly to the hotel. Normally you would have to use the public transport at this point, but due to the unrest in Greece because of the financial problems, they were having strikes. On the day of my arrival, the public transport was off so the Spartathlon association had put on a coach for all competitors. Fantastic!
Once we arrived at the hotel we immediately registered for the race then got a room. Another good feature of this race is that the SA book up three hotels right next to each other. They then cram you in four at a time into the rooms. You are living right on top of each other (well, almost!). This initially might not sound like the best of situations, and some people will book themselves into a separate hotel so that they can have their own space, but what it does is it creates this great camaraderie and also you really are living the Spartathlon for five days. After experiencing it for two years now, I wouldn’t want it any other way. It really develops the experience into a totally absorbing time.
I was in a room with James Adams who had decided to not start as he’d recently completed the incredibly gargantuan race across America so was going to follow the race and see it from the other side. There was a chap called Paul Mott who I hadn’t met before, and Dave Miles who is a good friend who I knew from the JOGLE. A good room. There was much hanging about before going to dinner and stuffing myself with the slightly odd meals that they concoct at the hotel. It isn’t bad though so I’m happy tucking in and drinking plenty of rather strong coffee. After an expected poor nights sleep we have the entire Thursday to just relax and get our drop bags ready. I had bought a load of energy drink powder with me and some 9 bars and some gels. I went to a garage next door and bought 12 bottles of water and then mixed my powder in. I then taped a 9 bar to each one before dumping them into roughly evenly spaced boxes that are provided, one for each checkpoint. Finally I sorted out my OMM bumbag and clothes for the race. All this didn’t take too long which was cool as it left the rest of the day to relax before the not so relaxing day that was too follow.That evening, a few of us ate out at a nice restaurant before going back to the hotel and attempting to get some more sleep before the alarm went off at a ridiculous hour. No bother really as the night didn’t involve much sleep again and I was just waiting for the alarm!
We all sorted ourselves out and went down for breakfast before jumping into the coaches that would take us on the 30 minute drive to downtown Athens to the Acropolis where the race begins. After a bit of a wait, and a few visits to the toilet, the time had come, we were off!
I felt calm and content that at last I was running and that compared to exactly this time last year, I was a lot more confident. I knew I could do it.
We slowly snaked our way through the already quite busy streets where police were at each junction and stopped the traffic for us as we passed. No mean feat in any capital, let alone Athens!
|Dave and I in the first 30 miles.|
I had already decided that I was going to run this all alone as I had to do my own pace, but soon Dave ran up beside me and we started chatting. I felt fine with Dave’s company as we had run together a great deal over the JOGLE so I knew that we had very even paces. We chatted quite a bit as we headed out of the city. I wanted to run at a slightly higher speed before the sun rose than I planned to run later on when the heat would rise. Everything felt good and I was content with our pace as we started passing through the cp’s, one by one.