After my complete failure at Spartathlon 2012 I was hoping to write a victory blog this year. It didn’t come about because fundamentally, I am too mentally weak for this race. Read on if you want to read a self pitying blog full of little excuses that are just girly bullshit. Otherwise stop now, and come back next year to see if I have turned myself into a hard northern bastard.
Prior to GUCR I got a few tips from a very experienced runner that got me through the long drag on the canal. Afterwards I almost begged him to be my coach for Sparta. I want to make clear he did a great job getting me ready for the Pheidippidean challenge. The reason I failed was that in the final part of the race, I didn’t do as he told me. I was not mentally tough enough.
Thanks to him I was on the starting line five kilograms lighter than last year and a heck of a lot faster. My 10km time was down from over 55 minutes to sub 45 minutes, my 100km time was down from 11:20 to 9:56. I had also managed to run nonstop for 12 hours on a blistering hot day in Germany and still covered 106km.
So far so good, mentally I thought I was there as well. I was going to tough this fucking race out and kiss that statue.
I arrived on Wednesday and was expecting to wait for Paul Ali so that we could travel to the hotel together. Unfortunately for Paul, not only was his flight delayed, they managed to lose some of his luggage as well. We agree I would catch up with him later as we had no idea how long he would be delayed.
As I got on the bus I met a Portuguese chap by the name of Jorge, who despite having the same misfortune as Paul in the luggage area also finished the race.
I arrived too late to register on Wednesday, so just dumped my stuff in the room I was sharing with Phil Smith and Mark Woolley and headed off to join a whole bunch of people celebrating John Knox’s birthday.
Thursday morning is one of registration, which went smoothly, and preparing and depositing drop bags. My detailed plan was to have a water bottle at every third stop with a gel and power bar attached. At further selected points would be rice puddings, extra clothes, wet wipes, a head torch and some treats. Each of the bottles and drop bags had pre prepared sticky labels with my race number and checkpoint clearly printed on them. Another important task was to switch my S Caps from the bulky bottle they came in, to tic-tac containers, so they fitted into the small running belt I was going to wear. Compared to last year I far better prepared, as then I had no drop bags at all and had never heard of S Caps. These are magic little electrolyte pills that ensure your liquids are absorbed correctly. I ordered these and the GU Gels I use from James Elson’s Centurion Running Store.
At 17:00 we all gathered for the English language briefing in the Fenix hotel, the home of the Japanese runners. The British team rapidly put on their spanking new TEAM GB T-Shirts from the Ultramarathonrunningstore (organised by James Adams) and collected their Buffs from Mimi Anderson. The logos were designed by Mark Howlett. This prompted a mass photography session from not only the Brits, but also our very envious fellow competitors from other nations. Even if the Germans and Japanese got more people to the end, they didn’t look as good as us.
In terms of important kit, I also had a set of guidelines to keep me strong through the race which I had been reading like a sacred text. The idea was to imprint it into my brain, so that I would not forget them when push came to shove.
I read this at the start, then rolled it up and carried it with me.
We started as dawn rose and the initial run down from the Acropolis being the normal chaotic chase. At the bottom of the hill we saw runners come back at us, as they had forgotten to take the left turn. I was concerned I was going too fast, so I stuck with Mark Woolley and Phil Smith for much of the early stages. Mark Woolley was also concerned about speed and as we slowed, Phil Smith went off ahead; I wouldn’t see him again until the early hours. I also split from Mark as he filled his water bottle
As the weather started to warm up I dipped my hat with its integral sponge in the checkpoint buckets. But I soon found the sponge was too big and meant the hat would not stay on comfortably. So I ripped it out and the elastic that held it in place.
Just after CP 6 I needed to evacuate my bowels and nearly end up on my arse as I stepped back into the remains of an earlier evacuation. I blame Woolley.
A little later on a hill, I caught up with Mark and promptly got a bollocking for speeding up to catch him. We got to the marathon CP at 4:10, a bit slow but still well within the cut offs. Mark gave me half of his rice pudding, which was very welcome. Next year I will drop one here myself.
We were now going out to the coast road and Mark’s pace on the ups was too much for me, so I dropped back. As I reached CP 12, I recognised it as the point from last year where I was warned I had only five minutes on the cut off. Thus I was very happy to see I was 45 minutes up.
I really was not focusing on distance and did not use a GPS watch this year. As James Adams says, too much information fucks your head.
Therefore as I went through CP 12-16, I was not concerned that my time against cut offs went up and down. Just chill and live with it. I will soon built the buffer back.
At this point I went past Mark Hines, who was suffering a little. I offered him one of my homemade energy bars. He was very nice about it, but rapidly came to the same conclusion as me. That is to say, the peanut and oat based bars were too cloying in the mouth, especially for the heat of Greece. I won’t be using these next year.
Soon I went past CP 19, the place where I was pulled last year. As my buffer was well over 45 minutes this game me a great boost.
I reached CP 21 and pulled my Vaseline and rice pudding out of the bag. Vaseline went down my shorts, even though I had not felt any chaffing and the rice pudding went down my throat very easily. Feeling great.
After I went over the canal and came into the big checkpoint I was over taken by James Adams, who shouted out that the scenery would soon get better. I didn’t dally and left after commiserating with Peter Johnson who had stopped earlier. My buffer was over 40 minutes i.e. on target.
Corinth is a major goal and the heat had not been an issue for me so far. I was dunking the hat at every checkpoint and pouring water over my thighs to keep them cool. Apart from the energy bars the nutrition was working well. I was getting to every third CP and picking up my bottle full of a weak mix of SIS GO and a gel and energy bar attached. Every hour I dropped an S Cap and that kept my stomach settled. By the second checkpoint after a new bottle, I was filling up with water in a similar fashion as when I did the Leipzig 100km in less than ten hours
It soon became apparent that James was correct. The countryside after the Corinth CP becomes like Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire. As we came into the picturesque Ancient Corinth the runner in front of me stopped and turned around and started running back up the hill towards me. He was then dramatically flagged back by someone in the village, so we both continued in down the cobbled steps.Sue and Lucy and a few others were there waiting for their runners. James Adams had just beaten me to the village and was getting a massage from Gemma. James’ stomach had been playing him up and he had tried to be sick earlier.Also at the same cp was Frank Witzler, a German, who I had met last year. Frank was going great guns, and insisted I told the race official on the CP the story of how we met. To cut a long story short Frank, with typical German manners, pushed in at the registration in 2012. On the Saturday after 2012 race Frank and I ended up drinking in the bar till very early. As I left I talked to Louis, a student doing an article on the race for his studies. He insisted on driving up the road to take pictures. Odd behaviour if you ask me.
As we entered the first villages in the Peloponnese proper, little kids came out asking for our autographs. The first one got a signature, but by the last one it was just a squiggle. I stopped at a corner shop to buy a can of Fanta and when I went to pay for it, the owner waved my money away and I got a freebie. I love a good freebie.
James Adams and I were leap frogging each other at this point. I recall grabbing him as we came into one village and kissing his head shouting “James we are doing the best race in the whole world and we are smashing it.” He reluctantly agreed probably realising my optimising was ill founded.
The Japanese guys had ordered pizza at one of these places and I begged in my best ill remembered Japanese for a piece, which was gladly given. As I went by another food shop Frank Witzler called me in and offered me sausages, like a true German, which I happily accepted. This race was going so well and I was so happy.
Darkness started to fall and I was pleased that I had taken Mark Woolley’s advice to have my head torch at CP 30 with t-shirt. I put the torch and t-shirt on and moved off. About a kilometre up the road I realised I had left the document of my coach’s advice behind. This was my first big mistake.
There is a slow climb to CP 31 and 32 and each one went well with me coming into the check points happy and overjoyed to hear the cheers of the supporters.
CP 33 and 34 went past in a blur and then I entered CP 35 Nemea, 124 km into the race. I walked in hands held high, shouting “Don’t panic number 53 is here.” The reception was thrilling and I saw people I recognised who had pulled out covered in space blankets. James and Clare Shelley were there waiting for massages. I considered get one myself, but followed my coach’s instructions not to dally. As I got soup and a bowl of rice, the race official commented on how good I looked, I march up the hill eating the rice feeling on top of the world, little did I know it would fall apart so quickly. James Adams soon caught up with me and ran together for a while. I was so please to be running with one of the people I admire so much.
As we started on the downhill we over took more and more runners walking. Then just after CP 36 we turned onto a horrid gravel area. “Clueless would call this Sky Running” posed a runner who shall remain nameless.
As we carried on James, soon speed off into the distance and I noticed a runner with a proper lean on. I looked across and saw it was Phil Smith who I had been sharing a room with. Phil was suffering from cramp so I offered him an S Cap. Why didn’t I take one myself?
The darkness was all encompassing now and I was feeling lost and lonely. I could only see fellow runners in the far distance by the glow cast by their torches. I started to panic a little thinking I had taken a wrong turn and kept trying to bat the doubt away.
As I left CP 38 I took a gel a little too fast and this triggered a massive retch and I was suddenly very very sick. Puke didn’t seem to stop coming, as I heaved a day’s worth of gels and several rice puddings up.
Don’t panic, don’t doubt is what I should have thought. Instead I just drank water and hoped my stomach would settle. I knew in a few kilometres, I would reach CP 39 and another bottle, gel and energy bar.
I seemed to be forgetting everything my coach had told me about going to the bottom and coming back up.
CP 39 and I sat down to shake the stones out of my shoes and massage my crapping calf...why didn’t I ask someone else to do that? Or take an S Cap?
As I got up I asked for my bottle. But it was not there! What. The. Fuck. I had carefully labelled every bottle with pre printed sticky labels and placed them in the CP boxes myself. I must have got it wrong. No food until CP 42 now.
Off into the darkness and the decent to Lyrkia village (CP43) and the next major check point. Why didn’t I fill up with the food at CP 39?
I was trying to run downhill now and it just was not working. Why didn’t I grit my teeth and use the lesson I learnt on GUCR. I.e. it hurts to walk, it hurts to waddle, it hurts to run, so why not run?
At CP 40 I had 40minutes on the buffers. I tried eat a few bits and resolved to stock up using the closest thing to a gel I could find, the squeezie packs of honey. As I started eating this stuff I retched again, so I kept taking it in tiny pill sized amounts.
My printed sheet with the major CP closing times on said Lyrkia, three CP away, closed 3:00, I knew this must be wrong, but it still screwed with my head. Why didn’t I ignore it like everyone tells you to?
My progress down the hill was getting slower and slower and I was overtaken again and again. Why did this worry me so? I should run my race not anyone else’s.
At CP 41 my calf was completely frozen and I just hobbled to CP 42 to get my rice pudding which I knew would cheer me up. My buffer was now down to 20 minutes. But 20 minutes was still a long time. Why was I panicking?
At CP 42 I sat down instead of marching on with rice pudding in hand. I really needed to do something about this calf. Why did I sit down, it was against the rules? I massaged my calf trying to loosen it up a bit. Nothing was happening and pushed harder and deeper into the muscle. Just as I got up, the race official took my number from me. My race was over. It was 2:45 in the morning and I had covered 145 km.
I clambered onto the bus feeling very sorry for myself, to be greeted by Claire Shelly. We settled down to sleep on the long journey to Sparta.
All the above is just girly bullshit. I should have remembered what I had been told and now a week later I am so fucked off with myself words fail me. I was physically trained for it; I let the mental focus slip.
I forgot the most important lessons. After we reached Sparta, I couldn’t sleep and I got up at four in the morning to walk up the street I should have been running up later that day. I took a picture of the foot of the statute sat down and cried my eyes out.
But I now I have gotten a grip....because crying won’t help.
I have to get back up and learn the lessons this taught and get mentally tougher.
This race burns into your soul and sucks everything out of you.
I will be back!