Friday, 16 September 2016

Spartathlon Anxiety

So the summer has gone by like an express train, it's now only 2 weeks until James and I take on Spartathlon, and it's all starting to get very very real.   My brain is constantly whirring with thoughts about the race, trying to assess how ready everything is I guess.  Sometimes I wish I could switch it off and just be very chilled about the whole thing.   Maybe if i write some of it down it will help me achieve inner Spartathlon peace, so here goes:

Have I done enough training?   Yes.   No.  Maybe.  It's impossible to tell really.  Since crashing
and burning at the Brighton Marathon back in April, I've done more running than ever before in
my life.   I'd say i'm way fitter than when i qualified for Spartathlon back in 2014, i've
racked up weeks of mileage that I haven't gotten anywhere near before (70 mile weeks, 80 mile weeks) and i've done a couple of fairly big "double" sessions where you run long on both days.  The idea being to get used to running long on tired legs.  All that being said, the training hasn't been perfectly consistent, and mileage not as high as I read about being required for Spartathlon.  I also haven't done much in the way of speed sessions.  It's easy to find lots of stories online about people doing 100 mile weeks for months leading up to the event, and them still thinking that's not enough. For me, I think I would break down injured if i tried to do that, and I know it would take too much of a toll on other aspects of life.  I'm going to have to be happy with what i've done, especially as it's too late to change any of it now!

Can I cope with the heat?  We went on holiday to Greece in August, and it was fearsomely hot.  Just lying by the pool in the sun was strength sapping, never mind trying to run.  I always knew i'd have to have a strategy for dealing with the heat, and i'm coming at this from two angles.  First, try to get the body adapted to heat.  I've been spending a lot of time in the sauna the last couple of weeks, building up from 10 minutes and now up to over 30, following a program on the Badwater site (  Who knows if it works, I can only hope, but if it's good enough for people running through Death Valley there's got to be something in it.   Second, try everything possible to stay cool on race day because if you overheat, chances are there'll be no time to recover.   I'll be following the well documented strategy of stopping briefly at every checkpoint to dunk my hat and buffs in water buckets.  At the risk of looking like a complete fool i've taken this a step further and sewn what can only be described as a pouch onto the top of one of my hats.  It is a good old fashioned botch job, complete Heath Robinson.  Into "the pouch" I plan to stash ice, and have it melt over my head and onto my neck.  Whilst it's never going to be comfortable, i'm hopeful the combo of these two strategies will see me survive the heat on race day.

Can we get the pacing right?   This one is absolutely critical.  The overall time limit for
Spartathlon is 36 hours, meaning to finish the 153 mile race in that time you have to achieve an average speed of 4.25 miles per hour.  The distance is obviously scary, but it doesn't sound quite so bad when you think about the overall pace needed.  The problem is that's not the whole story, and one of my biggest fears about the race is the way the first part of it is setup.    They basically force you to cover the first 50 miles faster than you might otherwise plan to.  The way it works is this: every couple of miles there is a checkpoint, each one has a closing time (aka a "cutoff"), and if you arrive after the cutoff you are out of the race.  No arguments, no mercy. The organisers say "this is the specialty of Spartathlon" (said with a certain relish I might add).  Now after putting all this effort into training and everything else that goes with the race, it would be a huge shame to get booted out for failing to make a cutoff in the early stages.  The cutoffs therefore are potentially stressful, lots of
people say they are THE most stressful thing about the event, and there is a real danger that they make you panic and run too fast.  Do that, and you may build a big buffer against the cutoffs in the early stages only to see it evaporate mid race when you blow up.  Of course I don't really
know a great deal about this, this year being my race debut, but i'm basing it on what I observed last year while crewing for James and Jamie, and on what's been said by much better runners than me:

So we have to have a plan to stay cool under the pressure of the early stages.  Run too fast and we risk blowing up, run too slowly and we risk being caught by a cutoff.   The plan is to run the first marathon in around 4:15, and to aim to get to Corinth (50 mile mark) in around 9 hours.  That would be a 30 minute buffer on the cutoffs, and hopefully would mean having enough energy to keep chipping away at them until the mountain at the 100 mile point.  By that stage we'd hope to have
an hour to spare, maybe a bit more if things go really well.  Get up and over the mountain successfully, and the chances of finishing become much higher.   Sounds so easy when put like that (it's not!!!)

Should I even be doing this?    When you read about this race it's easy to become overwhelmed
by the quality of the field.  There are only 390 runners, and most of them are very, very good.
The vast majority have Ultra "CVs" that make mine look utterly laughable.  Badwater, Western States, UTMB, Ultrabalaton, you name it these guys and gals have done it.  Even so, usually only around 40% of this high quality field finishes the race.   So I do often wonder if i'm being
completely naive by attempting this race without fully completing my ultra running "apprenticeship". Obviously though, I qualified, so i've got a right to be there and give it a go.   I go into it fully knowing that i've got huge amounts to learn about this sport, and humbled that I have this chance in such an iconic event.

There's loads of other stuff on my mind, but that's enough for now.  One last thing, i'm looking to raise a little bit of cash for "Lab 13", which is a science lab at our kids school which has had its funding cut.  The folk who run the Lab do a fantastic job and it's a brilliant resource for the kids, who all really love it.  We'd really appreciate any help in keeping our young scientists going, anything at all is really appreciated.  Hop over here if you'd like to donate, and thanks!!

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