Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Spartathlon Preview: The Rollercoaster

Yep, it’s another Spartathlon blog.  Really sorry, I know all of the 3 people who read this blog are sick of me banging on about Spartathlon.    If you already know all about the race and my attempt last year, feel free to close your browser now, or hopefully skip to the end bit where I ask for your help. 

Spartathlon is a long distance foot race in Greece based on a legend of a messenger being sent from Athens to Sparti.  It’s 153 miles long and must be completed in a maximum of 36 hours.  It is a brutal beast of a race, due to the combination of hot temperatures, hills, and a strict set of 75 time “cutoffs”. The winner typically takes around 24 hours but the vast majority of finishers are much closer to the cutoffs.  It’s not the longest race in the world and doesn’t claim to be the toughest, but just completing it (never mind competing to win it) is considered a major achievement in the world of ultra-marathon running.  Typically, less than 50% of the runners who stand on the start line at the Acropolis will make it to the finish line at the foot of the statue of King Leonidas in Sparti.   

I’ve been dreaming about / planning / training for / having nightmares about this race for the better part of 5 years.  The long distance running caper started back in 2006 with a drunken pub bet that Jamie Holmes and I took up with a South African mate (@Jo_Fo, you’ve got a lot to answer for dude! J).  The bet was related to running the Comrades marathon, a double marathon and a bit from Durban to Pietermaritzburg which we all enjoyed immensely.  That ignited the search for other long distance challenges and we were soon joined by James Ellis and David Bone for many events and training runs.  We formed a great group, somehow puncturing (inflating?) the lows that long-distance running inevitably brings with the best possible antidote of completely mindless banter.  I think we first heard about Spartathlon in 2011 or 2012 when we were attempting, nay doing, a run from Brighton to London (Chevs, just think, if you hadn’t been reading that newspaper on that day then none of this would ever have happened J), and then spent the next couple of years trying to qualify.  We all entered for the 2015 event, but Dave and I missed out in the ballot whilst James and Jamie were both successful.  With us as crew alongside James’ brother-in-law Andy, running together, both James and Jamie finished that incarnation of the race, showing incredible grit in the face of many forms of adversity to finish 20 minutes inside the cutoff.  We all learnt a lot from that experience.  I think our shared passion for this race was well and truly cemented on that epic, epic weekend of no sleep, a lot of running, a soupcon of cursing about brands of head torch batteries (naming no names), and a 3rd night of no sleep blamed on Eric and Audrey and the espresso bean martinis (sorry, lost myself for a minute there).  Last year James and I toed the start line with Jamie crewing together with crewmates Laura, Rosie, Jeff and Garry (David was away raving somewhere) and James went on to make his 2nd consecutive finish in a time around 40 minutes better than the previous year.  My race ended some 25 miles short of “the foot”, taken out by a combination of heat, hills, physical breakdown, mental breakdown, panic, and perhaps most of all an underlying sense that I just wasn’t “worthy” enough.  I learnt a lot from that experience too, or at least I think I did.  I’m soon going to find out.   

So anyway, this year, incredibly, all 4 of us got in…. we reckoned the odds of that happening were less than 1 in 50, and we are all delighted to get a chance to run together and have completely mindless banter take us, together, all the way from the Acropolis to King Leonidas. 
Many say this can’t be done, that the difficulty of trying to sync 4 runners is just too much, that there are too many variables – pacing, nutrition, low points, high points, sickness, weather, kit, losing each other in the dark, perhaps a complete dearth of mindless banter? (not gonna happen).     If it happens by accident then fine, but actually trying to plan it out and do it…. Impossible!   Well we are going to attempt the impossible and by hook, crook, or by begging the nature God Pan, we are going to work our way steadily out of Athens, fly along the blazingly hot coastal road to Corinth,  turn on the burners up to the halfway point, inch our way to the Sagas Pass at mile 100, and then enjoy the most epic of suffer-fests across the plains of Tegea and down into Sparti.  In order to achieve the impossible, we could really do with your help.  All 3 of you, dear readers, can do this in many ways:
  •       Tune in to the race on the 29th and 30th September and send us some messages of support.  We’ll be carrying trackers that you’ll be able to find on http://racedrone.net/events/events  Follow my brother @jeffstrax on Twitter – there’ll be some updates and pictures if Jeff gets a chance in between his manic crewing duties.  Send us some messages through there, it really does help us massively to get little bits of words of encouragement from home, even if it is just the two tweets spread across 36 hours.

  •        Help us spread the word of this endeavour by mentioning it to anyone you think might be interested in hearing about it.  This is not to raise any kind of interest in us as a group but purely to raise awareness of this great event to a wider audience.  There is so much about the event that is fascinating including the ancient historical details and the fact that the modern race was pretty much invented by a group of British athletes funded by the Royal Air Force, led by John Foden.  John died recently and this year the British Team will be running "in memoriam" to John and inspired (or intimidated) by his famous expression "I shan't wish you luck because if you have trained properly you won't need luck, and if you haven't trained properly luck won't help you."  Gulp.

  •          Help us raise funds for our chosen charity, Hemihelp.    We’ve been privileged over the years to raise money for this great charity which helps children born with Hemiplegia, a brain condition which occurs at birth where one side of the brain is damaged.  Jamie’s eldest daughter Holly has this rare condition and she has inspired us many times with her infectious enthusiasm and motto “never give up”.   Like many charities at the moment Hemihelp are really struggling for funding and are relying heavily on volunteers and donations. So like Holly we are not going to give up in trying to help them and would really appreciate any support of whatever size.   Please be assured that absolutely all donations go direct to the charity and nothing will be used for our race costs.    You can find out more about Hemihelp here http://www.hemihelp.org.uk/ and if you wish to make a donation our page is here http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SpartaChunkTheory

Thanks so much for reading and for your support.  One more blog about how it all went and I promise you that’ll be it for Spartathlon, for a while anyway J

Pre Sparta days, oh dear how naive we were, and what on earth is that shorts and legging combo i'm wearing.  James still ribs me for saying "beyond the marathon distance it's all mind over matter anyway"

2015 Jamie Holmes 03
Jamie and Zeus qualifying for Spartathlon. I'm sure your quads don't look as big as that now lads?!
Our fantastic 2016 crew team and runners (L-R: Jeff,  Rosie, Darren, James, Laura, Jamie, Garry)
Success for the lads, a lesson for me.  National 100k champs.

Getting everyone across the Sparta qualifying line, Sussex 24 hour

Jamie and James' glorious 2015 finish.  

2016 start line at the Acropolis

High five kids, still felt good at this bit, only 10 miles in though!

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