2015 Spartathlon Race Report by Lawrence Eccles

Spartathlon is a race from the Acropolis in Athens to the foot of the statue of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler in 300) in Sparta. The race professes to retrace the run of Pheidippides, the Greek messenger who later died on an errand to Marathon. See Wikipedia for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spartathlon

Entry to the race is famously tough. The entry criteria that mean something to non-Greeks are:

* Have completed a 100 km race within 10.30 hours (now 10 hours for men).

* Have finished a 100 miles race within 22.30 hours (men) or 24.00 hours (women).

I scraped in on the 100km time in 2014, running just under 10:30. The race is also famous for tough cut-offs. The only two I actually know are 09:30 to Corinth at 80km and 36 hours to finish the race. There are 74 check-points each with cut-off times. Being Greece, these times can be missed if you smile and keep going. By getting in the race and being British you automatically become a member of the British Sparatathlon team and get some free stuff https://britishspartathlonteam.org/

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A selection of the British Spartathlon team at the start. 21 started, only 13 finished. This was above the overall race average.

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Early stages of the race to show the traffic and that I was not the only person in an orange T-shirt.

The main difficulty of the race is the heat. Even in September Greece still sees low 30s. There have been horror years were temperatures have crept into the 40s. Since I failed to finish in 2014 I adopted a cautious approach from the start in 2015. Unfortunately I could not help myself and was overtaking people through the early stages, then I caught up with Pat Robbins, a British runner who finished 7th in 2013. I resolved not to pass him. Obviously I accidently overtook him after a while. Fortunately he did catch up and pass me before the marathon point (not Marathon the place), which I went through in 73rd place in a time of 03:49:22.

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Early running in the race

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More running in the heat. I was soaking in water and putting ice in the hat and race vest at the CPs

As I started to feel nauseous around 50km in 2014 I was trying to work out if I had got further and if I still felt ok. It took me to 70km to be satisfied I was going ok, but my legs did hurt from the constant pounding on the road. This section was no way near as bad as I had remembered. It is amazing what not throwing up and having a feeling of swaying does. I reached Corinth (80km) in 54th place and a time of 07:48:28. I did walk a bit as I have heard it said that you should walk before you need to walk.

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Greek-Dane-Brit Nick telling me not to quit. He told me not to quit every time we met in the race. I must look like a quitter.

The next leg I found I was shuffling more. My quads really hurt, reducing my stride length. I still felt I had the pace to finish the race, but I looked unlikely to get under 18hours for 100 miles; and so it was to be. I reached the 100km point in 10:14:13 and 61st place. Debbie, a British girl, inconveniently caught me walking on a flat stretch of road and commented something to that effect as she breezed past.

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Starting to shuffle on my way to the mountain base.

By halfway I was in 70th place and had taken 13:22:25. My dream of a sub-30 finish time looked to be slipping through my fingers as I leaked time. It did not help that they had lost my drop bag of food at check-point 33; or perhaps it did as I was fed up of shot blocs. I managed to get some food off a fellow Brit, Paul Ali, at CP35 when I told my story of woe. He had passed me at CP 33 as I had the CP staff looking for my drop bag. He also had shot quads and had taken to having massages (and he was still ahead of me).

As darkness fell I was caught by another Brit; worse it was another girl. This time it was Sharon Law. I was sitting down thinking how well I had done to pick up the speed on the last downhill leg when I noticed she was sitting next to me. She was busy trying to put quad guards on even though she already had some on. I left her to it and carried on down the hill. I later found she dropped out around this point. She had a blister on one of her toes.

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Walking at the start of the off-road section; the final climb to the Sangas Pass.

I reached the 100 mile point at the foot of the mountain (that’s what people call it) having resorted to taking a 10 minute power nap as I felt so tired. I had only dropped to 75th place. My 100 mile time was 19:21:01. I attacked the off-road section and ran down the other side as the rain started to come down. Before too long I was back on tarmac road. I briefly passed Paul Ali as I felt I could run again, only to revert to type and walk. I was further disappointed by another missing drop bag at CP50. I was questioning if I had remembered were I had put them correctly.

It took me 21:24:56 to reach Nestani (CP52) at 171.5km. My mini revival had seen me climb to 72nd place. My bright head torch battery had died and I was onto my dull backup light and starting to see things in the shadows. I contemplated another power nap as I longed for the sun to come up. All I got was another Britt woman, Isobel, passing me to spur me on. I had been stopping at the CPs to have coffee and coke with some food. This strategy is ok on the normal races I do in the hills, but on the road when they are only 2-4km apart it wastes a lot of time and fills the bladder.

Daylight did come and it was overcast and the rain had stopped. The race route was Norfolk like, running past flat fields. I longed for a hill to hide the fact I was walking when I should be running. I passed through CP60 in 25:13:49. I was in 69th place at 195.3km. I did not realise my revival had continued till this point. I did not bother stopping at the CP and just crossed the timing matt and carried on my miserable way.

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An aerial walking shot from the second day

As I walked up a rather long hill I was caught by a woman who knew my name (my name was written on my back, but she said it in an English accent that some would say sounds very posh). It was Isobel, who had passed me earlier, but stopped to rest at CP60. She told me Paul Ali was not far behind. He had stopped for another massage. She convinced me that since walking hurt as much as running we might as well run for targets along the road. We started at this and the tactic worked and we caught runners ahead. There were lots of targets to aim for like road signs, bushes, Armco barriers, beach like ground and obviously the CP when it came in to sight. Isobel’s knees hurt so I left her on the downhill.

To my surprise Paul and Isobel caught me over the next few miles, then I dropped back as I messed with readjusting the timing chip on my shoe. I also got a boost as my race food was at CP63. I reached CP69 (226.7km) first, of the three Brits, in 29:49:52. I had climbed to 62nd place. It is fabled to be all downhill from CP69 and I think it was pretty much.

Somehow conditions conspired that we, three British team runners, ended up grouped again with first Paul Ali catching me and adopting the 50 steps running followed by 50 walking strategy. I could have run it all (I think), but my left little toe hurt and my breathing was laboured so Paul’s method made the run it far more palatable and enjoyable. Out of the blue Isobel came charging after us. She had probably taken drugs, or been spurred on by the sight of the finish in Sparta.

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Selfie on the last mile, with Paul Ali.

We ran in to the last CP together having moved onto the target method of running. The running times had got much bigger and walking was getting shorter. For the last leg we had a cycle escort of boys on bicycles. I started to break sweat on the last mile as the pace quickened. We decided that we should finish individually. Isobel got to go first, being a girl, leaving Paul and I to walk and take selfies. Paul went next as he was older than I. I did not leave a suitable gap as spurred on by the crowd I ran to the King Leonidas statue and almost had to pull up as I saw Ali was still there getting his picture taken. I walked to the finish and attempted to wash my hands and face in the water cup that runners are meant to drink from and then forgot to even touch the statue.

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The finish. The water I spilt washing my face is on the floor.

I don’t think my legs are conditioned for road running. My finishing time was 32:36:49 and the position was 63. I thought I would never do Spartathlon again when I was 30 odd miles from the end; now I do. I had an easy ride compared to some with no blisters of note on my feet (although I did mention my little toe earlier in this report). My legs were sore at the finish and I would have liked a bath, but instead had to settle for a shower.

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