2015 Spartathlon by Neil Cloke

So, to those who didnt know I took part in this year’s Spartathlon 2015. I managed to qualify through one of my other runs and was lucky enough to then be chosen to run the non-stop course…Athens to Sparta,153 miles in total with a time limit of 36 hrs. This is classed as one of the toughest ultras in the world based on the fact that the weather can be damn hot and each of the 75 checkpoints have pretty tight cut-offs, especially the first 50 miles, so no time to hang around. The race itself is based on the footsteps of Pheidippides who was sent to Sparta to secure reinforcements for Athens. More about the history and how the whole race became what it is now can be read here:
http://www.spartathlon.gr/en/the-race.html

Thanks to John Forden and the other RAF guys the race has become iconic in ultra running and is attended by great runners from all around the world. I was lucky enough to be in this year’s British Team. We had sponsorship from individuals as well as some other businesses. Our kit was really the best on the day, we looked awesome.

2015 British Spartathlon Team Neil Cloke 02

Photo by Sarah Dryden

Anyhow me and Basia flew out to Athens on Wednesday 23rd September and I prepped drop bags and settled in. This gave us time to relax and meet some of the other guys in the British Team. Spent Thursday looking around Athens and then early to bed after race briefing and team photos. For a change I actually slept quite well and got about 6 hrs kip.

Race day…start 7am.

Felt pretty relaxed when we started. I was just happy to be running instead of waiting and thinking whether i would make it or not. My aim was just to keep a steady pace throughout and to stay positive no matter what. After reading Dave Krupski’s blog on his finish last year this gave me hope that you can still do it even if you do have a sick moment and that having a positive vibe can help.

2015 British Spartathlon Team Neil Cloke 01

Photo by Sarah Dryden

Running out of Athens is quite an experience! Police stop the traffic at all crossings no matter what. So most Greeks were happy to see us, some not so much smile emoticon once out of Athens it was getting hotter and I was making sure I was eating and dowsing myself down with water and ice as well as keeping on top of my salts. This continuous process definitely got me through the day along with a steady pace and nibbles on route. Basia, who was my support crew, was only able to meet me at a couple of early checkpoints due to limited transport for supporters being provided. It was good for me to see her then but I missed her at mile 50, so after that I wouldn’t see her until the finish. This was a shame and bothered me at first, but then I thought I have done long runs in UK and abroad on my own so I know how to deal with myself, it will be fine. As it turned out I would see Mimi Anderson’s support crew in the latter stages and they were awesome with offers of help if needed and encouragement. Was great to chat to someone as I had been running on my own for a lot of the run and seeing them was an extra boost to me. When I reached the major 50 mile mark I had accumulated an hour and had reached it in the time I had estimated. Good stuff.

I’m now in the night section and still feeling good and had racked up a 2 hr 30 min buffer. So all good. I had a couple of moments where my stomach felt uneasy, but that went for a bit. I had thought that the weather at night was going to be ok….I got that wrong. It started to rain just as I started to make the road climb up the only mountain in the run. I had forfeited a wind/waterproof jacket so by the time I got to the checkpoint at the base of the trail climb I was cold, wet and shaking. I knew I had to get warm first and then hope I could get up the rest of the mountain without things going downhill (excuse the pun) for me. It was whilst sitting with the checkpoint crew that one of them sent his wife down to the road to get a cheap poncho from there car and give it to me. It was a fetching lilac colour so didn’t look camp David at all.

Anyhow this definitely saved my bacon and helped keep the worst of and most importantly the wind of me. Whilst sitting at this checkpoint I saw a lot of runners I had passed go up ahead of me so was keen to get going. I had been looking forward to the mountain section, especially the down bit. So I started up the mountain soon to realise that this wasn’t going to be easy in road running trainers with no grip on wet slippy rocks and a pretty narrow ascent path. So foot placement was everything and I started to pick speed up on the ascent. I didn’t hang around once at the top and started to run the down asap. It was here that I overtook all the guys I had seen go up well before me….I was loving this part of the run and I flew down this section with a massive grin on my face.

After that excitement it was alot of flat road section. It was during this section I had my third massage to sort my lower back as this was aching a lot now (The other two massages were done earlier in the night and I had my quads and neck / shoulder area sorted).

The last 25 – 30 miles were on a main road up and down many hills. This part was a tad dodgy with trucks and cars etc hammering past you or toward you. I had read that the last 18 – 20 miles were downhill….so wrong i was. It became an obsession to find this elusive downhill part that it was driving me mad. In the end I gave up thinking about it and accepted that there going to be a few more hills before I went down into Sparta. The weather had been raining for most of this until the last 20 km and it started to clear up and get hot again. With 10 km to go I was happy and seeing Mimi’s support crew cheering me on was uplifting and made me run the last 6 miles into Sparta and to the…

2015 British Spartathlon Team Neil Cloke 03

Photo by Sarah Dryden

The finish. I had no idea what to expect, but people were saying enjoy the finish it’s amazing, well I have to say it blew me away.

People in their cars, bikes, window’s, people walking the street congratulating you as i ran by. The last 100 metres or so I unravelled my union jack flag I grabbed from last check point and wrapped it around me. As I ran to the finish the Team were there cheering along with the locals. Even the massaged dude’s were there cheering me on. The feeling was like i had won the race itself, and there in front was the Statue of Leonidas. To compete the race you have to touch/kiss Leonidas foot. So one long kiss of the foot and a salute to the king, photos taken, i was seated and my feet washed and legs massaged. Its not like any other finish i have had ever. The photos and video I have uploaded.

2015 British Spartathlon Team Neil Cloke 04

Photo by Sarah Dryden

So…how did I do….to my amazement I finished the race in 34 hrs 2 mins. I say amazement because it was my first time, I’m no road runner and weekly mileage was a bit lame, on top of that I got a cold the weekend before going out to Athens and felt a bit rubbish. As luck would have it I was able to shake the worst of. I had gone with no expectations. Nothing was guaranteed. Overall I came 90th out of 174 finishers. 374 started, Overall finish rate: 46.65%. The UK were the 3rd highest finish rate per country. A 2nd postion Podium finish was a battled out by Dan Lawson from the British Team. He ran an amazing race from start to finish. Full respect. So all in all the team had a great Spartathlon!

I feel highly privileged to have been in this year’s British Team and to have met with that many great runners has been awesome and inspirational. Total respect to all team runners whether they did it or not. To be part of the Sparthalon has been an experience I will never forget and a moment treasured.

I’d like to say thanks to Paul Ali and Rob Pinnington for there help and for organising the team kit and the British Sparthathlon website. True professionals.

A massive congrats to Rob Pinnington as this was his 4th go at the Spartathlon and this year he nailed it. True guts and determination to come back each year and try again. Glad I was there this year to see this and to celebrate it with him on an all nighter afterwards smile emoticon Top man.

Well done to Mimi Anderson for doing the double (Athens to Sparta, Sparta back to Athens). A massive achievement, my hat off to you and your crew.

Any way I think this will do now. Now to look for next challenge….hmmm someone mention desert…

2015 British Spartathlon Team Neil Cloke 05

Photo by Sarah Dryden

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