British Spartathlon Team News – June 2015
Welcome to the June update on behalf of the British Spartathlon Team.
We have some fantastic news to announce regarding the race.
Courtesy of www.racedrone.net, the British Spartathlon Team have been offered the use of their GPS trackers during the event so family, friends and supporters will be able to track each of the runners (subject to the runners being happy to carry a device) during the race.
The use of GPS trackers has now become more common place for some of the longer distance ultra races as people will have seen at races like The Spine and the Thames Ring (which is currently taking place at the time of writing) both of which have been supported by Race Drone. These devices not only provide valuable safety support but also give friends, families, supporters and the entire UK ultra running community the ability to see the race unfold from start to finish. Never before has there been this level of visibility of a race. No pressure at all guys and girls!
People will be able to follow the race using this link http://racedrone.net/event/70 although runners details and GPS devices will not be updated until shortly before the event.
We would like to thank Richard Weremiuk and Race Drone for supporting the team this year.
The Mike Callaghan Trophy
Former British Spartathlon runner Patrick Macke who has recorded 8 Spartathlon finishes and holds the record for the fastest British time at 23hrs 8mins set in 1990 has kindly donated the 1985 Spartathlon Winners Trophy to be used as a perpetual trophy for the fastest British performance each year.
Patrick has requested the trophy be named the “Mike Callaghan Trophy” in memory of the original Spartathlon organiser Mike Callaghan who sadly passed away in 2013.
We will post a photo of the trophy up soon, so watch this space.
Thank you to Patrick for this generous donation, this is very much appreciated by the team.
Some of you may be aware that an independent video of last years race was put together featuring British runners Mark Woolley and Rob Pinnington amongst others. A preview of the video can be seen here.
Congratulations to Tremayne Cowdry and Lawrence Eccles who both completed the Dragons Back race (a multi-day mountain run across Wales). Tremayne finished 24th in a time of 59 hours. Aside from a gashed knee, hundreds of mozzie bites, having several ticks removed and a dodgy stomach he reports he is injury free! Lawrence finished 10th in a time of 51 hours 50mins. Well done chaps.
Ian Thomas who recovered from his illness (and disappointment of not being able to run the GUCR) took part in the inaugural Norfolk 100k finishing 3rd in a time of 10hrs 49minutes. Ian described the course as stunning with some challenging sections and does not recommend that people consider this a 100km qualifying option for future Spartathlon events.
Everyone else must be training hard as there are few other race results to report aside from Paul Stout and I who took part in the Endure 24 event (in different teams/categories) which was great fun and even resulted in a rare win for the team.
We have had a few questions being asked by team members and so I have put together a short ‘advice’ piece based on information provided by previous Spartathlon entrants.
Martin Illot is probably our most experienced Spartathlete taking part this year. 2015 will be Martins 11th running of the event with 5 finishes and 5 defeats to his name Martin will be aiming to tip the success rate in his favour this year.
Martin admits he has not changed his training regime much during this period but has tried to remain reasonably fit and has been largely injury free. The only significant factor is that he is now a lot wiser (10 years older) than the first time he ran the event in 2005 where he kindly acknowledges the benefit and advice he received from Peter Foxall and John Tyskiewicz (who have racked up around 20 finishes between them).
As a regular GUCR runner, he has noticed a correlation between his GUCR finish times and Spartathlon finish times (so no pressure at all this year Dan, after your fantastic GUCR run!).
Martin has a number of ultra events lined up in preparation for this years event but would recommend people target some hard marathon running in the build up and suggests at a good sub 3.30 marathon would be better prepared than an experienced but slower ultra runner. On a personal note, whilst there needs to be a balance between solid road running and long distance runs, I have tailored my approach this year to include a few more marathons in the build up based on my last experience.
Pre-Race Build Up
James wrote an article on his blog “How to screw up the Spartathlon in the next 16 weeks” the full version which you can read here:
James reported that there was no right answer and his experience showed that he had approached each of his three finishes differently.
His preparation for his first event in 2009 was essentially lots of short(ish) and fast(ish) training. On race day he admits to setting out a bit too keen but was way ahead of the cut offs and got there in the end.
His second effort involved doing less training but more racing and even the UTMB a month out. However, James described this as his ‘smartest’ run, he ran his own race, didn’t get carried away with anyone else and achieved his best time despite getting to the 50 mile mark an hour slower than the first finish.
James Adams and Martin Illot pictured
His third finish in 2012 was more of a case of guts and will power over good training and build up. James describes a few poor months of racing, not being in his best condition but still showed true grit and determination to finish.
What does this mean… he neatly quips.. ”There’s more than one way to kiss a foot”.
In terms of what not do, James suggests.
- Doing too many big races. I have none between now and Spartathlon and I suggest one more maximum. I know it’s hard to say no to stuff and there is so much more out there. SDW100, NDW100, UTMB (pushing it but possible I think). You can count every 100+ mile run you have done as training for this.
- Neglecting speed – doing so many long long slow miles that a 9 minute mile feels like a sprint. Don’t just run yourself in the ground trying to clock up the miles. Park runs, 10ks. It’s all good.
- Destroying your confidence – You really need to believe you can finish this. It’s a bloody hard race and is not a given. You need to be confident in your ability to run. This confidence will be battered by a string of underperformances in a load of big races over the summer. You may be capable of a 20-24 hour 100 miler but if you are ruining yourself plodding from race to race finishing in 29+ hours you are going to feel like a shit runner. Feeling like a shit runner will not get you to the end.
- Completely neglecting the heat. It’s hard to get heat training done when we live in the UK and summer has just gone. Take any opportunity that comes.
- Only just qualifying. the 10.30 100k is something you need to do to have the speed for the early race. If that is the furthest you have gone then you may struggle later.
Someone asked about drop bag strategy for the race. Personally, I found that whilst the major checkpoints were well stocked with food and supplies the interim checkpoints only supplied drinks and light snacks (nuts, crisps etc). Therefore, I ensured that I put extra food in drop bags throughout the race so I knew I had access to foods I wanted at regular internals and could adopt the ‘eat little and often’ strategy.
In terms of placement, I went with a simple strategy of leaving a small drop bag at every fifth checkpoint (No 5, 10, 15, 20 etc). The reason for this was it was a regular distance apart (10-15 miles) and it was easy to remember! I then worked out where I would be during the race and ensured I had equipment I may need available at the right time, such as things like my head torch available well before it was dark, an extra layer at an evening checkpoint, some spare batteries placed at a checkpoint during the night and some spare sun cream at the next mornings checkpoint. I also took over some electrolyte powders and bought a load of bottles of water and made up some energy drinks for each bag aswell.
As a contingency, I put a spare of each item in later checkpoint drop bags (i.e. a spare head torch) for contingency purposes in case I missed anything. All of your drop bags are returned after the race so you can collect all your items the next day.
That worked for me but others may have different approaches, please feel free to let us your have hints and tips!
We had a question about insurance. I’ve used DogTag insurance before which were reasonably inexpensive (about £40 for the trip) but never had to claim so unable to vouch for the service.
Any other suggestions?
Cutting it fine!
Spartathlon is well known for the pressure of its unforgiving cut off’s. It all looks do-able on paper but sometimes that’s a completely different reality to when you’re actually there, the quads are hurting, the legs are cramping and it’s hot, damn hot.
Mark Cockbain has completed the Spartathlon event 4 times and first attempted it in 2004 where he reached mile 92 but admitted to setting off too quickly and running out of steam before retiring. He returned in 2005 with a strategy to set off a little slower and almost scrape through each of the checkpoints and knew he would be up against the clock through the whole race. Mark describes his race against the cut off’s as follows.
Mark reached the marathon checkpoint in 4 hours, and the 50 mile checkpoint in 8.45 some 45 mins ahead of the cut offs. 12 hours in and he started too feel sick probably due to the amount of gels and snacks but conscious that he needed the energy in the system.
Mark Cockain (Left) and James Adams (Middle Left)
His picked his head torch up at 70 miles but this failed to work but was loaned a small handheld torch as he pushed his way up some long hilly inclines. By this time his legs were stiff and blisters were becoming annoying.
Getting over the Sangas Pass was described as a ‘hands and knees effort’ and progress was slow as he caught his badly blistered feet on sharp rocs. Getting to the top was a huge mental boost (statistics show that the fewer runners DNF if they get this far as cut off times become a little more relaxed) but his buffer had been cut to 25 minutes.
Going down the mountain was harder and involved several falls but he managed to break into a run when back on solid path running into the village of Nestani and cutting it very fine arriving less than a minute before the cut off. The pressure was on with no buffer ad he gritted his teeth as fast as he could ignoring the pain of his sore feet gaining 15 minutes before the heavens opened on a second climb. Mark describes himself as being on autopilot passing the checkpoints shortly before the cut offs, hanging on to the belief that he could make it, ignoring the pain from his sore feet and quads. The scent of the finish was their but not quite tangible as he now became mentally aswell as physically exhausted.
Finally, he spied the town of Sparta and knew he had to just hold onto to his best shuffling pace. He continued to push but the town doesn’t seem to get any closer, he runs and shuffles and then suddenly he’s within the walls and streets of the town and past the final checkpoint. Forty minutes to go and finally some real belief that he’s going to make it.
The roar of the crowd is uplifting as he makes those final few steps to the Statue of Leonidas. He made it in 35 hours 52 minutes.
Mark completed the event again in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The full race report can be found here:
Mark Woolley has completed the Spartathlon race 3 times and wrote an excellent preparation article. In summary, Marks key tips include:
- Train on roads.
- Good consistent mileage.
- Prepare for the psychological battles.
- Hope that little bit of luck is on your side!
The full article can be found at the link below is well worth a read.
Mark Woolley and Paul Ali pictured
That’s it for June’s update. Remember we have a Facebook Group set up here https://www.facebook.com/groups/102781016511694/ if you would like to drop by and interact with the current team, friends, supporter and previous participants.
Keep up the training.