Your Name: Darren Strachan
Occupation: IT Consultant
Home Town: Finsbury Park, London
What is your running background?
I was a very keen cyclist in my youth in Scotland and not really into running at all. Going to university kind of destroyed my cycling mojo and when I moved south for work it was all but gone. A colleague at work was putting in a team for the Fleet Half marathon and I entered on a whim, and really enjoyed it. This led to running the New York Marathon in 1999 and I’ve been hooked ever since.
When did you first start running Ultra marathons and why?
Like all good and silly things it started with a bet in a pub after one too many ales. In 2006, A South African friend bet that Jamie Holmes and I couldn’t do Comrades Marathon so of course we had to take on the challenge. That was a fabulous experience…. I remember coming down the hill into the cricket stadium in Pietermaritzburg just absolutely flying and feeling amazing, with the announcer shouting our names and it all just being so easy (it hadn’t been for the previous 25 miles!)…. I became thoroughly hooked on the Ultra experience too….
When or where (at which events) are we most likely to see you?
I don’t race as much as I should, as with 2 young lads at home there are always a lot of family commitments to fulfil at weekends. Usually try to run a spring marathon (Brighton) to get a bit of winter focus and then an ultra later in the year. Last year and this year it’s pretty much all about Spartathlon.
What are your personal key running achievements to date?
Beating David Bone in a sprint finish to the water fountain in Regents Park in about 2005. Qualifying for Spartathlon. Reaching CP63 last year….. I know it’s the wrong way to think but before the race I was very nervous about not reaching Corinth, so whilst I was gutted about busting out of the race I was also pleased about getting so far, a real cauldron of emotions.
What was your hardest race experience?
Also CP63 last year. I was utterly broken, physically, mentally, emotionally…. You name it, it was broken.
What events do you have planned for 2017 up to Spartathlon?
24 hour World Championships in Belfast (in the Open Race) and KACR.
What is your typical race strategy for an ultra?
Break it down into small chunks, try not to think about the whole distance at any one time. But (I learnt these from last year):
- Have a game plan for each stage, rather than hoping to wing it at the time. For instance, last year I had a very detailed plan from the start to Mountain Base, which went off pretty much like clockwork apart from a couple of sections. I had absolutely no plan for after the mountain, partly because I thought I might not make it that far, partly because I thought if I made it over the mountain then I was home free. In fact, the roughly 30k flat section after the mountain over the plains of Tegea is an absolutely critical part of the race, and mentally it is so demanding. I had no idea how to play it, made quite a few mistakes, and the performance over that section was a key part in not making it to the end.
- Stand on the start line really believing you will finish.
What does a typical training week look like?
It’s a mixture really but I’ll be aiming to get up to consistently hitting 75 to 80 miles a week over the summer, at a little bit of a higher base pace than last year. I’ll also add some interval training and some hill repeats. Most of this will be on tarmac to get used to the pounding that Sparta dishes out. I’m also doing some strength work in the gym (squats / deadlifts etc) to try to strengthen quads…. They got trashed last year by the downhill sections. Running the downhills well is a key component of finishing Sparta I think…..
What one tip would you pass onto people running an Ultra marathon for the first time?
Just go and enjoy yourself….. you don’t need to judge so much or put pressure on yourself for a PB in the same you might for a fixed distance like 10k or marathon.
Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself?
Sorry, I always struggle with this one!
Have you taken part in the Spartathlon before?
Yes, in 2016
How did you get on?
It was an incredible experience, I really loved being part of the British Team and in the race itself. I didn’t make it to the finish (race report here) but I picked up a whole load of experience (well, we’ll soon find out if I did or not!!) for this year.
What tip would you pass on to those taking part for the first time?
Gah, loads of stuff, I could bore people half to death with it. Here’s my top 3 (these are for an average runner like me trying to finish rather than someone trying to compete!):
- Pacing up to Corinth – there’s really no need to go too hard in the first 50 miles. General consensus is that 9 hours to Corinth is fine. From there to 100k there is some decent flat running where you can build a buffer on the cut-offs. After that it gets hilly but you can still gradually put time into the cutoffs…. Having an hour / hour and a half over them at the mountain is perfect, as long as you are in running shape for the final third, which is where you can really smash into the cutoffs if you are in good shape. On the other hand, if you go out too fast on the road to Corinth and blow-up, you’re probably not coming back from that.
- Heat training – training with a sauna jacket, and/or gradually increased time in a sauna during the last 4 weeks before the race is gonna help.
- Practice downhill running, a lot. There is an almighty downhill section not that far after halfway…. Lasts for about 9k I think and it’ll likely be dark with a fairly poor road surface. I had a nightmare there last year with lots of walking…. You’ve simply got to get down that thing running in good order to set yourself up for the mountain stage
What are you looking forward to at the Spartathlon race?
This year all 4 of our merry band of running brothers (James Ellis – going for the hat-trick, Jamie Holmes – finished in 2015, David Bone – debut) have got in, which is just wonderful. Conventional wisdom says that pairs or groups of runners cannot do this race together, so we are looking forward to seeing if we can defy conventional wisdom and run the whole thing together. We have a strange habit of the most ridiculous situations, banter and laughs pulling us through dark times and lows, so we shall we how we go. We also have “the train”…… watch out for the train…..
On a personal level I simply can’t wait to have another crack at slaying this beast of a race.
What are you not looking forward to during the Spartathlon race?
Sleep deprivation after the mountain and the second mountain climb on the Sparta highway….. I plan to get there before it is too hot this year!!
How will you prepare specifically for the Spartathlon race?
Distance + intervals + hills + heat + Worlds + KACR
Will you be bringing any support crew to the race?
Definitely! The exact make-up of the support team for David and I is yet to be determined, but we’ll definitely have my brother Jeff and David’s wife Gaby supporting us. Jeff was there last year and was an absolute legend, I don’t think he slept for about 48 hours… he has been bitten by the Sparta / ultra bug and can’t wait to join in with the British Team and see us all home to kiss the sweaty foot. Gaby is an accomplished marathon runner and I think she will love the whole Sparta experience. I’m hopeful my wife Rosie will also be able to make it but as our kids are so young with so many school commitments it is a bit of a juggling act!