Spartathlon 2022 “Operation 28”
They said it could never be done…. Well ok, they didn’t but it sounds good.
This was my third time at this iconic race. I was going for the triple finish & to get a PB (Personal Best time) This was 29hrs 27mins last year (2019 – 30hrs 39). I was hoping to get into 28hrs, so 28:59:59 was the target & in the immortal words of Bobby Ball “That’ll do me Tommy”.
I’ve had a great season, as I have bored many of you with & I believed I was going into this race in the best shape I had ever been. A big part of this has to go to my coach & good friend @Nathanflear. He understands me & knows my body as much as I do. (no jokes needed) I’m blessed to have him & can’t recommend him enough.
I dreamed with Di (#awesomewife & number1supportcrew)of breaking into the top 20 (previously 29th in both 2019 & 2021) but knew that this was a big ask.
We arrived in Athens a day early on Tuesday, due to the risk of the Air strike, that actually never happened in the end. However this gave me an extra day to acclimatise & get a base tan. (always thinking)
I had been lucky enough to get free entry into Nuffield Health Gym in Derby, in order to do some heat training. I had never done this in previous years, so hoped it would help
Di was by my side as always, ready to crew me, along with our good friend Cherry. I was in safe hands!
Now, as many of you will know, there became the ‘Shoedown at the Emmantina Hotel’ (aka You cant wear brand new shoes for the first time in a race) We all have to blame or thank Mark Bissett for sowing this particular seed on Tuesday night. He took great pride in telling me about, showing me & even letting me try on his ‘Game changer’ Nike Alphaflys. He even put the idea in my head of checking websites to see if they could deliver to the hotel FFS!
Soooo, I put the feelers out to Dacey Dimitrios who lives in Athens & by Wednesday evening I was the proud owner of a pair of very expensive shoes!
I was told by many that it would be a Rookie error to run in new trainers but Ive always been blessed with not suffering with my feet, so it was 50/50. It would either make or break my race.
Plus…. When someone tells me I shouldn’t / can’t do something….. I like to prove them wrong.
The actual race.
I was looking forward to the race. Yellow trainers, check! Yellow sunglasses, check! Yellow watch strap, check! Yellow hair, Check!! Lets do this!!
My plan was to start out slower than previous years over the first 2 marathons to Corinth (Hellas Kan – CP22) I actually ran 10 minutes slower to CP11 but was 10 minutes ahead by CP22. I felt really good & I wasn’t feeling hot but I could see others were starting to suffer with heat. I ate a rice pudding & some chips & life was good.
However, this all changed when I got to CP26 (Ancient Corinth) I couldn’t face any food at all & my head was burning up.
CP29 – My crew gave me an ice cream but I struggled to eat it. I was feeling sick & the occasional wretch became the order of the day from here on.
Between 29-32 I started to get some cramping in my righthamstring. My crew drove past me & beeped. I briefly eased up a touch & bang! Hamstring cramped & I bounced around for what seemed like an age, looking like I was having a fit & trying to keep my balance. I don’t think my crew were laughing??
I really didn’t feel good at this point, it was a big low. I remember looking over at the crew car & shouting “Its not a good year”.
The thing you learn & I saw on many occasions during this years event, is that you & others go through so many highs & lows. I would be using a runner as a carrot on occasion & just about holding onto them. Then suddenly Id pass them & never see them again. You have to stay mentally strong (easier said than done I know) but the bad times will (not always) change .
CP32 (Halkeion) – I picked up my head torch but as much as Di was trying to help me take on some food, I just couldn’t face it. I had started to take on coke at the CP’s just to get a few calories & sugar in.
CP35 (Ancient Nemea) – Nothing really to report. Ops normal. I still couldn’t face food but my legs were still fine. I was pretty much in & out of this CP.
Id had to make 3 toilet stops by this point & there was another one to follow. This has never happened to me before. However, a few ounces lighter….. Every cloud!
CP40 (Malandreni) – Managed to eat a few salty chips here but not many. I was just over 30 minutes ahead of last years time at this point.
CP43 (Lyrkeia) – Had a few more chips & chocolate milk. Told crew I wasn’t hanging around.
CP47 (Mountain Base) – Just under 160km covered so far.This point comes after a long 6+ mile twisting climb on the road. From here you head off road up the mountain. Rice pudding here.
Now as great as the Alhpaflys had been to here, the decent on loose rocks became a slight issue. The initial plan had been to change into off road trainers here but I couldn’t be bothered when I got there. Needles to say, I felt like Bambi on ice & it became a ‘fast walk ‘down.
I moved well through the next few CP’s. Legs were still moving well but not much fuel going in.
CP52 (Nestani) – 172km. Currently 36 mins ahead. I landed here at 0202hrs. Di was trying to give me potatoes & boiled eggs but I spat them out. I did manage a ginger beer, which was nice.
CP57 – 184km. 37 mins ahead. Di realised that she had to get some fuel in me & insisted that I take on some Maurten energy drink. I reluctantly took in a few mouthfuls & I had a Kendal mint gel.
CP60 – 194km. I had been tapping it out nicely & reached this CP at exactly 0500hrs. I was now 49 minutes ahead of last years time. I was still feeling sick but had taken another gel.
CP65 – I had been running for the past hour with no headtorch. The light had gone out but I had a small white flashing light, which I switched onto constant & it gave me enough light. I was able to eat rice pudding & a banana.
CP69 – 225km. It was now 0837hrs. I had been making good progress up & down these horrendous roads. This is a horrible part of the course & I learnt that you have to run as much of this as you can. I know this sounds obvious but there are some very, very, very long uphill drags & you are very tired. It’s so easy to just let yourself walk. I use a Fartlek style here. I pick a sign, bit of shade, tree or rock that I can see & run until Ireach it. Then I walk for about 10-20secs, pick something else & run again. This works! I was now 1hr 23 ahead.
Di had told me that I could actually break inside 28hrs & I was in the top 20 & first British athlete. I found it hard to take in but I kept watching my pace, as Di had told me I needed to do under 12 minute miles. I was running around 8.30 on the down hills & 10.30 on the ups. My quads were sore but I was able to keep going consistently.
CP72 – 245km. I pulled into the garage & I could see my crew car….. but no crew? Then the door flew open & Di ran out with no shoes on, apologising for falling asleep. “No problem I said” “Am I still on track”. “Yes” was her really & off I ran.
Now it continues down hill into Sparti. Quads screaming but you’re nearly there. Goosebumps on my arms. I was fulfilling my dreams again.
CP74 – 3km left. I asked the man on the CP the time. 10:20 was his reply. I knew I had to be finished before 10:45 to get under 28hrs. I was actually going to do this!
Children on bikes start to follow Infront & behind me. The police motorbike escorts me in. I feel like a pro!! Hours & hours of training alone. Getting up at stupid o’clock before work to fit a session in & nearly being sick during track sessions. “Why do you do this”, “isn’t it time you slowed down”, “you’re too old now” quotes. THIS is the reason I do what I do. My age has nothing to do with it. I am a 52 year old Plant based athlete, about to achieve the best result of my life & on an international stage. Imposter syndrome? Yes but the result is there for all to see.
I run up the final straight, with people clapping & cheering. I look at Di & & nod my head. Up the steps (slight stumble) & kiss the foot of King Leonidas. THE END!
So, I finished in 27:53:30. 13th overall & 1st Brit. (I was the only over 50 year old in the top 20)
It is still hard to take in & something I will cherish forever.
Thank you to Cherry for crewing me & keeping Di company. Your presence was priceless. Thank you to my wife Di, who knows me better than I know myself & maybe I could do this without her but I really wouldn’t want to. It’s a shared journey & I love them.
Congrats to everybody who finished & to those that didn’t on this occasion, don’t beat yourself up! You were on that startline because you deserved to be & you earned the right. It was a very hot, tough year & many suffered with sickness. You can only control the controllable.
Will I return? Can I go quicker??? Someone tell me I can’t…………….