Name: Gabriel Flores
Occupation: Career & Business Coach
Home Town: San Antonio, TX – London, UK now 😉
Twitter Account: @inspireleaders
What is your running background?
Although I did a tiny bit of running as a kid, after graduating from University, I went into the business consulting life and spent most of my long working hours sat at desks and eating delicious junk. I started to notice my waistline expanding, so thought I’d give running a try.
My first attempt at racing any distance was the Silicon Valley Marathon in 2001. A marathon was the farthest and most extreme event I had heard of and I found I was primarily motivated by my friends’ ‘oos’ and ‘wows’ reactions when I’d say I was ‘running a marathon’.
My first marathon was an excruciating experience: I remember the suffering set in from the half-marathon point onward. Furthermore because of my lack of training I never really developed the hulk physique which I imagined one MUST gain in order to cross a marathon finish line.
In 2008, a friend asked me to take a place for his charity at the Royal Parks Half Marathon as there was a short notice dropout. With only about two weeks’ training, I took a crack – which was again horrible – I remember mile 9 feeling like death already(!!). But it did inspire me to get into running – so I consider that my ‘running life’ started then…
When did you first start running Ultra marathons and why?
In 2011, I was given a gift of a book called Ultra Marathon Man by Dean Karnazes. It was the first time I’d ever heard of races longer than a marathon. I had found that in marathon training, whilst most runners seemed to enjoy speed and tempo work – I really only liked the long slow running. I knew that even if I trained until my eyes popped out, I’d never be a phenomenal marathoner, but what if I could add more miles on? That seemed a more accessible way to improve my performance – and keep my waistline under control.
My first ultra was the Biel, Switzerland 100km race in 2013. It was a magical experience – I never knew I could enjoy doing something so much. Of course, I discovered that there are complications one finds when doing longer distances (there are places that rub together one never thinks about…ouch)! But in my first race, I simply fell in love with ultramarathons – it seemed like the longer the race, the nicer the people!
When or where (at which events) are we most likely to see you?
I love distances of 100 or more miles. I really enjoy the Centurion 100 Mile races (they’re so lovely and friendly), and in 2019 I completed the Canalslam (three 130-145 mile ultra races along Britain’s canals spaced about a month apart). I sometimes enjoy attempting trail and mountain races but living in flat London affords me few chances to upgrade my poor sense of balance and terrible coordination.
What are your personal key running achievements to date?
Canalslam 2019: Grand Union Canal Race 145 Miles, Kennet & Avon Canal 145 Miles, Liverpool to Leeds 130 Miles
Finished 11 Races of 100+ Miles
Finished 3 Races of 100km
Finished 31 Marathons
What was your hardest race experience?
My first attempt at the 100 Mile distance was not a success. In October 2014, I entered a mountain race called the MMT100 in the Dolomites of Italy. Northern Italy is so incredibly scenic, and the food is sourced from heaven above. There were two aspects this race was going to test – I was both going farther than I had ever run before AND was attempting to complete a mountain race.
Earlier in the year, I had attempted a shorter mountain race, the TransGranCanaria 125km. It was my first ‘Did Not Finish’ (DNF) – which occurred through tumbling down a steep descent and fracturing a rib. Everyone else had running poles – and I knew then why I needed them!
The MMT100 had many parts of the race where the ‘trail’ really looked no different than the rest of the mountainside. I found myself getting lost frequently and tried to keep up the pace, staying just ahead of the cut-offs. As time wore on, I was slowing a bit – and at one fateful aid station, I grabbed a couple of bites but rushed through so as to have enough time to get up and down the biggest mountain of the race.
I departed the station in a hurry, with a bar of chocolate in my mouth and a bagel on the handle of my right running pole, which I’d manged to bend out of shape having tumbled a couple of times earlier in the day. I proceeded to march up the next mountain…
The person I’d been keeping up with seemed to go faster and faster – and they eventually disappeared up the mountain. I was alone on the side of the mountain crawling up – sometimes having to use my hands to scramble a little. As night fell, it was just me and my lamp beam. In the valley far below, I could see a distant twinkle betraying some sign of life, but up here there seemed to be nothing. A wet cold drizzly fog set in as I continued up. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a marker ribbon and started to feel nervous.
I finally reached a precipice which, if I went up, seemed impossible to come back down from. Not knowing if I was on the right track and fearing that if I went up there, I’d never make it down, I felt stuck. But that’s okay – I can call the race director and get advice. But in my rush at the last aid station, I had left my mobile phone on a table. So here I was – in the middle of nowhere – no idea where to go and no way to call anybody.
Totally bewildered and lost, I plopped down and began to cry as the drizzle turned into cold rain. I imagined myself turning into a pile of bones undiscovered on the side of this mountain for years to come. I was going to ‘die alone here’. About 25 minutes later – seemed like hours and hours – I saw some headlamps coming up the mountain. Oh my god! I’m going to be saved!
It was the ‘clean-up’ crew – the people that come pick up the markers after race cut-off times have passed. They finally reached me – and it turns out I was on the right path all along. I said, “Take me to the road, I’m ready to quit!” They said in Italian “It’s too high up here, there are no roads – you have to go to the next checkpoint.”
How far is that? 2km up and 3km down – I can’t do 5km, that’s impossible! One of the crew handed me some snack bars as they could see that what was really wrong was that I needed fuel. And so began the death march of the longest 5km of my life. I felt a bit better as we marched on, but at the next checkpoint, the idea of carrying on made me feel ill. So, after about 67 miles, my race was over.
There have been races since where I’ve felt worse physically, but here, I literally thought (illogically) that I wasn’t going to make it out alive. I learned the profound lesson of needing to fuel well to avoid mental breakdowns!
What is your typical race strategy for an ultra?
I’m always admiring how many great runners there are in this lovely community and how fast everybody seems to be able to go. My usual strategy is go slow and steady as long as possible and stick to a plan. During the race, I try and focus on the rhythm of eating and drinking regularly. I’m quite chatty early on and during the ‘up’ periods later in the race. I find talking with people makes the miles tick over faster: In Biel 100km 2018, I barely noticed the first 60km as I chatter-boxed away, making a new lifetime friend with Mike from Austria.
What does a typical training week look like?
My training weeks tend to be at the mercy of my work schedule. I run a small business and we have been in continual emergency mode during recent months. My ideal week sees me cover 80-120 miles (120-200km). I try and break up runs into two a day when I can. I find that lots of easy long running gets me in shape and stronger for ultras with minimal risk of injury. I do aim to do some tempos/fast running once or twice a week as I know it helps improve fitness, but I enjoy the relaxed running the most.
What one tip would you pass onto people running an Ultra marathon for the first time?
The most common (and correct) advice you will here is: ‘don’t do/use something in a race you haven’t done in training’. So the next tip: use BODY GLIDE or some type of lubricant to avoid chaffing. I discovered that our back cheeks encounter friction and over the long hours of an ultra, this starts to matter in very painful fashion. So be sure to apply it to everywhere that rubs – likely more than once if it’s more than 100km!
Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself?
I’ve been a self-taught songwriter/singer on piano since I was 12. Since lockdown, I re-ignited my love for performing my original music by live streaming and was inspired by my fans to start learning cover songs in July!
Have you taken part in the Spartathlon before?
I got drawn on the Spartathlon ballot in 2016, but did not get to participate because I fell on hardship and became homeless that year. So, this will be my first time actually making it to the start line!
What are you looking forward to at the Spartathlon race?
Last year in 2019, I went to be support crew for my partner John. I had seen many people going back year after year, and I kept wondering to myself, why would they do that? But I discovered the magic that is created by the ISA, the atmosphere of the fellow crew members, runners and even the hotels and towns. It’s one of the most moving experiences and I look forward to taking part as a runner in this epic tradition.
What are you not looking forward to during the Spartathlon race?
The heat, running *down* the mountain, having the cut-off monster chasing me at every aid station.
How will you prepare specifically for the Spartathlon race?
Running as many miles as I can without overtraining and down-hill repeats on Swains Lane in London.
Will you be bringing any support crew to the race? (If so, please introduce them briefly)
My life partner John Gregory will be my support in this race. He ran it last year and crewed for me during the Canalslam 2019. He’s a remarkable and kind man and loves making new friends. Bonus, he’s a podiatrist – so if you have a foot problem during the race and see him, you can always ask!
My business partner Phyllis SantaMaria was also planning on coming as support crew. She’s a highly energetic woman, but she is 77, so we figured it was better safer than sorry in light of current circumstances. You’ll see her there next time!