Your Name: James Ellis
Occupation: Journalist/marketeer/nutrition expert/personal trainer (I call it a ‘portfolio of employment’ other people call it ‘a 52-year-old tw*t who still doesn’t know what he’s best at’.
Home Town: Leeds/Athens
Twitter Account: @worldofjames
What is your running background?
Archetypical fattie who decided to do something about it. Started running, realised he’d topped out on shorter distance speed and was convinced to go long… you’ve read the story. Like Steve Way, but not half as good, fast, or, indeed, thin.
When did you first start running Ultra marathons and why?
Along with David Bone, I kind of fell into it thanks to our pals (and fellow Spartathletes) Jamie Holmes and Darren Strachan. Jamie’s daughter has a condition called hemiplegia. He wanted to raise money for her, and he asked us to join him running the Brighton Marathon one week, the London the next and running from Brighton to London in between. As we set off on the latter, Jamie’s mum – bless her – sent us an article saying “if you think you’re running loads, have a look at this.’ It was about Spartathlon. We had 11 hours to spare running between Brighton and London and decided to give it a go. Little did we know…
When or where (at which events) are we most likely to see you?
I’ve actually ran Spartathlon more than any other ultra (insert blushing and/or shocked emoji)
What are your personal key running achievements to date?
Four successive Spartathlon finishes (2015, 16, 17 and 18), third in the Athens 24 in 2019 which got me an AQ for 2019 and 2020, a couple of top 12 KACR finishes and the odd podium elsewhere – usually when there’s no one half decent running.
What was your hardest race experience?
Spartathlon 2019 was a pretty shitty experience – quite literally. My dream had been five in a row, then make way for people who know what they’re doing. I’d AQ-ed at the Athens 24 in the January and had actually started to take myself seriously as a half-decent ultra runner – not particularly fast, but dogged – and then I got to the start at the Acropolis.
My pre-race strategy had always been to go to the start in our crew car, find the portaloos and have a final number 2 before the gun. Last year, those loos had been moved and by the time I found them the coaches had arrived and the queues were massive. The clock was ticking to the start and my stress levels were rising, when I finally got in at 6.50, it was still dark, I pulled down my shorts, went to sit down, lost my footing, shot out a hand and stuck it in the shit someone else had kindly done – on the seat. Yes folks, with five minutes to go, my hand was covered in someone else’s crap. Luckily, someone had left a bag of wet wipes, so I got off what I could and made it to the start just as they were counting down. It took me about 10 miles to find a garage where I could – finally use the loo – and wash my hands, but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head or the stink from my nose.
By Megara (the Marathon point) I was 20 minutes down on my target and as the heat kicked in, the next stretch to Corinth kicked my ass as I arrived just 25 minutes ahead of the cut off. For the next five hours or so, I carried on, gaining a bit of time, then losing it again. Then my left shin started to play up and I started to hobble, finally calling time on myself a couple of checkpoints after half way. I don’t know whether the limp was psychosomatic or not – but I do know I was probably a bit cocky in the run up to the race, thinking finish number five was in the bag before the race started. The truth is, you can’t underestimate Spartathlon – and that’s what I probably did, shit show or not.
What events do you have planned for 2020 up to Spartathlon? (Dates/name of key events)
I’m just off this very weekend to run a double loop of the Nidderdale Way – 110 miles up some bloody steep hils and through loads of fields with cows (I hate cows).
What is your typical race strategy for an ultra?
Start quick, hang on for dear life, finish like you meant it all along.
What does a typical training week look like?
In peak season 5 x 10 milers through the week and a couple of long ones at weekends. Usually topping out with a few 100 mile weeks. This year I’m keeping to that but have been throwing more conditioning sessions on a treadmill into my programme.
What one tip would you pass onto people running an Ultra marathon for the first time?
Remember the pain is temporary.
Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself?
I once asked Anne Widdicombe on a date… and got turned down, but I’ve used that before. How about I’ve shadow boxed with Mohammed Ali. Or at least we raised our fists at each other and three a few playful punches.
Have you taken part in the Spartathlon before?
2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019
How did you get on?
2015 (35:38:19), 2016 34.55 (35:02:25), 2017 (34:56:10) and 2018 (35:05:39) – followed by the shitty DNF in 2019
Each one has been totally different though. Year one was a matter of survival for which I’m ever grateful to Jamie Holmes for pushing me on the mountain when I was cooked. Year two I ran largely on my own as Darren and I set off together but had very different paces.
In 2017, the four of us – Darren, Jamie, David and myself – vowed to stay together and although we split at times in the race we managed to regroup just before Sparta.
2018 was, of course, Storm Zorba. I was well up timewise by the mountain, but the constant rain, wind and a real chill stopped me from doing the time I’d set myself… But I did cross the finish with my twin daughters Martha and Gracie and their half-Greek cousins, Nikitas and Alexis…. That was as special as the finish gets, despite the trees in Sparta being bent double by the wind.
2019 – you’ve had the sob story already
What tip would you pass on to those taking part for the first time?
It’s the greatest race on earth, and aside from getting married and having kids, nothing beats that last run up to the stature of Leonidas. Enjoy it – and thank the Gods you have the opportunity to do it. Even if this year is Covid tainted, it will still be amazing.
What are you looking forward to at the Spartathlon race?
I missed out on five in a row, so I want to bag no 5 – and I want to see and catch up with all the amazing people I’ve me through the years.
What are you not looking forward to during the Spartathlon race?
Nothing – it’s ace.
How will you prepare specifically for the Spartathlon race?
I’m doing more conditioning – and three weeks in September are dedicated to heat training.
Will you be bringing any support crew to the race?
Usually it would be the blonde bombshells – my wife Laura and her pal Nicky. Laura can’t make it this year as the kids will just be back in school after six months off, so I’m hoping to persuade Jamie Holmes to get back on the horse.