(Write up by David Bone)
Anyone who has ever been involved with Spartathlon knows that it consumes you. You race, crew or “follow the dots” and you want more.
In a matter of days after finishing his first Spartathlon in 2017 Darren Strachan knew that he just wanted to get as many of the awesome British Spartathlon Team (BST) back together to recreate the beautiful nights shared in the Greek Glyfada hotel rooftop bars, where the post-race celebrations take place.
This seed of an idea became the triumphant BST event hosted in London’s Institute of Light venue.
One of the first to respond to Darren’s idea on the BST FaceBook page was Barney (Spender). Barney had made the 2014 film ‘The Road to Sparta’ (which epically captures the fortunes of our very own Rob Pinnington and Mark Woolley – alongside Greek runner Angela Terzi and ultra-legend Dean Karnazes). Barney saw this as a perfect opportunity to show the film for the first time in the UK and also he and partner Roddy wanted to waive all fees so that we could start the idea of raising funds for Mimi Anderson and the “Free to Run” charity.
Roddy, James & Barney pictured.
There followed several beautiful communication threads where we entertained the idea of getting Dan Lawson back from India early, for our very own ultra podcast legend James Elson to front a Q&A panel and the whole BST community looking at seeing who we could invite from the list of the earliest BST runners and winners. In addition, it seemed appropriate that this could be the first time in the BST history that a proper hand-over of the trophies could be done from former to current holders. Lawrence Eccles became an amazing supporter of this and he also added two additional trophies into the mix.
Rob Pinnington & James Adams pictured
So on Friday 2nd Feb 2018 the great and the beautiful from the BST community began to gather in East London. Darren and I were particularly nervous because only we knew that a decent amount needed to be spent behind the bar to cover the costs of the night and without a guarantee of (Paul) Beechey/(Paul “Rowli” Rowlison/Dunc (Cornish) being there we didn’t know if it was only going to be a gathering of ‘mindful drinkers’. Thankfully there was a great early turn-out and folk got stuck into the welcome Mythos and early ‘pinole balls’ provided by one of the BST sponsors Alex Littaye from “Peak Pinole”. VIP guests also gathered from around the world but the stand-out was friend and Spartathlon 2017 finisher Dennis Gamroth who had just landed from the US with his wife Sharon.
David Bone pictured.
After much merriment in the bar and the viewing of the film it was over to our friend Andy Nuttall (from The Ultra Mag) to compere a Q&A session with the legendary Dan Lawson, Mimi Anderson and James Zarei. For those that don’t know (and there were probably many of us on the night too) James was a winner of Spartathlon in 1994 and 1995 as well as holding 4 of our top 10 fastest BST finishes. Reading the BST FaceBook page it appears that many of us were captivated by James and his many pearls of wisdom, not least the advice that we should all “ditch the watch” and appreciate running for the simple pleasure that it can bring us all. I know that there is a strong feeling amongst the BST community that we would love to support getting James back into ultra-running.
The Q&A session was one of the real highlights of the event with many sharing that they were inspired by both the stories of Dan’s epic successes and general healthy approach to running and Mimi who made many of us shed a tear sharing her recent brilliant race across America and her battle to just ‘get back running’. Everyone in the BST wishes Mimi all the very best.
After plenty of comical mis-timings (come on this was the first time we had done most of this!) we got the following up to receive their much-deserved trophies and deliver a few words:
Final Brit Finisher 2017 – Richard Pomeroy
Finish after most DNFs – Laurence Chownsmith
First British Lady – Sarah Burns Morwood
First British Finisher – Nathan Flear.
Nathan Flear pictured.
Another special moment came when Ian Thomas beautifully shared what a pleasure it was for him to have the opportunity to hand over the Michael Callaghan Trophy to the well-deserved Welsh Wizard Nathan Flear. There’s no doubt that this trophy will get harder to win in the coming years. Nathan said, “The trophy was first presented to Spartathlon winner Patrick Macke in 1985 so I feel very honoured to look after it for the next year or so”
Congratulation to all the winners.
With no time to lose it was back to the bar for some the remainder of the tasty Greek food and the final hour of raucous banter. Throughout the evening we had also been hosting a silent auction – raising for “Free to Run” charity. Ever present in supporting this was our own BST Angel Doctor Dora Papadopoulou. Dora had put together a basket full of the most delicious Greek based foods and oils and so there was plenty of cheeky banter trying to get a decent bid with this one. In addition, the ever generous and long-time BST supporter Keith Godden (Ultramarathon Running Store) offered two pairs of Hoka Shoes and James Elson (Centurion Running) entry in to any of their 2018 events. When Andy (Nuttall) wasn’t helping out with the organising he also chipped in with a donation of a year’s subscription to his Ultra magazine. With our dear friend (and 2017 Sparta finisher) Vassos (Alexander) being unable to attend he also kindly donated several copies of his new book “Running up that Hill”. A huge thank you to everyone who put in bids.
We are still in negotiation on who is the actual winner/new owner of Robbie Britton’s kindly donated mug with “First to Corinth Suckers, and Paid the Price”. We are still adding up the total, but we have raised in excess of £700. So, another success to the night.
We have sent out a feedback request to those who bought tickets via EventBrite and we will share this on BST FaceBook page soon. You can also see plenty of on-going conversation about hosting the next annual trophy giving event in 2019. See you all there.
(Many thanks to Darren & David for kindly organising the above event which was well received by everyone, Paul).
How to qualify for Spartathlon?
So you want to run Spartathlon? Great, welcome!
On the opening day of the entry system for the 2018 Spartathlon , this article will explain the qualification and entry process. Unless you already have a qualifier then it’s pretty much too late for an entry this year (the Flitch Way 100k at the end of January being the last race I’m aware of before the close of entries) but hopefully this information will be useful for prospective entrants planning to run this event in the future.
Please note this information has been sourced from the official terms of participation which can be found here. This is the official ‘source’ and what is written below is our interpretation of these rules.
To run Spartathlon you need to have ‘qualified’ by meeting one of the minimum standards of entry in a previous race. I will refer to this as a ‘ballot qualifier’ going forward.
In addition, runners who have achieved a performance at least 20% better than the ones required (i.e. 20% better than the ballot qualifier) are considered qualified and are thus automatically admitted. I will refer to this as an ‘auto qualifier’.
Qualification needs to be achieved in 2016, 2017 or up to 24th Feb 2018 for the 2018 race.
As an example. If you finish a 100km race in 10hrs (men) then you are qualified and will be eligible for the ballot. However, if you can finish the 100km race in under 8 hours (men) then you are qualified and will be automatically admitted.
As this article is geared towards UK entrants, I have focussed on some of the more common qualification standards that are likely to apply but would suggest you refer to the full list of standards in the official terms of participation which also includes some race specific entries.
Please note this article refers to 2018 standards and these may change in the future.
Typical Qualifying Standards
Finish a 100-km race within 10:00 hours (men) or 10:30 hours (women)
To achieve a ballot qualifier you need to complete the 100km (62.5m) race within the following time limit:
- Men = 10hrs (9.36m/m pace)
- Women = 10.30 hrs (10.05m/m pace)
For an auto-qualifier you need to be able to finish the race as follows:
- Men = 8 hours (7.41m/m pace)
- Women = 8 hours 24 mins (8.04m/m pace)
In the UK we have the SVP 100km in August and if you really want to have a chance of participating in Spartathlon this year and don’t have a qualifier then the Flitch Way 100km is run before the end of January.
Cover a 120 km (men) or 110 km distance (women) in a 12-hour race
To achieve a ballot qualifier, once again you need to be able to complete the following:
- Men = 75 miles (9.36m/m pace) for 12 hours
- Women = 68.75 miles (10.28m/m pace) for 12 hours
For an auto-qualifier, you need to have achieved:
- Men = 90 miles (8.00m/m pace) for 12 hours.
- Women’s = 82.5 miles (8.44m/m pace) for 12 hours.
Compared to the 100km qualifier this is a little more challenging as you have to meet the same pace for a longer time period but with 12 hour races typically taking place on a track this makes it a possible alternative as a track race offers easy access, support and good running conditions.
In the UK we have the Crawley 6/12/24 hour race in April (Track event), the Ellis Brigham Trailblaster 12 in June (Trail), Monster Ambit 12 in June (Trail).
Finish a 100-mile race in 21:00 hours (men) or 22:00 hours (women).
To achieve a ballot qualifier, once again you need to be able to achieve the following:
- Men = 21 hour finish (12.56m/m pace for the 100 mile distance)
- Women = 22 hours (13.12m/m pace for the 100 mile distance)
If you are looking for an auto-qualifier then you need to achieve the following:
- Men = 16.48 hour finish (10.05 m/m pace for the 100 mile distance)
- Women = 17.36 hour finish (10.34 m/m pace for the 100 mile distance)
I would estimate an ‘average’ finishing time for a 100 mile race to be 24 hours based on when the peak number of runners finish so 3 hours quicker is definitely achievable for a lot of people. However, I would remind people that 21 hours is around the cut off point for 100 miles in Spartathlon so whilst your qualifying finish may place you mid-pack (a guess and I’ve not looked at data to calculate this) you might be towards the back at Spartathlon.
This is a common qualifying time based on the number of 100 mile races we have in the UK but be sure to select one where the terrain, environment, conditions and rules (buddy runners allowed?) may enable more running (i.e. Arc of Attrition not recommended).
In the UK we have the Centurion 100 mile events (Thames Path, South Downs, North Downs and Autumn 100), Robin Hood 100, Cotswold Way Century, West Country 100 miler as examples amongst others.
Cover at least 180 km (men) or 170 km (women) in a 24-hour race.
To achieve a ballot qualifier, you need to be able to achieve the following:
- Men = 180km/112.5 miles (12.48m/m pace in 24 hours)
- Women = 170km/106.25 miles (13.33m/m pace in 24 hours)
For an auto-qualifier the standard is as follows:
- Men = 216km/135 miles (10.40m/m pace for 24 hours)
- Women = 204km/127.5m (11.17m/m pace for 24 hours)
We have an abundance of 24 hour races in the UK with events such as the Thunder Run, Endure 24, Hope 24 amongst others aswell as track events such as Crawley and the Self-Transcendence 24 hour.
One slight ‘quirk’ to consider is that most of the lapped trail 24 hours (such as Endure, Thunder Run) allow competitors to start their final lap before the end of the 24 hour period. Therefore, it is possible to run a final lap (these trail races are typically 5-6 mile loops) and cover a bit more distance in a 24 hour race. I am not saying this is ‘fair’ but merely pointing out how these results are calculated and reported as ‘24 hour’ races.
Finish a non-stop 200-220 km race within 29:00 hours (men) or 30:00 hours (women).
To achieve a ballot qualifier, once again you need to be able to average complete the 200-220km (125m-137.5m) distance as follows:
- Men = 29 hours (between 12.39 – 13.55m/m pace (depending on the race distance)
- Women = 30 hours (between 13.05m/m – 14.24m/m (depending on the race distance)
To achieve an auto qualifier, once again you need to be able to average complete the 200-220km (125m-137.5m) distance as follows:
- Men = 23.12 hours (between 10.07 – 11.08m/m pace depending on the race distance)
- Women = 24 hours (between 10.28 – 11.31m/m pace depending on the race distance).
In the UK, the Liverpool Leeds Canal Race is 130m (208km) and a good option here.
Finish a longer than 220 km non-stop race within 36:00 hours (men) or 37:00 hours (women).
To achieve a ballot qualifier, once again you need to be able to complete (assuming a) 220km (137.5m) distance as follows:
- Men = in 36 hours (15.43 m/m pace)
- Women = 37 hours (16.09 m/m pace)
To achieve an auto qualifier, once again you need to be able to complete (assuming a) 220km (137.5m) distance as follows:
- Men = 28.48 hours (12.34 m/m pace)
- Women = 29.36 hours (12.55 m/m pace).
With a 220km + distance then several races in the UK fall into this category but events like the T184, Thames Ring, Lon Las, Viking Way (and others) are not suited to this due to the distance being well beyond the 220km and other elements such as limited support, terrain and self-navigational elements.
The Grand Union Canal Race and Kennet & Avon Canal Race are your most likely options. However the GUCR has its own specific criteria (see below). The KACR is 145m in length 232km and close to the minimum distance needed for this criteria and a good option here.
Finish Grand Union Canal Race within 34:00 hours (men) or 35:00 hours (women).
This criteria for this race specifically was changed a couple of years ago. (It could have been considered a ‘soft qualifier’ in the past).
To achieve a ballot qualifier, once again you need to be able finish the race as follows:
- Men = 34 hours (14.04 m/m pace)
- Women – 35 hours (14.29 m/m pace).
To achieve an auto qualifier, once again you need to be able to complete the distance as follows:
- Men = 27.12 hours (11.39m/m pace)
- Women = 28.00 hours (11.35m/m pace)
As mentioned above the Kennet & Avon Canal Race is a better option at present with a more forgiving cut off although these may be aligned in the future.
Cover a distance of at least 280 km (men) or 260 km (women) in a 48-hour race.
I’ve added this here but not aware of any 48 hour races in the UK so you may have to look abroad for races within this criteria.
Qualifier Achieved – What’s Next?
Once you have the qualifier than you will need to submit your application through the Spartathlon website.
This is run around the same time each year and for 2018 opens on the 20th January and closes on the 25th February 2018. There is no advantage in entering this early.
The race is limited to 390 participants (with a very small number of discretionary places) and the ballot draw takes place in March.
From a UK perspective, we are limited to 25 entrants and demand for these places generally exceeds the number of places available (in 2017, I recall we had around 40-50 applications).
In view of the above the likelihood of achieving a place is as follows:
- Auto qualifier places granted
- Ballot selection places granted
- UK will receive (up to) 25 places and Spartathlon race will allocate 390 places in total
If we exceed the UK cap or race entry limit then people are placed on a waiting list.
Therefore, we could have scenarios where 390 places are allocated but less than 25 UK names are selected drawn or 25 UK are selected before we reach the 390 race cap and UK entrants are then added to the waiting list as we have reached our country cap. This is a consequence of wishing to take part in a popular race.
If the UK entered more than 25 entrants who all have auto-qualifiers then 25 would be drawn by lot and others placed on the waiting list.
Statistically, you probably still have a better chance of running Spartathlon than the London Marathon ballot though!
If you are desperate to achieve a place in Spartathlon then the best option is to try and achieve an auto-qualifier. If you enter by way of a ballot qualifier then it’s down to the luck the draw.
Based on a quick look at previous British entrants, I would assess between 33-50% of entrants have had an auto-qualifier so essentially ballot entries could potentially be fighting for a dozen available places for the UK.
With the rise of social media, blogging and the efforts of the British Spartathlon Team publicising and promoting the event, the demand will continue to grow each year as more and more UK ultra-runners seek to participate in this event.
The British Spartathlon Team
The British Spartathlon Team represents the UK runners. If you are a British national and have completed all of the above entry criteria and are fortunate to be selected then you essentially are a member of the team.
The purpose of the team is to bring together and represent the British runners and provide advice, information and support for this fantastic event.
To be absolutely clear, the British Spartathlon Team has no influence over the selection and draw process… our job starts when the entrants have already been selected.
I hope you found this article useful (and hopefully my maths is correct for the pace breakdowns shown above). In addition, I have provided examples of races that fit into each criteria but this is not an exhaustive list and there are other races that may apply.
If you have any further questions then feel free to raise these on the British Spartathlon Team Facebook group.
Spartathletes on Tour
The British Spartathlon Team were delighted to be asked to visit the children of Orchard Meadow Primary school and give a presentation on the Legend of Pheidippides and the Spartathlon race to accompany the classes current studies on ancient history.
This was tentatively arranged before this years Spartathlon event with myself (Paul Ali) and Paul Beechey agreeing to visit the school. As Paul Beechey was participating in this years race, the classes also excitedly followed Paul’s tracker during the race and started to prepare lots of questions in advance of our visit.
Running 153 miles non-stop in the heat may be hard but keeping a class of 10 year olds interested and engaged in a talk may be considered equally challenging!
You can find a copy of the presentation here (or click on the image below).
The children were very well prepared with lots of questions and we had a great afternoon engaging with them and teaching them a little history about the Spartathlon race and answering their questions. The British Spartathlon team also donated a small handful of buffs to the school.
Following our visit, the children also organised a wall display which you can see in the photo below. Perhaps a future Spartathlete will come from Orchard Meadow Primary school one day? Thank you to the school, teachers and children for a great interactive afternoon.
An Evening with the British Spartathlon Team – Reminder
Finally, hopefully most of you reading will be aware that Darren Strachan and David Bone are organising a get together for Spartathlon runners, supporters, friends and family in February next year. This event will include a screening of the Road to Sparta amongst other entertainment and tickets are available here.
Your Name: James Ellis
Occupation: Journalist/PR and PT/Nutrition Therapist
Home Town: Leeds
What is your running background?
Good(ish) at school where I had to run cross country to get into the football team (it was a small school, so it was a kind of bribe to make us run). Then I did bugger all for about 20 years. I’m the proverbial middle aged bloke who re-discovered fitness into his 40s, did a three-mile-a-day challenge every day for a year, then read Ultramarathon Man/Born To Run/Eat and Run (delete as appropriate) and got into ultra running.
When did you start running Ultra marathons and why?
Three pals David Bone, Darren Strachan and Jamie Holmes – all also running Spartathlon this year – convinced me to run the Brighton Marathon one week, the London Marathon the next… and run Brighton to London in the middle of the week. It was self-organised (read badly) but we did the 56 or so miles in about 12 hours, had a laugh on the way and talked about what else we could do. Someone mentioned Spartathlon and we decided to go straight for it. Two years later, I was lining up in Athens for my first tilt (2015).
What are your key personal running achievements to date?
Those who have not yet done it won’t get this until 7pm on September 30, 2017…. There is no greater race in the world than Spartathlon. Finishing two years running is the absolute best thing I’ve done and can only be beaten by doing the triple.
What was your hardest race experience?
Any really. Like most people, I battle with the demon on one shoulder telling me to stop, that this sport is crazy. Overall though, 2015, my first Spartathlon finish now looks like a complete fluke. I’d done the miles, but had bad shoes, no blister strategy, nutrition went up the spout and I got the most massive blisters after it chucking it down for most of the night. I hobbled in, death marching the last 50 miles, and despite a 35,35 finish, just had to do it again. I felt I’d cheated myself and the race.
What events do you have planned for 2017 up to Spartathlon?
World 24 Hour Champs, KACR.
What does a typical training week look like?
In the two months before I do 5 x 10 miles in the week with a big run, anything from 20-40 at weekends. I also teach Insanity Live, so two to three classes a week and the odd weights session if I can get it in.
Which one tip would you pass onto people running an Ultra marathon for the first time?
Lap up the support of your fellow runners. With the odd exception, it’s an amazing community.
Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself?
I’ve shadow boxed with Muhammad Ali.
Have you taken part in Spartathlon before?
Twice – 2015 and 2016.
How did you get on?
35.35 and 35.05
What tip would you pass on to those taking part for the first time?
Don’t be scared by the ‘fast’ pace to Corinth. Much of that is run in the morning when it’s a bit cooler so you can gain time there, then slow down for the second marathon. As long as you get to the checkpoint with 30 or so to spare (and I’ve seen it done with less), you can start to pick up time pretty quickly: up to five to 10 minutes per checkpoint if you’re running at even a trot.
What are you looking forward to at the Spartathlon race?
Kissing the feet for the third time, hopefully with my three running pals David, Darren and Jamie.
What are you not looking forward to?
There are bits that are a bit grubby but other than that, there’s nothing to grumble about. Arriving in Sparta is the best race finish ever, so I just try and focus on that.
How will you prepare specifically for the Spartathlon race?
Heat training – sauna and black bin bags!
Will you be bringing any support crew to the race?
I will have the blonde bombshells with me. My wife Laura and her mate Nicky Robbins.
Name: Sarah Morwood
I started running around 10 years ago when I was a size 18 with the aim of losing weight whilst avoiding dieting. Pottered around for a few years and then in 2012 upped my game to take on a marathon In 2013 I signed up for Bolton Ironman, and also tried my first ultra (Jurassic Coast Challenge). I won my age category at the Ironman, qualifying for Kona and won the JCC. This is when I found that this body was made for distance not speed!
By the end of 2013 I’d done my first 100 miler (Cotswold Way 100) and fallen madly in love with long distance running. In 2014, revelling in my new-found skill, I entered races left right and centre. By the end of the year (among a whole host of shorter races from half marathon up to 100km) I’d done 4 x 100 mile races including the UTMB (won 3 of the 100 milers, and 11th overall at the UTMB despite no previous mountain experience) and my 100 mile time had gone from 20 to 17 hours. I was selected to run for GB in the 2015 World Trail Championships where I came in first British female. At the end of 2015 I’d dropped my 100 mile time to 16 hour 13mins, and I tried my first 24 hour race, 24hr De Ploeren, where I clocked 216km, giving me an automatic Spartathlon qualification, and lining me up for a place in the 2016 GB 24hour squad.
Then in January 2016 everything went wrong. I was knocked off my road bike by a dangerous driver, and smashed my right knee to pieces. Cue 3x operations to fix the bone, 2.5months non-weight bearing, loss of over 90% of muscle in my right leg and a LONG long period of sadness, fear, frustration and rehab, rehab, rehab.
It’s taken me a year to get back to ultramarathon distance, and I now run with constant right knee pain, but ultramarathon runners are nothing if not stubborn. I can run, so I will run! All the way to Sparta.