Spartathlon 2019 race report  The journey

Six years ago I was at a Reading Joggers club night. Club nights always start with a summary of the week’s results. You are told where people from the cub have run, their time and the distance they run. Club coach Arthur began to tell us of this crazy guy called Paul Ali who had just completed a 153 mile race in Greece called the Spartathlon. It begins in Athens at the Acropolis and finishes at the fabled statue of King Leonidus. There is a mountain to climb and descend at 100 miles! I remember being in awe of this. I had only run 3 half marathons at this point. Little did I know 6 years later I would be rooming with Paul Ali and tackling this amazing challenge myself.

2019 has just gone so well.. so I just knew Sparta was going to be the sting in the tale. I delivered assemblies to every year group in my school in the lead up to the race. I spoke openly about the death of my brother and my subsequent desire to make a positive change after much time in limbo. I was so pleased with the reaction to it, and it seemed to inspire many staff and students. I had been dealing with a cold in the lead up to the race, but that didn’t faze me as I arrived into Athens early on Thursday morning. I slept for 5 hours and then went to register with Paul. Collecting my number made it all seem real. I was going to run the greatest ultra event on the planet!

I woke up at 3.30am on race day, ready to take it on. I knew my legs were still tired from a gruelling canalslam, but this race was never about time for me. It was about raising money for charity and finding some inner peace. Paul’s crew Rob and Tom dropped us at the Acropolis. As I saw it in distance I began to well up. This was really happening. We started at 7am and headed into central Athens. It was going to be a toasty one! I spent the first 8 miles or so with Paul Radford who was so prepared and motivated!  A lovely guy and was so pleased he finished so well.

The first 30 miles went by without much drama. I was fuelling well and soaking myself in ice water at every CP. There are 74 checkpoints in the race, all run by volunteers. I had to take the foot off the gas at 40 miles as the heat was rising and there was just nowhere to hide. I ran into Corinth CP at 50 miles in 7 hrs 40. The reaction was akin to me being a rockstar! The support was just unbelievable. Russ and Rob soaked me in ice water and I had a 5 minute walk and chat with Mrs Whearity. I told her this is the hardest thing I have ever done, but the most fun. She told me my school was going nuts over the race and £500 had been donated on my justgiving page in the 8 hours I had been running. Thanks to Emma Caswell for her extra support here!

At 56 miles I met Pablo Barnes. An experienced ultra runner, an Argentinian, with a great sense of humour. We ran together for 10 miles and he told me my positivity had really helped him. I look forward to seeing him next month in Albi! As I approached half way I began to get really tired. I couldn’t stomach maurten anymore and I was feeling really lethargic. I rang Wendy at 70 miles who told me to have an easy hour. This helped and as I approached 82 miles Wendy text to say I was 2 minutes behind fellow Brit and genuine nice guy Peter Abraham. I caught up with him and we decided to tag team and go ‘hunting’. We did, and in the space of 10 miles we jumped into 23rd place. We had a big climb up to mountain base, but we were positive and running well. We were a bit weary so at Mountain base we had some chicken soup and yomped up the difficult 900 metre climb. What I hadn’t bargained for was the descent off the mountain. A 45 minute mile of rocks and Spiky terrain. Me and Pete were in awe of John who ‘micksmimmed’ down it in what seemed like 2 minutes. We got off the mountain and were heading to CP50. 5th Brit and  running well. Nothing could go wrong. But it did! Pete and I forked right on a tight turn, instead of left and went off course massively. As we tried agonisingly to find our way out of the woods we bumped into a Spanish runner who had appeared to make a similar error. After 80 minutes we found our way back to the road. We were hungry, deflated and I needed my backup headtorch lamp. We did not dwell on it, but we knew the bonus 5 miles had killed our progress and possible Sub 30 hour finish. We trotted on and helped each other through the good and the bad. I am not angry we went wrong. It was unfortunate, but ultimately we couldn’t do anything about it. Pace had slowed and we had 50k to go. The 2nd day heat was worse than the first. We were on exposed roads all the way now. We got our heads down and began to tick off the miles. Pete found the heat very tough in the last 15 miles, so I controlled the pace and we walked when we needed to.

With 10k to go I became really motivated. We were nearly there. We ran well to the last CP where I had my British flag ready to go. As we ran the final 2k into Sparta we were escorted by the Police, important runners! We got to the final turn and saw the finish. The 500 metre run in is the most special I have ever done. We had done it as a team, we had got over the nav issue and King Leonidus was just in front of us. I kissed the foot at 33 hours and 3 mins. I had my feet washed and headed back to the hotel for a shower. 90 minutes later Paul Ali finished. I ran to him on the final straight and gave him a big hug! My hero! 3 Sparta finishes for him. We had 17 out of 22 Brits finish, with Al finishing 4th male, Sarah 4th female and Ian 6th male overal. Truly outstanding!

As I sit on the plane writing this I cannot quite believe it is over. 158 miles, so hot, then cold. Hilly mountains and then getting lost. Would I change any of it? No! We write our own stories and after all my success this year this was my biggest ‘win’ as we gutted out one of the toughest races on the planet and never gave up. I am truly proud of us for working as a team. Well done Pete Abraham!

So ends the 2019 season and what is left to say. I have gained so much from so many. Next year is about tackling 24 hour racing and supporting those who have supported me. I am by no means ready to break into the GB squad, but I now have 6 months with no races, so am going to enjoy training. Hopefully on some canals! It was a real privilege to be a part of the British Spartathlon Team and who knows I may go back.. one day! I am so grateful for what this sport has given me. It has given me a wife, new friends, new experiences, but most importantly it has made me test myself and find my inner ‘me’. Thanks to everyone for your support this year. I am so eternally grateful! 🇬🇧

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