Name: Ian Thomas
Occupation: Retired Project Manager
Home Town: Norwich
Twitter account: @ultraian
What is your running background?
I’ve run recreationally over the years but started racing in earnest in 2009 at age fifty.
Initially focusing on road racing 5k to Marathons before venturing into Ultra’s. I started
late in life compared to most, but it’s never too late to push the boundaries! I’ll be 63
come race day and have no plans to stop.
When did you first start running Ultra marathons and why?
I dipped by toe in the water in 2011 after achieving the first of my sub 3 marathons. It
was the Marriott’s Way Ultra (36m), a low key free event on my main training route at
that time in Norwich. Beginners luck saw me win the event and set a new course record,
which fortuitously stood for 5 years before being beaten in 2016.
When or where (at which events) are we most likely to see you?
Any Ultra’s really but usually 100 mile plus, in addition to some 24hr track races and of
course Spartathlon. I’m also tempted to revisit the Canal series which were really my
springboard. I do have aspirations to tackle other classics like Badwater and Western States but cost has deterred me until now but I will now be submitting an application for Badwater 2023.
I ventured into the 24hr track race arena debuting at Barcelona in December 2016 and
have since completed Energia 24 (Belfast), Athens 24hr and most recently Crawley and
Gloucester where I had some success last year. Events like UTMB, Spine, MDS dont really inspire me. I prefer pure non-stop running events tackled without the aid of poles. Having said that I do intend to complete the Pheidippides Run and JOGLE within the next 18 months hopefully.
What are your personal key running achievements to date?
Six consecutive Spartathlon’s, Best in 2016 as first Brit in (29:14:36)
– Pretty pleased to be the oldest Brit to have completed Spartathlon and oldest Brit to
have completed in under 30 hours. I’ll take anything if it keeps me motivated.
– GB V60 6 hour 50 mile, 12 hour and 100 mile ‘All time’ Best Performances set in 2021
but need to try to reclaim the 6 hour!
– Currently ranked 5th in world over 100 Miles V60 which I know I can improve on but I’m
no threat to Jan Albert Lantink!
– Finishing GUCR (2016) 3 rd place 27:43 and LLCR130 (2016) 1st place 24:28 in atrocious
conditions (not my PB)
– Running 2 sub 3 marathons when I was age 52 (2011) and 53 (2012)
What was your hardest experience?
Really difficult to choose between finishing Spartathlon in 2018 with an injury with 50
miles still to go or achieving an AQ at Athens 24hr in 2019 where I risked running with
an injury from the start. It was an insane and reckless decision but the draw of an AQ
was too great. Thankfully I got it.
What is your typical race strategy for an ultra?
Historically I tend to go out reasonably fast as I prefer to run well whilst I can which
seems ill advised. This is especially so at Spartathlon as it’s easy to overcook the first
50 miles and potentially pay a heavy price. However, I have been more conservative of late due to my experiences at 24hr races, where I have experimented with a more even paced strategy – to good effect at Athens, Crawley and Gloucester.
Nutrition: fruit, raisins or anything else easily digestible, stay hydrated mainly via
Tailwind, but also partial to chocolate milk drink which has worked well for me in the
past. I avoid gels like the plague!
What does a typical training week look like?
It varies but on the approach to Spartathlon my best results have been via 80-130 mile
plus weeks, incorporating lots of hills via ‘Doubles’ sessions. This year I’ve been focused on 100 plus mile weeks since late June, ninety nine per cent of which are executed on roads to build the necessary strength for Spartathlons’ unforgiving course.
I’ll also be continuing with strength and flexibility work with a focus on unilateral leg
exercises but also core and plyometrics.
What one tip would you pass onto people running an Ultra marathon for the first time?
Just focus on the ‘now’ and dismiss the distance from your mind. Visualise your finish
and know that you will cross that line.
Tell us one interesting fact about you?
In 2020 when Spartathlon was cancelled for the first time in its history due to Covid,
myself, James Ellis and Ektoras Agathokleous ran the route in an unofficial version of
the race we termed SpartathlOFF.
Have you taken part in the Spartathlon before?
Yes in 2015 / 16 / 17 / 18, 19 and 21
How did you get on?
31:33 (2015), 29:14:36 (2016) slower years 33:32 (2017) and 34:53 (2018) largely due
to niggles. Improved slightly again 2019, 2021 but hoping my focus this year will yield a
return to form.
Where did you get your qualifier for Spartathlon:
What tip would you pass on to those taking part for the first time?
Logic dictates that you avoid building a big buffer over the first 50 miles, especially
given that cut-offs are disproportionately more aggressive over the first third. Just stay
calm and in control. I know I should practice what I preach and always heed this advice but I have opted for fast starts myself but that seems to work for me.
Be prepared for the long tough haul to mountain base and again from Tegea to Sparta.
This race isn’t just about the mountain! It most certainly is about the finish though!
Be prepared for the potentially cold transition across the Plains of Tripolis (post the
mountain) and dress appropriately. Don’t get caught out!
What are you looking forward to at the Spartathlon race?
The whole journey, build up, pre-race get-togethers with fellow runners, the start at the
Acropolis, the magical journey, reaching the foot of King Leonidas, witnessing others
kiss the foot, the amazing welcome in Sparti It’s simply unforgettable!
What are you not looking forward to during the Spartathlon race?
The descent of the mountain. I really need to master technical trail descents with
confidence. I’ve only managed it once with any style in 2016 (which coincidentally was
my PB year), whereas the mountain goats amongst us manage to skip down with ease.
How will you prepare specifically for the Spartathlon race?
High mileage on roads, a 100k, a 100/24 hour race, plus some additional strength,
speed and flexibility training.
Will you be bringing any support crew to the race? (If so, please introduce them briefly)
As it stands I’ll be running crewless again this year, but you can run it successfully with
and without crew as I and others have done.