Sunday, 28 February 2016

Spartathlon

We are now five months post Spartathlon so I thought I should probably post this before a full year goes past! Also, my older sister just updated her blog and I do not like to be outdone. After three months not running a step I am slowing building the fitness up. Very slowly. In the meantime I have developed a love for red velvet cakes, took a last minute week-long trip to New Zealand (via China) and applied for British Citizenship . Plantar fasciitis is still having a wee snigger at me but I think I will have the better of him this year. And mostly, I am just keeping life in perspective. Many non-professional distance runners would benefit from doing the same. If you need some help, read my sisters blog here: KIWI OE WITH LYMPHOMA   
 

An Event History


There was some fighting happening in Athens and they needed some help. A dude ran to Sparta to ask some other fighting guys to give them a hand. He was not a bad runner and rumour has it that he made the journey in less than 36 hours. Unfortunately, the Sparta fighting guys said they would not help as their weekend market was on. The dude ran back to find out that his team won the fighting anyway. I hope he sat down and enjoyed a beer for his great efforts.

Many years later some other new-age dudes decided to test out this 36 hour rumour by attempting to run the route as best they could. Some succeeded and some did not. Now, the event attracks daft runners from all arounf the globe who attempt to follow in the original dude's footsteps. Epic.

My 2015 History


A crazy 'ahhhh my sister has cancer' moment occured where I felt I had to live life to the full and make the most of every opportunity. I entered on a whim with qualifications from way back in 2013 when I was a fitter youngster. Entrants exceed places so most have to go into a competitive ballot. Exceptions to this ballot include if you meet super-runner qualification standards (official title obviously) or if you are the only runner from your country. In April I found out that I was in as I was the only runner from New Zealand. Being from a tiny island at the bottom of the world does hold benefits occassionally.

Although I have only been running ultras for about four years, I would say that in reflection 2015 was the worst year I could have entered. A pelvis injury and plantar fasciitis plagued me throughout, leaving me unfit and out-of-shape for the year. I realised it was going to be a tough call and accepted the place on the last possible day, always hoping that the injuries would pass and I would be able to at least train for at least a few months. Sadly it was not to be and I spent more time swimming than running. How much of the Spartathlon was next to the sea?!
 
 

Spartathlon Time!


Wonder if maybe you do not belong somewhere? Try rocking up to registration surrounded by everyone in running kit, constantly lip-smacking on about expensive races. We are obviously all here to do a bit of jogging folks, no need to hang about in all the gear. I'd like to see a wee bit more personality in the area; some skinny jeans, a grandpa jumper.... Thank goodness for Debbie and Sharon's fake tans saving the day.

Prior to arrival I had been warned about Greek-time and the more relaxed approach taken by the race organisers. Registration from 1-5pm can mean that is actually when they fancy taking a nap! For race morning, I had a prorridge pot in the hotel room as the line for breakfast was rather long. I would recommend also doing this. The runners took buses to the start line while the support crews got their Greek-driving on and followed suit.
 
This was an exciting year for the Spartathlon. After twenty-whatever years of race organisation, they were finally going to have port-a-loos at the Acropolis start line. Runners were eager to find these and avoid defecating in a heritage site. Unfortunately, twenty-whatever years of event organisation is just not enough to get the port-a-loos to actually arrive. Fingers crossed for 2016; I do hope that you will be the fortunate ones. Minutes before the start and I could not decide if I should run with a handheld or backpack. Most people had belts and handhelds but I had not enough time training to try them out. Thanks to Marco for easing the last minute panic; I am comfortable wearing a pack, stick to it.
 
 
 
The start was a bit of a scramble. Downhill on cobblestones that may be slippery from years of being worn down by tourists. Waving to the hookers, drunks and party-goers finishing off their nights as the sun rose. A few gypsies out, waiting for us to clear out of the Acropolis so they could get the best begging spots. They, like everyone else in Greece, hoping to be handed out a bit of cash.

Main roads were cleared and junctions blocked so the race could dominate the streets. It was strange to be running with so many others and I found it hard to know if I was keeping an even pace or not. Not that I had a watch or any pace in mind but one does not want to go off like a loose bullet. There are checkpoints every few miles and each runner can choose how many drop bags they want. I am having my drop bags at CP5, CP10 and so forth. At first I do not need to fill up my bottles or take water at every checkpoint which is just as well as there are so many runners the volunteers cannot keep up. I would advise trying to be self-sufficeint at the beginning otherwise you will get unnecessarily frustrated about the situation.

Other than lacking confidence in my running style and pace, I am having a jolly good time. I've placed myself behind two Israeli runners who seem to be comfortable. I have already made friends with another Israeli runner, Ariel, in the hotel, so know that one of the runners in front has completed the Spartathlon before.

Some of the police officers blocking the junctions for us are starting to look familiar. I am sure that one blocked the road just around the corner. It is a wee reminder of how close those cut-off points are. Not that any one at this point is going too slow, it is just that at the beginning of the race you do not have much time to make up time. I do not know what the time is, nor the cut-off times so do not worry.

At my first custard feeding station I panic and jog round the corner to get out of the way. I find myself with my head over a rubbish bin scoffing custard at an alarming rate and being laughed at by a Britsh runner. I pick up the water consumption, eating HoneyStinger chews from my backpack at each checkpoint. Keeping on top of all this body stuff that accompanies this running stuff.

There are a few undulations and I decide to plod slowly up these. Most people around me walk but I am mindful that I like to march up the hills when walking and decide that it is easier on my leg muscles to do slow plodding. The busy roads with cars and trucks screaming by do not bother me at all. I got quite confident in Istanbul walking out in front of cars. Only one runner has had to smash their fist on a car so far. I'm having a great time.
 
 

Scott is waiting at the marathon point with the other support crews. This is the first place that the crews are allowed to provide assistance. The crews have been great at cheering and honking throughout. Although I do not have a drop bag here I attempt a water refill only to see that there is no water immediately available. I must carry on through. The next big checkpoint will be at about 50 miles at the Corinth Canal. I am genuinely thrilled at the prospect of running over the canal. I do suspect that if I was not teaching children with additional needs, I would be building bridges. Except I do not like swing bridges; those are well dodgy.

Just another marathon to go until the exciting canal moment. It is time for some ice, ice, baby. Ice in my hat. Ice in my British Spartathlon buff wrapped around my wrist. Ice on my neck. Ice in my crop top. No ice in my drinks though. I am part Scottish; cannae be doing with cold beverages. I am enjoying this ice-ness and feel comfortable with it. In June I ran the Kaunas Marathon time in 30 degrees and felt like I died slightly less than the other runners in the heat. It is warm but it is OK.

A bottle of ginger beer appears as an oasis in one of my drop bags. A drop bag that has been left out in the burning sun. Somehow, my brain does not calculate the consequences of this and my mouth begins its guzzle mode. Suddenly, a fountain of ginger beer spouts from my mouth. It is darn hot. I stick to the orange juice on the table instead, whilst struggling to chew through a melted peanut butter wrap.

There is an oil refinery that the course runs through that previous runners have complained about. Ahhh, the smell. Ahhh, the dead animals. Ahhh, the dead people.... I cannot even remember running through it or ever smelling anything bad. I just remember beautiful ocean and an old Greeek guy telling everyone to cheer up and enjoy the view. I was whooping and waving and skipping. This is my summer holiday people.
 
 

I am not sure how many hours we have been going but I register that I have not peed. Using the ladies room alongside a road whilst in a string of runners is a stressful ordeal. I am officially on bush-spotting duties. Apologies to the Japenese runner who captures a view of me staggering out whilst trying to pull my sweat-soaked shorts up. He did not deserve that. I am dizzy. I need to eat and drink at the next stop regardless of what is available. An apple and my new favourite; orange juice.

At some point I pass Matt from Canada, rocking the coolest hat of the race. Then I pass Sean Maley, who's just stretching his legs after winning La High Ultra. Plodding is my happy place and Corinth Canal sneaks up on me. I feel like a celebrity running across the canal and into the throbbing checkpoint. I attempt some pasta, but with no fork I just stick my fingers in and grab a handful of Parmesan cheese. My feet have been giving me grief for some time so I decide to walk out of the checkpoint rather than stop. Plantar fasciitis is not kind to those who stop.
 
 
 

And then the limping really begins. We pass through olive groves and grape vines; neither like I had pictured. Just plod, plod, plod. All runners the same. I think we all looked similar; slightly distressed but nothing major. Who was really feeling what, you could not tell. By now the temperature was dropping slightly and there was not the need for ice frenzies. At one checkpoint, some lovely older Greek men get excited by my name and I do a few photoshoots. They wish me luck. I do not have the heart to tell them that I know I will not be finishing. I have probably now run further than I have in the last two months combined and my plantars remind me so. And then, because I have stopped for so long, it is a slow limp out of the checkpoint until the foot pain becomes a normality again.

At Ancient Corinth I have a thirty second high. At Halkion Village a low. A slice of pizza from Scott. Turns out he was offering it to all the ladies. What a charmer. In need of the bathroom I ask at a gas station. No problem. The lights are put on for me; do I want water, cola, an ice lolly? The locals get amongst the event so well.
 
 
 

After this, I start to slow down. I change bags and pick up my head troch earlier than I need it. I am starting to intentionally waste time. Over the next 10km the light fades and I am barely moving. Walking does not make my feet and better but running on them means my heels will be hitting the ground more often. I try tip toeing for a few km.

As I trudge in the dark on an isolated road, I think that every runner who passes me is the last runner. I hear a large vehicle grinding up the hill behind me. I am relieved that the death bus has finally caught me. The death bus? Yes, the bus that lingers at the back of the race, picking up runners who do not make the cut-offs in time. But it is not the death bus; just a crew van. Where's Sean? He needs to pass me soon or he will not finish. Every time I hear a runner, I hope that it is him passing me.

Eventually, I limp into Nemea. There is a chair ready. My head in my hands. The death bus is miles away; I have made it to the checkpoint with 90 minutes to spare. This is plenty. It is a shock. I do not want to run another 70-whatever miles on these feet. I cannae be arsed.

My quads are tired but they are ok. It is actually quite nice to have tired legs for a change. Sean trots in safely. A medic watches me closely. Do I need a massage? I stand up. I will walk to the next checkpoints until I time out. No. The medic brings a blanket. It is cooling down. Scott will support my decision either way. Damn his supportive qualities. The next checkpoint is about 4km away. This is actually a bigger gap than usual. At my rate of limping it might take an hour. I will still be ahead of the cut-off. Then another 3km. Still ahead of the cut-off.
 
The medic coaxes me to see some other doctors. My feet are massaged, iced. Another doctor comes, jams his finger into my plantar. I yelp. One guy is sweet and wants me to continue. The doctor knows there is no point. My physio has already warned me of tearing the plantar; I know the drill. How cold will I get if I walk. I could be cut-off at the next checkpoint now if I walked which would be a welcome relief. I do not have any layers until ages away though. The next checkpoint is also not one that Scott is allowed at, meaning I would be finishing alone. At previous checkpoints there had been crew members milling about when they shouldn't have been but Scott and I were born rule-followers
 
I do not want to go any further. I want out. My number is off. In the car I recline the chair, wrap myself in a foil blanket and go to sleep.  I am very pleased to be going no further. Scott wakes me up in time to give Dan Lawson a cheer. He's leading the race but comes over for a chat anyway. Always good to keep things real.

The next day we enjoy cheering on the finishers in Sparta whilst drinking beer. I cry a little at breakfast and then when I am giving Ariel a hug after finishing. Other than that, I am a cool bean. My only regret is that I did not walk it out although I realise that I made the safest decision. We had a great few days in Istanbul and enjoyed celebrating with others. A wee hint if you do not finish; do not go to the lunch the following day as your number will get called out and you will need to do a mortifying walk of shame!
 
 
 

A huge thank you to Kim Allan and Sean Maley for inspiring me to enter, to the British team who let me hang out with them, to Kyle for entertaining Scott, to the new friends I made throughout and all the wonderful volunteers and locals. Thanks to Scott for forfeiting a more appropriate summer holiday and dealing with all the injury drama in the lead up. Will I try it again? No time soon but maybe in twenty years when I am having a midlife crisis! I think that my quarter life crisis faze is officially over.

Any lessons?  


  • KEEP COOL - Both physically and mentally. Put ice on your cap and don't worry so much. I was nauseous for about three days afterwards so although I thought I was careful with the heat, it probably had more impact than I thought.
  • SLOW DOWN - You are a competent runner so you are probably going too fast. I did not run in the months before the race and still made the tougher cut-offs at the beginning by plodding as slow as I could. 
  • SMILE - It is so much fun! Ok, so I can only vouch for the first 70 miles which were not that hard. How the runners kept going on the Saturday, I have no idea. That looked soul-destroying. A massive congratulations to them.
Also, the prizegiving is less prizegiving and more piss up so do not book an early morning flight on the Tuesday! 

 








5 comments:

  1. Great post, well worth the wait.
    I know what you mean about "nice to have tired legs for a change". Isn't that a great feeling.

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  2. Great write up. The idea of doing a long ultra not on trail has always put me off. You have almost sold me on it.

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    Replies
    1. There is trail when you get to the mountain - that's what they told me anyway!

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  3. Great post Anotnia. Your friend from Israel :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Ariel. Hope you are running strong still :)

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