Saturday, 7 October 2017

Spartathlon 2017

The coolest weather for the Spartathlon in a long time. It was under 30 and cloudy. The cloudy bit was great as it meant the relentless sun wasn't beating down on you all day.

I started off near the back.  In fact after I had dropped my phone and Darren had kindly picked up the 3 pieces and gave them back to me I turned around and was at the back.  Still no hurry, we had 153 miles to run.  I put my phone back together and shoved it into the small zip pocket in my shorts and ran on.  We wound our way through the Athens rush hour traffic, which was stopped by the police, at the junctions for us to cross the busy roads.  The first marathon from Athens to Megara was fairly un eventful.  I spent the first hour or so with Jay chatting and watching my heart rate.  We were accompanied by a rather unfit looking stray dog, who was trotting along with the stream of runners.  I kept my heart rate under 130 bpm as planned and felt good.

I ran straight through the busy marathon checkpoint in  about 4:15 The same time as my previous attempt, but my quads felt a lot better this time.  We worked our way up the saronic coast line toward Corinth and the 81km checkpoint.  I hadn't been taking any notice of cuttoffs and was running on heart rate.  My goal was not to let it go over 130bpm.  Somewhere along this section I saw an American walking, So decide to have a short walk break and get him moving if I could.  He was worried about cuttoffs and the fact we were chasing them.  I didn't really need to be brought down and he seemed to have given up, so I decided to run on.  At the next checkpoint I saw the  race referee and looked at my watch. I was 2 minutes inside cutt offs.  "I didn't realise I was that close" I said and ran on. I arrived at Corinth, again in the same time as my previous attempt, but in much better shape and having made some time back up. I was now 15 minutes under the cuttoffs.  This time I opted to go straight through and forego the massage. It hasn't ever helped me when I have tried it before, so why bother?  I grabbed a handful of crisps and raisans and went to leave, when the race referee asked if I was going to eat and pointed out some bowls of rice or pasta I hadn't seen. I thanked her and took the pasta, walking off up the road and eating it.  Once I had finished I looked around for a bin to discard the plastic bowl in, but didn't see one. The road was strewn with litter (not from the race I hasten to add), but I couldn't bring myself to add to it so carried the bowl quite a way unti I found a bin.

In 2015 this is the section where it all went wrong for me.  This time I knew what was coming up and what I had to do.  It was simple really, from 80km all I had  to do is run every down hill and flat and then I could walk the steeper uphills.  With this in mind I soldiered on from checkpoint 22 at Corinth towards checkpoint 30 where I was timed out in 2015.  At checkpoint 27 I got my first drop bag and picked up my head torch. It was just before 7pm so perfect timing as I would need it within the next hour or so. This time I arrived at CP 30 5 minutes under cuttoff.  Exactly on plan.  I was feeling so much better. I grabbed some biscuits and crisps and carried on into the now unknown.  I only turned on my headtorch when a car came towards me so they would see me. I found the night light was enough for me to see and run on tarmac.  Off road I would have needed a torch, but being able to keep it off left me less tired than I get following the little white dot from a head torch.

The next major checkpoint, 35 was Ancient Nemea.  My buffer was slipping and I was constantly being passed by the Spartathlon officials as they left a closing checkpoint to move on to the next.  I would get to a CP with 2 minutes to cuttoff, grab some food and water then quickly move on.  About 1/2 way between one CP and the next the bag van, and a few other cars would pass me.  They were very encouraging tooting the horn and cheering as they passed.  I would watch them as they drove on to see if I could see where they stopped and thus know where the CP was. As I crested a hill they again passed me.  They went down the hill and turned left.  I looked at my watch I had 6 minutes to cut off.  I didn't think I could make it that far in 6 minutes and tears started to well up in my eyes.  I started to run as fast as I could.  Shouting no, I am not going to get timed out! As I ran the pain in my quads disappeared and a few tears trickleddown my face.  Untill now I hadnt realised how badly I wanted this!  I got to the CP with 2 minutes to spare, quickly grabbed some food and moved on. 

The next major check point was 47 mountain base. In truth its not at the base it is 1/2 way up the mountain, but it is where we leave the road and go up the short sharp trail to the top of the mountain. I got to checkpoint 37 just as it started to rain. I had left a clean t-shirt and a rain coat here. Perfect.  I decided to put the tshirt on under the one I had on and wore the raincoat. The tarmac turned to gravel. I turned on my headtorch and ran on. I was later told that the dog, remember the dog from paragraph one?  Was seen here, still running. I hope she finds her way back to Athens in time for next year. 

I was still very close to cut offs and by now the referee and CP crew who were also moving forward to each CP were cheering me in, making sure I was fed and water and pushing me on.  They were fanatastic, but my time started to slip. I arrived at CP 43 2 minutes over cutoff.  They let me push on. CP 44 I was now 7 minutes over cut off, again they let me push on.  As I walked up the road I could see the mountain. The cloud was down below the top and it was raining quite hard now too.  I wondered how safe it would be to go over. I'm told the path is narrow and slippery.  The Greek mountain rescue volunteers place themselves up the route for safety.  By now I was probably in last place, so I was hoping they would follow me up and keep me safe. I passed another runner and tried to encourage him. Sometimes you can push harder if you have someone to talk to and take away the thought of any pain.  He didn't speak any English and didn't want to move any faster.  So I pressed on. By the time I got to CP 45 I was 15 minutes over cut offs.  This was too much and my race was over.  I had to give over my race numbers and sign a declaration that I was finished. I then  got on the minibus that would take me and 4 others to the death bus.  Where I promptly fell asleep and woke up in Sparta.

154 km or 95.6 miles in 21 hours and 25 minutes.

In ultra running you have to learn to beat yourself up and run trough the pain. In the Spartathlon, it's like Fight Club. Without giving away the plot. Although I can't imagine anyone over 18 hasn't seen the film. You have to learn to beat yourself up to the extreme.

Friday, 17 June 2016

It's not all in the genes

The ACTN3 gene contains instructions for making alpha-actinin-3. Alpha-actinin-3 is a protein associated with fast twitch muscles. I.e. the muscle sprinters, long jumpers and weight lifters use for  their explosive powers.  You inherit this protein via your DNA from your mother and your father. All Olympians have inherited this protein from at least one parent with one known exception who like 18% of the population has inherited a gene variant from both parents that doesn't make this protein.

I have had a DNA test and my ACTN3 gene doesn't make the protein, meaning I have inherited a variant from both of my parents that lacks it. In all the studies I have read there is a general consensus that the alpha-actinin-3 protein gives athletes about a 3% improvement in performance in explosive sports. There is also a theory that the opposite may be true too, in that the lack of this protein is predominate in endurance athletes and the lack of it seems to help this end of the sporting spectrum. There is, though more research needed as the link is tenuous at the moment.

Now let's say I was a 5km runner and I was lacking this gene and lets also say I want to get faster. If you look at a typical park run the winner is usually around sub 18 minutes. So a top amateur runner can run a 5km in 18 minutes (or less but let's keep the numbers simple)  I lack alpha-actinin-3 so therefore I would be 3% slower. 3% of 18 is 0.54 which equals 32.4 seconds.  It is therefore still possible for me to run my 5k in 18:34.4.  This would put me in the top 3 at a lot of parkruns.  I therefore can't blame my genes for not running a sub 20 5k yet.

I have always believed it's hard work to get where you want to be and your genes have little to do with this. Most people believe it's your genes that give you your IQ, your athletic ability, your inability to lose weight, but blaming or praising your genes for your short comings or 'natural abilities' is wrong. It leads you to not putting in the effort required to get where you want to be. Most 'natural' athletes, musicians, chess players, etc etc have spent countless hours and hard work honing their craft.  Children of musicians often end up as musicians themselves because they had access to instruments from the day they were born. 

It took 10 years to become an overnight success

If you want to run faster, don't blame your genes. Get out there and train properly.  Yes you have to do those hill repeats and those intervals.  
If you want to speak a foreign language stop saying I don't have that sort of brain, start believing and start learning, we all have the right sort of brain if we want to do it. 
If you want to lose weight, be honest with yourself and don't blame the 'fat' gene for the chocolate biscuits you just ate. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Monday, 21 December 2015


2015 was a good year for me.  It started with a 202km 24 hour run at Athens Ultra festival followed a few weeks later by a 12 hour PB of 118 km at Crawley.

I was accepted to race for the GB AG Triathlon team in Weymouth and also was in the unofficial GB team for the Spartathlon in Greece.  It was an honour to represent my country in 2 different sports

Next year  I am going to put my name forward for the Spartathlon again, but will give triathlon a break so I can focus and do a better job in ultra running.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015


At the weekend I ran the A100.  As it was 3 weeks after Sparta and my quads blowing  up I didn't have any expectations except that I didn't expect to finish!

The whole 21 and 1/2 hours I was waiting for my legs to give up but they didn't.  My quads ached from time to time, but I tried to ignore them and keep running.  After Sparta I did some reading and apparently, even though you think slowing will rest the quads and get you back on track it is the wrong thing to do.  You really need to run through it.  I also know that if I start walking for too long I never get running again.  So I try to keep running even if I drop to 9 minute kilometres as I know at some point I will speed up again.  I do of course walk the steeper hills still.

The race is 4 x 25 mile out and back spurs.  During the first 25 miles I wondered what I was doing and was trying to think of a reason to stop, but I couldn't find one.  On the second leg at mile 36 I went flying down a hill landing on my right elbow and knee and winding myself.  I walked the last mile and a 1/2 to the turn point, thinking this was my reason to quit.  I got some wet wipes and wiped the mud off, there were no cuts, just a scratch on my elbow.  I turned to the guy at the checkpoint who was helping me and said ' I can't quit can I, it's just a scratch.'  He of course said no.  So I left for the return leg.  I was a little worried my knee may have taken a knock during the fall, but it was fine and by the time I got to the cross over point at mile 50 I had forgotten all about it.  So now I knew I would finish,  whatever this race threw at me wasn't going to stop me.  It wasn't going to let me have a decent enough excuse to stop!.  I had 19 hours left to do 50 miles  and 15 hours for a sub 24.  I was even thinking about a sub 20.  It was definitely doable at this point.  The last 50 miles went without incident and I slowed as expected. Returning on the last leg I met Emily looking a bit lost.  She had somehow gone in a circle and was heading the wrong way.  I remembered her passing me a while back.  We joined up and I showed her the right way back to the river.  By now  I had settled for sub 24 in my head and that was easy with a walk.  However we teamed up and ran together the for  last 10 miles and this helped me run a bit more than I was prepared to do on my own.  Chatting and running made the time go by and we soon finished.

I enjoyed the race and it has made me wonder what I could do if I trained for it and didn't do it off the back of another silly season of too many races too close together.  So next year is all down to the Sparta raffle.  If I get in it's only Sparta and If I don't I have a race calendar to work out.  A100?

Monday, 8 June 2015


I was really pleased with my pace today.  Each lap got faster, except the last one which was a cool down.  My heart rate was interesting too.  Seeing how much each extra little bit of effort made.