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.
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.