Spartathlon 2023

Spread the passion

I should have posted this way back, but I still struggle a bit with it 😉

Now that the dust has settled and the fog in my head has lifted a bit, it is time to write down some reflections on Spartathlon.

First, a big ‘thank you’ to all who dot watched the Spartathlon or followed the Spartathlon on other media such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and the likes. It is brilliant and of great value when you know so many people are thinking of you when you do such an event. Also, thanks for all the kind messages I’d receive before, during and especially after the run!! I am very grateful for that. Before 2019 I’d never heard of Spartathlon (and trust me, not knowing about Spartathlon is bliss), I had just finished my first 100-mile race and did not have any knowledge on longer races.

Then I met Anthony Lee for the first time during the Clew Bay Half Marathon. I trained a good few runners for that race and was hanging around the start\finish area wearing my just earned Connemara 100 hoodie proudly. Anto was doing the timing, so we had a bit of a chat. “Did you do that beast?” he said, pointing at my hoodie, I nodded, … you? I asked? Done it but not this year, I have one in Greece soon! Then he started talking about Spartathlon having me immediately intrigued. That encounter would change my life.

 

That same very evening I looked it up and made my decision, ‘I need to do this race’!!

A lot happened since 2019, Covid 19, waiting list, mum died, but in 2023 I finally made to the start list. We ultra-athletes always train but my specific training for the Spartathlon commenced in March 2023. I did my training with Karel Sabbe and Stijn van Vreckem again which works a charm for me, two reasons … It takes the thinking out of it and it makes you accountable. The lads are easy to approach too.

So if you are ever stuck, then  talk to them. Training worked out very well without any injuries or niggles. I did at least 2 layered up runs per week (up to 7 layers), I felt strong on D-day, I might have been slightly over-trained, but felt great. My heat adaptation training took place in the sauna in the Westport Woods Hotel. 5 mornings per week from 07.30 till 08.30 sweating your guts out while doing Bulgarian squads and the likes.

Wednesday 27/09 me and my family flew over to Greece. Arend and Miep were in my crew and that panned out well. Arend is experienced enough and crewed me on multiple occasions already, so he would be the crew captain and Miep would be the driver. You have a lot of stuff to organise before your race, registration, preparing drop bags and delivering them, gear check and another gear check …. and getting nervous of course.

The last night before the start I slept in Hotel Emmantina where I shared a room with Harm Wiegers, nice bloke and we had some kind of a click. We chat a bit, had dinner and tried to sleep a bit what ended up in tossing and turning for hours. Saturday morning I had the alarm at 4AM, had a small breakfast together with Alex 'O Shea and Harm. Shortly after that a bus brought us to the most fabulous start I’ve ever seen. Still dark and at Acropolis … you really can feel the energy when you walk between the athletes, most of them like me, throbbing by expectations.

 

7 sharp we kicked off, I was finally running the race where I had been longing for so much. It has something majestic running down that long slope which goes from the Acropolis in to Athens. The first marathon I had not the slightest issue, I was running fine, was taking my SiS gel every 30 minutes and made sure that I sipped away a liter of Tailwind every hour. I covered the first marathon in 4.07 what was a small bit faster than planned. In Spartathlon it's always great to have some time in the bank though as you never know what will or can happen.

At checkpoint 12 I met my crew for the first time which was great, I had a nice Pot ‘O Noodles, quick hug, quick kiss and carried on. At 60KM I had an incident which threw me way back and made me change plan (not by choice). Another competitor ran ahead of me and I followed him closely (a little too close perhaps). Suddenly he stopped because he thought that there was a nice photo moment, so I had to make a crazy move to avoid a collision. That resulted in a major hamstring cramp that I couldn't get rid off.

So basically I had to walk from 60 km to 120 km. In itself not such a problem because I ran over an hour ahead of schedule (remember the time in the bank 😀 ), my head is strong so I can deal with shit, and if I power walk with those long legs I still do 7.5 to 8 km per hour. So, that was me in the ‘trouble bus’!

 

So I walked to Hellas Kan where I had 3 (!) physio’s jumped on me, painful but it helped me for a while. Though, after 5K the pain returned, and I was back walking again. At CP29 I received the headlight as it was getting dark, the cool of the night gave me a second lease of life! All felt well and could pick up pace again. Ran a lot with Tom Shenbrun an Israeli. A little bit younger than me. He had a DNF last year at 48KM ... At 150km he took a longer break, but I rambled on. Panicked maybe a little bit because I had a lot of time lapsed ... yet a little accelerate ...

Sangas Pass tough, steep and off-road but went well. Downhill also went well. Quite a lot of overtaking there .... and when I thought I had everything under control again the hamstring started to play up again. That was a mega blow.

I have a special edition on the Longman Dictionary, it doesn’t contain a few certain words, ‘Quit’, ‘Pull Out’, ‘Surrender’ …. You won’t find them in my one, hell no!! So, back to the power walks. In the back of mind still the plan of finishing and as long as I was able to make the checkpoints in time that was still possible. And if I didn’t make them then the committee had to disqualify me, which means a DNF BUT by their demands not by me willing to pull out. Well, I met my Nemesis at CP60 …. say 50KM shy of the finish, still ample time left (6 hours so I believe) but missed the cut-off.

There are a lot of things that become problematic when you walk more than you run, nutrition plan is no longer correct, hydration plan is no longer correct .... and above all you're using a whole different set of muscles ... that hadn't been trained that well. Tuesday night at the Gala I met Tom, who finished in 35 hours. Maybe I should have stayed with him!

An ultra running friend Greg O’Beirne wrote in a PM:

“Given it's the greatest race, the rewards and punishment are just as great!”

A perfect way to summarise it all though disappointment was massive 🙁 In 2025 I'll have another shot at it 🙂

Spartathlon 1 – MVDK 0

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