This time in a week I will be in Greece preparing to run one of the most iconic ultra races in the world - The Spartathlon. As we all know (hashtag sarcasm), the Greek messenger Pheidippides ran 26.2 miles, told everybody in Athens that the Greek's had won the battle of Marathon, then dropped down dead (hence how we know that 26.2 miles is the precise limit of human endurance). However, other historical accounts have him running a little further than this - about 500 Km from Athens to Sparta and back again. The Spartathlon aims to recreate this epic journey (well, half of it at least - only crazy people like Mimi Anderson would think of heading back again) by following the route as closely as possible. Runners therefore have to head from the Acropolis in Athens to the statue of King Leonidas (AKA Gerard Butler) in Sparta about 153 miles away.
After my run at the Grand Union Canal Race a few months ago, I was starting to get a little worried that I wouldn't even make the start line. I developed some issues with my foot that didn't seem to be responding to physio. My worry was that there could be something like a stress fracture underlying everything, but after 2 months of no improvement, a last minute post-work trip to Profeet proved to be very fruitful (except for the bit where my bike got nicked, but that's a story for another time). After a bit of jiggery-pokery, my fears were assuaged and they were pretty confident that with a bit more rehab I would be good to go. True to their word, after another week of strength exercises, I felt I could run again and have been steadily building back up over the past few weeks.
I'm feeling really good right now - back on track with both my speed and endurance (cycling a lot during the down-time from running helped me to keep a lot of my base fitness), and I can finally start looking forward to the race now. When there was a worry that I wouldn't make it out there I didn't want to think too much about it, but now I am getting incredibly excited. Flights are booked, kit is sorted, and I have been reading plenty of blog posts to get advanced warning about what to expect (although generally I prefer to go in blind - I'm not much of a planner with these things).
As with the GUCR, I'm not going to think too much about planning my race. I'm just going to run at a comfortable pace for as long as I can and see where that gets me. One of the toughest parts of this race is the cutoffs, with runners constantly running against the clock as the "Death Bus" approaches relentlessly from behind. I would like to believe that I won't have to think too much about this aspect of the race as I should be well inside the cutoffs at the pace I am hoping for. All being well, I am hoping for a good 30ish hour finish time, similar to my aims at the GUCR. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'll just play it by ear on the day. The heat will be a very big factor with how well this goes, along with that whole "mountain" thing in the middle... But I am feeling fitter at the moment than I did before GUCR, and have had some really good runs recently which have really bolstered my confidence.
In fact, except for the fact that I almost broke my ankle the other day by being a complete spanner (nothing impressive like falling down a mountain, I just tripped on a perfectly flat paved path), I would have been feeling great. Goddamn it - it was going so well! I was planning on using these last couple of weeks to get some last few solid runs in, including really working on my speed again. Whilst this probably won't help in the Spartathlon, using speed work as a way to stress your muscles so that they get stronger is a very important part of getting better.
In a typical week, I will do a functional speed session on Tuesday consisting of an 8 mile run in the morning at about 80-90% of my 10K pace (essentially trying to get into work from the Park & Ride as fast as I can, trying to beat my previous week's effort), followed by a Fartlek style interval session on the way back in the evening. On Thursday I run about 16.5 miles into work in the morning, again trying to beat the previous week. Then one or two longer runs at the weekend, usually running on feel rather than aiming for any specific pace, but really trying to keep up the effort. These are my more fun runs, and I usually use them to go off exploring. I fill out the rest of the week with cycling to and from work, using the gym, and I occasionally throw in a hill session with my tyre-pull on a Wednesday if I can be bothered. This tends to keep me pretty prepared for any distance, and I like to mix up my racing a bit.
I had originally planned to do a long run on Saturday, followed by the local Bourn To Run 10K on Sunday, but twisting my ankle about half an hour into my Thursday run to work put that out of the window. Luckily I seem to have come off okay; it is a little sore to the touch but there does not seem to be any issue walking, cycling or running on it. By the Sunday the swelling had gone down, so I went along to the race to test it out and managed a pretty good result with (more importantly) no negative consequences. But the important thing now is to make sure that it is as good as new for Sparta, so I will just concentrate on cycling for the next week to be on the safe side. Realistically losing a week of running won't affect me that much, and if I'm not ready now then another week won't change that!
Going into the race I'm feeling pretty confident. I have had experience of running in the heat at Transvulcania and managed without too many issues. I have my kit sorted, aiming to be as unencumbered as possible throughout the race so I can just concentrate on running. And I know from the GUCR that I can do the distance, even when things don't quite go to plan.
For me, this whole race is all about the finish. The experience of running up to kiss the foot of the statue of Gerard Butler, having the laurel wreath placed on my head, and drinking from the waters of the Evrotas River will probably be a once in a lifetime experience for me. One way or another, I will kiss that foot. So assuming that nothing unexpected happens (and that I have not done something to my ankle) I think that we're all good. Bring it on!