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Spartathlon race: 153 miles in under 36 hours


Posted by Robbie Britton of Robbie Britton: Team GB Ultrarunner under Ultrarunning on 24 September 2013 at 11:00 AM

So, how do you get into running 100 mile and 24hr races? Do they just come pick you as the most energetic in the bunch at the Bedlam Asylum or is it a conscious choice you make because there just isn't enough pain and a suffering in your life?

Robbie BrittonI started running about 4 years ago when my mate Smithy told me he was running the Windermere marathon and I decided I couldn't let him do it alone as we would never hear the end of how great he was, so I signed up too. I thought it would be a little crazy to do 2 marathons in 2 weeks to raise some money for Diabetes UK, but little did I know that was just the start.

4 years down the line I'm sitting in an apartment in Athens, a week away from one of the most historic races in ultra marathon running, the Spartathlon, 153 miles from Athens to Sparta with a cut off of 36 hours to get to the finish. It's a bloody tough race for a number of reasons, the heat, the distance, the tarmac and the mountain they have put at 100 miles (by "they" I can only be blaming the Titans I suppose) but it is the cut offs that get many trying to finish the race, forcing runners to run faster than they ever would in better conditions and not allowing even the slightest of malfunctions, of which there can be many in an ultra.

To be honest, I'm not too worried about the cut offs. Earlier this year I managed 149 miles in 24 hours, albeit around a flat loop, at the 24hr World Championships for Team GB and I'm hoping that the cut offs will be long behind me, even if the wheels do come off at some point. I'm aiming for a "quick" finish, well, if you can call one second less than a full day quick, and my main concern is that I will be pushing it to the limits of my capability, gambling on everything going well and ignoring the majority of the pain that will be overtaking my body.

My girlfriend Rebecca is a little worried I might kill myself. Ha! If it goes wrong, it will go wrong big time.

Knackered Robbie Britton - tiredMy first ultra marathon was the London to Brighton trail run back in 2009, which I entered because the start was easy to get to. 56 miles later and I had the bug, although at the time, as I waddled along the sea front at Brighton, I was swearing I would never do such a stupid thing again. I think it took about 2 days for me to change my mind and look up the next challenge and over the next 24 months I went from race to race, with a couple of crossings of the Atlantic in the middle, and really enjoyed it. I kept looking for a bigger challenge and found it in the Caesars Camp Endurance Run, organised by a nutty Dutch man called Henk. The first one took me nearly 28 hours in a pair of my mate's old trainers as mine had been pinched, but I finished, embarrassingly with my mum pacing the penultimate 10 mile lap.

Robbie Britton

Running 100 miles is a bit like paying someone to beat you up whilst you get to eat lots of sweets, vomit a bit and take craps in the bushes. It is, however, a lot of fun. I went on to run more of them, even a 145 mile one from Birmingham to London, and even won a couple.

After running the Thames Path 100 in 16:02, a good half a day off my first effort, I was given the chance to run for England at a 24hr race with the hope of running over 230km and qualifying for Team GB.

Running Thames Path

I headed off to Basel, via a strip search in a prison cell at the airport due to a washing machine passport, and proceeded to run very well for 20 hours and hobble/crawl for 4 hours, amassing 222.5km in the process. Not quite enough for Team GB! It took another 2 attempts until I managed to get 231km in Barcelona and qualify for the World Champs in Steenbergen in Holland.

Ultra Running TrainingSo I basically just run 200+ miles a week to do all that because that’s what you have to do to run ultras right? Nah, that sounds too much like hard work (although it does work for some), I just wouldn't have had the time to recover from all those miles in a week. I try to keep the work rate high in my training and avoid sacrificing quality for quantity, probably averaging about 50-60 miles a week over the year.

Rest is an integral part of ultra running and I like to earn it with high intensity speed work, tempo work and plenty of hills! I'll chuck in a long run once a month or so but, apart from a mental boost, a long slow run will just damage your muscles and stop you from training, or worse still if you carry on training, cause injuries and stop you altogether. I just want to get to the start line of each race as physically fit as possible and be able to take it real easy when I'm at race pace!

For Spartathlon I have stuck to my usual plan and added in a training camp in the heat of Malaga with some experienced Spartathlon finishers, Mark Woolley and James Adams, which included Mark's 90k Death Run up to the highest point in mainland Spain at 3400m. Then I should have sat down for a week but instead carried on training and picked a wee niggle which I'm now trying to manage before race day!

Pacer 1.50My last longish run was pacing the 1.50 group at the Bristol Half as part of the TomTom GPS watch pacing team and it all went smoothly. I'm now acclimatising out in Athens, getting used to the heat and eating olives and Greek yoghurt so that, come race day, I'm as ready as I can be.

With the race starting at 7am this Friday you can follow all of the British Athletes on the Spartathlon website and my crew will be keeping my Twitter (@ultrabritton) up to date throughout. Even after the 36 hours there is more fun as Marvellous Mimi Anderson we be attempting to be the first Brit & first female to do a double Spartathlon and I would not bet against her!

It's always said that anyone can run an ultra and I reckon there is some truth in that, it is just all about pacing, eating and drinking, the last two everyone can do! Oh and you have to be a little twisted in the head as well.