Race Report 2017: Ian Hammett

Race Report 2017: Ian Hammett

I’ve been hanging on for 26km…. I haven’t got another 34 in me’ I pleaded with Claire… ‘you don’t realise how horrible this is!’ she could see the turmoil that I was in but there was nothing she could do except try to encourage me to continue… ‘Walk if you have too but keep going.’ She said calmly… Paul thrust a can of sprite into my hand ‘Drink this, it’ll give you a boost’ I didn’t believe him but gulped it down.

Somehow I dragged myself off the bench and began to stumble up the road again. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this, I was broken and crying as I slowly put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t want to quit, but I didn’t want to go on either. There were 21 miles left to complete The Spartathlon and my dreams hung in the balance……….

The Spartathlon, one of the most iconic ultramarathon races in the world, and billed as the toughest non stop footrace in Europe is a 153 mile ultramarathon from the Acropolis in Athens to the statue of King Leonidas in Sparta. To add to the difficulty Mount Parthenion awaits the competitors at 100 miles, over 1000m of elevation which tests the mind as well as the body. Run mainly on tarmac the race starts at 0700 on Friday morning and allows runners 36 hours to complete it. There are 75 aid stations each with their own individual cut off time adding to the pressure put on the runners as they strive to avoid the dreaded death bus. You have to make the 26.2 mile mark at Megara by 4:45, you have to have reached 50 miles in 9:30 and 100 miles in 22:30, all difficult cut offs in their own right, let alone when you then have to add more miles on top. Usually conducted on blisteringly hot days, with temperatures plummeting at night this truly is a test of endurance for all that take part, and with dropout rates as high as 70% this is not for the feint hearted.

This year I was to be one of the 21 people chosen to represent the British Spartathlon Team. I say chosen, however I was one of the lucky (crazy) ones who had actually achieved an automatic qualifying time, so my place was guaranteed as soon as I entered the ballot. This ballot took place in March, and even though I doubted my name would be called (surely I had made a mistake), there it was on the final entrants list and so my year was set to be dominated by this epic race.

Roll forwards 6 month and now here I was on a coach to the start at 0600. Having eaten a basic breakfast of toast and jam, some cereal and a Banana I left Claire, Mark and Claire at the London Hotel, waving me off with the plan to meet me at the first crew stop in Megara. I sat next to my friend and fellow team member John Knapp on the way and we chatted idly trying to appear calm in the face of what was to come. As soon as the coach arrived I dashed to join the queue for the 4 portaloo’s (yes just 4 between 380) and luckily took care of business so I could relax in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have a repeat of the NDW tummy troubles.

The buzz at the base of the Acropolis was unlike anything that I have ever experienced before as competitors from around the world mingled and went through their pre race routines. Somehow I found myself at the front of the group holding onto a promotional banner alongside Nathan Flear, later on he told me that he had been really nervous at this point but me appearing alongside him and seeming calm had helped. Well that and the fact that some runner was really going through an extensive limbering up process right in front of us, had made us both chuckle. I’m not sure how I appeared calm as I was actually terrified by what lay ahead, however I was just eager to start running. I was done with training, preparing, and hanging around, now it was time to run, and I just wanted to get going. Let the countdown commence.

Then we were off, running down the hill towards Athens, where the police were waiting for us and stopping the rush hour traffic. It was an awesome feeling to finally be running and I felt like I glided down the hill. I had made myself a promise to reach that start line in the best shape of my life and thanks to the help and support of so many people I had managed to do so… the rest was up to me.

Nathan and I fell into an early rhythm together alongside fellow Brit Marco Consani, and the banter flying between us certainly settled any nerves that remained. Mr Spartathlon Ian Thomas joined us for a short while, but it wasn’t long before he sped off, implementing his usual tactic of going off way too fast. Ian was going for his third successful finish in a row so who were we to judge his tactics as he disappeared up the road.

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Described as the world's most grueling race, the Spartathlon runs over rough tracks and muddy paths (often it rains during the race), crosses vineyards and olive groves, climbs steep hillsides and, most challenging of all, takes the runners on the 1,200 meter ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night.
This is the mountain, covered with rocks and bushes, on which it is said Pheidippides met the god Pan.

Spartathlon is the event that brings this deed to attention today by drawing a legend out of the depths of history. The idea for its creation is belongs to John Foden, a British RAF Wing Commander. As a lover of Greece and student of ancient Greek history, Foden stopped his reading of Herodotus' narration regarding Pheidippides, puzzled and wondering if a modern man could cover the distance from Athens to Sparta, i.e. 250 kms, within 36 hours.