Race Report 2019: Paul Ali

Race Report 2019: Paul Ali

‘It’s been fair to say I’ve lost my running motivation over the past couple of years and coupled with mediocre form, injuries and a bit of illness my interest in running ‘long’ ultramarathons has dwindled. 

This time last year after a poor 2018 I had contemplated (however serious you think I may have been) Spartathlon being my last long race. It didn’t go to plan and I was withdrawn from the race having collapsed at the Mountain Base checkpoint.. not the way I wanted to finish my ultra career at all.

I was unable to run post Sparta 2018 through illness (from the race) for a few weeks and then aggravated a long standing piriformis issue which meant I hardly ran the last few months of 2018. It go so bad I even had to go and buy a bike to do some form of exercise! Thankfully, I had a second chance with an auto-qualifier from my last (and only) decent race at the Liverpool Leeds Canal Race in 2017 and so I started 2019 with the same plan as 2018 to get fit and finish Spartathlon and then think about whether I wanted to run again after the race.

It’s fair to say my running in the first half of the year was below par. I was overweight (starting the year at 74kg) trying to nurse some niggles whilst trying to run after a couple of months absence and re-build my fitness. The piriformis issue was still a physical concern (and constrained my running to some degree) resulting in physio treatment, acupuncture and various stretching and strengthening exercises and mentally I was probably still going through the motions. I didn’t feel as if I was running comfortably until April time.

My racing in 2019 was nothing to speak of. I had planned and managed 50 miles at Samphire in March, had a poor Thames Path 100 when I got to 75 miles ran out of steam and then a similar thing happened at the GUCR when I reached 100 miles in and then mentally checked out of the race and ‘walked it in’ for the last 45 miles! A weeks holiday with the family to NYC immediately (the next day) after the GUCR was a welcome break and I knew I had to refocus. I elected not to run any races in June and put in my best months training (a consistent 75 mpw averaging 7.45m/m for the month but not many long runs) before adding some higher mileage weeks including an ultra event every couple of weeks from mid-July to end of August to get some long runs in the legs.

None of these results were anything to speak of aside from the local Reading Round Ultra 50k where I got within 5-10 mins of my PB with a sub 4 result. My last race on the bank holiday in August was at the new T50 test event which was an absolute disaster where I hit the wall after 25-30 miles and well you can guess what happened… I walked it in.

Despite, a mediocre years running I knew I had done enough running to finish Spartathlon but I knew I wasn’t in the best shape of my life. After the poor T50, I started to taper 3 weeks out and the piriformis issue had just about settled and the weight was in a good position (66kg, an 8kg loss since Jan) so I was well rested, reasonably fit and hopefully injury free. No excuses and no complaints pre-race.

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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.