Race Report 2016: Bob Hearn

Race Report 2016: Bob Hearn

There is nothing else like Spartathlon. Last year, I ran it for the first time. It was an incredible experience, and I knew almost before it even started that I would have to come back. It is, indeed, The Greatest Footrace on Earth. Last year, I set an aggressive best-case goal of under 30 hours. I had some rough patches, but managed to pull it together and run 29:35, which I was absolutely thrilled with. Only a small handful of Americans have ever run under 30 hours.

Problem: now what? How do I improve on what went better than I could possibly have imagined? Well, a lot has happened in the past year. I think I've improved as a runner. I've set two age-group American records (24-hour and 200K, for over 50), and my Spartathlon training peaked at 110 miles per week this year, vs. 90 last year. I wrapped up my training without even the slightest niggle or iffy muscle anywhere, for perhaps the first time ever, thanks to more diligent core and strength work (and a fair amount of luck, no doubt). Also there were things I did wrong last year I could try to fix. My dream race, this year, would be sub-27, and/or a top-10 finish.

However, on the down side, I had Achilles' surgery in December, and a long slow recovery. I felt completely healthy, but my running had been limited to mostly flats, per doctor's orders. I didn't have the hill training I did last year, and success at Spartathlon relies on downhill speed and especially endurance. Added to that, I developed a blood clot in my calf after the surgery, which was still there. I'd been symptom-free all year, after starting on blood thinners, but still, it was in my mind.

On balance, I decided 27:00 was really too optimistic. I worked up pace charts for 27:00, 28:00, and 29:35, based on the splits I ran last year, and what I thought I might tweak. My plan was to start by following the splits for 28:00, re-evaluate around halfway (Ancient Nemea), and speed up or (more likely) slow down. Of course, finishing at all is the main goal at Spartathlon, but my training motivation all year long had been to go back and run faster.

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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.


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