Race Report 2016: Ian Thomas

Race Report 2016: Ian Thomas

The long tortuous wait was finally over and after another year of tough training, much discussion and some improved results, the biggest test of my metal was beckoning once again. The Iconic Spartathlon! This is without a shadow of doubt the toughest challenge I personally have ever faced but I absolutely love this historic race!

Last year on my debut I was delighted to finish in a time of 31:33:53 and third British runner, which was a great bonus, but the British team on the whole enjoyed great success with the best British finish percentage in years (62%)

Could I and the team even hope to improve on that this year I thought? Well, why not! We had a very strong team indeed heading out to Greece, everyone was positive and there was a great team spirit building throughout the year. Communication was good, knowledge was openly shared and we had some great sponsors to thank for kitting us out.

As it transpired, I was over the moon to not only hit my target of a sub thirty finish in 29:14:36 but miraculously I came home as first British runner. I can’t tell you how delighted I am.

It was also fantastic to witness what must be the best British finishing percentage in Spartathlon history! Of the twenty five starters,  a mind blowing nineteen made it home to Sparta. That’s a staggering 76%! That result speaks for itself!

However, I now have it all to do again if I hope to qualify for Spartathlon 2017, but you try and stop me! Training has already begun!

Full report below:

I was privileged to be able to run this great race again after a successful debut in 2015. My goal for this year was of course a finish first and foremost, but I really wanted to nail sub 30, if not 28:48 (auto-qualification via Spartathlon itself)

Initially it appeared an ambitious target, requiring at least a 1hr 34m improvement on last years result. Stats also suggested that only around ten Brits had ever gone under thirty hours in the previous thirty three Spartathlons, so I knew it was a big ask based on that stat alone. Crucially however, I believed I had it in me and finding another 94 minutess over 153.4 miles should be achievable, right?

Training had yielded positive results on the whole throughout the year, although I did have a few scares. Firstly, early in the year I overcooked it with strength training on the legs which combined with my mileage pushed me into overtraining syndrome, meaning I had to seriously back off for quite a few weeks.

Secondly, mid year I thought I may have sustained a stress fracture on my right lower leg, so seriously eased off again. The symptoms fitted a stress fracture, so I built in additional groups of rest days and thankfully it all came good.

Lastly, .with less than a month until Sparta I developed some pretty severe right hip pain, which on reflection I believe was attributable to the massive increase in hill work on top of an already heavy schedule.

As with all my Sparta training, I had performed all sessions exclusively on roads which is crucial of course, but after closer analysis I believe the hip pain was likely attributable to overstriding during the fast downhills. When I eased off and ensured I checked my stride on subsequent sessions all was fine again after approx two weeks.

Training wise I’d focused heavily on quad strengthening via an increase to an already heavy hill training schedule. I also maintained a similar high mileage approach as last year, but also increased core and flexibility work.

I also built in some sauna sessions to aid muscle relaxation for stretching, which in theory would have also aided with adaptation to the heat. However, I’m lucky in that I like and can tolerate the heat. Also heading out early to Greece was an added bonus as far as acclimatisation was concerned.

Contrary to one school of thought, I’m unconvinced of the need to do very long back to backs or mega long runs, although I can’t be sure of course that I wouldn’t benefit from them. I was averaging 100 plus mile weeks, some as high as 120-130 miles.

Some of the mileage was accumulated due to additional runs with the my wife Gill. The high mileage is very doable via doubles and you get the benefit of enhanced adaptation but also faster recovery in my opinion.

In terms of racing I’d had some success, finishing third in the 145 mile GUCR and first in the 130 mile Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race (LLC130) Both races were key for me psychologically and instilled tremendous self belief.

As was the case last year, the proximity of LLC130 to Spartathlon was risky, but I figured as I’d got away with it last year it was worth the risk again, especially as it also served as a massive confidence booster leading up to Sparta.

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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.