Storms develop over days, weeks, months even years. When the wind blows in your favour, you get lifted off the ground to reach speeds and highs you never thought possible. When you are hit by a headwind, you need to master all your resistance, to just hang on and not be pushed backwards.
In recent years, I have been blessed (and disciplined enough), to enjoy plenty of tailwinds.
Then came Spartathlon. A perfect storm which developed over nine months and culminated in a full hurricane on race day!
Almost two months after the race, although still physically half broken, I’m finally in peace with my DNF (Did Not Finish). So it was time to write down my thoughts, discoveries and learnings.
In its 36th edition, the Spartathlon is a 246km race from Athens to Sparta tracing the steps of Pheidippides, the Athenian herald (day runner/courier) who in 500 BC ran from Athens to Sparta (and back, btw!) to seek support against the Persians’ invading Greece. History reports he covered the distance in about 36 hours, which is the race cutoff time.
If Pheidippides did it, without Hokas, gels, salt tablets and electrolytes drinks, anyone could do it, right? not quite so.
Spartathlon is the stuff of legends, and just taking part as one of the ~400 participants from all over the world, one of the five Aussie representatives this year, is by itself an achievement and a great honour.
As many sporting events nowadays, what makes Spartathlon great is the experience: the travels, the landscape, the smells, the flavours, the people and stories. The experience deserves its own post, with a photo gallery made of smiles from the international contingent of runners and volunteers.
I write about only my internal journey, which you can read as an adventure, a lesson, negative or positive.
One thing is for sure, I will go back and get my revenge.
MY TRAINING TO SPARTATHLON
The race is held at the end of September and from January, it became my only focus.
Every training run fit into a grand plan and I left no space for fun running.
This approach had worked so well for my 24 hours on a treadmill when for 5 months I buried myself in my garage training only on the treadmill. I thought specificity and perseverance was the universal rule for peak fitness and success.
And the more the better right? Isn’t this the approach professional athletes take when aiming for a specific result?
Maybe. Or maybe not exactly like that.
Ultimately, if you lack balance on all your other personal circumstances (Work, family, financials, sentimental, physical, psychological… a never-ending list) you are doom to struggle.
Without the sense of perspective of how far race day really was, from early on, training felt like a chore.
In April, I fractured my little toe in a silly domestic incident, kicking the kitchen’s bench.
In hindsight, this was probably a “sign from the universe” to take a few weeks to rest, recharge and reset.
Instead, I took it personally getting very pissed off.
For how silly this sounds now, for me it was an attempt (by the universe) to sabotage my plan.
And I was going to get none of that. Which is sad and clearly unwise as little things happen all the time. It’s a war you cannot win, it will wear you down.
With my little toe fractured, I stopped attending the weekly core strength classes I religiously followed for years. I stopped stretching and taking care of my body at home too.
To never start again. New habits form easily.
Once before I interrupted my weekly strength routine to end up injured a few months later.
So I knew it was a risky path and I felt in conflict with my principle not to take shortcuts.
But… I felt.. you know… “I can get away with it… I lost time… I need to run.. And with everything else going on in my life, I can get a few hours back..”
Plenty of other things were going on in my life (like everyone else of course… but when looking at yourself you feel special).
Projects failing, financial concerns, work, family, kids, training…
I wasn’t in peace, my mind was filled with concerns. That started to affect my relationships at home and to impact the wellbeing and future of our family.
So action was needed and important life changes.
In July I went back to a paid IT position in Sydney.
And few weeks after we decided to move the family to Lennox Head, near Byron Bay (800km away from Sydney).
Yes, in a space of a couple of months, we made two somewhat contradictory decisions with great impact.
While all this was happening, I kept running. Long commute and structured workouts to/from work and a long run on the weekend. Up to 170km a week, quite good for me.
I managed to hold up for a few weeks but during the final months of training, amongst the logistical nightmare of moving houses, temporary accommodations, starting a new job, etc. I started to fail.
I stopped after 12 hours at the Adelaide 24 hours; aborted long runs; forgot to bring my shoes for my training runs in the mountains!
My head was simply not in the game and I couldn’t bring myself to admit it.
Like with my broken toe, I was going to get none of that. Just “toughening it out,” I thought.