‘I’m not sure what to do for the best…. it’s 153 miles you say?….. well?!?!’
These were the words of Mr Matt Fitzpatrick (Consultant Podiatrist) as I sat in his treatment room in Blackheath hospital on Thursday 5th September, three weeks before Spartathlon.
Four weeks prior, he had diagnosed a peroneal tendon tear in my right foot and after realising that I intended to be on that start line at the Acropolis come hell or high water, had sent me away to train and rehabilitate for four weeks before deciding if a steroidal injection would benefit me.
His professional advice was total rest to let the tendon heal, but with Spartathlon just around the corner this was never going to be an option. Hence in an effort to improve my chances of finishing the grueling event that I had on the horizon we discussed the positive and negative consequences of having a pain killing injection so close to the race. It was a huge decision and one that I would not make lightly…
Now after a fantastic two weeks of training in the Heat Chamber at the University of Bedfordshire under the guidance of Dr Jeff Aldous, and a few days acclimation and relaxation in Greece it was the day before the race and my foot was sore… I told myself it was just a case of ‘ultra-maranoia’ and the injection would do its magic, however there was a nagging doubt in my mind. I just had to hope that the weak tendon didn’t rupture at any point during the race as that would prove to be a catastrophe that I wouldn’t be able to overcome.
Despite the injury I had been able to train hard, as long as I stayed on tarmac. Whilst running on the road gave me little issue, running on trails and uneven ground had proved very uncomfortable due to the instability that terrain caused. Luckily the Spartathlon route is mainly on the road/tarmac with only a couple of short trail sections. Both myself and Mat were concerned about the mountain section and how I would cope with the terrain as well as the descent, but I couldn’t dwell on this. What would be would be…. the hard work had been done and it was almost time for the fun.
Even with all this going on I was relatively relaxed in the build up to the event, and having experienced the swell of emotion in 2017 I was better prepared mentally for the challenge that lay ahead. Registration, race briefing and my crew meetings had all gone well and all that was left for me to was run. Having said that though as we stood at the start waiting to get going, fellow spartathlete Fabio Rizzo told me to smile…. my response ‘I’ll smile when I get to that statue!’… It was time to get down to business.
The tension in the air was palpable and nervous faces surrounded me as we lined up on the slopes of that historic location. I gave Sarah Sawyer a quick hug and told her to go be awesome (which she duly did) and I exchanged high fives with Alex Whearity and Matt Blackburn, then we were off, descending the hill from the Acropolis and into the streets of Athens. I was determined to not go off like a lunatic as I had done in 2017, I wanted to run a far more controlled race in an attempt to avoid the a repeat of the calamitous events that occurred two years ago when my race almost came to a premature end at 185km.
In all likelihood we were in for a real dose of Greek weather this year, so erring on the side of caution during the early miles was likely to be the key to a successful finish. This new found ‘sense’ was even a surprise to my great friend and fellow British Spartathlete Matthew Blackburn who I spent some of those early miles running alongside. Just before we reached 8 miles, he said to me… ‘you can go off and do your own thing if you like’.. meaning if you want to sprint off then don’t let me hold you back. I was however enjoying sharing this experience with Matt as it was down to him that I ran in 2017 and now finally we had the chance to run this iconic race together. In fact this was the first time that we had raced each other since the event were we first met ‘The Wall’ in 2015.
Alex Whearity, Paul Radford and Fabio Rizzo joined our little band for a while, but as we moved further and further away from Athens I gradually seemed to just ease away from everyone. This coincided with the increase in temperature as the sun began to beat down on us through the industrial area and oil refineries. I was still feeling comfortable though and enjoyed being surrounded by a variety of runners from other countries. It is amazing who you bump into during this races, as quite unexpectedly when I caught up to the two chaps in front of me, one of them said ‘I follow you on instagram’… his name was Sergei Ovchinnikov, a Russian athlete who was taking part in (and finished) his first Spartathlon.