Friday saw the start of the 36th Spartathlon - the 153 mile footrace from Athens to Sparta. Runners gathered before dawn on Friday morning at the Acropolis. There was a light drizzle but other wise it was warm enough, so people were wearing a mix of running vests and bin bags, wind proof jackets, or throw away shirts.
7am and we were off down the damp cobbled hillside and out into Athens. The police escort kept us safe from the carnage that is Athens rush hour traffic, and before too long we running along the coast. The first 26 miles passed easily enough in about 4 hours, by which time it had stopped raining. It was still cool and overcast so good fast running weather and i was already ahead of schedule, but careful not to go too hard too soon. Sparta is a long way off.
Crossing the Corinth canal marks the 50 mile point and was done in about 8 hours. I stopped for a few minutes here to eat a sandwich but was soon back on the road.
By 7pm it was getting dark. I'd run about 70 miles, and stopped to eat some hot noodles and a coffee. As I sat in the covered checkpoint it started raining, but fortunately this was a permitted crewing point, so Sarah and my team were here with all my spare kit. I took a waterproof jacket before heading off. I'm glad I did because it rained non stop for 24 hours after this. The rain was the first warning of the approaching storm - Medicane Zorba.
The first of the major climbs was approaching, and was tough. The road was flooded so I had to walk to avoid tripping on potholes, and my feet were soaked through and cold, but my jacket was keeping my body warm and dry, so i felt very lucky. Some runner had been caught out and were borrowing plastic bags to throw over themselves.
The second climb takes you to Mount Parthenion - 1215m high. My head torch failed on road up to the trail head, so I had to walk in the dark, but I knew there was a spare, and more batteries in the crew car waiting. More hot noodles and a fresh torch and then up and over the single track trail to the summit and down the far side. 100 miles in 19 hours. Only 53 to go.
The dawn arrived at 7am, but no sunrise - just more rain and an increasingly strong wind. Streams of water seemed to be flowing uphill in the wind and tree branches were being torn off and flung about. My jacket hood was drawn tight over my face, but water was getting every where.
The last 20 miles is almost all down hill, but into the teeth of a gale, so impossible for me to make good progress. My feet were now badly macerated and blistered, but it was too cold to walk, so i was alternating between a brisk march and zombie shuffle.
10k to go and things were even worse. Trees were down, but the local council were working hard to keep the race roads open. A bulldozer driver, clearing trees and rocks from a landslip stopped to wave and cheer me on.
It was a strange sight running up the final avenue to the King Leonidas statue - the symbolic finish line. 2 years ago the streets were thronged with runners and supported cheering me in. Although it was only 4:30 in the afternoon the place was nearly deserted, as I shuffled up the final steps to kiss the foot of the great king.
I finished in 33:23. A 1 1/2 hour improvement on my last time, despite the storm.
For interest the winner finished in an unbelievable 22:55:13!
1st Male Ishikawa Yoshihiko of Japan
1st Female Maraz Zsuzsanna of hungaray, 27:05:28