English: Spartathlon 2014

(photo: Chris Boukoros / Advendure Endurance Network)
(Photos: Jaana Tomppo, unless otherwise stated) 

My result on Spartathlon wasn't exactly what I had planned. I had to settle for a 22nd position in total results and 20th in male category with time 29.43.37.

Even though I missed my original goal my result was best Finnish time in ten years and an all-time Finnish ranking number four. Three guys with better results are all considered as the legends of Spartathlon: Janne Kankaansyrjä (27.19.15, 3./2004), Seppo Leinonen (27.56.32, 3./1992) and Ari Mustala (29.12.45, 9./2000). 

Before the start

Jaana and I traveled to Greece early on Wednesday morning, with the same Air Baltic flights with Janne Klasila and his father and supporter Simo. We had agreed with Janne to cooperate on the support, so we had a common rental car and Simo acting as a driver while Jaana takes care of navigating. Due to some technical problem we had no real navigating system with us and neither had our rental Fiat equipped with one, so we need to get along with Janne's phone & tablet navigators. Well, they succeeded, even though it appeared a few times to be quite challenging to get in the right place at the right time. Only one checkpoint of the fifteen was missed because of wrong route selection, this can be considered as an excellent result for Spartathlon first timers as supporting.

Our support car and crew ready for action
(photo: Jari Tomppo)
We arrived Athens in the afternoon and after we had checked in the hotel Oasis and eaten quick lunch we registered and collected our bibs, chips etc. from the race headquarter located in nearby Hotel Fenix. After that I did about half an hour easy training run with Janne. Weather felt really warm, even though I heard that this was by far coolest day of the week.

Thursday morning was started with half an hour easy run with Janne. Otherwise day was spend mostly resting and waiting for the next day's competition. On info session held at the evening competitors were warned possibility of heavy rain and thunderstorm during the race. Nice.

The first third of the race

Jari and Janne waiting for the start
Conditions can not be blamed this time, as the weather on Spartathlon is rarely so favourable for Finnish runners as this year. We wait for the start at the Acropolis in light drizzle which ceases just couple of minutes before the start. Tarmac is still wet and there are small ponds of water on the road. When 349 runners rushes on the narrow start area there is quite a rush during first minutes, but after couple of minutes there is enough room for everybody to run. I'll start with great caution, I don't want to fall at the start and I'm slightly worried the marble tiles on the road being slippery because of the rain, but there are no problems at all. After couple of minutes' run I'll see the back of last year's winner, Joao Oliveira, in front of me. I'll let him go and concentrate just for my own running.

Even though we have common support crew with Janne we don't co-operate during the race. After the start we didn't even see each other except for short glimpses. I've planned to start at about 5.30 min/km pace, but first 10 km passes little faster, on 53 minutes and second 10 km, with long downhill section, is even two minutes faster. 

I've left only two dropbags on the route: at checkpoint 5 (22,5 km) and at checkpoint 18 (65 km). At checkpoint 5 I'll spend at least two minutes by grabbing my stuff from dropbag and stuffing them in my bottlebelt and filling my bottle. Janne passes me at that time and next time I see him is after his DNF at about 150 km.

Next 20 km passes quite easily at about 5.25/km pace. In Megara, at checkpoint 11 (42,2 km) is the first place where runners are allowed to get support from their personal crews. I meet Jaana and Simo there and heard that Janne passed the place couple of minutes earlier. I grab some energy and inform my crew that everything is okay.

Running conditions have been excellent so far: overcast, but not rain. After the marathon distance it starts rain and for some time there is quite much rain, but temperature stays on decent level so rain doesn't actually cause any trouble. Later on afternoon rain ceases, clouds are gone and temperature rises up to 30°C. 

Running in the rain
I'm carrying 0,6 liter bottle of a sports dring at my bottlebelt and my intention is to drink that within an hour. In addition I'll take from official checkpoints water, coke or ice tea. During warm afternoon I'll try to cool my body by rinsing my skin with sponges soaked in cold water and sticking ice cubes in my shirt and cap. That causes my socks that survived the rain without getting wet to get wet and for a moment I am worried about possible chafing caused by wet socks. Luckily socks dry quite fast on warm afternoon. While temperature rises running gets hardes and gradually my pace is slowing down to 5.30/km and soon towards 6 min/km, even slower.

After 45 km Szilvia Lubics, who is going to win women's race with fabulous new course record 26.53.40 passes me. I'll follow her some kilometres, but as she keeps steady and fast pace and passes almost all checkpoints without even slowing down I'll decide that I'll let her go. The pace is too fast anyway, I'll stick with my own, reasonable pace. Yeah, sure. 

At about 78 km the course crosses the Corinth Canal and this is absolutely one of the finest points of the route. The next kilometres before Corinth checkpoint will be run against strong headwind and my legs start feeling pretty tired at that point. I'll try to relax myself, but it is difficult when pushing on headwind. It is obvious that my body tries to tell me something about long evening and even longer night before I'll enter on undulating Sparta-highway. I'll try to block those thoughts from my mind - I don't want to think that far yet.

Support in Hellas Can (photo: Eka Partanen)
Checkpoint 22, Hellas Can (81 km) is first of the six major checkpoints. My time there is 7.23.27, right on target pace. First runner who passed that point was Vadim Nilovs from Latvia (6.31.17), Ivan Cudin who is about to win the race came third, 12 minutes later than Latvian. I am on 26th position. Everything goes as planned, except that I feel much more exhausted than I should feel at this early point of the race, considering that my pace has been quite easy so far. Or at least it was supposed to be.

Second Third of the Race

After Hellas Can checkpoint my running gets more difficult. The walking intervals keep getting longer and running pace slows. Afternoon is at warmest and the course passes through Greek countryside and there is practically no wind at all. I find myself longing nice breeze of headwind before Corinth which cooled runners nicely. I also start looking forward to the sunset and wait dark and cool hours of the night.

I see other runners occasionally, but most of the time I run alone which suits me well. I like running alone and I don't even miss music at my ears as I've never used to listen music while running. On the other hand, when running alone one allows himself longer breaks at checkpoints and walking intervals are getting longer without even noticing that.

I've had problems with my left achilles tendon all year and first symptons of pain there I sense after couple of kilometres running. I'm constantly worried about my achilles causing serious trouble when real uphills begin and while concenstrating on my achilles I don't even notice that the shoelace of my left shoe is little bit too tight and causes slight pain on my foot - what a beginner's mistake. I wake up for that when it is too late and foot is already slightly inflammated. I'll try to forget that and concentrate again just worrying about my achilles which seems to be quite stable right now - not exactly good, but not too bad either. I can live with that, I think.

After Hellas Can -checkpoint runners are allowed to get support from their personal crews more often, basically between every 4-5 checkpoints (about every 10-20 km). My nutrition plan during the race is basically very simple: I trust mainly for Myprotein Endurace -products: Ener:Gel -gels and Pro:Long sports drinks. I'll plan to take about 60-100 grams of carbohydrates every hour, about a liter of fluids and "enough" salt and other electrolytes. The last part being the most difficult for me and at this time I had to test if it is possible to take too much salt during the warm conditions. Yes, it is. Between Hellas Can and Ancient Nemea I have issues with my stomach which settles down when my support crew decreases the salt concentration of my sports drink. Besides gel and sports drink I have also electrolyte capsules which I take occasionally. I don't eat much solid food during the race, just couple of portions porridge and some soup on checkpoints where you are allowed to get support from your personal crew.

At 100 km my time is about 9.29 and right after that begins uphill section which last about 35 km. My pace keeps slowing down, but seems that there are many runners who are struggling even more and even though my legs are tired I keep passing runners more often than I am being overtaken by. Despite that some kind of desperation begins to creep me: this will not work, my legs are already finished and the tough parts of the course are still ahead. I'll try to calm down and think positively: just a few monts ago I was not able to run 246 meters due to achilles pain, now I've already run more than 100 km and I see no reason why I couldn't finish this race.

I've planned to take my head lamp at halfway point in Ancient Nemea (124 km), but on previous "support allowed" -checkpoint I'll insist Jaana to dig a lamp for me right now. It is still 12 km to halfway and clock is almost 6 pm, my legs are exhausted and I am sure that there is no way I'll reach Ancient Nemea before it is dark. Actually I am still almost on target pace, despite the slight uphill my pace is about 6.10-6.40 /km.

When approaching Ancient Nemea my pace slows down to over 7 min/km, but it is still daylight when I am in Ancient Nemea in time 12.08.59, less than 10 minutes behind my target. Currently I am on 21st position in the race. My plan is to run 216-218 on 24 hours which I presume should be enough in order to finish the race in 27 hours. So, I need to run only about 95 km during next 12 hours, piece of cake? Well, let's see...

After Ancient Name my pace stays around 7 min/km until after 140 km begins uphill which gradually steepens and continues until runners reach the top of Mount Parthenon on 1200 m altitude and at about after 161 km running.

The course winds through the Greek countryside and passes several small villages. On most villages runners are greeted by village residents, even in the middle of the night there are spectators cheering for us, kids are giving "high-fives", asking "Where are you from" -questions and on some locations there are even kids with notebooks asking for autographs. Just incredible, I almost forget my fatigue sometimes. In a few occasions on pitch black country roads I am little bit uncertain whether I am still on course or not. Don't get me wrong, the course is actually quite well marked on crossings, but being alone and tired in the dark makes it easy to miss some markings. Despite that I dim my light so that I barely see the road and route markings. It is somewhat magical to run in the dark and I want to take all the enjoyment out of it.

In Lyrkia, at 148 km, I'll spend some time when I'm connecting external battery pack to my Garmin in order to charge the battery during long climb to Mountain Base -checkpoint. Couple of kilometres after Lyrkia I see our support car parked at the road side. When I pass next small checkpoint I see Jaana who tells me that Janne had to abandon the race due to health problems. What a pity, he was in really good pace. I'll continue, climb keeps getting steeper and steeped and soon I have to switch to walking, slow walking. My legs feel exhausted. The distance between Lyrkia and Mountain Base seems to be endless. Actually it is only about 11 km, but it takes more than two hours. In Mountain Base -checkpoint I grab something to eat and quite reluctantly head into rocky trail that leads on top of Sangas-mountain. At some point of climb I notice that I'm walking side by side with last year winner Joao Oliveira. Later I found out that after he lost his chanced in race he is pacing Spanish Eva Esnaola who will be third on women's race. After endless climbing I hear a heavenly voice - actually some Greek guy - welcoming us at the top. I'll drink a cup of hot tea before I enter the descent which is even more difficult and dangerous than climb. I'll try to run, but after I've near falling third time I'll decide to walk until my feet are safely on tarmac again. I'll lost lots of time and positions on the mountain, but at that moment I don't care that too much.

The last third of the race

Rest of the night is more or less exhausted jogging and walking. In Nestani, checkpoint 52, 172 km I am on 28th position with time 19.36. I've lost hours to my goal. My support tells Ivan Cudin is leading and is about to win. I don't care a damn.

At 195 km, in Alea Tegea checkpoint, my time is about 23.15 and I am on 30th position. I realise that I can still hit over 200 km in 24 hours. Guess how interested I am about that? Yeah, at 24 hour Garmin shows distance 199,2 km. So, 216 km goes even by walking? Did someone really imagine something like that just 12 hours ago?

About 15 km to go
Right after 200 km the course arrives on Sparta Highway and 7 km long Manthyrea-hill begins. The new morning is about to dawn, but it is damn cold so I am forced to take some jogging breaks at the hill in order to keep myself warm. After the Manthyrean Hill the course undulates up and down until the last 2 km long uphill after the Monument checkpoint. At Monumet cp (223 km) Janne tells me that there are quite many runners close to me so I have good chance to improve my position before the finish. Suddenly I realise also that if I am able to hit last 20 km downhill under two hours I can still make it in less than thirty hours. So I decide to take the risk and hit the last downhill section as fast as I can. I am able to accelerate close to 5 min/km -pace, even though my quads scream for pain on downhill. Downhill lasts forever, but finally I am on the bridge passing Evrotas-river and soon after that last checkpoint and about 2 km to the finish line. Last kilometer on Sparta city area is chaotic, but luckily there is a motorcycle police showing me where to run.

Me, Jaana and King Leonidas (photo: Janne Klasila)

Together to the statue
(photo: Janne Klasila)
After couple of turns I see it in distance: The statue of King Leonidas. I'll push last hundred meters as fast as I can. Shortly before the statue I see Jaana waiting for me. I'll grab her hand and together we walk last meters to the statue. I'll touch the statue, I am given a sip of holy water from Evrotas-river, I get a wreath and finally I remember to stop my watch: 29 h 43 min 37 sec. Little later I hear that I am on 22nd place in overall and 20th on men's race so I passed 11 runners on downhill section from Monument to Sparta and on the last 20 km I was 5th fastest of all 207 runners who finished the race. 

Could've been worse, even though I aimed better, but considering how much problems I've had during last year I guess I should be pretty damn satisfied with the result. Recovery from the race happened quite fast, about a week later my legs felt quite okay, no injuries nor any other long lasting problems. Unfortunately I got nasty flu couple of days after the race so there will still be at least couple of days rest before I can start training again.

5 kommenttia:

  1. Big Congrats Jari. I can't imagine completing in 29 hours, let alone 27 hours. I remember seeing your support car in some places. I really enjoyed your report. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Aykut!

      Really tough guys do Spartathlon in less than 24 hours (Ivan did it less than 22,5 hours which exceeds my understanding completely) and my personal best on 24 hour running is on same level with some guys who have done Spartathlon in 26-27 hours so I still believe that on good day when everything goes as planned I might have chances to run 27-something. At least in my dreams. ;-)

      Anyway, Spartathlon is much more than just numbers. Everybody who finishes the race is a winner, no matter what time is.

      Big congrats for you too, being the first Spartathlete from your country.

    2. Thank you. I think only 10% of all finishers go below 30 hours, so it's great however you look at it. Finland has a great tradition in Spartathlon, you guys are unbelievable. And I think course knowledge is very important and you can definitely do better on your next attempts. Like you said, Ivan's time is mindblowing but I'm sure if we ask him, he'd say the same thing about Kouros's times :) In the end, it's all relative. But like you said, finishing the Spartathlon is really something special.

      One question, you say at the end that "on the last 20 km I was 5th fastest of all 207 runners who finished the race". Is there a place that I can see this kind of split information?

    3. Hi, split times are not directly available, but on website http://spartathlon.gr under "Live Data" -tab --> View data by C/P --> select Checkpoint --> Submit and there you can find at what time you were on certain checkpoints (I grabbed that data to Excel in order to make comparing splits easier)