Written by Stuart Shipley
I am going to miss the Spartathlon this year and surprisingly not entirely to attempt to assuage the prior DNF’s.
I will miss the endless poring over results and times and trying to extrapolate them into deciding whether I have any chance of finishing this year. There is no correlation and I should know better by now. A good GUCR finish doesn’t mean a Spartathlon finish any more than a bad one means another DNF.
I will miss the smell of heat as I get off the plane in Athens. I will miss the bus journey to Glyfadaand, after all this time still being unsure where to get off the bus. I will also miss the deathrace across the road to get to the hotel.
I will miss the hotel. I will miss the room lottery and staggering back up the road with a bag that now weighs twice what it did when I got off the plane to try and find on what hotels list I am. It will be the last one.
I will miss … really I will, the meals at Hotel London. I will miss trying to decide just what meat it is on my plate and looking forward to see if I will get any meat at all in the Bolognese, though I know inevitably that it will be just pasta and sauce.
I will miss emptying my bag onto the bed, making decisions in conjunction with my detailed list of CP’sand cut-off times todecide exactly what to put in my drop bags, and at the same time wondering whether I will actually need any of them. I will miss trying to work out how to make the bag stand out in the event that I might just reach it.
I will miss the drop bag drop-off, trying to find exactly which box to put it in and wonder what I’ll do if I make a mistake and then deciding that it isn’t going to matter at all, especially with the later ones.
I’m going to miss missing the pre-race talk. I know exactly what lies ahead (well, at least for the 1st 97miles I do … and even then I know what the rest looks like from the bus) and don’t need anyone telling me in several different languages that its going to be hot and to watch the traffic. So I’ll miss not nipping into Athens on the tram instead and doing some pointless wandering round a couple of antiquity sites wondering whether I should in fact be lying down trying to conserve what energy I wonder whether I have or not.
I’m going to miss the multinational nature of the runners and the camaraderie that exudes from everyone without the need for a common language to express it. It is enough to smile and know that we share a common goal. I’m also going to miss trying to work out which runners will/will not make it and comparing myself to them since I never get it right. Yes, they all look fitter than me, yes I have more body fat, yes, most of them won’t make it either and no, there is no way out now.
I’m going to miss that last breakfast. Well, in fact I usually do miss it anyway. A banana is all I can usually stomach.
I’m going to miss that bus trip to the start and the smells of all sorts of body rub … and odour … and fear.
I’m going to miss getting out of the bus at the Acropolis, and the heat – even at that time of the day, and miss the fearful look up at the sky, and yes there will be stars … and as a consequence no clouds.
I’m going to miss chatting with the Brits whilst hanging around at the startwith that wonderfully understated attitude that we all have on such occasions. I will miss wondering whether I need that final dump, leaving it to the last minute and then deciding, yesI do (every time) and then miss trying to find a tree, in the gradually increasing light, that is free of runners doing exactly the same thing.
I’m going to miss the actual start a lot. This is where optimism rules and I feel good. I will miss looking back at the dawn behind the Acropolis, awesome. This is why I am here … although this year I am not.
I will miss Athens as well. The horns, the cars, the policemen, the mad motorcyclists and moped riders buzzing around, the locals all smiling and holding out hands and the mass of runners making their way out of the rush-hour, snaking uphill and uphill. I will miss the way those miles just evaporate like any of the wispy clouds that happened to be aroundtoo.
I will miss starting to realise that, yet again I have probably gone off too fast, and how much I hate running in heat.
I will miss the way my brain just then shuts off protecting me from recalling much else other than heavy trucks rumbling past (very close) till I get to Elefsis, where I will definitely miss the schoolkids and the wall of high fives.
I think I will still miss the way things just sort of deteriorate. It is all part of running this sort of distance and if it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. It is meant to be a challenge. But I will not miss it happening too early.
I will miss the highway to hell, which for me is the 2nd 25mile section, and which starts up ‘that hill’, where the heat of the day is starting to make itself felt and which coincides with the feeling that I am towards the end of the field now and needing to walk. I will miss ticking off the points where I have crumbled in the past and I will certainly miss the feeling I get where one of those ‘bad points’ is overcome and suddenly and against all odds I am feeling good again. I will miss feeling that if only I can get this section out of the way, I will be ok.
I will miss one of my drop bags since I will forget the obvious numbering system I designed to stop me forgetting it. I will miss all the CP’s too, struggling in vain to find something palatable left to eat by the time I get to them.
If I get that far I will miss walking up the hill to Corinth. Oh yes I will, really. For me at least, a good powerwalk is as good as running up here. I will also miss the canal, another awesome point, but I will not miss that unbelievably long next mile or so to the CP. No matter how many times I run this bit I always forget that its not ‘just cross the canal and you’re there’.
I will miss Hellas Canneries, even if by then I am on the bus. If I get here on my feet I will be right up against the deadlines but I know it’ll be getting cooler. If I get here on the bus I will miss not sharing in the races of those still in it and doing what I can to get them back out on the road.
I will miss the next bit, which is my favourite bit. I will miss coming to realise yet again that in reality it doesn’t get any easier wherever I am on this course. I will miss that battle with the cut-offs which for me has always been an ongoing and ever present hazard with which I have been in constant combat for at least the last 30miles. I will miss the razors edge of being +/- 5mins at each CP. I will miss spending the whole distance between each CP trying with a fried brain to translate kilometres into miles and deciding just what pace I need to get there to avoid being pulled. I will even miss the desperation and frustration, if it happens here, that despite all efforts I just cannot make it - for that is the essence of why I run and this, like no other run, makes me feel alive and hostage to those cut-offs.
I will miss Zevgolatio, my favourite CP. If I make it here I will still be up against the cut-offs but optimistic again. It will be dark and I will be entering a different stage of the run and I will miss my rice pudding. The mountains, the dark, the cicadas, the moon and stars, the thunder, the aches and pains, the inability to find any drop bags at all are all memories I will miss. I will miss the kids on totally non-legal scooters being perplexed when David Beckham signs their autograph books yet again.
I will miss how it all then gradually goes belly up. The missed drop bags, the missed food and missed electrolytes are to blame but I will miss being able to recognise that at the time and being able to consciously do anything to rectify it. I will miss those isolated little villages in the hills, with parties all of their own, trying to get me on my way but realising more than I do that the running side of their party is winding down. An oasis of light in a night of darkness.
I will miss the brainless and schizophrenic discussions with myself designed to alternately either keep me going or pull me out. A game of tennis swaying one way and then the other as the miles seem to lengthen undiscernibly. I can’t do it? Yes, I can. Why do I want to? What does it mean to me? Just pull yourself together you pussy and get on with it. I can’t, yes you can. And then if I don’t give up, more subtly … you will do yourself permanent damage, who cares – it’s worth it. What would your family think? It’s not safe to carry on like this and you know it.
I will miss realising that physically I was a corpse hours ago and that the mental ghost that continues is a fading shadow that ultimately can’t avoid slipping into oblivion. The Undead around me in a similar state and dropping off one by one are a subconscious verification that I must surely be doing the right thing by joining them.
I will miss that episode of chucking up and loose bowels that finally knocks me off the fence and convinces me the decision is made for me. Perversely I will miss that kick in the guts that follows 10minutes after the decision has been made, telling me it was the wrong one. The disappointment, the total emptying of any feeling other than total negativity being replaced so quickly by a feeling of anger and that I was too weak and should have gone on but equally annoyed that I was unable to win the argument with myself to that effect 10minutes earlier.
I will not miss that bus. I will definitely not miss that bus. Avoiding it has kept me going for miles.
I will miss Sparta. I will miss never having arrived there by foot but I will also miss the small town friendliness of the place itself. I long to see the sight of those lights that can be seen so far away from Sparta from somewhere other than the bus.
I will miss the next day. I will miss the watery lager beer & miss being proud to be part of a group that can set aside their personal feelings of disappointment and feel for those and share in the emotions of those few who do make it, arriving in dribs and drabs from before daybreak till its nearly dark again. Battered, limping, swaying but all smiling as they make their final way to the statue to collapse in its shadow. I will miss not knowing how it feels to be part of that group, oh how I miss that. We all have aims and goals and we all have to learn to accept our limitations but if I’m never back on this road to heartbreak again, I will still miss it, every day I have left on this earth I will miss it.