A 153 mile non-stop race from Athens to Sparta? Sign me up!

You might remember we wrote a blog about Precision Hydration athlete Sophie Power, who was one of only 2 women to make the British team for the gruelling 153 mile Spartathlon race in Greece. Well, that race is only just over 3 weeks away and it turns out Sophie's now the only female GB team member, so, errr, no pressure Sophie! If you've just read our interview with Robbie Britton, you might be interested to know that Sophie has been working with Robbie in the build up to the race.  We asked her how training was going and if she could give us some insight to how she's going to approach the race...


3 weeks until race day and I am just back to solid training after pulling my hamstring on the track 7 weeks ago.  My first thought was that by missing such a key block of training I’d lost my chance of a good performance in Greece.  But, on reflection, it’s allowed me the time to really think about how I can increase my chances as much as possible before race day across every aspect (I’ve been watching a fair share of cycling for inspiration) and avoid the dreaded DNF.  I’m now the only girl on the 25 strong British team so the pressure is on...


Sophie Power training in Team GB kit

Sophie training in the somewhat loud British team kit...


I’m taking on Spartathlon - a 153 mile non-stop race from Athens to Sparta, in the footsteps of the Greek messenger Pheidippides, who was said to have left Athens at sunrise and arrived at Sparta at sunset the next day.  The total cut-off is therefore 36 hours, but tough early cut-offs (9hr 30 at 50 miles) provide an added challenge, alongside the hills, heat and tarmac.  With the average finish rate only 43% (compared to 79% at say Badwater, for example), with a large proportion of these coming within 5% of the cutoff time, simply finishing is the goal of most runners (including me!).

So why do almost 3 in 5 runners (who have met strict qualification standards) not finish?

A reading of previous race reports show a variety of reasons which can be mostly be condensed to pacing, body management, muscles and food/drink. 

Sensible pacing is one of my core strengths – after the first 10 or so miles of an ultra I rarely get passed so I’m unlikely to head out too fast like many DNFers.  What is key for me is to be just within the cut-offs yet feeling like I can run another 100+ miles after the first 50. 


Sophie Power ultra

Sophie during the Grand 2 Grand, where she came 2nd...


As I’m missing a core training block, my answer has been to drop a bit of extra weight – simply using the laws of physics to make holding the right pace that little bit easier.  Reduced chocolate and wine consumption for the last few weeks has made me pretty grumpy, but it appears to be working.

Body management is another – it’s hot out there and I won’t have the chance to acclimatise beforehand. Lots of Bikram yoga in the last 3 weeks before a hot race has always worked for me, so that’s in the plan again and definitely beats running in a bin liner like some of the boys are doing!

I’m also making sure I test all of my kit again and again to ensure it works for me – the one thing I can’t work out yet is how to carry ice in my cap but I’m working on it (Suggestions via the comments or Twitter please!).


ultra running Sophie Power

Another Grand 2 Grand snap...


Muscles should also be a strong point for me - unless the hamstring gives again – this was actually my first injury in 5 years and the last time my quads seized up (very common on Spartathlon) was after a downhill Comrades 4 years ago.  Now I’m a lot stronger and benefiting from the switch to Hokas on my feet to absorb the impact of the tarmac.  

I’ve also made time for a few sports massages, and am addressing a few tight spots and imbalances I never knew I had until the physio treating my hamstring pointed them out.  Without being able to work my legs in the gym for a few weeks, I’ll also be sporting a nice set of guns on the start line (just in case I need to fight off any wild dogs en-route...).


Sophie Power female ultra runner

Another shot of that lovely British kit...


Lastly, the eating and drinking race – dehydration, salt imbalance and lack of fuel are all real DNF risks for me.  I’ll be burning around 16,000 calories during the race and I'm estimating salt loss of 10-15g in the heat, so I need to ensure I’m replacing enough. 

For food, I’ve learnt to eat whatever my body tells me to at the time.  This could be anything from ham & cheese wraps, to hot cross buns, salt & vinegar crisps, peanut M&Ms or simply Coke.  I’ve started to make long lists of crew supplies, so I’ll have a big choice throughout the race. I can’t risk not being able to get my favourite square crisps in a Greek supermarket, so they’ll be coming with me...


Spartathlon course

The 153 mile Spartathlon course in Google Maps glory...


On the liquid front, I’ve found that drinking to thirst, rather than forced amounts per hour is best for me to adapt to changes in sweat rate with the varying heat and effort.  The question is therefore how much of my salt loss to replace with supplements rather than food.  Andy at Precision Hydration has recommended 50-60% or so will come from food, so the plan is to make about half of my fluids Precision Hydration 1000 and half other fluids (like Coke, plain water, tea etc).  This worked brilliantly in my last hot 100 miler and I’m of course testing the new all-natural formulas out in training before the race. With no music and no pacers allowed on course, at least I’ll have ongoing nutrition and hydration calculations to keep my mind occupied...


That's right Sophie, there's nothing quite like long division to get you over the finish line of an ultra?! Run hard and enjoy...

You can follow Sophie on Twitter.

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