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Sebastian Vettel: unclear on the reason for Suspension failure 03/11/19
Four-time World champion Sebastian Vettel looks back on miserable US grand Prix which saw the Ferrari driver retire early with suspension failure
This headline above has helped me come to terms with the Athens24. Even the world’s best have problems that can’t be explained and rule them out early from races.
The weekend started a little on the off/rough side. I had a week of miserable sleep. Going to bed early and awaking up in middle of night going to bed late and still waking up at 4am. No more than 4 hours sleep a night. The night before the race we decided to stay in a boutique hotel in middle of Athens. This turned out to be a mistake as beneath the hotel there was a function that was going on until 2am. I tried to go to sleep but this was almost impossible. In the end at just after 2am I fell asleep to wake up at 5.15am, not an ideal sleep pattern before a big race, but nonetheless something that is common in runners before a big race.
Arrival at the venue was like something out of a disaster movie. Athens 24 is run on a disused airfield and the old 2004 Olympic stadium which unlike London’s amazing legacy efforts, has fallen into disrepair photos attached plus other event pics. The route was a very unglamorous. It starts in the old Basketball court which is covered in white chalky dusty and then heads out into a disused airfield before a switch back and then back down across airfield past a rusty fence and back in for circuit of basketball court, a total of 1Km.
I entered into this event well trained, but not over trained. I have had a great year of running with no injuries. Ran a 10Km PB in the British masters cross country qualifiers in Stratford with a time of 35.09 and a new PB/ third place in the hilly Tonbridge Half marathon of 79.42. I even extended the taper into this event doing a two week taper and not one week as usual. I felt I was on my A-game. Most of the above can be attributed to the excellent coaching I have received form DAZnBone and Nathan Flear that have coached me to these better things.
I was going to Basel to get an Auto Qualifier for the British Spartathlon team. This race is a 243Km race from Athens to Sparta in September this year. The Auto qualifying distance is a world class 225Km, which only 56 British men and 11 British Women having ever run this distance in 24hours. I had already secured a ballet place which is running greater than 180Km in 24 hours, when I ran 182.4Km in Basel in May last year.
James Fox from KOMfuel.Co.uk had travelled to Athens to help crew me. He is like the Johnny Nash of fuelling. His four pillars of endurance fuelling Carbs/calories, Salt, Water and Caffeine were meticulously analysed and recorded so that I neither got into deficit nor did I take too much on that I would get gastric distress. His work was exceptional, again... as too was his great banter.
So the race kicked off at 2pm 11th January 2020. I settled into a very good Rhythm, and thanks to Dan Lawson podcast the “Rhythm of the race” was the mantra that we were following. “Don’t be a loose cannon” from Debbie Martin –Consani still in my head form Basel. Fortunately the GPS inside the Basketball court was poor. This turned out to be a bonus for me as I switched my watch to HR and set myself a target of not going above 120 HR to look after the energy levels and body. This was working. Having started out in 13th, I then climbed to 10th and eventually settling into a decent 6th place for the first 60Km mixing it with the best of some of the European athletes from Bulgaria, Spain and Hungary. We had a run walk strategy where I was running and taking 2minute walk breaks on fuelling. This really worked. I had got to 6th place without even looking at my pace!
However early in the race, 24Km in, I felt a niggle in the right heel. At first it was manageable but by the 60Km mark it had turned into excruciating pain. On closer examination we found it to be in the Achilles. Foxy taped it up with KT tape and we changed out of the Nike Vaporfly trainers into a more neutral Hoka carbon X. I went back out, but having been in the pit lane a good 20minutes I had dropped into 23rd place. I started climbing back up the field making about 20th at the 100Km mark, but things were not right. This time I had been over compensating with my left leg and the hip flexor and left ankle were bearing all my forward motion and impact to avoid the impact on the right heel. Also by this time the Achilles was making me wince on every step. I came into the pits again for massage and to tubi-grip the ankles and went back out for another stint but never really got going again. As the time was slipping away from the auto qualifier distance and then also the likelihood of a PB, I went back into the pits after 16 hours to make a decision to protect my future self. I had completed 130Km in 16 hours and decide to pull the plug on the race.
Also what a great crowd of people I met in Athens. The other Brits there made it great fun. Sparathletes and ultra-runners like Robert Pennington Smith, James Ellis, Ian Thomas Roy, Russel and Sandra Tullet and Carl Howells including their crew were tremendous. Also witness the 48 hour race, 72 hour race and 6 day race going on at the same time made me feel the true respect of ultra endurance. God forbid the two month 5000Km even later in the week!
So the day after…… emotionally upsetting. Despite having got a wheelchair around the airport, a very good way to skip the security queues and the passport control, the very next day I am moving around better than I have after an ultra. The rest of my body, bar the Achilles is actually fine. Time to have a proper rest. At least 4 weeks rest and recovery. Maybe even 6 weeks. Ill hit the pool and do some strength and conditioning before coming back, hopefully, to try and improve on my 6 hour PB of 74km at Crawley 6 hour race in April.