Sparta, Qatar & out

I have run ultras for 15 years. Sometimes I won and sometimes I lost, but I always enjoyed doing it. That has changed this year. As described in my previous post, I have been really struggling to get in shape. Although I'm neither injured nor (demonstrably) ill, for some reason I have become very slow. This situation has dragged on since the beginning of the year, and it has made it increasingly hard to motivate myself to log the miles required to prepare myself for a good ultrarunning performance. The main thing that has kept me going during the past months was the prospect of running the mythical Spartathlon race, which was held on September 26 and 27 between Athens and, well, Sparta (yes that's in Greece).

To make a long story short, my fears came true, as I felt weak and slow from the word 'go'. Whereas I normally have to apply the hand brake to keep myself from running too fast at the beginning of a long ultra, this time I found it hard to maintain any speed at all. By the time we reached Corinth (80km), I had been passed by two women, which is something I hadn't experienced for many years. Despite good weather conditions (temperatures stayed below 30°C all day which is unusually mild for the Sparathlon), I continued to slow down until 140 km, when I was forced to walk. After 100 miles, at 2 am on the Sangas mountain pass, I decided to call it quits. My legs were still feeling great, but I was completely drained of energy.

In the aftermath of the Spartathlon disaster, I initially decided to scrap the world 100km championships in Qatar, which were held two months after Sparta. But I changed my mind because I didn't wan't to turn my back to my Belgian team mates, whom I thought I might be able to help during the first half of the race, despite my weakness. I reduced my training load from the usual 100+ to 40-50 miles per week and really enjoyed that. But unfortunately that didn't suffice to regain my strength. Making another long story short, the 100k championships were even more of a disaster for me than the Spartathlon. I felt a familiar pain in my chest from 40km onwards and then gradually slowed down further until I couldn't move forward anymore at 70km.

The third DNF in my ultrarunning career is also the second one during the last two months. This is getting scary. I need to get a proper diagnosis before I can even think about racing again. Unfortunately it is not easy to see a specialist doctor in the UK. There's not a great deal of sympathy with 'self inflicted injuries' in this country. Nevertheless, I need to have at least my heart checked, if only to give me some peace of mind.

But even if I recover from this mysterious malady that is weakening me so much (surely can't be age, can it?), I don't plan to run as much in the future as I did in the past. Quite frankly, I've had enough. The time has come to spend more time with my family, sleep in every once in a while and go on a proper vacation every now and then. Of course I will continue to run, and I will continue to run marathons. But gone are the >100 mile weeks and the need to push myself all the time. Perhaps I'll try a triathlon. I'll definitely run more trails. But most of all, I'm looking forward to being healthy and having fun again. Because running has always been, and will always be the most beautiful sport in the world :-)

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