Race Report 2018: Diego Rojo Garrido
Much it has be talked about the loneliness of the long distance runner and. Although I have felt so many times, training for Spartathlon is a before and an after for me as amateur runner and as person.
SPARTATHLON 2018 – “JUST KEEP SWIMMING, JUST KEEP SWIMMING” (“Dory” in “Nemo”), OR THE SUPPOSED LONELINESS OT THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER...”
The previous days to the race I joked about the words of the Nemo blue mate “Dori”, and the day before I received a support message from my wife and my daughter with the famous “just keep swimming”. I found it very funny, and did not imagine that it would go sounding inside my head like a “mantra” in the hardest moments on the road, because this year we had to run above Zorba cyclone, with gusts of wind over 100 km/ h, hard rain, electric storm, hail, mud and roads overflow, with water over the ankles many times, different objects flying, trees uprooted and other kind of difficulties that added extra hardness to the fact that we had to complete 246k in less than 36 hours. As sailor and mountaineer I have been in multitude of occasions exposed to adverse weather conditions, but never in an extreme exhaustion situation like the final September weekend in Greece.
Initial kms to Corinth, relatively flat, succeed in a quiet way, and I got almost half and hour in advance to cutting time, due to share road and conversation with Juan Andrés Camacho. I found him just after the start from the Acropolis. We were running under a gentle rain, that finally soaked us, but the thermal sensation was nice. I left him go around km 70, because his pace was faster than I could keep easily, so I decided to save energy for what was to come.
Without the support of my sister I doubt about my probabilities to arrive to Sparta on time. She was waiting for me in Corinth (checkpoint 22, km 81). As the weather was going mad, I wrapped for first time, she massaged my quads, that began to be painful, and ate seated for first time since the start. The going on was really hopeless, because I was not able to run when I stood up, and I had to walk for 3 o 4 minutes until I warmed up. There were still 165 kms to the finish line, the hardest of my life, but nevertheless cutting times are slower from this point, and I progressively increased my time margin until more than two hours, my authentic salvation in the last race quarter, where I was really exhausted.
All the comments and reports from finisher runners they agree that from here the normal is walking up hill and running in flat or down hill, but to tell you the truth where I could run I did it, even in the soft up hills, having in mind “to save minutes” for when I was really feeling down, because in a race like this nobody save you to feel up and down a few times.
In the evening hell fell over us. Heavy rain, cold for the strong wind, sometimes water covering our ankles, and the organization overwhelmed in some checkpoints, where there was no hot soup or tea to get warm. I decided to wrap completely, changing shoes and sit for second time in number 43, km 148, before the mountain, where I arrived around 01:00, with something more than two hours in advance. As there was no hot food, and I was having some stomach troubles by the cold, we decide to change my clothes and eat something covered and warm, so went inside the local tavern. I went on sheathed in four layers, shoes one size bigger, and with renewed energy but, as in Corinth, without being able to run until some minutes later, and with the threat of the hypothermia, my main fear, because I began to tremble by the difference of temperature in and outside the building.
The mountain pass was like entering a Hitchcock film... a dense fog all over the way that barely allowed to see more than some meters in front of you. A volunteer from the race indicated me where to start the path. In that moment I asked “¿Seriously?”. Climb up was less painful as climb down, due to the amount of kms, and my ankles, completely swollen. Even so, I kept my advantage almost intact, and managed to distributed it until Sparta.
My strategy was then surviving. Survive to the sickness from the cold, the mix of meals, sweets and salty, surviving the stones that martyred my feet, that I didn’t dare to stop to take them out, afraid of not being able to put on my shoes or going in hypothermia. Surviving at the gusts of wind that in some areas force us to stop, like the one that tear a tree and a petrol station sign in front of the eyes of my sister. Surviving at the ankles pain, the joint pain more intense that I felt in my life and even a week later, when I write this, still don ́t leave me to walk normal.
The rest was passing like a cloud, focused on going from checking point to the other, in not succumb because of the cold, fighting against the frontal wind that in the last down hill leave me stop as nail to the floor per moments, against the torrential raining and to the image of Dori in my head, the blue mate from Nemo, that was constantly telling me “Keep swimming, just keep swimming!”
I passed through Nestani , 172 km and 74 to the finish line, with une hour and a half of spare time intact, but with the strategy in my head of not stopping from there to the finishing only to have a hot drink while walking at the checking points where I could received some assistance with the company of my sister. At the final 50 kms I didn’t eat any solid food, to avoid loosing more time and having the risk of vomiting, and being empty, with the only objetive in mind of not succumbing because of the ankle pain, and to manage the enough spare time to arrive to the finish line. And all of it with the sour thought of knowing that I ́ll be the only Spanish being able to finish. Rubén Delgado, Juan Andrés Camacho and Francisco Javier Pérez, you can not imagine how much I was thinking in you when Sparta was getting closer, and how many times during the race I keep asking Maite how were you guys. Even now when I write this, knowing how much you had trained and sacrificed to prepare this collective craziness, I get emotional thinking in yours suffering to give back the dorsal number. The least I can do it ́s to dedicate you this letters and send you a big hug wherever you are in this moments reading this... I have no doubts, sooner than later, you will succeed.
The entrance of Sparta was no glorious, more like agony, because of the never ending avenues, and the road transformed literally in a river where we were inside splashing (...keep swimming! ...keep swimming!...) The encouragement of the drivers, saying hello with the horns, and the Spartans coming outside of the terraces from the bars or coming clapping to the balconies, in a bleak day like that, was leaving us emotional and pushing us harder to go ahead, imagine what would have been in a sunny day. Numerous runners kept passing me, lots of them jogging like if they were completely fresh, but to me the less important was being last, if I arrived in time. I can say that Spartathlon race, except for some exceptions touched by gods that fight for the first positions, it is a race where; what it matters the least is the final time.
Finally, I entered in the avenue that drives to the Leonidas image. Maite was waiting for me in the beginning. We run through the last meters laughing, by the hand, she helped me to climb the stairs until the sculpture, she huged me and we started crying like kids.
Here was finishing the hardest year of my life, in the sports and the personal side. The year that I was chosen for the Spartathlon, by many opinions the hardest road ultra marathon in the world, in the middle of a depression process that let my willing and my energy over the floor. The year where I discover that even my head, in a crazy neuroticism, was constantly repeating me that I was alone, the facts and the time demonstrate me it was not true, that I am not alone. I have the unconditional support of my parents and of my family cheering me up all the time and forgiving my comes and goes to the asphalt to eat more kilometers; of my friends that came home literally to take me out of bed and accompany me to the mountains, to do my training in altitude; of Isabel, that followed me so many times in bicycle with a smile in the face and a bottle of water always ready, even she appear to cheer for me in the middle of one mountain ultra, at two o’clock in the morning to surprise me, in the middle of nowhere in the countryside, coming out of an entire work turn, without sleep in 24 hours and did not matter for her; of my sister Maite, than before of being my salvation in Greece, she came to run with me in the more unbelievable timetables and invited me to expend time in her house in Mallorca to acclimatize to the heat that finally did not make any sense; of Vincenzo, that gave me the opportunity of training in the heat of Cascais and fed me like only a Sicilian Chef knows how to do; and the support of mountains of people that had made phone calls, or answered messages with several tips. I could keep naming people and the list would never end, so from here, to this allied army but not invisible, I am sending the biggest of my hugs and I dedicate to them the greatest “thank you”.
Because of that, I don’t believe anymore in the myth of the ultra runner loneliness, I know that we never run alone. Because when we are in the middle of the night, soaked and exhausted, with the joints and the muscles hurting and swollen, we take the strength of the love that spill on us our loved ones, our older, our family, friends and mates. Forgive me for being emotional, but is like that. With all of this I don’t want to say that we run for them, to demonstrate anything. We run for us, because we like it, in the mean time when the exercise ́s physiology and the training ́s system are saying that we are in a point without return, and maintaining that kind of effort is not energetically possible or functional, It appears another type of energy that you cannot explain not train not predict, but we have been accumulating during generations. This is what I have learned in Greece. The Spartathlon has been an authentic feat of overcoming in life and value how lucky I am for being aware of this invisible heritage.
Thank you for your attention, if you have been able to hold all this long chat. Lots of good health, lots of love and, of course, lots of kilometres.
And for the more cold and calculating, several data, I consider important and a resume of my participation:
-First, in relation with the knowledge in the subject of training, the coach or trainer it is already built-in , because I am Graduate in Physical Education, also a National Coach of Triathlon, in between other sportive licenses, so the programming and control of the process, was easy.
-The process has been two years of “cooking it” since they rejected me for first time ( I passed through lottery the second time) All began in the 20015, the first time that I run a 100 k (9h29 ́).
-Requirements of selection shown: 100 km in 9h29 ́ and 181kms in 24h Barcelona 2016 ( discreet times for not saying bad, it means that, even a middle or a bad runner like me, with a good plan of training and being very stubborn, you can do a project like this)
-5000 kms of running approximate in the previous 10 months. Maximum volume from May to September (1000 kms month of August ).
-Specific strength training between November and February before and maintenance later.
-Complementary races: some marathon here and there, and 100 km by night in the mountain (100k of Barbanza)
-Complementary system of recovering ( electro stimulation, physiotherapy, cryotherapy, spa therapy ...)
-Nutritional supplements measures: sulfate of condroitine + glucosamine +acid hyaluronic like a joint protection (unique substances with scientific proof , from a meta analyze of the Traumatology Spanish Association )
-And, of course, the tips and direct information from other finishers, that I thank so much for their kindness: Nicolás Kierdelewicz (Argentina), Aykut Celikbas (Turkey ), Mark Wooley (Great Britain), Jorge Sabugo (Spain) and my admire Galician mate, Fernando Ibarra Carbón.
Diego Rojo Garrido