30.09.2022 – 01.10.2022 Spartathlon 2022
This story would be never written if not for my trainer Gerhard Schiemer, support team – Egon&Thanasis, as well as Coros Germany and Medivid. Million thanks to you all!
It is about 36 hours to go until start. I’m in my room with Egon. I look up at him and have tears in my eyes.
“What’s going on,Diana?”, asks Egon
“I’m scared” I whispered unsecured
“No, for God sake, if everybody would’nt mention her all the time, I would have already forgotten she is here at all!”
There was a pressure I felt. I have received so many nice words from Greeks all week long – telling me they wish and believe that I will be reaching Sparta as the first woman. Others kept “reminding” me with a worried look in their faces that there is Camille on start this year. For me it was full range of emotions – even though I finished 246km the year before, I never lost respect for the distance itself. I actually still ask myself how it is possible to run so far!? Scared from the 246 km and scared to disappoint all the people who believe in me. Then again, one of the reasons why I did not choose to run European Championships but Spartathlon was because of the name Herron on the starting list- I wanted to see if I can bring the best out of me when there is such a strong runner on the track.
How do you run to succeed in a race that has not the meaning ”race” to you?! How can one succeed when the first reason to run is to run for himself and not compete?!
There was no doubt for me that I can run Spartathlon even faster than the year before. I was in much better shape, I knew the track, I have been missing to run far again. And there was something else I missed. Namely, to be the unknown. In 2021 nobody knew me, I could walk around, smile and be unnoticed. This year was everything but that. However, it did feel fantastic to meet all the crazy runners again- this feeling of being united and sharing same passion and goal is just something really special.
For me Ultrarunning (or running in general) is not about being better than others and winning. It is about me being better and winning myself. It is about the power that exists in all of us and we have forgotten how to use it. Because most of us don’t dream big and don’t know what we are capable of. I dream big, I dream over what I can imagine is possible & most important- I believe in myself, I believe I’m stronger than I believe.
So, when one asked me just before start what my goal is, without a second to think I answered “To have a great race”.
Starting somewhere at the back side made the first few hundred meters a bit tricky but on the other hand I enjoyed seeing all my fellow friends and saying hello to them one more time before we all left Athens to dive in our journey. Already early on it felt difficult find my breathing and cope with the humid air, so I decided to not talk much with anyone and keep my focus on trying to breath easily. I’m not a big talker anyway when running- I like to observe everything that’s around me.
Running the first marathon just didn’t feel right, what made me rethink to reduce the pace. I was not faster as planned and trained for, but somehow, I felt my breathing and legs are giving me the signal to go slower. We are all smarter after “the battle”, maybe I should have listened to my intuition, maybe not. We will never know what was the best at that moment. Worrying about the way I felt made me kind of “flipp out” at the check point where support was allowed for the first time. It didn’t take me more than 2 km afterwards to realize that I actually have no energy to waste on being stressed for something I can’t control, so I decided to let all go and just run and be happy to be on the Greek roads again- to be the part of 40th Spartathlon edition. Few kilometers later one of the Latvian supporter guys asked me if everything is going as planned and I said “yes”, but in my mind I was thinking- yes,my pace goes as planned, but I’m not feeling close to what I should be at this point of race. Was it the hot weather? Or the unconscious pressure? Or was I just thinking too much and not letting me do what I love- run for myself?! There was only one thing I knew – I want to get to Corinth as soon as possible. Corinth gave me energy the year before and it will make me happy now as well. In the meanwhile, I stopped at every CP to get some ice to put underneath my hat and inside my bra. The one thing I didn’t want to happen is to let my body overheat.
Corinth. You are breathtaking indeed. I soaked the view inside myself and run towards to the next CP. It felt damn good to see my crew- I knew I’m not alone. Suddenly, this feeling of being overpowered appeared. Leaving the CP with a rice bowl in my hand, I had a big smile on my face again-yes it was hot, yes-I felt tired, yes-it was more difficult as year before, yes- there was wind in my face, yes my legs were heavy and really bad uphills and YES- there were so many people who BELIEVED IN ME. I kind of left the last not “enjoyable” 80km behind me and started to run new.
“It will be an unforgettable, fantastic day”, I told myself and imagined myself at the end of next morning being in Sparta.
Next CP- stop for the ice again. As I turned to direction to run, surprised I saw Camille just passing. I then left right behind her, wondering that she is here- I thought she is many kilometers ahead of me. We run for the next 8-10km almost shoulder to shoulder, me feeling kind of proud to run next to world class athlete and same time thankful for her helping me to keep my pace at the level I was supposed to be running. Just before CP at km 93 I called her back, as I saw her not taking the turn. This was the last time I saw Camille during the race. Definitely not the last time she crossed my mind.
My team did a great job again, I left the CP with a fresh smile on my face concentrating on the next part where another surprise was running just in front of me- no way, it was Brunner Radek! My God, am I dreaming or what- I m running same level as Brunner! What a day! So happy to see him! Later on, the next kilometers we run shoulder to shoulder chatting a bit. Totally enjoying his company, sometime later leaving another CP I saw him disappearing. But the moments of positive feelings during these kilometers running with him,didn’t leave me until the end of race. I admire him a lot- such a great runner and same time so down to earth.
The sun was going down, finally there was no need to put the ice in the pants ( !) and on the head, I had 2 shoe changes behind me and I was looking forward what the night will bring.
My pace was naturally getting slower, I did not worry about it much. For some reason I was not feeling strong on uphills since the beginning of the race,therefore on each uphill I was giving myself kudos for keeping the pace as best as I could. Self-motivation is a part of me when ultrarunning- without appreciating how good I can perform having so many kilometers behind me I could not keep going. I thank myself for what I have already achieved, without looking ahead thinking about how many kilometers there are still to run. I choose to think about my support at the next station, about the volunteers who cheer me up and all those people who are supporting me from far away. Thinking of difficulties does not help, it is just a waste of energy that we need to keep going to reach our “target”. The night was really beautiful and I could not stop admiring it.
And soon I reached mountain base. Overwhelmed to be here again, surprised to see it completely different as the year before. No wind, clear sky. Tradition stays tradition- with mashed potatoes in my hand I started my way up. Same shoes as the year before. I had to smile all the way long- I remembered my running colleagues Jörgs words- think of me when you do this part. Feeling happy to know there are so many people thinking of me right now and sending me the best vibes. I reached the top of the mountain, had a laugh with volunteers up there and headed down to the small village. I knew that from this point on, whatever happens- I will reach Sparta, no matter walking or running-I had enough time to make it.
As I found out later, the speculations if I can break the track record were going on. As for me- I knew I’m not doing well and did not have any focus anymore on beating it-My focus was to reach Sparta and yes, I was also worried of “what’s happening behind me”. Each station with support I kept asking Egon: “Where is she?” “20 minutes behind you, Diana, she is not letting you go.” I tried to run faster downhills. Next station: “Where is she?” “Still the same, Diana, she is coming after you”. I was overwhelmed. I was being hunted.
Doesn’t sound like Diana, does it? Well, let me tell you something- running through the dark streets of Greece, I had this vision of Camille passing by me with her hair blowing in the air and disappearing in dark. I have never leaded a race for such a long time (specially so early in race) and I felt pressure. Mixture of emotions- happy to be there, really enjoying the night but same time this feeling of being hunted. Yes, I was not the one hunting anymore- I was the “meal”. Then there was this car who followed me driving slowly behind me and checking me out, the people on street side waiting for me, staying on phone and talking quietly as soon as I approached. It all felt like in a spooky movie which drove me even more to focus on me and the spirit that was taking me closer to Sparta.
Maybe it was km 195-210 when I realized that it is my passion to run that keeps me moving, that my body has given up long ago and I run with my soul. I cried on the way, I laughed, I froze my face and looked in far. I was upset with myself as for a moment those words “I can’t anymore” popped in my head. And then I saw myself reaching Sparta. I kept moving for the people who believed in me and who wished it for me to reach the Sparta as the first woman- I was running my dream. The power of feeling united with passion and dream that I was determinate to make true.
Somewhen 15-18km before Sparta I was told I can break the record if I run faster.
“I’m doing my best” I said. It was not anymore about breaking the record. I was aiming to reach Sparta- the best I could at this very moment. I gave my best to run as fast as I can, I really gave my best- I could not run a second faster, I knew that and I was happy and thankful to myself being able to bring out everything that I had in me. I had to smile; I was the winner to myself at this point.
Last CP- 10km before Sparta.
“Diana, you have to run these 10k in 45 min to break the record”, Thanasis told me as I just approached the CP.
I looked at him, dropped my headlamp, took my Iso and left without saying anything.
“Does he know that I just run over 230km?” I asked myself. I knew that at this point my body is not capable of more as I was already running. I was scared to collapse just before the King Leonidas. I gave my everything. The last 2km felt longer than those 244 behind me. There was nothing left in me as I reached Sparta. I didn’t know one can feel so empty. And same time proud. I made the impossible possible- I trusted my heart and my believe that I’m stronger than strong. I proved that our thoughts from today creates our tomorrow. Overcoming negative in our mind and thinking big makes us big-bigger than we ever thought we could be. How else could this “underground” win Spartathlon for 2 times in a row?
After finish, laying on bed & getting infusion, I asked Egon: “Did she arrive already?”
Egon looked at me:”Who?”
“Camille”, I said
“Camille finished the race at km 93…” Egon replied…
I assume my body was feeling weaker as usual as 4 days before Spartathlon I ate a lot of figs and learned that figs are working very well on digestion. 2 days and nights spent in bathroom was something I did not wish before running 246km. But on the other hand- until km 140 I had no stomach issues
That the race was really much harder for my body proved the fact that after race I could not go back to the finisher street to greet the other finishers (as I did the year before)- I was laying exhausted in bed being desperate to live those feelings going on out there. Ohh well, I guess I will have to go back next year and catch up with that. All the good things are 3 they say
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Photo Copyright: Egon Theiner, Thanasis Michas, Sparta Photography Club