A very big thanks to my very great trainer Gerhard Schiemer, my support at Spartathlon Egon Theiner, my supporters on the way to Spartathlon- my employer Helmut, my friend Siegi, Desi and Medivid Cryo Team, Ed&Elisa from Traildog Running, to whom I have to thank for my Partnerships with Maurten and On Running Austria. And all the people who have always believed in me as well as those who never did.
BEFORE THE RACE
Spartathlon didn’t leave my thoughts for the last couple of years- ever since I knew I’m on the list to start. Major part of Ultrarunning is the spirit and mind power. Yes, endurance as well. Training is very important. But at the end it is the power of spirit that wins over the body, the power of passion and believe. It is a conversation with one’s soul. How else could Pheidippides manage to run from Athen to Sparta 490 BC?
I had some really hard time in summer after I fell down and cut my knee. I was in a deep,black place and must thank Spartathlon to give me the strength to get back on my feet. Since my training wasn’t so intense as planned, I invested a lot of time in mental training, inspiring myself from different motivational speakers, Scott Jurek (his book Run and Eat is an absolute wow for me – I couldn’t stop thinking of this exceptional runner and his power during most of my run) and Kilian Journet. I spoke to Stu Thoms- winner of Spartathlon from year 2012. And he gave me some really good advices- I can’t thank enough to him.
The last few weeks before the run I woke up very day with a smile and words ‘Spartathlon’ on my lips, imagining how hard it will be the way to Sparta, how happy I will feel during the run and how I will reach the feet of Kind Leonidas. Living the race before the actual race.
I arrived in Athens on Thursday, the week before the race. I was having cold- I couldn’t breathe through my nose and I was panicking. My Coach, Gerhard Schiemer, said to calm down and reduce the running for the next days for only 2-3 km. I panicked even more. I run to the first Ice-Cream place and ate about 2 liters different sorts of ice cream topped up with chocolate. Next day I woke up and I was able to breathe through my nose again! I should eat more ice-cream- said my coach and gave me green light to follow the normal training plan. I was not feeling 100% healthy but I knew this won’t stop me to be on the start line the coming week. My dream was just few days away from me.
I was really happy the Latvian team arrived; my support Egon was coming the day after. We all went to have a nice dinner that ended up almost tragic for me. There was a piece of glass in my food that I bite on- luckily, I’m wearing retainer and it saved my mouth and gums from injury. This couldn’t stop the good mood dancing in the air.
Next day picking up the BIB, seeing familiar faces- the adrenalin kicked in with its 110%. In between I had some worries about my tummy- after eating lunch at hotel my stomach turned upside down and blew up like a balloon. I decided to not eat there again. The day before the race we sat down with Egon to go through all the details where I should get what etc. It was the first time for Egon to support me (Domink couldn’t come with me as he didn’t get free from work). Egon knew I’m scared; he knew my biggest wish is to finish the race and he had to promise me I would finish no matter. Egon also knew I was aiming to finish the race in about 27 hours minus. We both knew this could lead me to be among the first 3 finishing ladies. Yes, we did talk also about winning the race. It was my dream. To make impossible possible.
Before the race I would be asked: did you have a look at the other female runners, do you know who they are etc. Well, I saw couple of them on Instagram, checked their running statistic on DUV and I got so scared that I didn’t dare to go through the starting list. I wanted to run this race for myself. As I always do. And then, couple of weeks before my race I was listening to Motivational speech (Dr.Myles Munroe) and these words never left my mind: “ The Lion is the king because of one word: Attitude. The lion has a different attitude that makes every animal afraid of him. When I use the word “fear”, we are talking about respect. The elephant respects lion, the hyena respects lion, the Giraffes- they respect lion. What makes these giant animals to respect such a small cat? He is not the tallest, not the smartest, not the heaviest, not the most intelligent, yet he runs things. And that is because the lion has something we need to capture. The attitude is what is the difference. For example, the lion, will see the elephant and the thing what comes to his mind: one word: LUNCH. When the lion sees the elephant, he doesn’t look at size and weight and strength and power of the elephant, he looks at LUNCH……..it doesn’t matter how big you are, how intelligent you are and how many degrees you have- it is your mind that keeps you small”. Here is the link to this fantastic speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NKW_5gzUMQ . So, what do I want to say here? Egon asked me: will you win this race? And I said..Egon, I’m very scared but you know what- I’M THE LION and the other ones are antelopes- MY LUNCH I told him about this speech I heard and how much impact it left on me. And just to make sure I’m not being misunderstood here- when I say that word LUNCH- I still feel fear- which is respect to the other fellow runners and the distance of 246km itself. So, what was my race tactic? To Be the lion, to run this for me and to run it at my pace and never forget to enjoy.
“SHI..”!!! were the first words coming out of my mouth as I woke up. It was already 5AM and I was thinking I still have some time to sleep. Every runners’ problem- no sleep before race. Getting out of bed-shower-breakfast-bus. Time until start passed away very fast. It felt very magical to stand there with all the other runners. I started to cry. Loud. I couldn’t be any happier. Totally overwhelmed. Egon told me to stop. I couldn’t. And then we all run. With happy faces. I was smiling and people were smiling back. The way out of Athens passed very quickly but yet I took my time to enjoy it. I stopped when my shoe felt too tight, chatted with some other runners a bit and kept concentrated to not be too fast. I saw Noora and Zsuzsanna in front of me, then slowly diapering but it didn’t bother- I knew I won’t be running faster as I have decided to do. My legs didn’t really feel fresh, but I however, felt really rested. The first CP with assistance felt somehow chaotic, the camera and everybody speaking around disturbed me, Egon was also a bit stressed, I told him I have some stomach issues that I’m trying to bring under control, took some of my Medivid cold compresses for my lower back and disappeared as fast as I could to get my peace back.
On the way to Corinth, I met Sergey, the Russian guy who I knew from Instagram. We chatted a bit, he was surprised I’m not running in front and I told him it is not my style – I like to run my own pace. Before arriving in Corinth, he told me the Canal is really beautiful but I never expected it to be so beautiful. I felt amazed. Happy. The place to be. At the next station with assistance about km 80 I felt really nervous as my upper legs were paining. On the way, I had thoughts that maybe the 100 km run I did just few weeks before Spartathlon was a mistake to run so “fast” and my legs are not yet recovered. I was kind of panicking in my head. I decided to change to my compression shorts. I had some rice, some bier, got stressed because of me being filmed and I wanted to get out of this station as soon as possible.
Felt good to be out of all that noise and just run again. Felt good to be running with my compression shorts, I could run and enjoy 110% again without getting bother of anything. Happy runner. Not so happy tummy. My stomach was giving me strange signals. I already reduce the gels before but I knew that that pasta that was having party in my stomach 2 days ago is giving me hard time now. I had really too many emergencies stops on the whole way to Sparta, I won’t go deeper discussing it (hahahah). I’m really proud of myself how I did manage to get it under enough control to be able to finish the run. Although, I must admit that the last 30km downhill I did hold myself back, as my stomach would get worse when running faster. Ruining my whole run just to be faster the last km was not the option. I stayed on the safe side. And today I know I made many right decisions all the way long.
Back to the beautiful way to Sparta. It was shortly before CP32 when I saw Noora in front of me. I took it easy, didn’t try to speed up, keeping my pace as I felt comfortable. I had some really hard time with my stomach as well at this point. I lost my pills against diarrhea on the way and I was upset with myself. Unfortunately Egon had to feel my nervosity on his skin again. Even though before coming to Greece and in Athens we spoke about me being “impulsive/Hysteric” when being nervous, it still didn’t make me feel any better to be so when meeting him at checkpoints. And yes-often I wanted to dig a hole in ground and never come back again.I have been alone for most of my life and not used to be helped from others, so it is really challenging for me to accept help- I tend to want to do everything myself.
Around km 130 I passed Noora. I was feeling better on uphill’s, my stomach could rest. What a great source of energy running and feeling the magical sundown, seeing the mountains getting dark and feeling the light breeze. Felt really good. I m a night runner. I was starting to feel more and more.
CP43 – km 148. I looked at Egon and whispered: “How many antelopes are there for me?”.
Egon said, he thinks 3. And I replied: “From now on I want to know where they are”. I was ready. I started to feel hungry
Somewhen between km 155 and 158 I passed the Russian runner lady Masanova. It was uphill. It was already very dark. Feeling engaged with the night, I started to feel stronger and stronger.
Mountain Base. Everyone has been speaking about this part of the race. Nobody said it is amazing!!! I went to CP and said to Egon I will be taking my time to go up to give my body rest. Egon said gently in my ear that the 2nd lady is just here about to leave. Leaving the station just behind the 2nd lady hit my adrenalin even higher. I looked up and saw her not being able to walk properly. It was very windy and I had a feeling I’m in a movie. Not knowing what to expect, with the wind, trail, steep uphill- it felt really bad to see her in this condition alone. I kept going and it didn’t take long until I dived into the nature. Very soon I was on the top of the Mountain. Peters words- if you pass Sagkas Pass you are almost sure a finisher- even if you walk to Sparta- didn’t leave my mind. He also said that after the downhill the next 42km are really great to run. I was looking forward to this. I was looking forward to run another marathon. However, the downhill to this Marathon was just crazy – I’m really grateful to Stu Thoms who told me before not to try to run this part. I walked down very carefully and stayed as focused as I could.
Km 178-185 I was having hallucinations- something I have never experienced before. I saw people on the side of the road, big mythological faces in bushes. I told myself it is not real but the confusion was so strong that I had to laugh loud. Same time I started to feel sick. Luckily, I was approaching the next CP 57. At this point I was not sure what my name is. I felt panicked and I let my fear over Egon out. Again. As he told me that Zsuzanna is only 5 minutes in front of me, my focus returned and for the first time ever in a race(not only this one but in general) I wanted to be the first. I wanted to win. From this moment onwards I was starved to reach Kind Leonidas as the first Lady.
It was around km 188-192 when I overtook the run. I felt happy and same time scared. I wanted to cry.
CP 60 (km 193) Egon was overwhelmed. So overwhelmed he was full of joy like a small child. I told him not to celebrate I’m not yet in Sparta. In Ultrarunning anything can happen to you at any time. This is what makes ultrarunning so beautiful and exciting. As I was leaving the station, he hit me very hard 2 times on the back (payback?! Hahahaha) and said go go! It shocked me at first as it pained like hell (Egon is not the smallest guy in the world and it felt like a gorilla slapping my back) but as I had no strength anymore to speak, I went on with running. Staying focused and enjoying. And laughing.I was thinking of my family, feeling the love of them, feeling the energy of my supporters and letting go. Letting go the sadness I have been carrying with me for many years. Realizing more and more that we are what we think. I was feeling I’m becoming a new, better person.
km 193-210 (assistance CP and the next one in 17km CP65) were the most critical for me. The night was getting really cold, the jacket I had on, didn’t keep me warm enough. I felt my pace dropping, I was getting colder and colder and I told myself not to stop. My stomach was still bad and after a short emergency break, I felt even colder. Like a ghost running through the lonely roads of Greece, whispering to myself I’m strong enough to get through to the next station where I can put on some warm clothes. It was not me anymore running. It was my soul, my spirit, my heart keeping me moving. I believed in myself and told myself to forget the cold and dig for the warmth inside my body. As I reached CP65 and asked Egon for tee, he replied -next station. My answer was very clear: Next station it will be too late. I was very close slipping in a very dangerous cold place.
All warmed up with trousers, buffs, dry shirt and tea I felt strong again. Staying focused to reach Sparta, I had to think of Zsuzsanna. I was hoping she is doing good, but same time I wished I’m doing better as she is. I wanted to “win” so badly. It meant the world to me. I never had this feeling before in any races I have done. It was overwhelming. I’m having tears in my eyes now as I’m writing. I said it out loud looking up to the sky, thanking all the running gods, thanking the beautiful Greek nature for giving me the joy and strength to run this far.
At this point I was running from CP to CP and staying as focused I could. I was scared to take a wrong turn, as I knew that this would psychologically ruin me. I was staying on safe side with my pace as I didn’t want my stomach to make me pause again.
About 6 km before Sparta, a black cat run across the street. I looked at him, I looked around and said very loudly knocking 3 times on my heart- black cats are bringing me luck. And I kept running.
2km to go..1 km to go.. 500 meters to go.. people cheering up on the side of the streets..me running closer and closer to Kind Leonidas.. the new me. The better me, touching and kissing his feet, looking up and saying very loudly- you see, I promised you I would come. I thanked him and his spirit for taking me through this unbelievably beautiful trip from Athen to Sparta.
Even though the journey from Athen to Sparta was finished, the journey of me transforming in a completely another person was about yet to explode. I feel there are many changes to come as I have discovered a new, better and stronger me.
I’m asking myself today: How is it possible to run 246km and feel no pain? I looked at my shoes at km 200 and one side was covered in blood. I felt nothing. I never thought of pain during the race- I was making myself busy of thoughts what makes me happy. We are what we think, we feel what we think. Our thoughts today are our future.
Egon was right-I won Spartathlon, but in the reality Spartathlon won me. And I’m looking forward to come back to continue this journey of a lifetime. Spartathlon is not a race, it has much more meaning as that.
My race “Equipment”:
Nutrition: Maurten Iso and Gels, Rice, Mashed Potatoes, Non-Alcoholic Beer, Salted Brezels
Shoes: On Ace and On Stratus (shoe change about km 120)
Tricks against heat: Medivid Cryo kept my shoulders and upper legs cool and
Artic Ice Towel from Feda Trading
Secret Weapon: SMILE
Photo Credits: Egon Theiner & Sparta Photography Club