Neil Featherby: Norfolk’s best ready for Spartathlon test – Eastern Daily Press

Neil Featherby: Norfolk’s best ready for Spartathlon test  Eastern Daily Press

Two very popular Norfolk athletes – ultra-runners Ian Thomas and Ash Gilbert – will be lining up with 386 hardened long-distance runners from all over the world next weekend for this year’s ultra-classic – the Spartathlon 153-mile (246km) race. 

A race which starts next Friday at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens and finishes in Sparta the following day on October 1. 

Whilst the Spartathlon is regarded as one of the toughest foot races in the running calendar, it first came about after John Foden, a gentleman who I personally got to meet many years ago, wondered if it was possible for man or woman to complete within a 36-hour time limit the gruelling route which was potentially followed by Pheidippides when running to seek help in the war between the Greeks and Persians in 490BC. 

This will be Ian’s seventh official Spartathlon, (he also ran the course in 2020 when the race could not take place), where over the years he has had some amazing experiences which at times have tested him mentally and physically to his very limits. 

Ian has also been given the honour and in his words ‘humbled’ to be British team captain this year as the race celebrates its 40th anniversary and after last year’s issues which were due to nutrition and hydration errors, his training during the last three months has been meticulous, running a minimum of 100 miles each week right up to an all-time high of 139.4 miles. 

“I am going to do my utmost to PB by an hour and achieve a world best V60 finishing time. However, this will require me going sub 28 hours and 12 mins which will be very tough but not impossible,” he said. 

Whilst Ian’s personal best for the Spartathlon is a superb 29 hours, 14 mins and 36 secs set in 2016, he also has a very long impressive ultra-running CV which includes stand out feats such as his British V60 record on the track for 50 miles in 7 hours, 27 mins and 18 secs; 100 miles in 16:47:37 and covering 122km in 12 hours. 

For Ash Gilbert, this will be his first time of competing in this event and whilst he is a very experienced runner across all distances, he also knows that he will also be pushed to his limits in many ways despite being in the best shape of his life after a near perfect build up.  

Ash Gilbert can’t wait to take on the Spartathlon – Credit: Archant

“Whilst this is a very different type of challenge, it is one which I have dreamed about for many years. The distance, the cut-offs, the stray dogs, potential heat and the mountain, all makes me nervous, but taking part in the Spartathlon has been the core purpose of my every run for a very long time,” he said. 

The Spartathlon really is a race which will stretch every competitor to their limits be it due to the severity of the course which consists of lots of undulating rough tracks, muddy paths and of course the real tester when crossing Mount Parthenio (1,200 metres ascent and descent) during the darkness of night, but also the variable weather conditions which can be anything from very warm conditions during the heat of the day to that of strong cold icy winds when going over the mountain. Heavy downpours have also been known such as in 2018 when Ian and all the other runners had to battle against Storm Zorba classified as ‘Medicane’ (Mediterranean Hurricane). In Ian’s words – “it was truly scary!’ 

I have said in the past there are several races I now look back on and wish I had taken part in such as the Boston Marathon. However, this iconic race really does grab the imagination and having followed Ian’s progress each year, I do have to say that I wish I could look back and say that I am part of the Spartathlon finishers club. 

Ian Thomas feels ready to try and PB at the Spartathlon – Credit: Ian Thomas

For those who would like to track Ian and Ash’s progress during the race, links will be posted on to the Spartathlon website –  

Finally, I must just say all the very best to everyone taking part in Sunday’s BVH 10 Mile Road Race in what is the final round in this year’s Sportlink/Norfolk Road Race GP Series.

It really is a super series of races for which all of us at Sportlink are very proud to be associated with.

Here’s to also looking forward to the Awards Evening at the Assembly House in Norwich on Friday, November 11. Early Bird tickets can still be purchased at the price of just £12.50 (after this £17.50) for the evening which includes food, entertainment and of course the awards ceremony. 

You can get your tickets .