Neil Featherby: Age is just a number as Norfolk Gazelles’ Ian Thomas demonstrates
PUBLISHED: 13:28 21 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:28 21 September 2018
Earlier this week I was taken aback by my own mother who came into Sportlink and told me that I am too old to take on such a task as running Hadrian’s Wall at the end of the month.
I quickly reminded her of all the things I have done in the past and I don’t mean just running reasonably fast times in distances from 5k to the marathon, but also having run over 106 miles before and indeed having actually ran Hadrian’s Wall 10 years ago.
“I know all that,” she replied, “but you’re 60.”
In a nutshell she said I am crazy for thinking about it. Now as it happened, whilst this conversation was going on, a gentleman by the name of Ian Thomas had also come in to the store to buy some shoes. Ian, who is a member of Norfolk Gazelles, really is a bit of an ultra running star having completed many ultra-marathons including a win in the Essex 100 miler earlier this year.
However, Ian is only a year behind me what with turning 60 himself next year. In fact he didn’t actually compete in races until 2009 when, aged 50, he took up races up to the marathon distance.
Whilst he found a joy for competition, the real competition was against himself and finding out just how far he could push himself. Age as far as he was concerned was just a number and still very much is. Within two years aged 52 he broke the three-hour marathon barrier whilst also repeating this feat a year later.
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However, he felt compelled to test himself even further whereby he really did start discovering his true running potential by completing the Grand Union Canal 145 mile and Thames Ring 250 mile races in 2013.
I have run a lot of miles during my life, but racing in a 250 miler really does stretch my mind somewhat.
Nevertheless and since then he has gone on to compete and finish in many 100 mile and even further races with several top 10 places including first and seconds, with a PB for 100 miles of 16 hours and 47 mins albeit during a 24 hour track race at the end of 2016.
However, it is the classic Spartathlon 250km race which really grabs my imagination. This race really is so much more than just about racing 153 miles in the very toughest of conditions.
The history which goes with this classic event has roots which go back to the real run which was completed by the messenger Pheidippides in 490 BC. Whilst today’s modern marathon is based upon Pheidippides’ run of approximately 25 miles from the battle fields of Marathon to Athens to tell of the Greek victory against the Persions before collapsing and dying, there are historical facts which suggests before that final fateful run, he had actually ran from Athens to Sparta to ask for help, before making the return journey to say that immediate help was not possible whilst completing a distance of over 300 miles.
The Spartathlon has a 7am start from the foot of the Acropolis and follows the route which is believed to be that of the one taken by Pheidippides between Athens and Sparta. Not only is this regarded by many as the ultra of all ultras, this will be Ian’s fourth consecutive entry into this race having a best finishing time of 29 hours, 14 mins and 36 secs, in 2016.
With regards to the course, well apart from the heat and varied weather conditions during the race, the course really is gruelling which takes in the 1,200 foot of ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio during the night and to make it even tougher with no defined pathway.
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To add further pressure there is also a time limit and cut off points on route (75 check points) with a final finishing cut off after 36 hours. The course record is held by the amazing Yiannis Kouros from Greece who finished in 20:25:00, in 1984. As it happens he holds the four fastest times ever for this event such was his dominance on the ultra-scene during the 1980s.
Checking out Ian’s blogs is well worth a look for those interested in the ultra-marathon running scene, his personal comments really do sum up the Spartathlon and indeed him as person.
“Running in The Spartathlon means so much to me as it is the purest of running races and one I devote my whole mind, body and soul to each year. It engages, embraces and empowers the whole ultra-running community, family, friends and supporters and of course Sparta and the Greek people themselves. Each time I run this great race, I know it is viewed as honouring Greek history, but it is an honour for us runners too. It is a tribute to those that fought in that distant battle at Marathon and the historic run of Pheidippides. I truly feel privileged to participate in what is without a doubt the greatest race on earth.”
With all of that in mind, it certainly makes our Hadrian’s Wall challenge seem a bit more doable whilst also once again putting age into perspective. As far as I am concerned it is not just about getting old, it is about how you get old which dictates what you can or perhaps cannot do when you get there….mum!