Monthly Archives: March 2016

Fear and running

Fear is a bad thing isn’t it?

In our culture, we are all encouraged to be fearless. Admitting to fear is seen as a character flaw and a weakness.


Kids want to be Jedis, not Darth Vader

But I think fear is a good thing. Without fear, how can you develop courage – your strength to overcome your fear. To quote Hunter S Thompson “I understand that fear is my friend, but not always. Never turn your back on Fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed.”

I think this is one of the reasons I run. No, that’s not right. Running doesn’t scare me, most runs are fun. Even with races, that feeling in the pit of yoru stomach before the race, is normally just nerves. I’m not scared of the race, just nervous about whether my performance will meet my expectations.

However every year I try and seek out a race that will challenge me, scare me and force me to confront the fear of failure. This year, I think I have hit the jackpot…


Dear David Barker,

You can visit the Spartathlon website and login to your account or click Here and login. Please follow the instructions to fill the Entry form of this years race. Don’t forget to update your athletes profile.

The Spartathlon admin.

A very simple email, but all of a sudden this is real. My place is confirmed and I will be in Athens in September, attempting to run 153 miles in under 36 hours. I am a little surprised just how excited (and scared) I am about this.

Last year I entered TDS (74 miles in the mountains around Mont Blanc), and after receiving confirmation of my place, I wrote a training plan to incorporate a lot more hills, and then just got on with it (ok I did faff about with shoe selection, kit, nutrition etc. but i do this for every race). However the simple email above has had me reading over a dozen race reports from 2011-2015, studying the route and profile, and generally absorbing any information I can. I don’t think I have felt quite like this about a race since I entered the Centurion North Downs Way 100 in 2012. That was my first race longer than a marathon, and I had a real fear that I would fail. I guess this is the first race since then that I have entered knowing there is a real risk of failure.

While I was a little scared by this race before, the more the learn the scarier it gets. Here are some reasons to be fearful:

  • Average finisher rate 42% – more than half the participants fail to finish, despite the tough qualifying criteria
  • In 2012 the finisher rate was 23% – three out of four runners had a DNF!
  • Even those that finish struggle against the cuts offs – 50% take more than 34hrs


  • The 36 hour permitted time, and the cut offs at each of the 74 checkpoints force runners to keep moving, and don’t allow time for a break to recover if you have a bad patch mid race

That fear of failure is a good thing. I know it can motivate me to train harder, and focus more on my preparation before the race. However I will need to deal with that fear during the race as it will also affect how well I perform, and my decision making during the race.

One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do. Henry Ford


When I progressed from running 26.2 miles to running 100 miles, I didn’t make too many changes to my training. I still do speed work, and hill reps. My training volume has increased a little but peaks at 60 miles a week. I added a few back to back long runs, and night / head torch runs. For Spartathlon, I don’t think I need to do much more running. If I increase my training volume too much I just risk injury. However running long distances is as much in the mind as the body. This is the longest race I have ever entered, so mentally I will feel stronger if I know I have trained harder. To develop that mental strength I will try and peak at 80 miles per week.

The main changes I need to make to my training are to make it race specific.

Roads – Spartathlon is a road race, with a few trail sections as you run over the mountain. I need to ensure I do more of my long runs on road, so my legs get used to the hard surface.

Heat – Greece in September has an average maximum daytime temperature of 27C, but it can easily be much hotter. The route itself is on the road and for the most part there is no shade, so on a sunny day temperatures can hit well over 35C. The race reports I’ve read are full of horror stories and DNFs caused by over heating. I’ll need to switch some sessions from early morning to mid-afternoon, and maybe wear more layers to simulate the heat.

Hills – It is not a flat race! Most reports focus on Mount Parthenio (the 1200m mountain that is climbed during the night), on which Pheidippides met the god Pan when he ran this route. That’s like running up Snowdon at the end of a 100 mile race. There are plenty of other hills too, and even the first 100km (which looks flat on the profile below) is described by most runners as undulating. Long downhills on hard roads can cause a lot of muscle damage, so I’ll need to incorporate strength training in the gym as well as downhill speed work.




Steyning Stinger

I’d not entered this race before, but had heard that it was well organised and a great route over the south downs, so was really looking forward to it.

When I left the house the sun was shining in a pale blue sky, and I had to scrape the ice off the windscreen. The car’s thermometer was telling me it was freezing outside all the way down to Steyning, so I decided two layers plus hat and gloves would be the best option. If it was windy on the hill tops it could be hard work and slow going.

After picking up my number, and dropping off a bag of clean kit for after the race I hung around chatting to a few people. The marathon has a mass start at 8:30, but also allows walkers and slower runners to start earlier, and they start the race clock at 07:30. Just before the start I headed outside and joined the other runners in the start pen. We waited for the clock to slowly tick up from 0:58:00, 0:59:00 and then on the hour set off. Stuart Mills rapidly shot off in the lead, and I settled down into what should be a comfortable pace in about 10th place. The first couple of miles were flat but muddy, so I was sliding around a bit and wondering if I should have worn my mudclaws. I had a brief chat with Eddie Sutton as she ran alongside me for a bit, but she had to stop to retie her laces so I carried on. Ewan Dunlop had been warned me that the first big climb was after 4 miles, as we left Washington and climbed up to the South Downs Way. I vaguely remembered this from two years ago, but on the Centurion SDW100 we were running in the other direction. It was a tough climb, and I was starting to get warm, but as I got to the top it was cold again so the gloves stayed on.


The race claims 4 stings

The next two miles were all downhill, so I tried to pick up the pace and fly over the downs. Up here it was the usual grass paths and flinty trail, so a better fit my my footwear and I was making good progress.

There were regular checkpoints offering water and snacks, so I had chosen to carry very little: two gels, my phone and a jacket in case of emergencies. This seemed to work well, as although I was working hard, the cool weather meant I wasn’t sweating much and not getting dehydrated.

Stunning views from the hill tops are a regular feature on this route and more than once I was tempted to stop and take pictures, but this was supposed to be hard effort, not an easy training run. After 10 miles I ran passed Chanctonbury Ring, which I remember well from SDW, but then the route heads south and takes a loop around Cissbury Ring and the Worthing golf course, with some beautiful views to the channel beyond.

There is another two mile loop around Steep Down, and on the way back you see other runners heading up the trail as you fly down. By now with 20+ miles run I was starting to struggle. Earlier I had run all but the steepest / most slippery sections but now I needed more and more walk breaks. I’m not sure if this means I need to increase my training effort on hills, or rest more before races, but I was hurting at this point.

At about 23 miles Eddie caught me, and instead of breezing passed, she slowed for a moment and encouraged me to get running and follow her up the final climb. Together we made it to the top and then pushed each other along the final couple of miles. A 7:19 final mile shows the benefit of having some one to run with at the end of a tough race.

The provisional results have been published but look at little odd. They have me in 8th and Eddie in 9th, but she crossed the line in front of me as shown here Results:



After the race, the organisers had laid on a full cooked breakfast for all competitiors. I needed to get home for lunch with my wife and children, so skipped the meal, but was very impressed with the race medal.





The Ultimate cake and coffee

When I saw the Facebook post inviting applications for brand ambassadors I knew I had to apply. I see quite a few of these posts on social media, and the majority do not appeal to me. The idea of free kit or sponsorship is attractive but representing a brand that I have no great affinity with or passion for seems dishonest.

Ashmei is a relatively young company, but I’ve been buying their running clothing since 2012. Their aim is to create the best performance kit in the market, and the quality and attention to detail is outstanding. As a distance runner who likes to run 100 mile races, I want great kit that will feel comfortable all day, and Ashmei fits the bill.

I applied to become an Ashmei brand ambassador last year, but was not selected, but reapplied this year and was invited to the attend the selection day. This proved slightly tricky. The selection day was Saturday 5th March, and would mean I’d be out all morning. I had already entered the Steyning Stinger marathon which was on the Sunday, and failed to note this was Mother’s Day. However my wife is very supportive of my running, so I accepted the invitation.

The day started with a brief presentation by Stuart the company founder, and then we got to hear from some of the current ambassadors: Owain, Louise and Simon. They had some great stories about their sporting year as ambassadors. In fact all the people I spoke to during the day had great tales about their running and cycling and some amazing plans for 2016 and beyond.

We were given a pair of Ashmei socks to try out. I already have several pairs, so asked for a pair in my wife’s size – the children could wrap it as an extra mother’s day present.

I love the attention to detail on these – the size is stitched in, so no arguments about whether you’ve stolen your partners socks!

We had been invited to go out for a run on local trails, so after the presentation we were soon outside and running. This was another opportunity to chat with the Ashmei team although the first hills made conversation strained. There was a biting wind as we ran along the ridge but once in the woods it was fantastic. I think if my office was at the Ashmei HQ I’d have plenty of inspiration for new sports kit, but too little time to put ideas into action- I’d be running the trails all day!

After a 6 mile run we were back at the office, where coffee and cake were served, before we all headed off. Inspired, but also eagerly hoping to be selected for the role.

The script beneath the Ashmei logo translates to ” the ultimate”, and a lot of effort had been put into make some amazing cakes.

The ultimate

The ultimate