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.




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