The 36th Spartathlon race was completed last weekend as Japanese runner Yoshihiko Ishikawa finished first with an impressive time of 22 hours, 55 minutes and 13 seconds. Radek Brunner from the Czech Republic came in second, and after the race, he exclusively talked to Kathimerini about his latest accomplishment, the Spartathlon competition, the severe weather conditions, but also why he runs 246 kilometers as a hobby.
Spartathlon is one of the most historic and challenging ultra-marathon races in the world, and it is hosted in Greece every year. The journey is 246 kilometers long, starts in Athens and ends in Sparta.
As Brunner describes it, the race may be tough, but it is the greatest ultra-marathon of the world: “Spartathlon is by far the best competition. In my first year in the race (2015), I ranked 30th, and it was absolutely amazing. It was the best race I’ve ever experienced even though I came in 30th. The atmosphere was incredible, and when I reached the finish line and the statue of the ancient Spartan King, Leonidas, the feeling was amazing. Generally, the last kilometers and running inside the town of Sparta are staggering.”
The adverse weather this year with strong winds and heavy rain made the race much more challenging for the athletes: “It was an incredibly tough race this year, due to the weather conditions. I had only one t-shirt with me until the 159th kilometer. Then, I switched shirts and put on the long sleeved one, but the rain was very hard, and the wind was strong as well. At one checkpoint, I even had to get wrapped in a space blanket to warm up my body”, Brunner said.
Besides the weather conditions, the 43-year old had problems with his stomach during the race: “Even though I started the race faster than last year, after 60 km I had some big problems with my stomach. I got sick and I had to stop and drink only water. Had I drunk energy drinks, I would have had a bigger problem. I had to slow my pace down, and as a result, after 20 km I dropped from the third place to the 11nth. I thought the race was over for me. However, I did not give up, and after 20-30 km I felt better and told myself I could make the top-10. I then came back, passed some of my fellow athletes and suddenly, after the top of the mountain I was fourth. Eventually, I ran faster and reached the second place, but could not challenge the winner.”
After 23 hours, 37 minutes and 15 seconds, Brunner finally reached the finish line and the statue of Leonidas: “The first thing I thought when I reached the finish line and the statue was that the race was over. The last 10 km went by really slow for me. The mind was dead, I was exhausted, the rain was pouring, and it was hard.”
Preparting for such an event is not easy. The runners work out daily, all summer long in order to complete this extreme task. The 43-year old runner shared his daily running schedule with Kathimerini: “I wake up at 6 a.m. and run in the morning. I run 10-15 km before heading to work. After that, I go to work and sometimes during the middle of the day (at 12 p.m.), I run again. The runs that start at 12 are between 20 to 40 km. I try to run three times a day, and complete approximately 60 km (20-20-20). In the weekends, I run approximately 140 km.”
During this summer, Radek Brunner was injured and did not train as planned. However, he did not stop working, even if he had fewer days to prepare: “I had an injury in June, and it was not possible for me to have good preparation. When people back in the Czech Republic asked me about the Spartathlon event, I said that I need 70 days to prepare for it. Unfortunately, due to my injury, I only had 50 days of preparation, but still managed to come in second. Usually, I run long distances every day in the summertime, even though the warm weather conditions in my country make it tougher.”
People usually ask why one runs ultramarathons and what does he/she gain. For the Czech athlete, it’s simple. You have to try it, to understand the feeling: “You should run in order to find out what is important in this. We all are different and we like different things. When they ask me why I run 40 km every day, I tell them that my mind is relaxing. Imagine that the last seven years I run the same route every single morning and enjoy it just as much as I did when I ran the first time. My mind empties, it relaxes.”
As for his ultimate goal in running, Brunner says he wants to break Yiannis Kouros’ Spartathlon record (20:25.00): “I want to try and break Kouros’ record. Why not? It’s not impossible. You just have to run faster,” he stated jokingly.