It cannot be denied.
Nathan and Tori and DaznBone - we are just a big bunch of hippies. Hippies by definition are programmed to be kind and to be helpful - mentors and coaches. For hosting a RunCamp in the Bulgarian mountains, where you cater for different running strengths and people who may want to get very distinct things out of a RunCamp , it often pays to be more direct - easy on the freedom and choices!
This is one of the things that we have learnt from this years “Spartathlon” based RunCamp. There’s more and we really want the focus of this blog to be on these learnings and share how we will make next years (2020) even more beautiful and rewarding.
You don’t have to look too far to see that we love Spartathlon and that we have a huge amount of knowledge that we are keen to share. We love the fact that we have runners who are looking ahead to the 2020 and 2021 editions of this race. Sometimes the best thing about achievement is the journey and if you go straight to the race “without enjoying all the things that you can experience along the way” then perhaps you are missing out. As we said our hippie tendencies mean that we cherish the small detail - like Nathan’s small shorts - and that mesmeric “tippy tappy” run style that is so effortless
Spartathlon requires a unique set of running skills and we look to hone in on these during the RunCamp with you:
Cut-offs: There is a mentality and focus needed for Spartathlon. For the first two marathons (from Acropolis to the iconic Corinth canal) you need to be able to get a “shift on”. Go too fast and you may cook yourself for later. Go “too slow” and you may spend the next 5-10 hours perilously close to the cut-off times. In this year’s RunCamp we had runners that included 3 previous finishers (Fastest Brit, 32 and 34 hour finishers), some DNF experiences, first time entrants for 2019 as well as those who would love to get into future versions. There was a variety of abilities and critically speeds but in our RunCamp there’s a desire to make sure that the runners are aware of the need to “push” to get outside of their comfort zones and to be thinking about their pace and pace management.
Next year we will be introducing three groups to cater for three different speeds. This means we can unleash the front group and we can offer another level that doesn’t need to follow everything that the other groups do. Don’t worry there will be plenty of running done together as a complete group and you can inter-change between groups depending on how you are feeling.
Start-times - to get every mile in (some covered 80+ miles in this years camp) and to beat the mid-day heat we had a few 06:00 am starts. This was tough and you could see by Day 4 (and the 08:00 am start) that it was etched on some faces. Not saying that we will change this next year but there may be an option or two.!
Heat Control (Unexpected weather) - One of the bonuses of Bulgaria and being in the mountains is that you have the ability to move around depending on the weather. It is the type of system that you can see coming down the mountains and valleys. Spartathlon is typically a “hot” race. You can often experience temperatures in the mid to high 30s over both days. That said the mountain section (see next part) can also bring a drop in temperature of 30+ degrees. We were lukcy to get four straight days of incredibly hot weather which meant that we totally lucked in with perfect hot Spartathlon type conditions. Stormy conditions were never too far away though - so being prepared and having options is paramount.
Cool down Option 1 - Making Snow Angels in the Mountain Snow aka Andy!!!!
Cool down 2 - Jump into the Glacier Mountain Lake!!! aka Si & Allan
Opt3 - Cool down or WARM UP in Bryna Thermal Springs
It is super tempting when you are surrounded by infinite Mountain trails to totally get off the roads and off-grid. Well Spartathlon isn’t like that. There is the one infamous mountain section that contains a 9 mile hike up twisty roads before you get to “mountain base” and then a short (but steep and invariably cold/wet) and fiddly ascent to the top. We wanted to be very true and specific to the conditions during our RunCamp and so we stuck to the tarmac on the mountain climbs on both days. It’s tough (even tougher on Day 2) but as so many of us don’t get to do this too often it is priceless training. When you get to the top you are met with the most beautiful views and of course either a traditional “honey tea” or a less traditional Bulgarian beer!
If you have climbed 15 miles and are preparing a 15 mile downward descent then you can absolutely celebrate aka Carl the Legend
Nutrition: One of the real highlights for us on this years RunCamp was the interaction between all the guests regarding food and nutrition stories - what works well and what has helped them in their races.
You wil be hard pushed to find tastier cherries on the planet…Served up after every run…fresh from the fridge for a refreshing hit x
As locals to Bansko for over 10 years Tori and Nathan have a unique insight into what is available to eat and drink during the summer months of this mountain resort. As ultra runners it is not totally unexpected to get some “plant based” perspectives but it was great to have several passionate veggies/vegans on the trip. Whilst the local cuisine typically favours the pork knuckle lovers there was a really uplifting variety and taste to the vegetarian meals. Fair to say from the feedback that we received that this is such a huge part of any RunCamp that we have taken on board the requests for more varied breakfasts - good juices - avocados (which are amazing in Bulgaria) as well as the local yoghurts.
Night Run: During the planning stages of this years RunCamp the one thing that Nathan and David were totally into was the idea of a Mountain Night Run. A logistical challenge of any RunCamp is to manage the “downtime” as well as the “running”. On the morning of Day 3 we had a spectacular 25 mile+ run. and when we came back into Bansko for another glorious sunshine baked lunch it’s fair to say that many of us were “knackered”. We had roughly six hours before it made sense to start any night run and during that time we had some RunCampers that were chomping at the bit for another challenge and some that were happy to take themselves off into Bansko town and find another amazingly priced banquet and toast the mornings miles.
FACT: the Night Run was brutal!!! It was a really tough 7 miles back up the mountain - Andy even kept his top on!. We misjudged the sunset timings (you could sense that it was going to be peachy but we just didn’t get a clear view through the forests. When we made it to the Ski Gondola section we could see the full moon but we took a team decision not to hang around and we followed the pretty gnarly ski path down. Hats off to Simon and Andy for being the trail-warriors - after everything that had come before they continued to push hard all the way back to Bansko.
So pleased that we made it back on this occasion to regroup with the others and share a well deserved night cap. Definitely going to learn a few songs for the guitar next year!!!!!
Running along busy A-roads - not a lot of love from lorries!!!! Single file and a strong solid pace to kick off Day 3 - Impressive stuff from our RunCampers
It’s not all PRETTY!!!! - We have the power to make every part of your RunCamp experience a pleasure. We can offer you irresistible Mountain views, world-beating thermal springs and spas, 16th century restaurants and history, farmers markets with the tastiest of local produce. However one of the critical factors of doing a “tough” ultra like Spartathlon is that there will definitely be some parts of the race that aren’t pretty and we passionately believe in squeezing some of this in too.
On Day 3 we started the day with a 7 mile A-Road route to mountain base. You will experience a fair amount of this in Spartathlon/Badwater/Cross continent events"! and it’s great to practice.
Community: Finally one of the strengths of Spartathlon is the community itself. I spoke to a dear friend Adam the other day (Dragons Back finisher 2019 and regular Bob Graham round supporter) and he asked why would anyone do a race like Spartathlon. We like to think that there is no better endorsement of a race than the high percentage of global athletes that return back to a race. It really is one of epic assaults on the senses and the scale of it really does get under your skin. You can choose to do a huge amount of it on your own but we personally believe that the value comes from the spirit of the community that support you and the event. It is something that we really want to foster within the RunCamp and the story-telling during the four days plays a huge part in making this come alive. We’ve sat back and watched the RunCampers advise each other on styles and tricks. We have seen them help each other get into their next races, help them plan out the next few months before Spartathlon or their next big ultra and we have seen a community of new friends emerge.
An absolute privilege and buzz to have been able to put this camp on and we are already loving the thought of getting a tribe together for 2020. So many things that we didn’t do. So many cool options that will ensure everyone gets the maximum out of it. See you in 2020