Dublin-based ultramarathon runner Alastair Higgins has hit the much sought-after automatic qualifying time for iconic ultra race the ‘Spartathlon‘, taking home first place in the UK’s Flitch Way 100km race, near Braintree, in the process.
Higgins took the lead in the Flitch Way race with around 20kms to go, having run much of the distance in third place. His consistent splits saw him average four minutes 43 per kilometres over the 100kms, and contained only 12 kilometres at over five minutes pace.
It saw Higgins reel in the leaders over the out and back course, to finish in seven hours and 55 minutes. A sub-8 hour time is enough to qualify for the Greek contest.
“The course was 5kms each way, out and back, which acts as a kind of mental reset after each time,” Higgins said of the race.
“It breaks it all up into five or 10km chunks, which is helpful as it can be hard to keep track of your pace when you don’t have regular markers.
“As it was out and back, I could also see the other runners in front of me at about the same point on the course every time, and I knew I was slowly reeling them in.
“I was trying to keep something for the end, and knew I had a bit in the bank. The eight hours was key, that’s an automatic qualifying time for Spartathlon, and outside of that you need a slower time to get into a lottery.”
The Greek race traces the route Pheidippides took from Sparta to Athens, a path of around 150 miles that finishes with a climb up and down a mountain.
There are regular time cut offs that must be made by racers, and another serious inhibiting factor is the heat.
Training in Ireland involves regular runs in multiple layers of clothing aimed at raising the core temperature.
The field of athletes is world class, and a top 50 finish would be a fantastic achievement.
Higgins, though, is used to the hard yards: “I peaked at about 180kms a week,” he said of his recent training, “and tried to stay above 100 miles, which is about 161kms.
“Obviously, as a parent, that doesn’t always go to plan and you can’t really just add it on next week at that kind of distance, so you just have to accept it and move on.
“I’ve learnt a lot about recovery and nutrition, and you can really maximise the benefit and bounce back quickly.
“The worst part after the last run is actually my arms, from holding water bottles.”
Higgins is also the drummer in popular Dublin dance act Le Galaxie, and as well as the Spartathlon, plans to run the Belfast to Dublin ultra race later this year (he ran the same contest in reverse in 2017), and to go for entry to notorious American ultra race Badwater.