Spartathlon DNF - Darren shares it how it was

Saturday 1st October 2016, 12:40pm, 25 miles north of Sparta, Greece. I can see it, it's just there, the checkpoint, there at the top of the rise, about 200 metres away. I'm stumbling towards it, weaving, shuffling, moving slower than a crawl. My legs are shot, they won't respond to my mind's feeble exhortations. It's 33 degrees, but feels like more. I'm being pasted by the sun, burning me from what feels like directly above. There is no breeze, and the heat is radiating off the road, burning me from below. I've lost around 15 minutes of my precious buffer against the race cutoffs just in the last couple of miles, and I know, I know deep inside that this race is over for me. I'm nearly at the checkpoint now, my crew and supporter team are there, though they are not supposed to be. They are trying to encourage me not to stop, they have given so much to this race too, they are so invested in it. I can hear the panic in their voices, my wife Rosie is verging on tears, they are upset. They are not allowed to touch me here, so they can only ask the checkpoint team to help me, they are arguing a little with the checkpoint team, and are told to back off. I ask to sit down, for the first time in nearly 31 hours and 128 miles, I ask to sit down. I think there are a couple of minutes where I make some slow attempts to drink something or cool down a bit, but it's hopeless, all the fight has left me. Everything has left me. It's over. I put my head in my hands, and let the tears come. So ended my attempt at this year's Spartathlon, in failure. But before the failure, there was a hell of a lot of good stuff, so i'm going to try to capture as much of it here as I can, because it will help me learn for next time, if there is a next time. And hopefully there are a few people out there who enjoy reading this kind of thing and can learn something, even from a DNF. Sorry for the length of this post, thanks for reading. Stage 1 - Athens to Megara Friday 30th September, 2016, 7am, the Acropolis. Athens, Greece. This is it, the biggest race of my life, the biggest physical undertaking i've attempted to date. I'm nervous, but not cripplingly so. I'm relishing the challenge ahead, our "war" is about to begin. 390 runners from all over the world crowd the makeshift start line and before we know it we are off and away. My running buddy James and I are quickly separated in the rush of people down the hill and away from the Acropolis, but it's ok, we have plenty of time to get back together. James finished this race last year, and we're aiming to run this one together as much as we can, but with the agreement that we'll split up if we have to. Down into the streets of Athens we go.... finally I am in this race, after years of thinking about it, what a buzz! It is rush hour in Athens, and we are running on fairly major roads. The police do an incredible job of holding back the traffic at major junctions to let the race pass, drivers leaning on their horns at us, whether in frustration or encouragement i'm not sure. James and I hook up for a while and then drift apart again, and I spend some time chatting with other runners. I lock into the same pace as Sophie Power from the British team, and we spend a good few miles chatting away about running, life in London, our kids etc etc. Sophie and I run up the hill out of Athens together at a decent clip, nothing too crazy pace wise though. We are playing leapfrog with Rusty Rusk, also from the British Team, who is adopting a run/walk strategy from the start. On past the half marathon mark and eventually Sophie and I drift apart, and James and I join forces. It's time to stick together and go to work. For the next little while we find our rhythm, keeping a good pace whilst making sure we stay as cool as possible as the mercury is starting to rise. At every checkpoint, we dunk our hats into buckets of water and get a sponge over our heads and necks. Also ice cubes inside our "buffs" wherever possible. We are keeping perfect pace against our plan, and both feeling good. We start going through some oil refineries outside Athens and it's all a bit grotty, but it doesn't bother me too much. At some point we are briefly running with Rob Pinnington, captain of the British team, but he seems to be struggling. James tries to encourage Rob to come with us, but we drift apart from him and James and I push on. Thanks Rob for getting some ice cubes for me at one of the checkpoints there and showing me how to wrap it into a buff. At some points coming out of Athens, there were groups of schoolkids who'd been let off their lessons for a little while to come and see the race. They'd line up along the road for high fives from the runners, which was very cool and a nice boost. I hope they get the chance to run Spartathlon one day, it's a big deal in Greece. Eventually we get near to Megara, the marathon mark and the first point where we can receive assistance from our crew. I have my brother Jeff and best man Garry crewing for me, whilst James has his wife Laura and our mate Jamie Holmes, a man who finished this race last year. Later on Rosie will join us at Corinth as a supporter. The Megara checkpoint is just loads of cars parked up on either side of the road. We have to go across a timing mat so our time can be recorded and then find our crew. Fortunately, Garry is out on spotting duty and he gets hold of us and leads us through the crowds and up to the cars, otherwise it could have been quite stressful. We reach the marathon mark in 4:15, bang on schedule. Our crew treat us, getting us cooled down again and our bottles and pockets restocked. They are well organised and on the case, getting us out of there probably in under 3 minutes. Fortified, we push on. Stage 2 - Megara to Corinth We're into the race now, and it feels great. Part of me had been worried about dropping out for some reason in the really early stages, and having huge regrets. So far that hasn't happened, and i'm feeling good about our prospects. But, the sun is now fully up and it is hot, hot, hot. Time to see if all that sauna training I did had any impact. The course also is now hillier and we have to get up to Corinth, 23.5 miles away, in about 4 hours 35 minutes. It doesn't sound too hard but believe me when I say it's no cakewalk! The bonus here is that we now have some stunning scenery to take our minds off the effort. We are running along the old coastal road with the Saronic Gulf on our left. It is really beautiful, and the quality of the road is very good, so we are able to coast along not wo