By Nick Harris
24 February 2010
A British ultra-marathon runner who has entered the first 1,000-mile race to be staged anywhere in the world for seven years has told sportingintelligence he is “terrified” at what the race could do to his mind as well as his body but that he is “reasonably confident” he can win.
William Sichel, 56, is an Englishman of Scottish heritage who lives in the Orkney archipelago. He is the current holder of six ultra records at world, British and Scottish level. He is unbeaten in events longer than 48 hours, which should stand him in good stead for next month’s 1,000-mile World Cup race in Greece.
The event is the headline feature at the Athens International Ultra-marathon Festival, and the race, at Loutraki, is scheduled to last up to 16 days, from 15-31 March. “Many people think this is a stage race or something,” Sichel says. “In fact it is a non-stop, first-pass-the-post race to the finish, with the race ‘live’ from start to finish.”
The field will involve 24 athletes from 12 countries. Any competitor covering less than 50 miles per day is disqualified, on the basis they are not taking the event seriously. If Sichel finishes the race, he will become the oldest Briton ever to have covered 1,000 miles inside 16 days on foot.
The last time a 1,000-mile race was held anywhere in the world was in 2003, and no man finished. Sichel will also be attempting to break new ground; his previous longest distance was 532 miles in six days in 2008 in a race in Germany.
“The step-up is the most frightening aspect this time,” he says. “Runners are familiar with moving up from 10km to half marathon and on to the marathon distance. But I must move from 532 miles to 1,000 miles. The physical and mental challenges posed by this event are unparalleled in almost any other athletic endeavour.”
Sichel started running during the “marathon boom” of the 1980s, and has clocked a best time of 2 hours 38 minutes and 17 seconds over the traditional distance of 26 miles and 385 yards. But in the mid-90s, after a hiatus, he realised he was feeling fresher after each marathon, and a running shop owner suggested he could be suited to ultra events.
So it proved. His personal bests now include 153.3 miles in 24 hours on the road, 213.92 miles in 48 hours indoors and 532.56 miles in six days. A brush with testicular cancer in 1997 did not interrupt his running for too long. “I was diagnosed and had surgery within a week, and have been fine since.”
Sichel will typically run five or six ultra events per year, including 24-hour and 6-day races. His last event was a 24-hour run in Helsinki in January, when he covered 110 miles.
His strategy in Greece will be to run in “five-hour work periods” and then stop for 20 to 30 minutes for food and rest breaks, power-napping as he needs to.
In his day job, he runs a business hand dyeing knitted yarn from the wool of angora rabbits to produce thermal clothing, including underwear. His sporting life is not so conventional.