By Nick Harris
9 March 2010
Britain’s most successful ultra-marathon runner has told sportingintelligence today that he is about to “step into the unknown” as he tries to become the first man in more than a decade to finish a 1,000-mile running race.
William Sichel, 56, is an Englishman with Scottish roots who lives on the Orkney island of Sanday and is making his final preparations for the 1,000-mile World Cup event, the main feature at the International Ultra-marathon Festival in Athens. His race is due to start at 2pm local time (midday UK time) next Monday, and is scheduled to finish on 31 March – if any of the 24 competitors from 12 nations survive that long.
“I wouldn’t expect more than a third of the field will finish, at most,” Sichel says. “But I’m well prepared and certainly I hope to make it to the end. Barring an unforeseen illness or a serious injury while I’m running, I think I can do that.”
Although rest breaks are permitted, the race is “live” from start to finish and most racers stop solely for food, changes of clothes and power naps.
Sichel will be accompanied by a two-man support team comprising his crew chief Alan Young, and assistant Tim Rainey. The crew establish a “base camp” at the venue – a former airport at Loutraki, outside the Greek capital – and are most important during Sichel’s short stops.
“On day one, a change of socks will take me just a few minutes, Sichel says. “But by the end of a week, when your head is all over the place and you’re so tired you’re almost hallucinating, that simple task can take 20 minutes.
“If you become sloppy, it can cost you literally hours per day. That’s where the crew are so valuable, getting you to sit, lie, rest, eat, stand; basically keeping you moving after your breaks.”
Sichel holds a variety of Scottish, British and world records but says of the forthcoming race: “It will be the pinnacle of my 16-year ultra distance running career to date.”
The 1,000-mile event is rarely held because so few people want to run that far, or can do. “It’s really taking me into foreign territory, as I have never run more than 532 miles before, so it is a mammoth step up in distance for me,” Sichel says.
The last British male to complete a 1,000 miles in under 16 days was a Scottish-Canadian, Al Howie, in 1991, when he was 45 years old.
If Sichel completes the distance, he will become the oldest Briton ever to run 1,000 miles. Any competitor covering less than 50 miles per day in the forthcoming race will be disqualified, on the basis they are not taking the event seriously.
During the run, Sichel, who says he is “not good at taking on calories” will mainly consume “sloppy porridge” and diluted skimmed milk. He will, however, take “flavour pack” with him, comprising olive oil, tomato puree, maple syrup and mustard, each to be mixed with the porridge to make it more palatable.
Sichel thinks his toughest opponent will be a German, Wolfgang Schwerk, 54, who has covered the distance before, although Sichel beat him in a head-to-head over six days in 2008 when Schwerk retired early.
Schwerk certainly has long-distance pedigree, as the current 3,100-mile world record holder and as someone who ran an average of 72.8 miles per day for 42 days in 2002, setting 74 distance records in the process.
Sichel will have to endure a trek before his race. He will leave his home on the remote island of Sanday – population 540 – early on Friday and board a 10-seater plane for an 8.30am flight to the Orkney capital, Kirkwall, and then fly on to Edinburgh, London and Athens, arriving on Saturday afternoon for a Monday start.