By Nick Harris
26 March 2010
Since a week ago last Monday, William Sichel has been running around a 1km circuit of road at a disused airport outside Athens in an attempt to become the first man in more than a decade to finish a 1,000-mile running race.
Now into its 12th day, the World Cup 1,000-mile event at the International Ultra-marathon festival is “live” from start to finish, with stops only for food, changes of clothes, naps, and, increasingly, medical attention.
An international starting field of 16 is down to 12 remaining competitors after four forced withdrawals, one by a German runner who had already run 757km.
Sichel, 56, is an Englishman of Scottish heritage who lives in the Orkney islands and makes his living hand-dyeing Angora wool to be made into clothes, including thermal underwear. He currently looks most likely to finish second in the race, staged at Loutraki just outside the Greek capital.
The leader at the 11-day stage, at 2pm local time today (midday UK time) was Germany’s Wolfgang Schwerk, who had covered 922 miles (1,484km) by that point. Schwerk is expected to finish the race – and therefore win – sometime tomorrow.
At 2pm Sichel was lying in second place, having run precisely 800 miles (1,287km), with Italy’s Lucio Bazzana behind him in third on 789 miles (1,270km).
Sichel’s crew manager, Alan Young, speaking to sportingintelligence from Athens this afternoon, says Sichel is in “fantastic” shape and is still targeting a world record from second place. The 1,000-mile world record for men aged 55 and over is in sight. It stands at 14 days 20 hours and 45 minutes and is currently held by another Briton, Dan Coffey. Sichel will need to finish before 10.45am on Tuesday, Greek time, to beat that record.
If Sichel finishes at all, he will become the oldest Briton ever to run 1,000 miles. He will also become the first Briton in almost 20 years to run 1,000 miles in under 16 days. The last person to do that was a Scottish-Canadian, Al Howie, in 1991.
Sichel had a setback earlier this week when the race doctor forced him off the track to rest for a total of around five hours in short spells. All the runners have a brief medical at 9am every morning to check their weight and blood pressure; at these extremes of endurance, serious health problems are a possibility.
“William’s blood pressure was a little high and the doctor said rest, so rest was mandatory,” Young says. “William felt absolutely fine. He didn’t want to stop. We think it cost him about five hours altogether. But we accept you have to be careful. There was also an issue of some fluid retention and puffiness around one eye. That could have been dangerous but wasn’t. He’s fine.
“He’s in great shape. He’s doing his running in five-hour blocks and as we’re towards the end now, we’re doing five hours running, stop for three, five more, stop for two. He’s got that record as his target.”
Sichel always knew that his toughest opponent would Schwerk, 54, who has covered the distance before (unlike Sichel), although the Briton beat the German 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.