Briton John Melbourne of Tadworth AC entered HUC 2016 in search of a challenge, inspired by the story of the Kreipe abduction.
Being asked before the race about his finish time, he predicted an 18-hour finish and pushed politely for a return shuttle to be at the finish area at that time. Even if that estimate proved a bit ambitious, he did arrive at Peristeres Beach almost 21-and-a-half hours after setting off from Vosakou Monastery to become the first ever winner of Heroes Ultra.
Looking ahead to 2017 and his return to Heroes Ultra to defend his crown, he recalls some of the moments from the 2016 race.
Q: Did you have any tactics or a plan going into the race?
As this would be my first 100 miler the plan was to leave enough in the tank to finish strong and not have to crawl over the line. I hope to complete the race in around 20 hours however I did underestimate some of the more technical elements of the course and it soon became apparent this would be overly ambitious. I planned for the heat and made sure I drank plenty and took on lots of salts and electrolytes on route.
Q: What was the one single thing that gave you the most trouble during the race (apart from your phobia of getting lost)?
Definitely the heat. The afternoon section of the race was a blur and at a couple of checkpoints I really wasn’t “with it”. Having said that i prefer that to gale force winds and rain which you often get on other mountain races!
Q: I can tell you for a fact very few people in the villages I spoke to expected any of you to finish! In many areas you would have been the first ultra runner people had ever seen – literally. Do you remember much of the experience of entering those villages and aid stations?
The welcome at all the checkpoints was truly humbling and one I have never experienced anywhere before. Whole villages lined the streets and cheered me on even through the night. It really helped pick me up and keep me going through some of the tougher points in the race. Every other competitor I have spoken with fondly recounts a similar experience.
Q: As we were following you around the course, you seemed to be going through a few ups and downs, even at a stage in the race where you were comfortably in the lead.
Every long distance race is a rollercoaster of pain and emotion and this was no different. What made it tougher was having the lead and not wishing to blow it down the stretch. In fact I had no real crises but a couple of periods of suffering in the heat that I had to push on through. Whilst tough, running for so long on my own really added to the experience especially the final descent down to the beach which will live with me forever.
Q: On to practical stuff, was there any piece of kit you carried that wasn’t in the mandatory kit list that you would consider indispensable for the race?
A buff to soak up the sweat and protect my neck from the sun. Salt tablets also came in handy to cope with the heat.
Q: What advice would you give, if any, to runners participating in HUC 2017?
Easier said than done but really take the time to appreciate the scenery. Don’t go too hard on the technical sections as there are plenty of opportunities to make up speed and time along the route. Soak up and embrace the reception from the local villagers – this will top any cheering crowds in the Alps or at a big city marathon. You will be made to feel really special.
If you can, read the book Ill met my moonlight before you start the race. It describes the epic experience of the British and Cretan resistance soldiers during the 2nd world war. Once you have read the book the race will mean so much more and will live longer in the memory.
Q: Finally, in 2016 you set the course record at 21h 31′ 25”, almost 2 hours ahead of second place Dimitris Ziamparas. How much do you think you can push that in 2017?
Taking a wrong turn along with Eusebio at around mile 30 cost me a good 20 minutes and with knowledge now of the course and how to pace the race better I think sub 20 hours is achievable.
_Running ultras since: 2008
_Racing result highlights: 2nd place North Downs 50 , 1st place Endurancelife Exmoor Ultra , 2nd place Maui Oceanfront Marathon 
_Race wishlist: Western States (US), Spartathlon (Greece), Fuego Y Agua (Nicaragua), Tahoe 200 (US)
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