Jubilant Briton completes 1,000-mile road race

After a fortnight of almost continuous running, Britain's William Sichel, 56, today claimed second place in a rare "non-stop" 1,000-mile road race, claiming a new world distance record for a man of his age in the process.

The World Cup 1,000-mile event at the International Ultra-marathon festival, held at Loutraki, outside Athens, is "live" from start to finish, with breaks only for food, changes of clothes, medical attention and power naps.

"I can't quite believe I've done it," Sichel told The Independent in a telephone interview from Greece this afternoon. "The step up in distance was the hardest part. I've run hundreds of miles before but this was almost twice as far as my previous best."

The race began on 15 March and will end on Wednesday, by which time the athletes still running will have finished, or have been encouraged to stop. The race attracted an international field of 16 runners from 12 nations, although seven have pulled out already, three of them having run more than 600 miles each before doing so.

The first runner to complete the distance - and win - was a German, Wolfgang Schwerk, who finished on Saturday, in a time of 11 days, 23 hours, 18 minutes and 32 seconds, leaving Sichel in a head-to-head battle with an Italian, Lucio Bazzana, for second place.

Sichel, an Englishman with Scottish heritage who lives on the Orkney island of Sanday, won that contest today to bag the runners-up spot in 13 days, 20 hours 8 minutes and one second. That time meant Sichel smashed the 1,000-mile world record for men aged 55+ by 24 hours and 37 minutes. The holder of the old mark was another Briton, Dan Coffey.

"It's very satisfying to have done the race," Sichel said. "The hardest part was around the 750-mile stage when I was thinking ‘I've done 750 miles and there's still 250 miles to go'.

"That seemed like a long way left at that point. But I got into the mindset of thinking about just the next 20 minutes, and then next 20. Taking it 20 minutes at a time was okay mentally."

No 1,000-mile race has been staged anywhere for seven years before the current one, and no man had actually finished a 1000-mile race for more than a decade.

Ultra-running at such extreme distances is a specialist pastime, and competitors tend to be older and have constitutions that allow them to withstand sleep deprivation and intense demands on their bodies for prolonged periods. Sichel, who made a rapid recovery from testicular cancer after being diagnosed in 1997, fits that bill.

By finishing the race Sichel becomes the oldest Briton ever to run 1,000 miles, and 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's race manager, Alan Young, speaking earlier today as Sichel was taking an immediate post-race "crashout nap" said: "At one stage in the past couple of days, the difference between William and Lucio was as close as 350 metres, which is incredible after almost two weeks' running. But William stayed consistent and Lucio couldn't make inroads."

Sichel added: "It's been an amazing event, but I don't think I'll be doing one of these every year."

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