Runner’s dream of completing 153-mile Greek ultra-marathon is dashed by ‘Mediterranean hurricane’

Russell Tullett running through Storm Zorba at night
Russell Tullett running through Storm Zorba at night

A PORTSMOUTH endurance runner has seen his hopes of completing the ‘world’s toughest footrace’ thwarted by a freak Mediterranean storm.

Russell Tullett, 56, was competing in the gruelling 153 mile Spartathlon event in Greece when competitors were hit by a weather phenomenon known as a medicane – named after the storm’s location and resemblance to a hurricane.

Cosham endurance runner Russell Tullett

Cosham endurance runner Russell Tullett

‘I have been coming out to this part of the world for many years and I have never seen anything like it,’ said Russell.

Rather than the hot gruelling conditions normally experienced in the last weekend of  September, Russell endured torrential rain, gale force winds and flash floods as a result of the now infamous Medicane Zorba.

‘I was running for 28 hours and 27 were in torrential rain. The water I was running through which was coming down the hillside was shin deep. The winds were between 60 and 70 miles per hour. Trees were bent over and slates were flying around. One lady, who always completes the race, had to be withdrawn as she was getting blown off the road,’ explained Russell. 

Despite the conditions, Russell was initially on track to complete the challenge.

Russell tending to his feet

Russell tending to his feet

‘I reached the 100-mile mark in 20 hours and 45 minutes – one hour fifteen minutes ahead of the cut off point,’ explained Russell.

The next 20 miles proved to be particularly difficult as the conditions began to take their toll.

‘In the end I got timed out at the 120 mile mark. Due to continually having to run in wet conditions my feet were trashed – I had horrendous blisters. I was also shivering from the cold and was becoming hypothermic,’ said Russell.

Russell also attributes the continuous time wasted having to constantly change clothing as a contributory factor to missing the final check point time.

Zorba also took her toll on other competitors with more than a third of the 360 competitors unable to complete the race – far higher than under normal conditions.

Despite the experience, Russell is now more determined than ever to complete the event and has already entered his name into next year’s entry ballot. 

‘Before coming out I thought I would have to have a “golden day” to complete the race. Coming so close under such adverse conditions I now know I can definitely do it. If it wasn’t for Zorba then I am sure I would have made the finish in time,’ stressed Russell.

Many holiday makers were also affected by the medicane, which meteorologists say can have conditions similar to a category one hurricane. The weather event led to flash floods and mini tornadoes with three people in Greece still unaccounted for.