When you’re challenging a marathon event, how do you begin, and how do you prepare?


Challenging the Sparthalon

GOAL:  complete the race

SWOT:  weather, individual strengths and weaknesses, replenishment strategy, race strategy



I challenge the sparthalon using project management and professional, strategic analysis. This is how super marathon runner Lai Guo-yang – affectionately known as Laida – a senior executive at a tech company and good friend of Kevin Lin.


The Sparthalon Begins

In the spring of 492 B.C. before Greece was united as a nation, the city state of Athens struggled to fend off the Persian army’s invasion on the Greek Peninsula. Pheidippides, a marathon runner of Athens ran more than 200 km in a single day to request assistance from Sparta. In the end, he died of exhaustion.

The road ran by Pheidippides has become today’s Sparthalon challenge. The experience of running in the path of ancestors and a piece of history has become one of the primary reasons the race attracts challengers; furthermore, the international competition attracts super marathon athletes from across the world each year. The opportunity to wave their country’s flag in glory after the event is an utterly touching event! Thus, began the Sparthalon of Laida.

Before the Sparthalon



Returning to the Beginning, the Day He Began Running…

Back in 2012, his busy job resulted in health issues. The addition of his continuously increasing weight gave Laida the determination to begin running and soon after, he attended his first full marathon – Tianzhong Marathon. He continued to attend events religiously and after training for 8 short months, he quickly fell from 88 kg to 66 kg. As he gained confidence and experience, Laida began to run longer distances.

I asked him “out of all the possible sports, why did you choose running?”

“Running is easy, it’s great for relieving stress, and it can be integrated into your life which is just great. Whenever I run 20, 30K, I feel elated, which is probably what they call a runner’s high; at 50-60K, I enter this selfless state and it just feels amazing!”

Laida began to run longer, further distances. The full marathons increased to super marathons, then the runner’s temple: the Sparthalon, a 36-hour 246 km event, one step at a time.


Rain Throughout the 246 km Race


Sparthalon Course


Live images: The participants slowly begin the climbing phase, but the light rain also begins to grow in strength. The temperature has fallen to a low of 10 degrees. The event organizers report a sudden hurricane forming in the Mediterranean, adding variables and challenges to the day’s race. This further tested the participant’s will, their strategy, and their preparation to see if they can complete this challenge.

Luckily, Laida is fully prepared. He reduced time spent in each CP station to maintain his body temperature while the equipment he prepared in advance at one of the CP stations came into effect. A raincoat ,change of shoes, wind and rain resistant soft shell jacket, and instant noodles. A warm bowl of noodles was much easier to swallow compared to the food prepared by the event organizer; it effectively replenished his energy and warmth. 


Using Instant Noodles to Replenish Stamina and Warmth at the CP Station


246 km, a total of 75 CP stations, he ran steadfast towards the next station.


The wind and rain resistant SUPERACE soft shell jacket kept him warm, assisting him greatly in this windy, rainy course


Treating the Event as a Project – Analysis & Strategy!

When Laida discussed training during the interview, he repeatedly emphasized “SWOT” instead of common runner vocabulary such as “run distance” and “course”.

After he qualified for the Sparthalon earlier in the year at the Taipei Expo Park Int’l Ultra Marathon, Laida began to plan the next 6 months of training. As a senior executive, he fully utilized his skill in managing roles, knowledge, and strategy. 



This year’s (2018) Taipei Ultra Marathon Event in February



“Analysis is critical, because it lets you know your condition to develop a correct strategy and achieve your goals for an event.” Laida tells me cheerfully while sharing his carefully organized presentations with me.

Since the Sparthalon isn’t an event that can be attended by anybody, there’s very little training data for reference, only few articles and word of mouth information. Laida was determined to complete the race and thought about how to achieve his goal. He continued to ask others for related experiences, so he could organize them while also tracking his own condition and training milestones. He combined internal and external strengths and weaknesses and developed the optimal strategy through SWOT analysis.

“A few key elements of analysis for the race were: weather, individual strengths and weaknesses, replenishment strategy, race strategy, and equipment strategy!”

After carefully studying the Sparthalon’s race format, course, and weather, Laida reflected on previous 24-hour ultra-marathon and EMBA 12 Gobi challenge experiences. The Mediterranean climate of Greece represents extreme temperature difference between day and night, so heat and cold endurance training was necessary; replenishing strategy was also related to the convenience and number of Cp stations; speed considerations and equipment were related to weather…; finally, there was distance accumulation, how to train while avoiding sport injuries. Laida increased his running distance by 20% each month and was able to experience running in a Mediterranean climate during his business trip in Turkey.

Within 6-months, all of his training was focused on achieving a singular goal: completing the Sparthalon.


Finish Line

Live images: After enduring the wind and rain, Laida finally reached the finish line. While draped with Taiwan’s flag, rays of sunlight began to penetrate the clouds as he ran towards the finish line of the prestigious event. He kissed the feet of the Spartan King Leonidas I statue to signify his glory in completing the challenge.


At the finish line of the Sparthalon, Laida stands before the statue of Spartan King Leonidas I,
while draped in Taiwan’s flag and wearing a laurel crown, basking in the magnificent glory of completing the 246K race.



Many ultra-marathon runners experience multiple attempts before their first successful challenge. As for Laida, he succeeded in one attempt through 6-months of training after obtaining his qualification this year throughout all his attempts since 2016. Some people succeed with luck, but Laida’s story is one of exemplary analysis and strategy. After the race, Laida gathered data and his experiences in hopes that this organization of information will assist future runners to conquer the Sparthalon with more success. While nothing was perfect throughout the race, what’s important is that we learn and accumulate from our experiences to improve our chances of success at the next event.




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