spartathlonWhat is it?

Now I really don’t want to get obsessed with this race… I really mustn’t. As a slow plodder it doesn’t really have any business being on the Wish List at all… but, oh, there’s something about this challenge, the toughness and the history of it that intrigues me…

Spartathlon is a historic ultra race which takes place in Greece every September. It retraces the journey of the Athenian Pheidippedes, who could well have been the first ever ultra runner. In 490 BC, on the eve of the Battle of Marathon, he ran from Athens to Sparta to seek aid from the legendary Spartan warriors against the invading Persian army.

Pheidippedes apparently arrived in Sparta the day after he left Athens, after meeting the god Pan on Mount Parthenio (the first ever case of ultra-induced hallucination?). At first thought to be a myth, in 1982 five British Royal Air Force officers who were keen ultra runners and who were intrigued by this story decided to see if such a journey between Athens and Sparta was possible in just two days.

Well, they made it and found it was not only possible but would make a cracking race so that many others could experience the torture too… and so Spartathlon was born!

How Far is it?

Now here’s the thing… the distance between Athens and Sparta is 153 miles (246 kilometres). And it’s not a stage race- it must be completed all in one go… and it has to be completed in under 36 hours. You set off at 7am in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens and must reach the statue of Leonidas in Sparta by 7pm the following day, where successful runners get to kiss his foot.

Oh and did I mention that the first 50 miles (80.5 km) must be completed in under 9 ½ hours, and that each checkpoint has its own cut off time… arrive late at any one and you are out!

What’s it like?

By all accounts- brutal! But then any race this length is always gonna be tough… and the tight cut off times mean less opportunity to turn things around if you hit a rough patch. In other ultras you can at least walk your way through- it’s not an option in Spartathlon.

The race mostly follows the roads, passing through the bustle of Athens and industrial estates before crossing the Corinth Canal where villages and olive groves are encountered. But at around 100 miles (159 kilometres) the 1,200 metre Mount Partenio is waiting to be tackled… there are no roads over the mountain so ascent and descent is on a rough track, and by the time you reach the mountain it will be dark…

Heat is also a factor, so your hydration and cooling systems need to be spot on. There are 75 checkpoints along the route offering water and snacks, runners also have their own support crew who will meet them at predetermined points along the route. Bags can also be dropped at specific checkpoints with supplies such as food or warm clothing and head torch for during the night.

How much is it?

The entry for Spartathlon is EUR 400 and includes free accommodation for 6 days, plus meals, which I think is very reasonable, although of course you will need to sort out your own flights.

There are also quite stringent entry requirements… they don’t just let any plodder into Spartathlon. Oh no, if you want to be on that start line at Athens, you need to have;

  • finished a race of at least 100 km (62 mi) in less than 10 hours, 30 minutes
  • competed in an event of more than 200 kilometers (120 mi)
  • competed Spartathlon previously or participated and reached the checkpoint  at Nestani  (172 km) in less than 24 hours and 30 minutes.

These must all have been done within the past three years.

You will also need a medical certificate from your doctor (presumably qualifying you as insane!!)

Do I want to do it?

Yes! Hell no… yes… NO!! It’s such a tough race (even the most seasoned ultra nutters struggle to complete it), and requires a unique combination of supreme fitness, a spot on mental attitude and more than a healthy dose of luck. I really think you would be crazy to enter this one.

Yet there’s something about it which draws me…

Find out more about the legend that is Spartathlon here… but don’t say you weren’t warned!

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Filed under: On The Wishlist- Ultra Races

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