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Spartathlon - Historic Ultra Marathon In Greece

by Alexandra Parren

Spartathlon historic ultra marathon Greece

The Spartathlon Ultra Marathon race is an historic ultra-distance race that takes place in September of every year in Greece. It is one of the most gruelling and challenging ultra-distance races in the world because of its terrain, length, and route. The total distance covered is a whopping 250km (roughly 155 miles) and is completed over a period of 36 hours with racers running through the night.

Spartathlon is rooted in history and was first developed by John Foden, a British RAF Wing Commander. As a lover of Greece and student of ancient Greek history, Foden was reading ancient Greek historian Herodotus' account of Pheidippides, the man who inspired the original Marathon race. It is fabled that before his famed run to Marathon, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta, a distance of 250km, overnight. This inspired Foden to wonder whether it would be possible for a modern man to achieve this incredible feat, and so the Sparthalon was born.

ultra marathon running Greece Spartathlon

The Spartathlon revives the footsteps of Pheidippides, an ancient Athenian long distance runner, who in 490 BC, before the battle of Marathon, was sent to Sparta to seek help in the war between the Greeks and the Persians. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides arrived in Sparta the day after his departure from Athens.
From 1984 the International Association "Spartathlon" was founded, which since then has continuously organised the race each September. The choice of this month is because that is the time reported by Herodotus for Pheidippides’ run to Sparta.

The Spartathlon course sees racers pass through some of the most beautiful and historically significant parts of Greece, including The Parthenon, The Temple of Athena Nike, and The Acropolis. The elevation climbs a total of 1,200 meters (3,937ft) from sea level, which will certainly test the legs. The weather conditions can be a factor in the difficulty of the race, and each checkpoint has a time cut-off. Racers who arrive to the race control point after the cut-off time will not be able to continue the race.

As an international race, athletes from all over the world descend upon Greece to tackle this amazing challenge. The fastest winner of the race to date, Kouros Yiannis, did so in its very first year, 1984, in a time of 20:25:00. Only 18 racers took part that year, a number which has grown over the years to 370 in 2016.

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