Is this the toughest Team GB you’ve never heard of?
- 25 British runners to attempt the gruelling 153-mile Spartathlon race in Greece this September
- Team includes Welsh International Nathan Flear who recorded the fourth best British time ever at the 2017 race.
- Race includes a number of obstacles including a 3,900ft mountain pass at 100 miles in the dead of night
London, September 2018: Later this month 25 British runners will head to Greece to take part in what has been dubbed ‘the world’s most gruelling foot race’, Spartathlon.
The British team will join a field of 390 athletes from around the world on Friday September 28 to make the 153-mile journey from the Acropolis in Athens to the statue of legendary King Leonidas in Sparta.
The race follows in the footsteps of Athenian messenger Pheidippides, who ran the distance in advance of the 490BC Battle of Marathon to ask for Spartan help against invading Persian forces. Along the way, it pits runners against a number of hurdles that often sees less than 50 per cent of the starters complete the journey. These include the blazing heat of late-Greek summer and a hand-over-foot ascent to the 3,900ft summit of Mount Parthenion in the dead of night.
According to the Pheidippides legend, he came across the god Pan at the mountain peak – and runners will have to call on their own deities to help them reach Sparta. As if the challenging conditions were not tough enough, there are 75 check points; failing to meet strict time cut-offs at each one sees runners stripped of their numbers and forced to join the “death bus” that sweeps up those whose efforts culminate with the letters DNF (did not finish) after their name.
Runners must also complete the race within a 36-hour maximum time limit – meaning they have to run the distance almost non-stop at an average pace of no less than 4.25 miles an hour.
The British Spartathlon Team plays a unique role in the history of the race: RAF officers John Foden, John Scholtens and John McCarthy were the first three runners to complete the distance in 1982 when they set out on an RAF expedition to determine if the story of Pheidippides could be repeated. Their success led to the first Open International Spartathlon Race a year later, and the formation of the International Spartathlon Association, now the race’s governing body.
In an era when even the smallest participation marathons have been commercialised, Spartathlon remains steadfast to Olympian ideals: runners are not allowed to bear sponsors’ logos, and there is no prize money for the winner: Spartathletes run for the distinction of taking part and to fulfil a dream challenge.
This year sees a strong British team which includes Welsh international Nathan Flear, Ian Thomas who won this year’s Essex 100 Mile race, and Cat Simpson, first female in the 2017 145-mile Grand Union Canal Race.
The team’s 2018 captain Paul Ali said: “We have a very strong team this year that includes 11 runners who gained automatic qualification to the race thanks to their past results. Nathan Flear, who recorded the fourth best British time at Spartathlon 2017 looks like a particularly strong contender for a British win.
Editors’ notes: Spartathlon by numbers
- 153 miles: the length of the Spartathlon race
- 390: the number of runners
- 50%: the average percentage of runners who do not finish the race
- 36 hours: the race cut-off time
- 4.5mph: the minimum average pace to finish
- 75: The number of checkpoints in the race. Fail to make one by the cut-off time and an athlete’s place in the race and number is withdrawn
- 3,900ft: the summit of Mount Parthenion that runners have to scale at the 100-mile mark.
- 3,835 miles: The total number of miles team GB will run if all members finish the race
- 74,000 miles: The total number of miles* the team will have run from January 1 to the race which begins at 7am on Friday September 28, 2018.
- 4C to 30C: The potential temperature change over the course of the 36-hour race.
* based on an average ultra runner diet of 80 miles a week