So then, you’re going to Greece to crew a Spartathlete. Lucky you, you are going to have a great time. Just be aware that crewing Spartathlon is officially 10x harder than running Spartathlon, so brace yourself.
We’ve put this guide together to try to help with the major aspects of crewing the race; to try to help you have a smoother time and, most importantly, give any little bit of help we can to get your runner to the finish. It’s by no means going to help with everything and you’ll need to keep your wits about you and figure things out as you go. Don’t worry though, unless your runner is Yiannis Kouros in disguise you’ll have plenty of time to make adjustments on the fly.
First off, if you don’t know anything about what Spartathlon is, have a look on the race website http://spartathlon.gr/en and you may also want to read this runners guide https://britishspartathlonteam.org/runners-faq/. If you’ve never heard of Yiannis Kouros look him up too, he’s a legend round these parts.
Familiarise yourself (intimately) with the “Road Book”. You can print out a copy from here http://spartathlon.gr/images/stories/road-book.pdf and there will also be a copy in the race pack that your runner picks up at registration. This is basically the race broken down by all of the 75 checkpoints along the way. All of the checkpoints with their map co-ordinates are here: http://www.spartathlon.gr/en/races/checkpoints-eng/checkpoint/36.html (and also available in the official Spartathlon App).
We’ll get onto those in more detail later, but the most important thing to burn into your mind is that you cannot help your runner outside of the marked checkpoints. These are few and far between in the first third of the race, but they get more frequent in the latter part. Do not risk helping your runner outside of them, even if you see others doing it. Doing so risks your runner being disqualified from the race.
You don’t have to know Greece and its roads all that well to follow the race, and Google Maps tends to work quite well there, but it’s worth studying a map beforehand to get an appreciation of the route from a broader perspective. Also have a road atlas just in case Mr Google fails or you run out of data!! Broadly speaking the route runs west out of Athens to Corinth, then south-west to Tegea and finally almost directly south to Sparta. Here’s a picture:
This guide is not going to go into the detail of road names etc….. you’ll need to do your own map reading but don’t worry, it really is quite easy and generally there is a stream of crew cars and runners that you can just follow along with. If you do go off-track again try not to worry you’ll usually have lots of time to put it right. 10 minutes driving equates to a lot of running time!
Make sure you’ve got your crew badge/lanyard from registration and official race accreditation sticker to put on the car rear-screen. Your runner should pick all this up at registration, but make sure you’ve got it or you’re not getting in anywhere.
Wear your British Spartathlon Team crew top at every available opportunity, and introduce yourself to anyone else wearing one. Although you have your own runner to crew there is a tradition in the British camp that we all help each other out as much as possible. You might want to write down the number/name of the other British runners so you can shout out their name while driving past them. If you or your runner needs something, ask! Chances are someone will know about/have the thing you need.
Have a conversation with your runner about what they are planning for the race and what they need from you. The level of detail you go into is going to come down to what your particular runner is like when it comes to planning, whether you’ve crewed them before, whether they’ve run Sparta before etc etc etc. Regardless, you should definitely try to have an appreciation of:
Ok, let’s discuss the major sections of the race:
Start to Megara (CP11 – Mile 26)
In 2018, the race starts at 0700 on Friday the 28th of September at the Acropolis, Athens. There will be buses leaving the race hotels in Glyfada at around 0530 – they’ll tell you exactly when at the race briefing on Thursday evening. The British Team hotel is usually Hotel London but this can change year by year and the organisers will release this information well in advance.
*TIP” You should probably purchase Ice for your coolbox in Glyfada the night before the race.
You can either follow the buses or plug the Acropolis into Google Maps and follow that. When you arrive at the Acropolis there is a big car park at the base of it where all the buses and cars will pull in. Park there and you will walk up to the start with your runner. You don’t need much kit here really, just a camera, but it can be quite cold and you’ll be hanging around for a bit, so make sure you and your runner have enough warm clothes.
*TIP* Have some water for your runner so they are not sipping away at their own water bottle before they’ve even started.
Hopefully you’ll enjoy the atmosphere at the start, it is pretty cool. Take some pictures and enjoy the incredible setting. Perhaps take a deep breath and try to forget what sleep feels like, because you’re not getting any for a long time.
And they’re off! That was easy, you can now get yourself some coffee and head to the car for the drive north and west out of Athens. You cannot help your runner at all in this first section, although you may see them on the road out of Athens so give them a toot. You are heading for Megara which is CP11 and the marathon mark at mile 26. You want to be getting here probably an hour before your runner is due to arrive (you do know what time they are aiming for here don’t you?) – as this is still the early stages of the race and things are relatively bunched up there will be an awful lot of crew cars parked up here.
Don’t give yourself the stress of arriving late, the morning traffic out of Athens gets busy so get out of the city and on your way! *TIP* drive from Athens taking the A8/E94 straight to exit 4 for Megara. There is a good supermarket at the checkpoint with a large car park underneath. Longitute 37.98805 latitude 23.346919 http://www.spartathlon.gr/en/races/checkpoints-eng/checkpoint/12.html
Try to use that car park as the road becomes extremely congested for the runners coming through. That being said, there’s no need to get there way too early…. if you see a nice spot on route stop and stretch your legs / take some pictures / drink some coffee.
If you’ve more than one person available, perhaps send one of them down to the entry area of the checkpoint near the timing mat or beyond. Ideally you want to be spotting your runner, make sure they go over the timing mat and then lead them to where you’ve parked. It can be quite stressful for the runner here….. they’ve just run a marathon (and if they are a newbie they might be starting to realise what they’ve got themselves into!), it’s likely getting hot (if it isn’t already!) and they possibly don’t have much time against the cut-off.
Here’s a checkpoint routine you might want to think about getting into:
– Cooling: if it’s a hot day, get them in some shade and get a cold flannel or buff over their head/neck. If you’ve got some ice then all the better – wrap it up and leave it wrapped round their neck for a bit.
– Hydration: get them the drink that they want. It might be something different from the usual sports drink they’ve been having en-route for a bit of variety.
– Rubbish: they might have accumulated empty wrappers etc in their pockets or waist-belt. Empty all that crap for them and bin it.
– Re-stocking: get them the nutrition and/or kit they need for the next section.
– Pace: do you need to have a word with them about going too fast or too slow? If the target is to “just finish” and they have gone faster than 4 hours to Megara, you might want to tell them to calm it down. If they are above 4 hours 25 minutes, they need to be mindful of cutoffs.
Get them out of Megara pretty sharply, don’t let them hang around (it’s unlikely they’ll want to anyway).
Megara to Modern Corinth, Hellas Can Factory (CP22 – Mile 49.5)
The next section is another large one for runners, covering some 23.5 miles from Megara up to the city of Corinth. It is hillier and now likely to be in the hottest part of the day. Unless your runner is a real flyer they’ll be taking at least 4 hours to cover this section. So you should have plenty of time to cover the drive. The Corinth Canal bridge is a fairly stunning tourist site so it’s probably worth just heading up there straightaway for a drink and some sightseeing and watch the leaders come through.
*TIP* try to take the old road A8 from Megara to Modern Corinth (basically follow the route the runners take) this road will bring you to the old crossing of Corinth Canal Lat: 37.927498, Long: 22.994796 where there are cafe’s/bathrooms, coffee and souvlaki!! If you take the motorway you’ll need to backtrack several kilometres to get onto the ‘old road’.
The checkpoint where you can next assist your runner is CP22 at the Hellas Can Factory.
*TIP* It is after the Corinth Canal crossing. Lat: 37.9256008893813 Long: 22.9744357049109
This is the first of the major race “control points” and marks a major milestone in the race. The really hot stuff on the busy roads is now done and the route gets a lot more pretty (for a while). After the canal, you’ll drive along a dual carriageway heading west past a set of large retail stores on your right. The checkpoint is just off this road to the left.
*TIP* WATCH OUT FOR THE LEFT TURN.
Allow plenty of time to park up (it will likely be busy and parking is tight) and get your kit into the checkpoint.
Once your runner arrives, get them into some shade if you can, get the checkpoint routine going again and sort them out. Pace check (again for a “just finish” runner) – sub 8:20 to here is pretty fast (likely they want to think about calming it down a bit), 8:45 is just about perfect, 9:00 is fine, above 9:10 and they really need to keep an eye on cutoffs.
Hellas Can to Ancient Nemea (CP35 – Mile 76)
Ok, well done on getting through that first bit. Now the fun starts! The frequency with which you can assist your runner is now much higher and the roads get smaller. Keep a careful eye on the Road Book as roughly every 8 to 10 miles there will be a Checkpoint where you can assist your runner. From Hellas Can CP22, you may want to hot-foot it up to Ancient Corinth, which is a very pretty place and usually has a great atmosphere. There are several restaurants/cafes (proper toilets) where you’ll be able to grab a quick bite to eat in the beautiful little town.
*TIP* for checkpoint 26 Put ‘George Papamichael Kilix, Korinth 200 07’, Greece into Google Maps or https://firstname.lastname@example.org,22.9937017,18z this will take you to a parking area with shade and its a 40 metre walk to the checkpoint. If you follow the runners route through Ancient Corinth with a car it’s very tricky.
*TIP* Leaving Ancient Corinth, you can follow the runners route to the next checkpoints.
Depending on the pace of your runner, you’ll want to be thinking about where they might want a change of clothes into something fresh and possibly a bit warmer. Also, crucially, where they will take their head-torch.
*TIP* Think about a change of clothes at CP 29 Zevgolatia (ancient corinth). There is also good pizza here and a supermarket. Keep the headtorch in mind. Lat: 37.9400518031338 Long: 22.8027633284321
*TIP* Next interaction is CP 32 at Halkion Village. Lat: 37.8817067486656 Long: 22.7269498223667 . The road here is VERY steep and best parking is left at (metres after) the checkpoint. The roads are tight and it will be very busy. The CP usually has excellent hot soup.
The next major milestone is the halfway point in Ancient Nemea. By this time the race will be very spread out, with the lead runners reaching here around 5pm local time (10 hours of running time) whilst the cutoff is not until 11pm local time (16 hours running time).
*TIP* Park up before the checkpoint at the T-Junction and walk the few metres to the St Andrews church. It is very busy around the church and the roads after the church are narrow for parking. Lat: 37.8077842942904 Long: 22.7067095712146
Ancient Nemea to Mountain Base (CP47 – Mile 100)
With halfway behind them, now the runners turn their eyes towards the famous “mountain”. Enjoy the atmosphere of aid stations in Malandreni and Lyrkia as you progress towards it. As runners will be slowing you may want to think about places you can stop for a nap as it’s likely getting pretty late.
*TIP* – Parking around CP 40 Mr Dedes Tavern is also tricky. Once you get parked the Tavern is a terrific crewing spot with local families staying up late to cheer the runners through. Grab a plate of chips and soak up the atmosphere. Lat: 37.7269036519978 Long: 22.6417067080399
Next interaction is CP 43 Lyrkia Village, we told you they come thick and fast at this point. Forget getting any rest!!
*TIP* – The roads around Lyrkia Village CP 43 are also narrow. It’s best to go through the CP and try to park in the church or just past that. From here you can follow the road to mountain base.
*TIP* – On navigating the road to mountain base – concentrate – you’ll be following the Sternas – Neochoriou road. It will likely be dark and there will be spartathletes on this road winding their way up to mountain base. You will pass underneath the main E65 road and turn steeply up the mountain (yes your runner does go up this!)
Allow plenty of time for parking up at Mountain Base and getting kit to the checkpoint – it gets super busy there and you do not want to be caught out.
*TIP* – you’ll be asked to park before the CP and walk up to the CP. It can be VERY cold and windy/wet here. Your runner may want a hand torch and they may need an extra layer to stay warm. They will be walking up the mountain.
*TIP* – You may be very tempted to sleep while waiting for your runner to arrive. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, there are many stories of crew missing the runner here !! – Not good. Your Spartathlete needs you. Go hang out at the CP, get some soup and encourage other Spartathletes. Stay awake.
Reaching Mountain Base is another major milestone for your runner, but do not let them think they have “cracked it”, there is still a very long way to go!
Sort your runner out and when they leave the aid station make sure they go up the mountain track rather than continuing on the road. Don’t worry, this should be very obvious and the race marshals should check your runner onto the mountain. This is so they can be checked onto the Mountain Top aid station and thereby the race ensures no-one is lost on the path.
Mountain Base to Nestani (CP52 – Mile 107)
The race route now departs from the road for a while. You need to drive round the mountain to the village of Nestani which is the next place you can meet your runner. It is only a few miles away as the crow flies and it can be deceiving on google maps. Your runner will likely take quite a while to reach it Nestani. Still, you should head there straightaway.
*TIP* when leaving mountain base – Concentrate – Your going to drive down the mountain road and stay left and join the slip road onto the motorway E65 direction south towards Nestani. If you go underneath the motorway you’ve gone too far and will be heading back towards Athens (yes, many, many, MANY crew have done that!!)
Nestani is another major race control point with an aid station in a restaurant in the village square.
*TIP* When you leave E65 you will be doubling back on yourself back towards the mountain, you will be driving against the arrows painted on the road directing the runners and there will be runners coming towards you, take care as for the majority of runners it will be dark. There is a nice big car park at the end of the road in the middle of Nestani. https://email@example.com,22.9937017,18z
When you fix up your runner here, you will want to have had a check on the weather ahead. It can get surprisingly cold over flat plains in this next section, if that looks like being the case you could insist on them having an extra top that they are ok to discard once things warm-up.
Nestani to Alea Tegea (CP60 – Mile 120 ish)
The next section is one of the flattest on the course, 15 miles across the plains of Tegea to the town of Alea-Tegea. There are only a couple of places where you can help your runner along the way. Likely they (and you) are very tired by now and in need of encouragement. It’s really important that they try to make it across this section in decent time without losing time on the cutoffs if possible.
Meet your runner at the square at CP 57 Zevgolatio (Arcadia Area) – if you have eagle eyes you’ll have noticed there are TWO Zevgolatio.
*TIP* Don’t just type Zevgolatio into Google, you could end up back in Ancient Corinth !!
Lat: 37.5186253529252 Long: 22.4411326807928
*TIP* depending on their pace, the sun will likely be or about to rise. Think about a change of clothes, hat and sunglasses. It’s highly likely your runner is really not thinking. Also think about insisting on what food they take.
From CP57 you can follow the road the runners are taking to CP 60 Alea Tegea. Plenty of opportunity to cheer runners.
*TIP* At Alea Tegea there is a nice bakery that sells coffee. It can get busy. Think about getting your runner properly fuelled as they are about to hit a very tough section of the race with another long climb on hot and busy roads. The second mountain is just in front of them and your actions here can make a BIG difference.
Alea Tegea to Sparta King Leonidas (CP75 – Mile 153)
From CP60 onwards you can really start counting things down to the finish, but things are still a fair old way from being done and dusted. There is the small matter of the “second mountain” to come, and a long stretch of very busy highway into Sparta. The second mountain is a shallow gradient climb over about a 4 mile stretch. It can dishearten runners so, even if they have lost time climbing it, be sure to give your runner a big cheer for reaching the top.
*TIP* you cannot interact with your runner until CP65. You may be tempted to help your runner as they will likely be walking/marching and the gradient is steep and this section is brutal tough. Remember the race rules and don’t jeopardise your runner getting a red card. (Note: In 2017, CP63 was also used as a crew stop so please check the Road Book to confirm where it is/is not ok to meet your runner).
*TIP* – Good parking here at Artemis restaurant CP but the road is VERY busy with trucks so be careful
*TIP* – Think about cooling down your runners legs. Get your runner cooled down as much as possible. You need the blood to get back into muscles and the core not be on the surface. Think about salt and sugar here. They have a long section to CP69
From here there is a rolling section and a final climb to CP69. If they can reach CP69 the chances of finishing become very good.
*TIP* At CP 69 the runners will come round a long right hand bend and reach the CP at the Gazebo. This is a BIG deal, they have completed the second mountain and are about to descend into Sparta (there is another ‘little’ hill ahead of them). Parking is good at this CP just be mindful of the trucks !
They then have to navigate a very long downhill into Sparta and if they are still able to run/shuffle this section it’s really going to help get this thing over and done with quicker than a walk. Try to cool your runner down. Get food into them, they are about to burn their thighs on this downhill section. You will need to force them to take food.
The last place you can help them is CP72 Voutiani Gas station which is just 10 kilometres to go. You should be smiling and hugging your runner.
*TIP* Give yourself a high five and remind your runner to collect their flag from CP74.
From the gas station at CP72 you can leave your runner and get yourself parked up in Sparta. You should have enough time to park, walk to the finish straight and order yourself a nice cold beer. Enjoy the spectacle of the finish and the sight of your runner kissing the foot of Leonidas. Congratulations crew, you earned it!
*TIP* – After the race you runner will likely have to attend the medical tent !! – Don’t freak out, the staff are brilliant.
Thanks to Darren Strachan for putting the article together with input from Jeff Strachan, Laura Ellis and Russell Tullet.