Hey everyone, as we count down the final few weeks until Spartathlon here is a reminder of the Top 10 questions to think about when packing your kit and supplies for the race.
For details of Checkpoint locations, distances and supplies then please refer to the official road book on the Spartathlon website, which can be found here.
Question 1 – What do I carry?
Not much is the answer. The race is 153 miles in length and there are 75 checkpoints, so you will have plenty of opportunity to pick up supplies on the way. A few things you may want to carry with you are:
- Waist-Pack & Water Bottle (or Race Vest/Hand-held depending upon your preference)
- Your GPS device (courtesy of Race Drone so we can see how you are getting on)
- Your Mobile (not essential but useful to keep in contact with crews)
- Sun Cream (small amount for topping up.. weather dependent i.e. not 2018)
- Vaseline/Body Glide
- Wet Wipes (do we need to spell this one out?)
- A couple of snacks/gels/Tailwind etc. of your choice
- Hat/Shades/Buff (if could be hot)
Conceivably, you could run the whole race without carrying any kit and pick up what you need on the way.
Drop bag preparation
Question 2 – Drop Bags? How often, where, what?
At race registration there will be a room where 75 boxes will be labelled 1-75, these correspond to each of the checkpoints (genius eh?). Each runner will be given a set of stickers at registration which can be marked with your race number and checkpoint number.
You may leave a small drop bag in each of the 75 boxes with items of your choosing. When you arrive at the checkpoint during the race, the volunteers will hand you your drop bag (this is supervised so do not attempt to just help yourself as you may upset the volunteers) meaning you can collect some supplies every 2-3 miles. Zip lock freezer bags with a sticker on them are simple and cheap but if you want to let your drop bags stand-out you could go for something more memorable (I used yellow draw string bags one year so they were easy to spot).
Strategies for drop bags can vary but we would recommend you do something you can remember (say every 5 or 10 CP’s). If you decided to leave a drop bag at every checkpoint number in the Fibonacci sequence then heaven help you when you try and remember that during the night when you’re sleep deprived. Obviously, everyone is likely to leave their drop bags at every 5 checkpoints so these could be busy so you could try and be clever and do every 6th if your mental arithmetic is good when you’re tired. The message here is keep it simple and memorable.
What do you leave in your drop bag? Think about your race in advance and consider where you may be in the race at different times based on your dream goal and worst-case scenario (short of DNF’ing) so you have a range of where you may be at certain points in the race. Consider when it gets light and dark (around 7am/7pm) and think about when you might hit the mountain climb (100 miles in). You can now start to plan where you might want to leave your head-torch, an extra layer etc. Some simple suggested items are:
- Snacks (your favourite go to foods)
- Energy Gels/Bars/Tailwind etc
- Hat and Gloves for the night
- Extra Layer for the night/early morning if cool
- Spare Headtorch
- Spare Batteries
- Bin Liners (if rain is predicted then this could be used as a backup)
- Wet Wipes
- Sun Cream
- Vaseline/Body Glide
- Spare socks/blister kit (..if you’re me)
You can leave pre-made drinks in bottles if you wish but please remember these will be lying out in the sun until you get to the relevant Checkpoint so liquids are likely to be warm. You could leave an empty bottle with the powder inside and then add water at the Checkpoint if you wish.
You can use the race planner excel document (link here) to help you plan your race timings and locations.
Pro-Tip. You can put any un-used items back in your drop bag and collect them after the race at the end.
Just remember 1 minute spent at 75 checkpoints could be 75 minutes you could be running so it’s not necessary to stop at every one.
The Drop Bag room (pre-race)
Question 3 – I have a crew so I don’t need to worry about drop-bags right?
Crews are only allowed to assist you at specific checkpoints (CP 11, 26, 29, 32, 40, 47, 57, 65 & 72*) so you may want to plan around this. Personally, I would leave some essentials in a drop bag just in case your crew doesn’t make a Checkpoint meet for an unknown reason. It would be a shame if you didn’t have a headtorch for the night leg because your crew ran out of petrol (or are having a coffee) and are stuck at the last Checkpoint?
If you have the benefit of a crew then you can leave them with anything you want. Please remember that you are only allowed to receive crew assistance at the specified Checkpoints, drops bags and supplies at other Checkpoints and no further assistance outside of these Checkpoints as you could risk a disqualification.
(Note: CP63 has been a designated crew point in the past but is not reflected in the road book at the present time)
Question 4 – What supplies to Checkpoints offer?
Most Checkpoints offer what they term basic supplies, this includes water, coke, juice, currants, sesame, fruits, bread, biscuits, milk, coffee, crisps, rusks, chocolate, sugar, honey, figs and nuts. The major control points (CP 22, 35, 43, 52, 60 & 68) offer this plus light meals so good opportunities to fuel up even further on things like soup, pasta etc.
Please refer to the official road book link above for further details.
Question 5 – What about my night bag for after the race?
Prior to the race you will have to check out of your room. There will be facilities to leave your suitcase at the hotel but you will also be asked to pack a small night bag for the finish.
Please check the instructions on the day but typically, these should be labelled with your name, race number (and I would add your country as hotels are allocated by country so they can easily identify bags for UK runners) and these are left at your hotel in Athens, then collected by the race organisers, transported to Sparta and are left at your hotel in Sparta at the end of the race. You won’t need much here, a change of clothes, toiletries etc. I would suggest you leave any valuables with a friendly crew member.
Question 6 – What should I pack when flying?
Personally, I’ve always packed the bare essentials in my hand luggage when flying (trainers, socks, shorts, top, garmin, cap, buff, headtorch, batteries, light jacket) just in case of any baggage issues when flying.
You may think this is unlikely but in 2013 some of my baggage was delayed and it was only delivered to my hotel 2 hours before drop bags were due to be handed in. Thankfully, I had my essentials to start the race but this did cause a minor panic arranging drop bags and potentially borrowing extra kit for the race.
Question 7 – Where can I get ‘fresh’ food?
There are a few supermarkets close to the hotels where you can purchase fresh supplies prior to the race. Please bear in mind that anything you put in your drop bag will be bundled up with lots of drop bags so things can get squashed.
Question 8 – Where do I collect my drop bags after the race?
Instructions will be provided but in previous years this has been at a local sports hall in Sparta a short walk from the finish. These are available to collect the next day and you will need to do this before you depart for lunch as the buses will not return to Sparta once you have left.
Question 9 – How do I prepare if it might rain?
Rain.. in Sparta. Nah, that will never happen. Ok.. ok.. in the unlikely event of rain then you may wish to carry some rain gear with you depending upon the forecast or you could try and second guess where the rain will hit and leave some gear in a drop bag. Alternatively, you could pack 2 rain jackers at different points, pack some bin liners and/or put some dry clothes/socks somewhere.
Question 10 – Do I need to change shoes for the mountain?
Simple answer, no. Wear road shoes as the mountain section is quite short in the context of a 153-mile race and it’s probably not worth the effort to change footwear.
This article was written by Paul Ali for the 2019 Spartathlon race. Paul has completed Spartathlon in 2013 & 2015 unsupported but decided to have a sleep at the mountain in 2018 and DNF’d but will make a return at the 2019 race. You can read Pauls British Spartathlon Team profile here