Runners Frequently Asked Questions

Runners Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This article is intended to provide first time Spartathletes with common information about the race.

What is the Spartathlon?

Spartathlon is the original (and in our opinion the best) Ultramarathon running event in the world. The race was inspired by the historical tale of Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger who ran non-stop from Athens to Sparta to enlist the aid of the aid of the Spartan army against the invading Persians in 490 BC.

Today, runners recreate this run starting from the Acropolis in Athens and finish at the State of Leonidas in Sparta.

How long is the race?

153 miles (246 kilometres).

What is challenging about the race?

It is not the distance. It is not the final cut-off time of 36hours. It is not the elevation including a 1000m mountain to be traversed in the middle of the night. It is not the 40° heat during the day and sub-zero on the mountain at night. It is not the fact it is mostly on leg smashing tarmac.

It is the cut offs every 5km. You have to stay ahead of these for each of the seventy odd checkpoints throughout the race. The runner has no time to relax. It is relentless pace. And following the last runner is the ‘Death Bus’ ready pick the slowest up at a moment’s notice.

Where can I find the official website?

The official website can be found at the link below.

How long has the race been running?

For 2,472 years no one was so daft as to try it again. Wing Commander John Foden had been reading Herodotus account of Pheidippides run of 153 miles to Sparta and wondered if modern man could do the same. He did a lot of research and as near possible he worked out the route that Pheidippides used. It involved going crossing five mountain ranges with the highest pass at Sangas of over 4,000 ft.

Then in 1982 he talked two of his RAF friends Flt Lt John Scholtens and Flt Sgt John McCarthy into doing the run with him. To everyone’s astonishment the RAF boys succeeded in running to Sparta in two days. To their utter amazement they were featured on TV and their run was reported in the press around the world. The Greeks knowing a good thing when they see it decided to organise an annual race using the RAF route, the first took place in 1983.

One of the sponsors of the British Spartathlon Team in 2015, Dave Ireland of Birmingham Runner, was part of the original crew as was a very young Nick Papageorge. The race was soon adopted as an annual event under the auspices of the International Spartathlon Association (ISA)

How to I enter Spartathlon?

You submit your registration as an athlete at the official Spartathlon website. Runners will need to have achieved certain qualification standards to be considered eligible.

When do entries open?

The registration period commences mid-January and closes towards the end of February with a ballot taking place to determine successful entrants around March each year.

What are the qualifying standards for Spartathlon?

These are detailed in a separate article covering the qualification standards which can be found at the links below.

What is the ballot process?

The race is popular with ultramarathon runners the race is now always over-subscribed. Therefore a ballot process takes place around March each year to determine successful entrants for the event.

The ballot is based on a number of criteria:

  • Entrants achieving the qualifying criteria will be entered into the ballot draw
  • Entrants achieving a result 20% or better than the qualifying criteria will be automatically entered
  • There is a limit of runners per individual country. The UK currently has a limit of 25 runners
  • There is an overall limit of 390 places available

Therefore, there could be a number of factors which could limit a runners chance of getting a place such as the number of auto-qualified entrants, whether the UK cap has been achieved or whether the overall race cap is achieved. Typically between 30-50% of UK runners entrants have achieved auto-qualifiers and this is your best opportunity of gaining a place.

Runners who do not gain a place will be added to a wait list and places may be offered up on the wait list if selected runners drop out.

There is an ‘estimated’ 10% drop out rate so runners near the top of the list are likely to be offered a place as long as the existing country cap has not been exceeded. Runners who are unsuccessful in the ballot will receive additional tickets in subsequent years as long as they continue to achieve a relevant qualifying standard.

Payment of entry fees is due around mid-May each year and this is the generally when runners are added from the wait list.

When do we know who has a place?

The ISA will post a list of successful entrants and a separate list of those on their waiting list shortly after the ballot draw takes place.

I’m in, what happens next?

The ISA send an email with the acceptance confirmation and instructions regarding the race and you will be prompted to fill in an entry form online to provide your details, details of any nominated crew members accompanying you and an option of race packages for crew members.

All runners will be required to pay the race entry fee which includes the runners food, accommodation and race entry fee.

There may be a number of options for accompany crew members depending upon your preferred arrangements. These range from crew accreditation (permission to crew the runner at the event) only to a basic package covering crew accreditation and lodgings at Sparta to a full package including all food and accommodation with the runners.

Payment of the runners fees are usually due mid-May with crew fees payable around August.

What should I do before I go to Greece?  

The obvious answer will be to train and prepare well for the event. With places at a premium and a desire for British runners to perform well at this international event, we would encourage all runners to treat this as their ‘A’ race and make sure they are in the best physical and mental condition to perform well.

There are also a number of documents and information which you should read before the event. These are all available on the Spartathlon website and have been noted below for reference.

  • Official race program – race information
  • Map of Glyfada – this will detail location of allocated hotels (near race date)
  • Road book – this is a is a guide provided by ISA that tells you where every check point is. A runner doesn’t need this but the crew will so they know where to go. The checkpoint where they can help are indicated.
  • Race rules and regulations – this is important! Runners are responsible for observing the rules of the race. Failure to adhere to the rules could result in disqualification.
  • Your Bib Number.
  • Medical Form – You will need to obtain a signed medical declaration confirming your fitness to participate (dated within a month of the race) which is handed in at registration.

At registration you will be given a race number to be displayed on your front and back during the race, a race identification badge and a chip timer to be worn around the ankle (or attached to your shoe).

You may wish to think about how you will wear/display these items.  Finally, runners are permitted to leave small drop bags at checkpoints along the course.

You will wish to prepare and label these with your bib number and checkpoint number. Think about what items of kit or snacks you may need at different points in the race and have these prepared in advance as much as possible. Remember, you will probably need a torch for the night section and a warm layer at night or as you approach the mountain climb.

If you have further questions then there is a British Spartathlon Team Facebook group where you can interact with past, present (and perhaps future) runners. The link to this group is detailed below.

How is the week organised? 

As the race date approaches, runners will be allocated to hotels in the Glyfada, Athens area. Runners are generally grouped by country to the same hotel. A typical schedule will be as follows:

Wednesday – Arrival:  Runners can arrive on the Wednesday as your accommodation starts from Wednesday night (although you can arrive on the Thursday if you wish).

From Athens airport you can get a taxi or X96 bus to hotels in a suburb of Athens called Glyfada.

  • A taxi is the more expensive option and will typically cost you 25-30 euros (estimated)
  • The X96 bus is the cheaper option (5 euros estimated) and tickets can be bought from a small booth to you right as you immediately exit the airport. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes from the airport and there are bus stops along the main road where several of the hotels are situated (this road runs in parallel to the coast line).

All of the runners Hotels are situated in close proximity of each other. In the past the Fenix Best Western has been used for registration and UK runners have stayed at The Oasis and The London.

Runners may be allocated 2 to a room with another runner of the same sex and generally of the same nationality.

Wednesday 10:00-16:00; Thursday 10:00–15:00 Registration:

Details of the place of registration are detailed in the entry form. Runners will be required to register, hand in their medical form and receive their race numbers, race identification and chip timer.

For those runners with crews, you will obtain additional documents including crew car signs/markers. With a large number of runners registering, it can be very busy and may take some time to register so you may wish to register during an ‘off-peak’ time. However, this is a good opportunity to meet, greet and interact with other participants.

The ISA usually have some Spartathlon branded gift items on sale here if you wish to pick up a memento or two.

Spartathlon Registration

Thursday from 11:00-15:00 – Drop bags:

This will take place at the same place as registration (generally in a hall/room near the registration room).

There will be a 74 boxes lined with a strong plastic bag, one for each of the checkpoints. Runners should then deposit their drop bags at the checkpoint there they wish to receive their drop bag. Runners should ensure that there drop bag is clearly marked with their Bib Number and the Checkpoint number.

Any drop bags not used (or handed back) during the race will be transported to the finish and available for collection the day after the race in Sparta.

The teams at each of the 74 Checkpoints will look at your  number for two reasons. Firstly, to record your arrival at the CP, secondly to shout it out to the person looking after the drop bags at that CP to see if you have a drop bag and hand it to you.

Drop bag strategy is down to the personal choice of the runner although we have a few suggestions noted below:

  • Use the same sequence of Checkpoints for your drop bag which is easy to remember (i.e. 10, 20, 30, 40 etc)
  • Put essential items (i.e. headtorch, extra warm layer) ahead of where you might need it so you don’t get caught out if you are moving slower than expected
  • Have a back item (i.e. spare headtorch, batteries, additional layer) in a drop bag in case of equipment failure or variable weather conditions.
  • If the forecast is for rain then place a bin liner in a drop bag which you could use as some sort of rain cover as an emergency.
  • Runners with crews may have better access to kit/equipment but can only receive support as designated Checkpoints so may wish to have a few drop bags in case the crew cannot/do not make an agreed meeting point.

Drop Bag collection

Thursday 17:00- 18:00 – Race briefing:

This is mandatory for all crews and runners. It is generally very entertaining as you hear all the funny questions and great responses from the President.

Race Briefing

Thursday 18:00 Team Photos:

After the race briefing we organise the team photo. This is somewhat like herding cats, so try and gather on the steps outside the hotel. Please wear your runners or crew top.

We have put a lot of effort into raising sponsorship to supply kit for the British Spartathlon Team and would like every runner/crew member to feature in these photos.

British Team Photo Call

Thursday after the photos, Team dinner:

We generally nominate a place for a team dinner immediately after the team photos although don’t aim to make this a late night as runners and crews will need to be up early the next day.

Attendance at this is not ‘mandatory’ if you have your own pre-race routine.

Friday, Race Day:

Coaches will arrive at the hotel to transport runners to the start at the Acropolis and the hotel will also layout some breakfast for the runners. Those with crews may wish to make their own way to the start at the Acropolis. Runners will be able to leave a small drop bag which will be taken to the nominated hotel at Sparta and should contain some fresh clothes/toiletries etc.

These are generally left at the hotel and transport arrangements are taken care of. The race starts is 7.00am at the Acropolis and runners will head down some cobbled pathways through Athens and out onto the coastal road.

Each runner will have their own race strategy and you can read a number of British runners reports on the website under the ‘Race Report’ section.

However, a few suggestions and tips are offered below:

  • Ensure you are fit, healthy and trained for the event.
  • Consider adopting ‘cooling’ strategies for the heat such as wearing a hat, effective sun cream, shades, dipping your hat in buckets of water at checkpoints, putting ice (if available) wrapped in your buff around your wrist/neck.
  • Don’t wait until you start to feel hot, use cooling strategies from the start.
  • Try not to waste time at Checkpoints. Grab what you need, top up your bottle and then go. A minute at each checkpoint adds 74 minutes to your race.
  • Don’t go off too quickly. The initial cut off times in the first third of the race are tighter than the last third but many a runner has paid the price from going out too quickly to try and ‘build a cushion’.
  • Each Checkpoint will have a sign showing your current checkpoint number, distance, cut off time and the next checkpoints number, distance and cut off time. If you are running close to the cut offs then pay attention to these.
  • There are some resources on this website including elevation profiles and pacing plans if you are the planning sort. For those people with crews, this may be useful to work out estimated meeting points and times.

Spartathlon Checkpoint Notices

Saturday, Race Finish:

Runners will finish from Saturday morning to Saturday evening. The British Team generally congregate in a bar halfway up the final stretch towards the Statue of Leonidas.

If we continue our existing traditions then we will be easy to spot (in team gear) and easy to hear (due to the vocal support we offer to each of the runners).

You will probably want to have some cash on you for drinks that evening.

Immediately after finishing the race, runners will be taken to the medical area to have their feet cleaned and attended to and they will be offered a drink and snack before they are released. Runners (and Crews who have paid for the appropriate package) will be allocated Hotels in Sparta, we will know these in advance of the race.

Transport will be laid on to the Hotel for finishers and there are a few options here:

  • If you have a crew then you may have your own transport and can attend the hotel whatever time you wish.
  • If you are based in Sparta then you may wish to immediately return to the hotel to freshen up/sleep and then join the rest of the team to cheer on remaining finishers.
  • If you are based outside Sparta then transport is laid on to the hotels (and to return to Sparta) and you have the option to take the immediate transport or return to the hotel later.

Race Finish

Sunday, Mayors Lunch & Return to Athens:

After surfacing the next day, runners may collect any unused drop bags from a location which is generally within walking distance of the finish. Coaches will then arrive at the hotels mid-morning to transport runners to the Mayors Lunch (hosted by the Mayor of Sparta). This is an excellent chance to eat, catch up, swap stories of the race with other runners.

Following the lunch, the coaches will transport the runners back to Athens. This is a fairly long coach journey. When you arrive back in Athens, you check back into the same hotel you left on Friday am.

Monday – Rest Day & Gala Ceremony:

The Monday is spent resting and nothing is planned during the day. In the evening you are taken to a party hosted by the Mayor in Athens. This is essentially a repeat of the Mayors Lunch in Sparta but more formal and smart/casual dress is suggested but not mandatory.

Runners who have completed the race will be awarded their finishers medals throughout the evening. One point to note is that this event can take place quite late and food may be served later in the evening. For those ravenous runners, it may be prudent to have a full lunch prior to this event.

Awards Ceremony

Where do I stay in Athens?

Hotels are allocated by the ISA and all entrants from the same country, based on domicile, are grouped in the same hotel. One British guy lived in Germany and was put in with the Germans. So if you want to join another country group inform the ISA BEFORE you get there.

On the day of the race you split your luggage in two. Part one is a small overnight bag for Sparta. This you take with you to the bus that goes to the start. Part two is the rest of your stuff and will be looked after by the hotel in Athens.

On your return on Sunday you will be given the same room that you had before. Where do I stay in Sparta? Depends.

If you get picked up by the Death Bus early you stay outside of Sparta on the coast at a very nice place on the sea front.

They will bus you to Sparta for the Saturday to watch the finishers. If you get picked up late or finish the race you stay in Sparta.

Where do I find the rules of the race?

These can be found on the official Spartathlon website at the link below

When/where does the race start? 

The start is 7:00am at the base of the acropolis in Athens.

When/where does the race finish?

The end is the status of King Leonidas in Sparta. Runners should finish the race by 7.00pm on the Saturday (although if they have passed the penultimate Checkpoint by the cut off then they will be allowed to finish).

Are there Checkpoints?

Yes 75 of them each with their own cut off times. Location and times are listed in the official roadbook found on the Spartathlon website at the link below.

Can I leave a drop bag at the Checkpoints? 

You can. On the Thursday before the race they have a big box lined with a strong plastic bag for each check point. Label up your stuff with NUMBER and CHECKPOINT (no one cares about your name) and put it in the relevant box. The checkpoint crews at each of the 74 CPs will look at your number for two reasons.

Firstly, to record your arrival at the CP, secondly to shout it out to the person looking after the drop bags at that CP to see if you have a drop bag and hand it to you.

What are the cut off times?

Each of the 75 checkpoints has it’s own. Location and times are listed in the official documents at the link below.

How many people finish the race?

This has been as low as 25% (extremely hot year) or as high as 60% (cooler weather). With a tightening of qualification standards the finishing rate has improved.

What happens if I need to retire from the race?

Wait at the next Checkpoint, they are every 5km so you are never too far away from one and hand your number in. The Death Bus will come by and take you and the other poor souls to the designated hotel

How do I get my drop bag?

You pick them up at the checkpoint you sent them to. If you don’t finish the race or leave something at a checkpoint you pick it up from a sport hall on Sunday morning after the race. The ISA runs a lost property stall as well.

How do I get my luggage?

The ISA will give your overnight bag when they send you to your hotel.

How do I get back to Athens? 

You could get a public transport bus back on your own if leaving early or take the organisers bus, which is far easier.

Who are the British Spartathlon Team?

The British Spartathlon Team is the representation of the British runners taking part in the event.

When was the team first formed?

British runners have taken part in this event since its inception. However, this website and group was established in 2013 to provide information, support and advice for participants.

Why is there a British Spartathlon Team?

To provide assistance to the runners, crew and supporters back home. All money is raised by volunteers approaching sponsors.

Is this an ‘official’ team?

No

I would like to sponsor/help the British Spartathlon Team, who do I contact?

The British Spartathlon Team is presently organised by Rob Pinnington, James Ellis & Paul Ali. You may contact the team through the email address noted below

Links

Spartathlon Website: www.spartathlon.gr/en

British Spartathlon Team Email address: britishspartathlonteam@gmail.com

Qualifying standards article: www.britishspartathlonteam.org/qualifying

British Spartathlon Team Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/102781016511694/

Note: This article was originally written by Rob Pinnington in 2015 and has been updated for 2018.