What is the Spartathlon?
Carlsberg don’t put on Ultra races, but if they did it would be this one. It is probably the best Ultra race in the world. It doesn’t sell itself as such because it does not need to, as it is the original ultra distance race. According to the Greek father of history Herodotus, who received the story directly from veterans of the Battle of Marathon, the following happen. When the first Persians invasion led by King Darius began in 490 BC the Athenians sent a messenger, Pheidippides to request assistance from the Spartans. As a side note the Persian invaded a second time under Kings Xerxes. The Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) even though commemorated in the race by finishing at the foot of King Leonidas I is historically out of sync with this event. Back to the main man. Pheidippides left Athens at dawn of one day and reached Sparta before sunset on the next. Unfortunately for him the Spartans told him to naff off, as they were in the middle of a festival, so he ran back to Athens on to Marathon, fought the battle then ran back to Athens. So he did 550 km in a few days, fought a battle and THEN dropped dead. The story about Pheidippides running only from Marathon back to Athens and then dropping dead, conveniently forgetting the 500km run beforehand was written by a Roman historian 500 years later. This was a bit of not so subtle Roman propaganda. They wanted to prove that the Greeks were so effete and decadent they could not run 26 miles without dying.
How long is the race?
153 miles (246 kilometres).
What’s 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 cut offs every 5km. You have to stay ahead of these for each of the seventy 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 here
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 modem 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 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. Pictures of this event are here. It is now under the auspices of the International Spartathlon Association (ISA)
How to I enter Spartathlon?
You register as an athlete in the site here
When do entries open?
Usually around 15th January
What is the qualifying standards for Spartathlon?
For 2016 the standards are found here under section 2 qualifying races and performances
When is the ballot?
Ballot? They have a ballot? Yes the race is popular with elite ultra runners and far more that the allowed 390 apply. Up until 2015 they did it on a first come first served basis. This resulted in people sitting on their pcs on 15th January and hitting send as soon as the entries opened. This had the effect of bringing down the site. 2015 was the first year they decided to do a ballot. Entrants had from 15th January until the end of February to apply. There are two type of guaranteed entry. * Based on ability. The entrants who are 20% better than the qualifying standard up until a limit of 25 per country. * Based on diversity. If you are the only entrant from your country you get a place. Some countries have more places than the 25 but the ISA realise this is not fair and are working to equalise this After the above to criteria are satisfied all the remaining entrants are picked out in order. As soon as 390 places are filled the rest go on to a wait list. There is 15-20% drop out before the day payment is due on 15th May. So if an entrant is on the wait list then they have a good chance to be accepted.
I’m in, what happens next?
The ISA send an email with the Acceptance confirmations and instructions regarding the race and you will be prompted to fill in the ENTRY FORM.. It is important to send this in as it then allows the ISA to gauge hotel numbers for crew. Make sure you send scan passport photos in of you and your crew. This is used for a card that must be carried at all times during the race. There is an Official FAQ on the site here
What I should do before I go to Greece
Well train, but that is obvious. The official program is published here A map of the Glyfada is here Closer to the date when all the hotels are finalized an updated map will be published. Print off the road book found here for your crew. This 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. Don’t be an idiot like me throw your hat into Russell Tullett’s car while running because the poor man got beaten up by a race official who thought he was giving me a banana. Print off the rules and regulations found here and, this is the important bit, READ THEM. Print off the race profile found here and try not to think about the mountain…or that second hill at 212km which goes on forever. You need to find your bib number . That can be found in the third column of the Participants guide here under #BIB. You will have to have the number on display front and back during the race, so decide on how to attach that to yourself before getting there. I have a normal race belt to which I have sown two extra cords, so that I can attach the second number. You will have to wear a chip on your shoe or ankle. If you intend changing shoes it is an idea to work out how you will do this as you really don’t want to be unlacing and lacing your shoes in the middle of the night. Labels with the bib number and checkpoint number to fix to your drop bags. Remember you might want to leave a torch in one for when it gets dark and warm layer in another for the mountain base.
How is the week organised?
Wednesday – Arrival. You can of course arrive on Thursday, but a runners hotel is paid for from Wednesday night. You can get a taxi or a bus from the airport to the hotels in a suburb of Athens called Glyfada. This a map of region here There are three hotels they have used in the past. The Fenix Best Western for Registration, The Oasis, which has a pool and the London which is overlooks the sea, and has a roof terrace. The taxi is expensive ~€25. The bus you get is the X96 and costs €5. The time table is here. Ask the bus driver to drop you off by the London hotel. There will be loads of other runners on the bus and they will show you way.
Wednesday 10:00-16:00 & Thursday 10:00–15:00 Registration This is held in the Fenix hotel here If you haven’t pre sent your photo and medical certificate make sure you have it with you. Better to send it beforehand. This is a link to a template you can use for the medical certificate. Be nice to the people behind the counter…they have over 390 runners to deal with in two days and some of us are not very sensible. Pass the time by queuing orderly, chatting to teammates and trying to ignore the Germans who don’t understand the oncept of a queue. The ISA have some gifts on sale so get a couple of keepsakes for your long suffering families.
Thursday from 11:00-15:00 – Drop bags In a hall beyond where registration is held in the Fenix Hotel is where you deal with your drop bags. They have a big box lined with a strong plastic bag for each of the 74 check points. Remember I said find out your bib number? This comes in handy as you can print off labels with the bib number and checkpoint number on before hand and fix them to your drop bag. Label up your stuff with BIB NUMBER and CHECKPOINT (no one gives a shite 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.When they do this, remember to say thank you, impress them by saying it in Greek (Ευχαριστώ πολύ pronounced ef-hah-rees-TOH po-LEE
Thursday 17:00- 17:30 – 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. Try not to ask a silly question because you will get laughed at by the old hands.
Thursday 17:35ish Team photos After the race briefing we do the team photo. This is some what 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 doing them and you will just look a knob if you don’t have them for the photo. Sarah Dryden is our photographer again this year and she does an excellent job and all for nowt, which is the bit I like.
Thursday after the photos Team dinner We will plan a team dinner if you want to go let me know numbers. A lot of people don’t go as they want an early night. But we are usually done very early, like 19:00 maybe 20:00 at a stretch. Get a good nights sleep coz the next day will be epic! Friday – Breakfast is served early and then you leave the hotel at 6:00am. The start is 7:00am, dawn at the Acropolis. Do not be an ignorant Brit on holiday. Do a bit of research and find out a bit about Greece, the cradle of civilization. We go past some fantastic places on the race and knowing where you are will take your mind off the pain of the race.
Race strategy is up to you and there are plenty of blogs to read that are linked to here on how and how not to do it. You can read British runners race reports here. A couple of tips…there is no guarantee any of these work Wear a desert hat and use the buffs you got. At each CP there is a bucket of water. Take the hat off, dunk it in the bucket and then throw it, still full of water, back on your head. Wear a buff on each wrist and soak them in the water while you are doing the hat. If they have ice tuck it into the wrist worn buffs. 74 check points, one minute at each one…one hour fourteen minutes…think about it. Mark Cockbain told me Checkpoints are not REST POINTS. Official Pedometer/Speed Plan is found here . This is the absolute minimum you need to achieve to finish the race. For the control freaks among us there is a spreadsheet found here . Every checkpoint open time/close time, the distance between them , from the start. You can plug in your projected race pace and see what you need to do. This is excellent for planning, working out what to put in what drop bag for where and might be handy for your with crew. But it is enormous and useless during the race.
Handy guide 1 Created by Mark Woolley. It shows the projected pace between major check points. CP n° Closing time Distance between major CP Target pace Name 11 11:45 42,20 00:06:00 MECARA, 22 16:30 37,80 00:06:00 Ancient Wall 26 18:25 13,00 00:09:00 ANCIENT CORINTH 29 19:45 8,90 00:09:00 ZEVGOLATION 32 21:25 11,00 00:09:00 HALKION VILLAGE 35 23:00 10,40 00:09:00 ANCIENT NEMEA. 40 01:50 16,50 00:09:00 MALANDRENI 43 03:10 8,50 00:12:00 LYRKIA Village. 47 05:10 11,20 00:12:00 MOUNTAIN BASE. 52 07:30 12,00 00:10:00 NESTANI, 57 09:45 14,60 00:10:00 ZEVGOLATIO 60 11:10 9,20 00:10:00 ALEA – TEGEA 65 13:45 17,00 00:10:00 ARDAMIS 68 15:25 11,10 00:10:00 Monument on the left. 72 17:25 13,20 00:10:00 VOUTIANOI 75 19:00 10,20 00:10:00 SPARTA Handy guide 2 This was created by Sean Maley. It is a graphical representation of the race with profiles and times between major geographical points. You can read British runners race reports here Saturday – Arrival victorious in Sparta. Get steaming drunk. The British congregate in a bar halfway up the final stretch. We are easy to find as we make a lot of noise. Remember to bring enough money to buy your round. If you were on the Death Bus you get brought from your hotel to the finish and returned in the evening. The tradition is that those that drop buy finishers all their beer for the day. Don’t worry, by the time you have finished the race you cant really drink a lot. Sunday – You are taken by coach from your hotel to a party hosted by the Mayor of Sparta . This is an excellent chance to eat, catch up, swap stories of the race and get drunk. My recommendation is to get sufficiently drunk so that you can sleep on the bus on the way back to Athens. In the evening you check back into the same hotel you left on Friday am. Monday – Mainly resting. In the evening you are taken to a party hosted by the mayor Athens. It is basically a repeat Sunday but more formal. Some of Japanese really go to town with kimonos and all sorts of formal attire. But this isn’t mandatory, wear a DJ or cocktail dress if you want or go in shorts and t shirt. Tuesday – fly home with your medal.
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 here
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. Note Leonidas the First, while ~50 at the time was not the one to tell Pheidippides to naff off. It would have been his half brother Cleomenes. The battle of Thermopylae was during the second Persian invasion some ten years later in 480BC.
Are there Checkpoints?
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.When they do this, remember to say thank you, impress them by saying it in Greek (Ευχαριστώ πολύ pronounced ef-hah-rees-TOH po-LEE
What are the cut off times?
How many people finish the race?
Depends. As low as 15% as high as 30%
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. 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.When they do this, remember to say thank you, impress them by saying it in Greek (Ευχαριστώ πολύ pronounced ef-hah-rees-TOH po-LEE 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. See race program here
What happens post race?
Party on down …See race program here
How do I get back to Athens?
Stop worrying about getting back. You could get a public transport bus back on your own if leaving early. Or take the organizers bus, which is far easier. See race program here
Who are the British Spartathlon Team?
The twenty five entrants found on this page.
When was the team first formed?
As it is completely unofficial and made up of volunteers. The history is lost in the mists of time.
Why is there a British Spartathlon Team?
To provide assistance to the runners, crew and supporters back home. All money is raised by volunteers hassling approaching sponsors.
Is this an ‘official’ team?
Who organises the British Spartathlon Team?
You think this is organised, it is chaos
I would like to sponsor/help the British Spartathlon Team, who do I contact?