In light of this month's blockbusting release of 300, the epic action film which retells the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, I thought it would be appropriate to visit the history books and touch upon the origins of what the running world describes as "the world's most grueling race"; the Spartathlon.
There is the classic tale of the Greek solider, Pheidippides, who was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to deliver the message that the massive Persian army had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. Legend tells that Pheidippides ran the entire distance without stopping and upon delivery of the message, collapsed dead. It was proclaimed that this distance was the furthest a man could run and was later integrated into modern day Olympic Games in 1896 and later becoming our beloved 26.2.
There is a version of this story which has stayed under the mainstream radar and was recorded by the Greek Historian, Herodotus. This account describes a messenger, also called Pheidippides, who ran from Athens to Sparta, covering 246 kilometers (152.85 miles), and arriving the next morning to secure reinforcement for the battle.
This legendary distance and feat of human endurance was merely a fable found in history books ever since 490 B.C. until it captured the curiosity of British RAF Wing Commander John Foden. On October 8th 1982, Foden and a team of four colleagues from the RAF set off to follow the route in which Greek historian, Herodotus, described in great detail centuries ago. 36 hours later, Foden arrived in Sparta at the base of the statue of the Spartan King Leonidas, confirming that man could run 246 kms in less than 2 days!
Sparathlon was born and a year later when 45 long distance runners from 11 countries including Greece followed the tracks of the ancient runner. By 1984, the "International Spartathlon Association" (I.S.A.) was created and has held the race every September, the time which is said to have been when Pheidippides made his journey. The historical significance of this unique race attracts the world's finest competitors, demanding years of physical and mental training for their dream to come true. The course record of 20:25 belongs to Yiannis Kouros, a Greek-born ultra-marathon runner. Kouros has competed in four Spartahlons and won all four with the four fastest times ever recorded. This year, top American ultra runner, Scott Jurek, won the race in 22:52:18.
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