Spartathlon the 41th

Spartathlon - a 153 mile, 246 km race from Athens to Sparta in Greece. Supposedly to be retracing the steps of the ancient runner/messenger Pheidippides running to ask for help from the Spartan army. Apparently he did it before the sun set on the second day, so our race cut off is 36 hours. 7am on Saturday to 7pm on Sunday. Makes sense. Of course, then he ran back with the bad news, they'll come, but "in a bit".


If that wasn't hard enough, in this race you have cut-off times at every checkpoint and they're set more aggressively towards the start. Then there's a mountain at 100 miles.and it's hot. and along Greek roads. 

Course profile

Every checkpoint has these markers showing distance and cut off times.

Getting in

I'd read Vassos' book (Running up that hill) and was intrigued, I had to try this race, this sounded so far outside my capabilities, but I knew people who *had* completed it.... and I had previously got a qualifying time but hadn't felt ready to enter.

A chance encounter with Bryn Jones at a running track and he pointed out I was still actually qualified from the previous year... So I entered but still lined up another qualifying race to see how I'd do - I assumed I'd not get in through the ballot anyway on the first attempt.

I got in.

As it happens I knew I could complete the distance already... I'd just run 154 miles in the GUCR (143mile) canal race after getting briefly lost.


My coach Wendy Whearity didn't seem at all concerned about my ability/prospect for completing Sparta (I've had major issues running hot races before) and we cracked on with training - that I almost always stuck to. Finishing off towards the end with a smattering of "running in hats and coats" and time in sauna after runs.

As part of being on the British Spartathlon team was the offer of trying out some of the sponsor's products. I'd heard about collagen supplements on various running podcasts and these are supposed to help recovery so put my hand up to have a go when offered. After a couple of weeks trying I had a full on migraine (4 day) and after thinking through possibilities concluded the only change recently had been the collagen, I stopped, the migraine cleared. 🙁 After a bit of internet sleuthing it seemed this might be related, although the reports were pretty limited and scattered, a quick exchange with the supplier and they were insistent it was very unlikely to be related so after a short break gave it another go (for science), with again a migraine kicking in immediately. Bugger. Oh well, give up on that experiment and return to standard recovery techniques. 😄


The view from mount Parthenio, in the daylight.

We'd travelled for a break to Greece in the month before, staying in the Peloponnese mountains, just to get a feel for the country. We headed over and ran up and over 'the mountain' to see what it was like which was reassuring and would help on the day.

But then we spent the rest of the week just running around the various national trails that criss-cross the mountains (E4, Menalon Trail etc), there didn't seem much point running down the side of a motorway.

The trails were simply stunning, with an opportunity for a wild swim, I'd love to return just to spend time running these trails further and longer.

Training went mostly well..... until the final month when I'd been prescribed some 'old man' pills for prostate/bladder troubles, after a heavy few weeks training I was getting serious lower abdomen and groin pains, sigh, not great for running,

Again, a bit of internet sleuthing and this was listed as being a possible side effect. {facepalm} ok. we've got enough time. cut out the magic drugs, (although this would now mean interrupted sleep) and a few weeks of taper, easing off and hoping the pain goes. In the days before it was still tender but by the eve of the race finally felt ok again. Phew.

Before the start

We travelled to Greece on the Tuesday before the race to get acclimatised and familiar with the environment, obviously the Greek weather decided it would be unseasonably cool through the week with the occasional shower.... to heat up again on race day. Sigh.

The allocated hotel (each countries participants are allocated to different hotels) was the same as for registration which would be handy.... however it was basically on a motorway and we discovered that the double glazed doors didn't shut properly and the noise was insane, with cars and motorbikes using the road as a race track (not a joke, high powered vehicles *were* racing) right through the night. You only have to (attempt) to walk along some of the pavements or attempt to use a pedestrian crossing to appreciate the thoroughly toxic car culture and dependency here. They have an orange light positioned in advance of stop lights that starts flashing when the light ahead is about to change, the behaviour this results in is entirely predictable, with sudden flat out acceleration as everyone goes to beat the red.

Also, the room stank heavily of cigarette smoke, so we tried keeping the doors open to clear the air as much as possible closing at night to keep some of the sound out. On the third day I woke with a thumping headache from the smell, after much sleuthing we finally figured out that the smoke was actually coming in through the air-con 🤦, so turned that off, tried to air out the room, bought a vanilla candle and some fabric freshener. Significantly better.

We tried the hotel inclusive meals on the first night... it was food. technically, but given we were in Greece with an abundance of high quality varied food of all types it was thoroughly disappointing.

British Spartathlon Team, wall to wall sanity

Team Hewitt

For the second meal we tried ordering from the menu instead, but this required extensive negotiations finally convincing the staff to let us pay for a meal we actually wanted, so decided from then on to mostly do our own thing, other than joining in with the Thursday 'team meal' and breakfasts to meet everyone.

The start

Crew car, sticker-ed and flagged...

Since we had a crew hire car the plan was to drive to the start together, cue minor hiccup discovering we were navigating to the first checkpoint rather than the Acropolis, so a bit of stressed rerouting and backtracking to find the start, parking was challenging but I simply decamped and trotted off to the start to leave Cara and Hugo to some creative parking manoeuvres.

Sights? No didn't see any? Why.

With some stomach churning I started trying to hunt around for toilets, often I have some issues before a race especially if I've not slept well. The details had said "chemical toilets" were at start but I couldn't see any and there were no signs around. I'd been assuming/expecting a big line of 10+ toilet boxes in an area somewhere. After a short hunt two loos located, with a short queue. Issues all sorted now I hoped, although no paper in the loos so used up entire "shit kit" from my race pack in the process....

after a few moments there was a shout from somewhere and we all started moving forwards.

For the first few miles we're running away from the Acropolis over cobble stones and out of central Athens. There are police at each major junction holding back the traffic. Lots of horns, mostly encouraging and positive although clearly some annoyed drivers around.

After an hour or so we're out of the city and running alongside a main road (the E08) I start feeling the need to go again, but since we're in a city "wild relief" opportunities are limited, and I've used up my emergency kit anyway. At 15km in a little while later I spot a promising looking coffee shop and dash in asking permission, ok this doesn't look good, thankfully able to clean myself up and run on. Just as I dash out it looks like the last runner and support car arrive! I run forwards and get back up to a sensible place and pace further up ahead, phew, always worth remembering how tight the cut offs are here.

From 20 to 25km and there are two massive oil refineries we run through, there is a distinct smell to the air, but it's not too bad and doesn't cause any breathing issues, its amusing to see an official race photographer snapping away - right alongside some of the many "no photography" warning signs.

A little while later and I need to go again, ok this is starting to become less than enjoyable and I know this is hurting my race, thankfully I manage to scoot into yet another coffee shop. Hopefully that's going to be all done now. Surely.

Just past the marathon distance 44k at 11:30am and can meet up with crew/team Hewitt for the first time to restock food, (shoes change here?) and let them know how it's going. 


There are only limited available official crew points at this race, particularly over the initial sections, one at the marathon point, one at 50 miles and from then on they are more frequent. However, it seems that a huge number (it feels like the majority) of crews are completely ignoring this and I've seen crew cars at every checkpoint right from the start, but also one crew was helping their runner literally every few km and other times I see crew cars driving alongside their runners for sections or crew running with their runners for periods. All actions prohibited in the race rules but apparently completely ignored and not enforced, after all at no-crew checkpoints there have been 'race official' cars parked alongside the crew cars! 😠

Cara lets me know I'm a bit behind but all of the pacing was all educated guesswork based on "a good run", and it's not going well so far, but nothing to worry about. Onwards. 

64km at about 2pm in and my guts are going again. oh for f**... again, but again I manage to spot a cafe and scoot in for relief. Will need to do something about this. *ASAP*  


Checkout the Wikipedia page, it's hilarious

At the Corinth canal 77km 3:45pm I hit the checkpoint and ask where the toilets are (I know there are some here, but really can't remember if they're here or a bit further on) helpfully the marshal waves his arms and says just go anywhere... 🙄 clearly not appreciating my current urgent needs.

I assume they're a bit further and run on spotting them just before the canal. Ok in and running water and paper towels let me have a good clean up.

Two miles later is the crew point (80km 4:00pm) and I nip in, I change shoes and ask for some Imodium, I was sure we'd packed it, but a short hunt later we can't find any! 😱 we ask around but no-one can help so it's left as a "don't worry, we'll get some, and you need to keep moving, please keep it above 12 minute miles" 

"I have issues"

At the next crewed spot (92km 5:40pm) I finally manage to take the Imodium and hope I can get going properly, but by now I'm feeling completely hammered, this is going to be a long tiring slog.
I take it with some freshly squeezed orange juice... at the 102km crew point I announce "NEVER GIVE ME FRESH ORANGE JUICE AGAIN" since it has been repeating on me for 10km, at this point I pickup my headtorch. At the next crew point I'm given some more reflective clothing to wear, we decide that the reflective strips on my bag are no match for Greek drivers.

Thankfully the Imodium seems to have kicked in and stabilised the guts. On the other hand it feels like the damage has already been done and I'm feeling physically shattered, having trouble eating, feeling nauseous and now starting to have difficulty running.

I've been taking on (non-freshly squeezed) orange juice at most checkpoints now and this really seems to have been helping. 

At some point before arriving at crewpoint 35 (123km) I'm properly sick, although that doesn't seem to have "cleared things" and I just can't face eating anything. I relay to crew that I think it was probably the tea with condensed milk to blame.


Coming into the race I'd been terrified about following the marking and knowing the right way to go, but on the day the marking was amazing and I needn't have worried at all. Every junction is marked with yellow paint, wrong ways have red-x's and in the dark there were some illuminated arrows.


Next up it's "the mountain" and this I've actually really being looking forwards to. 

The stretch from 100km (6:40pm) is a steady constant uphill for 35k or so, a short downhill for 5k and then it's the long steady climb up to the base of the mountain from 140k (0:40am) to 159k (4:00am). (see profile at top and bottom of post)

During the night on a long winding stretch I stop to relieve myself (forgot to mention, this is something the pills - that I'm currently not taking - help with 🙄) this must be the 20th time so far this run, I step to the side of the road, I put one foot on the white line and the left into/onto some scrub.... my left foot goes down, and keeps going down, oh shit.... there's nothing under my foot just a drop, I manage to grab onto some protruding scrub as I go down and pull myself back up and out. I actually just find this utterly hilarious at the time and walk on, legs and hands covered in scratches.

Follow the dots

This long road climb before you actually get to the mountain base is a series of switchbacks, these are amazing in the dark as you can see the white and red lights of runners up ahead dotted along winding up.

At mountain base I inhale some food and change into trail shoes, I put on a thicker base layer and coat, then I'm told I need to get moving and make up some time "go and do your thing over the mountain". I set off at 4:10am, thankfully, my legs still feel strong, so I just power hike up, I overheat pretty quickly and take my coat off, perhaps it's a lot milder than usual, but when I hit the top (4:35am) I see people sitting around wearing foil blankets but for me it's just check-in and run on down. I feel really good once I hit the base (4:47am) and press on although it's not long before I'm back to the speed/power hiking.

At the next crew point (170km, 6:00am) I swap back into road shoes and lose the coat.

Mist rolling in

After the drop down from the mountain we've descended into a thick cold mist, the mist is a little chilly but this does feel really refreshing, as the sun rises we can't see anything, just white mist all around - hopefully this will burn off soon. It does. Then it starts to get really hot. I start longing for the cool mist to return.

At checkpoint 60, 193km I'm instructed to "do not drop under a 15 minute mile" by Cara who has been crunching the numbers and insists this will get me to the end in time, I'm worried with how much walking I'm doing but I trust Cara, she's quite good at numbers.

Just after 195km 10:15am and we join onto the E039 main road, and now I'm just power hiking continuously. I chat to Lyndon Cooper when we join up a little later, he's having major issues with his legs, we exchange tales of woe, reminisce and exchange very rude opinions about this road running, but then I apologise that I'm going to keep going ahead at my hike pace and we depart at different marching speeds.

Sweltering but rocking the cool desert look

Through the heat I've been pushing ice-cubes into my arm covers at almost every checkpoint and dousing my head with a cold wet sponge, at no point does the heat become a problem and I can see on my body temperature graph the steady increase then multiple constant downward blips that coincide with each checkpoint. (also noticeable each time I'd had to make a coffee shop comfort stop in an air-conditioned cafe, my core temperature dropped back down! 😂)

At crewpoint 65, 210km I'm handed some rice pudding to eat and told I'm doing fine at my pace, apparently I bounce away "looking happy and on a mission". 

From 215km 1:25pm -  we start the descent into Sparta (with a little blip at 220k) this would and should be run-able, but I'm still hiking with purpose. I hook up with Dave Stuart later on this stretch who's also battling on, many miles pass with again tales of woe exchanged, through this section Dave is walk-running whilst I hike, for several miles we have a strange conversation that gets quieter and more distant... then louder and joins up again. 😄

Finally as we hit the Sparta flats Dave's running legs return and he presses on.

I'm determined I will run into the finish but can't decide where I can start from, the final 'out and back' seems much longer than it looked on the map.

The Police

I try running a couple of times, but finally I see a police escort and a large group of Greek runners up ahead, ok I'll make that my target and run towards them planning on passing.

End in sight

As they turn the final corner and head into the finish, however, they pick up speed and so I just tuck in behind them, to get a very noisy police escort in to the finish. Cara and Hugo are waiting on the final leg with a union flag, I take the flag but keep running - I'm not entirely mentally aware at this point since I only then realise they're there to run in with me and we group together, we pull back a little so that we've got some space to the group in front.

244km - 6:11pm
. and done.

and we wait. and wait. the group in front is going through a complete photo-shoot sequence. and wait.

but personally I don't care. I've come this far. when it's clear I'll just walk to the statue. After a while a marshal gestures at me frantically to step forward to trigger the timing mat on the steps, ah quite a few minutes on my time there!  Ah well.

I have to wait a little more as what turns out to be a local Sparta "celebrity" runs through another few photo-shoot sequences before I can then move up to touch the toes of Leonidas myself.

Official finish time: 35h 14m

I'm steered away to sit and have my feet attended to and offered a beer... but as it happens the "local celebrity" had also come in and after being seated I seem to be completely forgotten, after a few minutes I decide I can wash my own feet and decide to go and find everyone else.

I had been looking forward to getting my "finisher T" it's always been a thing at previous years, you get a t-shirt at the start, and then another if you finish. I'm handed a baseball cap, apparently it's what we're getting this year. Although there do seem to be people walking around in "Spartathlon the 41th Finisher" shirts, people insist these must be unofficial and not sanctioned due to that typo... I do notice that the Spartathlon Flickr and YouTube accounts are also celebrating the 41th edition of Spartathlon. 🙄🤷

Back with the team and I get a huge hug off Darren Strachan, I surprise myself just how unemotional I am though, having been in tears after many other endurance events - I'm simply happy and contented. We sit and chat for a while waiting for the final runners to come through.... finally with 8 minutes to spare Lyndon appears on the final straight! We all cheer and clap, but I'm not going anywhere.

After a while I'm starting to get cold and decide it's time to head off. We stand up and start moving off. The world goes dark. I feel I'm about to go down hard. I quickly grab Hugo and ask him to help me into a doorway and ask him to help me into the recovery position. (apparently I shouted at him😇) 

Up till this point I had been moving about and chatting quite actively.... but now as I'm helped to my feet I can hardly move. Cara suggests asking some of the "big guys" here to help carry me but I insist I want to be left alone and with Hugo's help we make our way back to the hotel.

Perhaps we can get a bite to eat, after all everything in Greece happens much later and it's only 19:30. Back at the allocated race hotel we ask about food to be told "we stop serving at 8, if you want anything you need to hurry" WTF I'm going up to have a bath. OK perhaps we'll just order some room service. "oh no, we don't do room service"  right. That's all a bit crap for the official race hotel surely *some* provision would/could have been made for the athletes getting after the event. We task Hugo with heading out to get some emergency pizzas.

Spartathlon 'Winners' monument

After a night trying to find a comfortable position for my legs to sleep in, (at various points I'm lying on my back with my legs down over the bed at 90 degrees) I wake in the morning I'm drenched  in sweat (this continues for 5 days).


This is madness... no this is (the) Sparta (mile)

The next day we have the "Spartan naked mile" race, this is hilarious, runners after having run 245km, run around the 400m track just behind the statue of Leonidas (just once) in only underwear.

I assume I'm going to just walk, but at the first bend my legs come alive, this is a RACE! and I sprint flat out to the finish for 25th, hmm really should have tried a little warm up for that - Dave Stuart on the team finishes with an impressive 2nd place.
Buff British athletes

We head back to Athens via the airport to drop Hugo for his flight, it's a shame to be losing him, he has been a joy and fantastic crew to have around.

 A tame emotional support Hugo.


The final "event" is to be the awards gala, we decide to join the bus to get there and wait outside at 6pm as told with everyone else. The bus standing waiting opens its doors but it seems there was a crowd waiting on the other side of the bus and it fills up, we're told "there's another bus behind" and we wait.

The waiting game

and we wait.

and we wait.

we consider hopping in the car. but decide to stick with everyone and the promise of a bus.

finally minutes just before 7 (the gala is supposed to start at 7, but everything is Greek time so probably no bother) a bus arrives and we head off, the bus does seem to take a truly bizarre long convoluted route to the event which is just 4km away.

Doubts start to creep in once we arrive, with a cash only bar, ok hadn't expected that, and no clear "we're all sitting here plan" we hunt around for somewhere to sit but each table seems to have been claimed by different country groups already. Finally we find a spot at the edge and are joined by Ali Young, crew, and Karl Baxter with Kerry. Now the waiting begins again, no food to be served until after all of the presentations, the food is waiting as a help yourself buffet at the back of the tables. Why not have some nibbles on the tables? just some bread and oil? something??

We build a beer can tower.

The tower of 'Fix'

The process rolls on, after the awards to officials, then awards to podium places, they are to be done country by country. This proceeds for hours, a bit like Eurovision but without the fun. Finally "United Kingdom" - since we're at the far end of the tables I have to dash over since the rest of the team are already lined up and starting to receive their medals - I get my medal and certificate. 

As we start returning to the table - it's now 10pm - I turn to Cara and utter the decisive phrase "fuck this" and we head off to find food, settling on the nearest restaurant just as Karl and Kerry come out and do exactly the same!

Hopefully there's going to be some more race photos uploaded since there were sooo many photographers on the course, so far in the uploaded album there isn't a single shot of me. Again I believe in years past they used to hand out race photos at the gala, but clearly in the modern age it's all electronic and uploaded now.

I said never again. Multiple times, during the race and after. I called it a "Once and Done" event too horrible in so many ways to repeat.
I'm going to do this again. I'm disappointed the stomach issues really hampered my day, I know I can do much better than that performance.

I've definitely learnt some lessons about what to expect, how the event works and what to do differently with arrangements to change that would improve the whole experience.

Just have to decide and see when.


For several days walking is painful, my toes hurt and throb. My shoulder hurts (from the hiking swinging). Then I catch a nasty cold which comes out on the flight back, so I'm laid up and feeling sorry for myself once home. I try a couple of tiny jogs once my feet stop hurting, I feel spaced out when I try, but if finally feels like I'm starting to recover. 


The Homebrew tracker had another outing here and performed superbly allowing us to keep an eye on temperature and body temperature since that's always been troublesome in the past.

Quality trackin'

Since I wasn't using a running watch an additional tweak was enhancing the wrist "HUD" to show distance and pace which worked well and was reassuring to see (also had a screen with air temperature and body temperature).
Heads up.

The Strava activity link: Spartathlon'23 (data uploaded from tracker)


Core body temperature through race

Max temp: 33°C, Min temp: 9°C, Max humidity: 76.7%

Max body temp: 38.5°C, Min 36.95°C 👍

So long and thanks for all the fish

Finally thanks to the sponsors of the British Spartathlon Team - Pura Collagen (even if it didn't work for me), Avani Solutions (hey wait, what? where was my beer?), Track Trail, Run Grateful and Camino Ultra.

The supplied race kit was superb, lightweight and cool in the heat (plus rather stylish, I'll be wearing that a lot), usually I'd switch tops multiple times during an ultra (I think my record was 5 for GUCR) but I actually kept the same top on from start to finish.


Popular posts from this blog

seven month update

Tracking running Part #2

back from the brink