Race Report 2016: Pam Smith

Race Report 2016: Pam Smith

The truth is, Spartathlon was never a "dream" race for me, more like a "eh, that might be interesting some day" kind of race. But my friend Bob Hearn ran it last year and was enamored with it and my running partner Dennis was also quite interested in it and spent time talking about how cool it would be to do. So when the application period opened in January and Bob told me I had till May before I had to commit any money, I thought I would throw my name in the hat. Well, that was a very slippery slope! Sending in an application meant spending time on the website and learning a bit more about the race, so that by the time the lottery results came out, there was no way I was turning down my spot. (I met the auto-qualification standards by being at least 20% faster than the regular qualification standard of 24 hrs for a 100M run, so it wasn't exactly a shock that I got in, but I was still super excited to see the "Congratulations, you have been accepted to Spartathlon" email!). Well, on to Greece!

For those who don't know, Spartathlon is a 153.4 mile race from Athens to Sparta, recreating the journey Pheidippedes made in 490 BC during the battle of Marathon to ask the Spartans to send troops to help defend Athens from the Persians. Herodotus stated he left in the morning and arrived by evening the next day. And no, he didn't die when he got there! (that Marathon myth comes from a play written 500 years later, where the author took "artistic liberty" to make his play more dramatic). In 1982, Jon Fodden, a British RAF wing commander and lover of Greek history, set out to see if the feat was possible along with 4 other men. Three of the men covered the distance and the following year, the official race began. While the race takes place primarily on roads, one of the gnarliest features of the race is climbing the 4,000' Mt. Parthenion on rocky trail with 20% grade at mile 99. The race also covers two other hilly passes for a total elevation gain of more than 10,000 feet - paltry by trail standards, but when you are running more than 50% farther than a hundred miler, you feel that gain A LOT more!

Besides being steeped in history, Spartathlon is a smoking deal when it comes to racing. For 520 Euro (about $580) you get 5 nights of hotel (plus a sixth night running!), all your meals, race entry, a nice luncheon with the mayor of Sparta, and a very nice Gala awards dinner with unlimited drinks included, plus some race schwag as well (finisher medal, trophy, 2 shirts, Greek food stuff, a race poster, free race pics and a race DVD). Crew can pay slightly less for the same room and board option. Mac and I kept a watch on airfare for quite a while and managed to get flights to Greece for $850 each. I'm not going to call it a cheap trip, but probably not terribly far off from what an East coaster would pay for themselves and crew going to Western States and definitely cheaper than Badwater! For us, traveling half way around the world is a big deal, so we decided to make the most of it and added an extra week to get the full Greek experience (cheap hotels are around 55-70 Euros/night). And in retrospect, getting there a bit earlier was good for getting over the jet lag.

After a lovely red eye flight on my birthday, we arrived at our AirBnB apartment in the Plaka (old town) of Athens. We spent three days in Athens, a day on the island of Hydra, and a day at the Oracle of Delphi. After an amazing week of touring, it was time to get into race mode!

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Described as the world's most grueling race, the Spartathlon runs over rough tracks and muddy paths (often it rains during the race), crosses vineyards and olive groves, climbs steep hillsides and, most challenging of all, takes the runners on the 1,200 meter ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night.
This is the mountain, covered with rocks and bushes, on which it is said Pheidippides met the god Pan.

Spartathlon is the event that brings this deed to attention today by drawing a legend out of the depths of history. The idea for its creation is belongs to John Foden, a British RAF Wing Commander. As a lover of Greece and student of ancient Greek history, Foden stopped his reading of Herodotus' narration regarding Pheidippides, puzzled and wondering if a modern man could cover the distance from Athens to Sparta, i.e. 250 kms, within 36 hours.

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