Race Report 2018: Endy Kasanardjo

Race Report 2018: Endy Kasanardjo

It rains when I make a selfie with Albert at the foot of the Acropolis. The outlook for severe storms is uncommon for the Spartathlon. As I wander around restlessly I feel like a tourist who does not know what to do in the face of thousands of years of history. Despite my calm and self-confidence, there is uncertainty about what is to come today.

Strange that the present seems less real than the many videos on youtube. Now that I am standing in the middle of the crowd, it seems as if I am in a dream where I can not touch reality.

Start.

Focus. Enjoying is not the goal. Focus is the goal. I am focus I am running. Not too hard and not too slow. 11 km per hour is good. Beware of the cobblestones, they can be smooth. Hip and hamstrings are stiff, do not dwell, it will loosen up by itself. Just go with the group. No ego no swagger. Run. Kilometers pass in a haze. Impressions are deflected by my focus and do not enter my mind. Fragments try to force themselves upon me. The absurdity of running on the emergency lane from the highway to Athens, protected only by a row of pylons. The sharp smell of the diesel engines. The oil refinery where a man in chef's clothing supplies a checkpoint. Cursing drivers.

It rains lightly and with my wool shirt and windbreaker I quickly get too hot. I pull them out, put the jacket in my bag and tie the shirt around my neck. I am like a Greek warrior on its way to the battlefield. It is exactly as I had imagined in my dreams and during the many trainings. So many runners. Focus. I have lost the chronology of the events. One moment I run kilometers behind Kovacs (10x finisher). The next moment I am at the yellow bridge of Corinth (7:55). The rain that occasionally falls cools my bare torso. I am a running god.

Down we go, kilometer after kilometer. There are puddles everywhere with water. Occasionally a truck comes by dangerously close. Then suddenly there are 100 kilometers past (10:13). It is now starting to rain seriously, even raining heavily. I put my clothes on again, with 3 layers of outerwear although that is actually too warm.
After 11 hours I have passed 106 kilometers which is faster than my 12 hour PR pace. The church on CP 35 is arranged as an emergency hospital. Massage tables are set up as altars on which the runners are sacrificed to the angry gods. I see a supercooled Pieter Vermeesch sitting and later I will learn that many runners have had to give up with hypothermia. Strange than that I strip down a layer of clothing because I almost overheated on the way here. I hit the road again, it's cold.

I feel how a primal force passes through me when I let my breath come out of my stomach and make my voice low to generate heat. Water drops reflect the light from the headlamp back into my eyes. It has been raining for hours and the only reality is that everything is wet and cold. There is no fighting against, only a complete undergoing of this reality. Expectation and reality coincide. Puddles on the road have changed into mini rivers and are no longer obstacles, but only part of the route that has to be run. There are cars in front of and behind me, they pass me and sometimes the water splashes my way. Lightning crashes and I feel a puny being handed down to the grace of the gods. Checkpoints become beacons of hope and progress, their crew angels in the night. I do not have time to think, my thoughts follow my body instead. The body that knows what it takes to continue, to move, to live. It is still 30 kilometers to CP 47 where dry clothes are waiting for me. It seems an immense distance.

The road to mountain base is a 6 kilometer long steep road that meanders around the mountain. In the dark, the light of the headlamp of a predecessor illuminates the road 10 meters higher and I feel the desire to be there too. I'm so tired. I want so much. The legs feel heavy from the continuous rise. Silent silhouettes toil up. Mountain base announces itself with a procession of parked cars from the escorts. The changing of clothes is slow. With napkins I rub my upper body warm and I squeeze the tired calf muscles before going up the trail path. The Sangaspas seems unreal as a dream. Red-lighted arrows and flashing lights point the way as markers to hell. The fog completes the dream image. The rain is starting to fall again. At first slowly, but at the descent, getting harder. Bad shoe material, tired legs and fear makes the descent seem to last an hour.

My body begins to fall apart. The pain in my ankle, which I have felt for hours, seems to take on ominous forms after the descent of the pass. I think of how I last year I ran the other ankle into demolition and fear not being able to move in the cold night. The pieces of false flat up I can still run but down is impossible. I walk. I stumble.. I fail. The 2 hour margin becomes 1 hour, half an hour and when I reach Nestani, is only 10 minutes. But the decision has already been made when I declare my failure and put my signature. Betrayed by my body. Deceived by my illusions.

Epilogue.

In the minibus to Sparta I do not yet realize what I have just done. I tell myself that it was a sensible decision to stop and that health is more important than finishing the Spartathlon. As if that whole Spartathlon had anything to do with common sense, as if I was not willing to die several times today. "If you had one shot to blow, you would let it slip", well I did. The tears will come later.

Endy Kasanardjo

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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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