Historic Ultrarace Spartathlon Brings Hundreds of Athletes to Greece
Hundreds of athletes from across the globe in bright outfits and super technology running shoes set off from the foot of the Acropolis in Athens last Friday to run 245km (153 miles) to the Peloponnesian town of Sparta for the 40th Spartathlon.
Of the 389 runners, 181 managed to reach the statue of Spartan warrior King Leonidas in the 36-hour deadline, some barely walking in scorching heat to touch – as tradition has it – the foot of the King and be awarded a laurel wreath.
For a second year in row, Greek ultra-runner 39-year-old Fotis Zisimopoulos from Agrinio reached the statue of Leonidas first clocking 21:00:50 despite a setback due to poor signage which cost him 7 extra kilometers.
Arriving 19 minutes later, in second place, Japan’s Somiya Toru and third, an hour later, Ishikawa Yoshihiko, who won the tough Badwater ultramarathon in California earlier this year, also from Japan.
In the women’s category, from Latvia, Diana Dzaviza reached Sparta first with a time of 25:03:41 coming in 6th in the overall race, followed by Lizak Marisa (second) and Micah Morgan third – both from the US.
Zisimopoulos: Stay Focused, Love What You Do
GTP Headlines had the chance to follow the super athletes across Attica and the Peloponnese and to discuss with this year’s winner what it takes to keep running.
“I had a plan in my head and then everything changed after losing the way but I didn’t quit. I was very angry, yelling, screaming …and then I had to find a way to manage my feelings and find my pace,” Zisimopoulos told GTP Headlines.
“I listened to my coach’s advice, refocused, and calmly found my rhythm,” the ultra-runner said.
When asked what he would tell kids and young people thinking of taking on the feat, Zisimopoulos said: “I would tell them to set a target, focus and always know deep inside that nothing is impossible. And above all, to love what they choose to do.”
A total of 23 men and five women from Greece finished the race this year: Zisimopoulos, Harris Vakoulas and Kostas Konstantopoulos and women Georgia Lalioti, Peggy Starfa Papafili and Stella-Maria Xenaki.
The athletes were awarded on Saturday in Sparta by the city’s mayor Petros Doukas and on Monday in Athens by the Spartathlon Association.
Spartathlon: A Great Event that Brings Tourists
The historic long distance Spartathlon follows the footsteps of ancient Greek messenger Pheidippides, who ran from Athens to Sparta in 490 BC ahead of the Battle of Marathon in a day and a half to seek aid against the Persians.
The race has been organized every year since 1982 between Athens and Sparta by the Spartathlon Association.
Runners pass through 75 checkpoints on highways, in cities, towns and villages, across mountains on their way to the finish line 36 hours later at the statue of Leonidas in Sparta. Greek ultra-runner Yiannis Kouros won the 1st Spartathlon and still holds the record for fastest time at 20 hours and 25 minutes.
“The Spartathlon is more than just a sports event, it has grown into a ‘family’ of 150 members and almost 500 volunteers; it brings hundreds of people to Laconia and to Greece and creates the need for infrastructure,” Spartathlon Association President Vangelis Polymeris told GTPHeadlines.
This year Polymeris said, the event benefited from the longer tourist season.
“From the 100 people coming as support for runners in the early days of the event, this year there were 720 from all parts of the world,” he said.
One of the main challenges of the Spartathlon event each year is to secure the backing of municipalities through which athletes run, sponsors, as well as ministries. Looking ahead, Polymeris said it was time for the association to change leadership.
“New blood is needed who will work together with past generations to guarantee the next day of the legendary Greek ultra-distance race. Support by the state and by local governments is vital,” he added, hinting that not much had been done in that direction.
It’s All About Sportsmanship
“It’s not about speed, or coming in first, it’s about family and sportsmanship (“ef agonizesthe” in Greek) with the greatest heroes of all being those last few runners who struggle to reach the statue of Leonidas in the final minute,” Polymeris said.
What touched us most besides the hero-runners who proved that heart can conquer mind and matter, were the people in Sparta and in the villages along the way who cheered on the athletes, the happy children on their bikes or running who accompanied the runners to the statue of Leonidas, and the hundreds of volunteers who patiently waited in the midday heat and the dark humid night to make sure the super runners were still standing.