Spartathlon – 2021 Race Report

I’m not sure how to start a race report that I’m sure will be extremely long. I waited over 2 weeks to start this and still can’t organize things in a way that seems perfect. I’m not going to worry about it and just start. Hopefully by the time you’re done reading this, I’ll have written all I want to say and you’ll be informed.

I think I first learned about this race in 2012 from the ultralist, 2013 at the latest. It interested me immediately. It is a race that follows in the footsteps of Phidippides. Who’s that? You may have heard that he ran from the battle of Marathon to Athens to proclaim the victory over the Persians and then died because it was so strenuous. Most historians would say that’s wrong. It may not have been him, and most likely the messenger never died. What’s very much agreed on is that Phidippides was a long distance runner by profession and he was sent by the generals of Athens to run to Sparta to ask for help to fight the Persians that had landed at Marathon.

He left Athens and arrived the next day. That’s 153 miles in less than 36 hours people! The Lacedaemonians said they would help but couldn’t leave until the moon was full based on their religious law. Who are the Lacedaimonians? That’s what the Spartans called themselves. It’s the area where Sparta is. Anyway, it’s not written when or how Phidippides returned to Athens, only that he did return. Most believe he started walking back the next day and likely took a couple days to return with the news.

This is where there is a lot of good story making that comes into play. The unsubstantiated story is that he then goes to the battle of Marathon, fights in it, then runs back to Athens and dies. That part of the story is written much later by less accurate writers. Also I’ll mention that the original writer Herodotus calls the runner Philippides and not Phidippides but everyone refers to him as Phidippides now. To me, if this part of the story is true, then he only died because he probably was wounded somehow. Clearly a marathon isn’t going to kill a guy that just ran over 12 times that distance the week before.

In 1982 some people decided to try to run the same route and see if it could be done in under 36 hours. A lot of the details of this 1981 run can be found on the ultrarunning history podcast among others. I don’t want to get into it too much. The end result was that yes it could be run in under 36 hours. Within months the Spartathlon race was organized and has been run every year since other than 2020 due to Covid. This year is considered the 39th race as they count this 1981 run as the first.

So I had always heard that the name Spartathlon came from adding Sparta, Athens, and London together. This is because it goes from Athens To Sparta and the first runners were from the UK (London) or at least associated with the UK. Recently I’ve heard it’s a combination of Sparta and a word meaning foot. Regardless, Spartathlon just sounds right to me. I don’t know what else I would call it if not that.

It is run the last Friday in September. I don’t know why. Phidippides started his run September 2nd or 3rd, 490BC based off of Herodotus’ account. This is using the Athenians Lunar calendar. If you go by the Spartans Lunar Calendar it happened August 3rd. The issue is Athens calendar starts after the summer solstice and Spartans start after the fall equinox. Because of the blue moon effect, this would put it in August for the Spartans. Which is right? I’d almost have to say the August date because why would the Spartans be following the Athenian calendar? Regardless, I’m just fine with them running it later in the year than he did it. The cooler weather the better!!!

At the end of the blog I have the translation of Herodotus Book 6 Chapter 100-117 with some extra stuff as well. It’s interesting history I think.

To me the distance isn’t the hard part about the race. Even the hot weather can be dealt with. The issue I have is the difficult cutoffs in the race. You have to start this race off fast if you want to beat the early cutoffs. Even more so, there are 75 check points along the route and every one of them has a time cutoff! If you get there late, they kick you off the course and put you on a bus. There is basically no room for error. You can’t catch back up at night once it cools off. You can’t puke and rally if your puking makes you miss a cutoff. Having a time cutoff every 30 minutes or less is nerve racking.

The general cutoffs are this. 0-50 miles you have 9 and a half hours. 50 miles to the mountain top (about 51 mile distance) in 13:20 (22:50 overall). Mountain top to the finish (52 miles) in 13:10 (36 overall). You can clearly see the first 50 needs to be fast. The second section is where most of the elevation gain is. The third section has some hills but is mostly downhill or flat. Those are broad strokes. The overall elevation gain is just under 11,000 feet so it’s pretty flat and almost all of it is runnable if you’re so inclined. In fact you need to run almost all of it if you want to finish in time.

Because it is such a difficult race, they have qualifying times you have to beat in order to even apply to the lottery to get into the race. The qualifying times keep getting faster and faster. I had qualified for this race since my first 100 miler in 2014 and beyond. That doesn’t mean I was ready though. Perhaps I could’ve finished it in 2015 with dumb luck if I applied and got in. I decided I wanted to feel ready when I applied so I waited until 2018 when I had a 100 mile qualifier under 20 hours. I got on the wait-list in a pretty low spot so I trained as though I was in and waited for an email. It never came. It was pretty devastating really. Many people told me I’d get in based on past history of the wait-list. I basically wasted an entire summer running season since I didn’t do any major races that year.

In 2019 I was on the wait-list again but in a worse spot. Some still said I’d get in but I didn’t believe it. I still didn’t have any big races planned other than I’d have to run a fast 100 miler again to qualify. I did Tunnel Hill again and got a good enough time. In 2020, with 4 tickets in the lottery, I finally got in. I purposefully ended that sentence with a period and not an exclamation point. While I should’ve felt excited, I didn’t. Covid had already shut down racing and the borders were closed everywhere. We knew the chances of this race happening were close to zero. Our (my wife and I) brains couldn’t take another up and down on this Spartathlon roller coaster. It may seem weird that this affected us so much emotionally, but it really did. This race was in the works for us for years. To yet again have this race “taken away” would be hard.

Since there was no other race to train for anyway, I trained hard for Spartathlon. I had zero issues and was running great. I ran 60 and 70 miles weeks for the first time in my life. Then the race was officially called off due to the government not allowing athletic events. The borders were closed anyway so even if it went on, we couldn’t have gotten there. Instead I ran my “around the county” run that I’ve wanted to do since I was a child. I learned a couple more things that would help with Spartathlon so perhaps it was for the best.

Now it’s 2021 and my entrance carried over (including the race fee) which was awesome. There are a couple things about the race direction that could use improvement in my mind but they did us all a huge solid by carrying over all the entrances and fees. That was not the norm during Covid.

I only had 1 race in 2021 set up. It was The Drift 100 in March. After that it was time to start training for Spartathlon. I started getting this belly pain on my long runs in April. It got worse and worse over time so I went in to physical therapy. Nothing improved after 2 months and the exercises were making it hurt more so I stopped and went to a different PT. Dry needling helped some and there were definitely some additional muscles messed up but nothing ever got rid of the pain, including not running.

I was able to run more and more throughout this time so at least I was getting decent training in. It wasn’t as much as the year before though and it didn’t have as many hills as the PT said that would likely make it worse. The thought is it might be a “sports hernia” which the specialist I went to in September said was a very generic term and there’s no diagnostic test for it. It’s more of a diagnosis by exclusion kind of thing. The only thing that might help is putting mesh in my entire abdominal area which I’m not at all excited about. I’m really not convinced it will take the pain away and it’s not just something you can undo.

So I was doing twice a days fairly often and getting 65 mile weeks at the peak. I haven’t run more than 16 miles for my long run for 2 years now. The sports physiology research has shown there’s no advantage to exercise sessions longer than 2.5-3 hours from a physical standpoint. I don’t need the mental aspect of long runs anymore, I know what it feels like already to be tired, sore, and sleepy. It seemed odd that such short long runs would work so I asked my elite running friends and sure enough, if they want to do 30 miles, they do two 15 mile runs in a day and not one long run. That was good enough for me and I switched. I like 2 a days. I feel stronger that way even though I’m running more miles overall. I know many people if not most do 100 mile weeks preparing for this race. I don’t really have that kind of time. I got by with much less so don’t fret if you’re “only” getting 70 mile weeks.

I did loose weight for this race (almost 20 pounds). I usually bulk up a little for the winter race season so -40 doesn’t feel so bad. Because of that I always start my diet for summer races just after Christmas. I take the slow and steady approach so I really don’t even notice it. I just count my calories and how much I run and aim for losing a half pound a week. It works well for me. I got down to 152.5 pounds for this race which is the lightest I’ve been in 16 years. I just realized that’s about a mile of race per pound. 🙂 There still was another 5 pounds at least that could’ve be lost, but I don’t need to be that skinny. So why loose weight? Simple physics. It’s easier to move a lighter object. More importantly though, is it’s easier to stay cool if you don’t have a bunch of insulation around you.

I usually make a point of it to say that there is no body type for an ultrarunner. I still believe that. I know obese people that have finished ultras, including the long winter ones. At the same time, I’ve always known the winners are thin. I’ve also been suspicious that taller people have an advantage in ultras, especially at walking. I have to say that this race pretty much confirms those thoughts. I’m 5’9″ and I felt short. I was actually one of the taller ones on the American team but overall looking at the start line I was quite short. I have over time also lost more upper body muscle as I’ve run more and more. It’s a normal process. A look around at the Spartan Mile (more on that later) showed everyone else had little upper body mass as well. Interestingly, also almost all the guys could’ve been 5 pounds lighter as well. We weren’t cookie cutter copies by any means but there were similarities in key areas.

We felt pretty confident that the race wouldn’t be cancelled this year. We had gotten vaccinated in March and Greece opened up to Americans in the spring. The measures put in place in Greece were being lifted as well. We got plane tickets in June and had already made reservations for an Airbnb and car before that. We ended up not getting another crew member to help Jessie out during the race so she’d be doing it all on her own. She’s amazing so I knew she could do it.

I was so preoccupied with my belly issue that it was hard to get super excited about the race. I didn’t even know if I could go 30 miles. It hurt bad by 11 miles. The end of August I paced my 9 year old son at a 12 hour race. He went 46.3 miles, half of which was walking but my belly pain wasn’t all that bad. That, plus the specialist saying I wouldn’t do any permanent damage by running gave me some confidence a finish was at least possible. It might hurt like crazy but when doesn’t 153 miles hurt?

I started making the packing list for the trip. It was long and detailed. I knew I would be using mostly my own food as the aid stations don’t have much and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t find what I wanted there in the grocery stores. Therefore, 1 checked bag was basically all food. That’s no joke. I should’ve taken a picture. The nice thing was then there would be room to bring back stuff after we ate most of the food. We had one other checked bag and 2 carry-ons. 1 carry-on was filled with all my race stuff that was irreplaceable. It looked like we were going there for a month. In reality all the clothes we brought fit in one small carry-on.

I stopped taking caffeine a couple weeks before we left similar to my winter races where I know I’ll have to be up with no sleep for a couple days. Staying up for 36 hours usually isn’t that hard but with having to have such a constant hard effort, I figured I’d be more tired than normal and wanted all the help I could get staying awake.

My plan for what to wear is what I had been planning and training in for 3 years now for this race. Thicker shorts to help hold the water and sweat, Ultimate Direction waist belt with added pouch, team shirt, hat, neck sun protector, and start with Altra Torins for shoes, switching to Olympus for the mountain and maybe switching back after it. The waist belt has a 20 ounce water bottle in it. I would carry my phone in the back and put a bunch of food in the front pouch and more in my short pockets if need be. I hate handhelds but that would be an appropriate choice if you love them. I love vests for ultras but with the heat and the multitude of aid stations, I didn’t use one. I did bring one with though just in case. I pretty much always have backups of everything important.

I always make pace charts and laminate them to protect from rain, etc. The race hadn’t updated the road book which has what aid stations your crew can help at. Even in the beginning of September it wasn’t updated. The rules of the race never were updated before the race. Right there means you have 2 different set of rules as they list different aid stations. I was starting to think they’d cancel the race since there was a similar communication black hole right before they cancelled it last year. I waited as long as I could before making my pace charts. Finally the road book was updated 2 weeks before the race and it only had 11 instead of the usual 15 spots that crew could help at. It was a little frustrating since I wanted as much help as I could get. I quickly made my sheets and laminated them but still didn’t make up my list of drop bags or what I wanted Jessie to do for me at each place she could help. I planned on making those decisions once we got to Greece and knew more about the weather forecast.

We flew to Greece the Friday before the race and got there Saturday morning since it’s an 8 hour difference. We got in earlier than we were supposed to so we had to really take our time since check-in wasn’t until the afternoon. Getting through customs was ridiculously easy. We had to show them our form that said where we were staying and they looked at our vaccination card. That took 5 seconds. Then we waited in line for the actual customs for less than 10 minutes. The two agents were just talking to each other the entire time. They never spoke a word to us or even looked at us. They just took our passports, opened them, stamped them, and handed them back. I was impressed actually that they could do that without ever turning their heads to look at us or the passport while grabbing them. There was a door that said “things to declare” that was closed. The “nothing to declare” door was the only one open so that’s where we went and got our bags.

I don’t know where else to put this but I’ll just add that Athens is actually Athina and Sparta is Sparti when you look at most maps and pronounce things. It will help to know the Greek spelling of things when you’re trying to find things in google maps. Sometimes it’ll be listed as our spelling using the Latin alphabet, sometimes it’s in Greek, and other times it will be in our Latin alphabet but with the Greek spelling. For example Athens Αθήνα Athína is all the same place.

We took the metro into Athens. Our Airbnb was at the Acropolis station so we were really close to everything. We were able to drop our luggage off at least at the Airbnb and then went shopping and walked around the base of the acropolis. All the little shops sell pretty much the same things. It’s very much like Mexico in that way, haggling seems just fine as well.

I loved where we stayed. It was super quiet and the bed was comfortable. We went to the Acropolis Museum later in the day after taking a nap. We had to show our vaccination card to get in the building. We needed it to get in every museum actually. Everywhere else you just needed a mask when indoors. We had been to London in 2008 so we had already seen all the things that were taken from the Parthenon back then. Not surprisingly Greece is kinda pissed they still have them. This museum was built specifically to get those things back. Anyway, it was worth the money. Due to Covid all the museums put markers down on the floor and blocked stuff off so you could only go through the museum the way they wanted. It was a little annoying having to go through all the pottery to get to the things I’m more interested in. I really tried to like the pottery. I mean it’s cool that something that old is still together but I just can’t get excited.

We had to of course have a meal of Greek food that night. It was all good. The main thing I wanted to try was moussaka. It tasted like a MN hotdish. I tried some ouzo knowing I wouldn’t like it, but wanted to say I at least tried it. It was nice people watching. Oh, and everywhere we went had things in Greek and English. There was the occasional small shop off the beaten path or in a small town that didn’t speak English but it didn’t matter. It’s pretty easy to just point and such. The other thing that helps is they are required by law to give you the bill before you pay. This is for everything (shops, gas, tolls, etc), not just at restaurants. Kinda like a receipt before the receipt. It’s easy then to know what you are paying for and if it’s correct. Tax and tip are included in the price other than for gas which had a 25% tax on top of the listed price. It cost the equivalent of over $9 a gallon.

I get asked a lot about gyros. So at every place that served gyros, they put french fries on them. In fact almost every meal is served with french fries and bread. Normally that would be great. The issue is that the fries kinda suck. It’s not that they’re under cooked or cut real thick or anything like that. They just taste soggy somehow. The few times I saw the oil used, it was similar to what’s used at home so I can only surmise it’s the temperature that they’re cooked at that is different. Or the potatoes grown there are just way different. They also don’t use tzatziki on much at all. They usually have 5 or more different sauces to choose from and tzatziki isn’t the standard. We never even had it at any meal so I can’t tell you if it tastes better or worse.

The dumpsters you see in the streets are communal. I’m guessing it’s paid for through taxes or something. So you just put your garbage or recycling in any dumpster you see, you don’t have to worry about filling up someone else’s dumpster. Generally there are garbage cans all over in Athens as well.

If you’ve done any sort of construction work or remodeling, you will probably be like me and not be able to turn off the “this is built wrong” and “that’s dangerous” part of your brain in Greece. I don’t know if there just aren’t building codes or if no one follows them. Based on our experience, I’m guessing it’s more of the latter. You want an electrical outlet directly behind the faucet of the kitchen sink? You got it! There is apparently no such thing as a GFI outlet either in Greece. Smoke alarms? Why would you want that? You won’t be able to get out of the house in time anyway since ALL the doors have to be locked and unlocked with an old school skeleton key, even from the inside of the room. Someone in our group saw a power line go under a road. Not buried in the ground, it was laid on top of the road and they just put another layer of asphalt on top of it! You want to do some plumbing? Just punch a hole in the wall and tap into the pipes with a hose, it’s all good. It’s never ending the things that would never be allowed in the US.

The next day (Sunday) we planned on going to the Acropolis so we got there before the 8AM opening. Why? Because I failed to mention that it was 100 degrees on Saturday. The air was so dry too. My throat hurt when I was done running Saturday afternoon. It felt very similar to running in Death Valley. Anyway, we wanted to beat the worst of the heat and sunshine. It’s so bright with all the marble there. I had to squint even with sunglasses on. After we were in line for a few minutes, the guard said it wasn’t opening until 10:30 that day since the prime minister was coming.

OK, change of plans. We had a pass to see like 7 different ruins so we went to the other 6 places instead and also the big park next to the Acropolis that has the Philopappos Monument. Kerameickos, Roman Agora, Athenian Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Temple of Zeus, and Hadrian’s Arch are where we went. Bit by bit it became clearer on how Athens used to look over 2000 years ago. We walked over 10 miles so I didn’t run that day.

We also watched the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier they have in front of parliament. They have some interesting shoes with a poof ball and nails on the sole to make sound. They use an exaggerated step as they move very slowly. I wasn’t very impressed. I’ve now seen changing of the guards in the UK, France, Italy, and Greece. I know people hate Americans for thinking they’re the best at everything, but when it comes to military changing of the guards I believe we are. These guys weren’t together at all, there was another guy that helped them get their uniforms correctly in place, and he even wiped the sweat from their foreheads. There were also a bunch of corrections they made to get their feet in the right spot. You could see them whispering to each other as well, although maybe the guy was telling them they sucked super bad and he was disappointed. Enough snobbery.

On Monday we finally got to go tour the Acropolis. There is certainly more put together now than there was in the past but it is still very much in ruins. Lots of history up there to say the least. We stayed on the top for awhile and then made our way down to the things around the base that we hadn’t seen yet. I was glad I had seen the replica of the Parthenon in Nashville before. It helped to get a sense of what was supposed to be there.

That afternoon we went to the Archeological Museum. There were some pretty good things there but a lot of stuff I would’ve rather skipped if not having been forced to go through the museum in a certain pattern. This was the only place that was of a significant walk to get to. On the walk back we noticed a lot of the embassies of other countries.

The typical bathroom in Greece. Enjoy hovering and putting your toilet paper in a pail with everyone else’s.

After walking around for 8 miles during the day I went back to the park by the Acropolis to run around the marked and unmarked trails there. It was really fun. I would definitely recommend hiking the trails. One of them follows another ancient road out of Athens along a ancient river that doesn’t flow anymore. I wish I would’ve brought my phone with to take pictures. There’s an observatory on a hill as well.

I think it was late Monday night or otherwise Tuesday morning that the race changed its mind and added back the aid stations that crew could stop at. Well a couple were still at different spots than most years, but there were now 15. My wife was pretty pissed, I was actually expecting it. I just had a strong feeling things would be changed last moment at this race. She had everything written out with all the 15 aid stations but threw those notes away when the road book came out with just 11. Now she had to redo them again. I was just glad that I hadn’t wasted any time planning out my drop bags yet.

Tuesday we didn’t have anything planned since we got everything done that we wanted to see already. So the morning was taken up with writing our notes and planning my drop bags. I wrote what I wanted at each check point she could go to and filled in the gaps with drop bags. She grumbled a little more and I think was getting anxious about helping me all on her own.

In the afternoon we went to the Panathenaic Stadium which is where the first modern Olympics were held but was built over 2000 years ago originally. This place had a audio guide which was nice. It also has almost all of the torches used for the various Olympic games throughout time.

She got first place.
Hey, quit bragging!
Pretending to hear our National Anthem.

We did some final shopping and then got ready for something we had planned a couple weeks before we left. So I was worried about loosing my heat acclimation right before the race. I took my hot water baths at home everyday the 3 days before we left. The 100 degree temps once we got to Greece certainly helped to prevent losing it as well. What we had done was set up an appointment for a Hammam massage. We’d never heard of it in the USA but it looked like it would be nice and hot. It was definitely worth it. We didn’t do it until 6:30PM but everything is so late here that it was starting to seem normal.

So it starts with some food. We got some yummy figs and Turkish delight served with tea. Of course I didn’t think to ask if there was caffeine in it before I tried some. We’re still not sure if there was or not. Then we put on swimsuits and went into a steam room like thing where the walls and tables are heated. You lay on them and get really hot. They tell you to pour cold water on yourself to cool down. I was loving getting hot. I think they thought I was getting a little too hot when they checked my pulse but that was my plan. We were probably in there for 30 minutes before they came in for the massage and treatment.

It’s interesting. Lots of water pouring on you. Getting scrubbed with gigantic amounts of bubbles, sesame seeds and honey at different times. Plus all the dead skin scrubbed off. You get massaged as well through all this. There’s probably better descriptions of this online somewhere. We enjoyed not knowing ahead of time. Then we got more food and tea while we cooled down. We ate a lot of dessert. Once we were cooled down we got dressed and went back to the Airbnb. It cost the equivalent of less than $100 each which seemed very reasonable. There are lots of these places in Athens so it could probably even be cheaper if you searched around. The workers had to wear masks in the steam room because of Covid. Imagine wearing that for an hour in that kind of heat.

The next day (Wednesday) we got our rental car about a block away and found a parking spot next to the Airbnb (we kinda lucked out). We loaded it up and were on our way to Marathon to check out the things there. It wasn’t on the way to Glyfada where we would be staying for the race portion of our trip but it seemed like an obvious thing to look at since the race is about the run before the battle of Marathon.

The drive there was fairly stressful. Google would be telling us to turn way too soon it seemed. There aren’t roundabouts but you still have 6 roads come together in spots so it’s a bit confusing. We eventually figured it out and got to the plains of Marathon. I guess this is supposed to be fertile soil. It’s more red like Georgia but not as red. At least the hillsides were green unlike Athens so they must get some rain. We went to the Archaeological Museum of Marathon first. They were very strict here for some reason. They checked our vaccine cards over and over and seemed very confused by me only having one shot of the J&J vaccine. She finally accepted us saying it is only a one shot vaccine with that look on her face that says “Whatever. I still don’t believe you.” It is a small museum filled mostly with Egyptian statues and of course more clay jars. They also have part of the top of the victory monument that used to be in Marathon.

There is a mound very close to this museum where the Plataeans that helped in the battle are buried. The door was locked although I’ve seen pictures of the inside from the few times the museum staff are nice and give tours to visitors. It’s basically skeletons in boxes that they unearthed. I’m more curious how they have the roof supported so the dirt mound doesn’t cave in but we couldn’t go in so I’ll never know I guess.

We next went to the park that has the Tumulus of the Athenians mound. It’s where the 192 Athenians that died in battle have their ashes buried. It’s more interesting to go here because it’s pretty much the only place in Greece that the signs actually tell you history instead of just describing the architecture of the building. On many occasions, we could be heard yelling at signs “I can clearly count how many pillars there were on this building, WHAT WAS IT’S PURPOSE?!” Honestly, just show a small drawing of how it looked instead of paragraphs of words trying to describe it. Use that space for actual history.

Map of the Marathon plain.

You can read about the battle in the historical text at the end of the blog. The signs here told a bit of a different story as it probably includes additional texts and I’m guessing the Persians account. The area is filled with olive trees. It’s actually kind of hard to see the mound through all the trees except for a few spots.

After this we went to the marathon museum which is a museum about the marathon distance race. While parking some lady made a point of it to yell at us for slowing her down when we turned onto the road. At least that’s what we think she was mad about. She stopped traffic so she could yell something at us anyway. That was the only bad driver we met. Despite the roads being being crowded and curvy, people were very mellow and things went smoothly. If you had to move over, you just did and no one was mad about it. If someone was in your way, you just went around them, no matter what the lane lines said. With small agile cars it was pretty easy to zip around. In a lot of ways it felt like island driving in the Caribbean.

The museum had pretty detailed information on every Olympic marathon race and some of the marathon races around the world. There was a small display about the Spartathlon race but it was broken so I don’t know what the big red button would do. There was a video about the marathon as well, of course showing him dying when he arrived in Athens (insert eye-roll here).

The Spartathlon display.

We then drove to Glyfada which is a Southern suburb of Athens and where the old airport was. The race puts all the runners and crew from the various countries together in 1 of 4 hotels. This year the Americans were in the Oasis Hotel which was also the hotel that we registered (checked-in) for the race. The rooms are very nice here. From here on out all the meals, hotels, and transportation is included in the cost of the race registration (6 days worth). That’s a really good deal for 600 Euros. The price goes up to 700 Euros next year but still that’s cheap. You can choose to eat elsewhere on your own of course. We also had our own car so we didn’t use the buses other than the last night. We got there about 2PM and they were still serving lunch. Well, not “still” as much as they don’t start serving until 1:30 or 2. So we ate first and then brought all our stuff into our room.

We then went down to register for the race. Registering was pretty quick. They didn’t have my doctors note on record so I gave them that and was allowed to continue to the next table. There I got a tracker, envelope with badges, chip timer and tickets in it, and a bag that had more stuff. I wasn’t really sure if I had everything or not. I didn’t know much about the tracker. I knew the Brits always had trackers themselves and so I was concerned that I was given one. Was that a mistake? Some people online thought it was since some other people hadn’t been given a tracker at check-in. Turns out that yes indeed, everyone was getting a tracker this year and every year from now on. They weren’t all there in time so they occasionally ran out of them at check-in which is why some didn’t get them. Luckily I was on the British WhatsApp group so I knew how to use it. I really don’t know why the race couldn’t tell us this stuff before we got there. Clearly it had been known about for weeks ahead of time by them. The tracker doesn’t need line of sight and could be put in a pack or waist belt. While looking at the tracker website I could see circles around islands. That plus the fact you didn’t need line of sight makes me think they use phone towers and not a satellite. They add a couple ounces of weight but I knew it would help Jessie immensely in knowing where I was during the race.

I found out about the shoe chip timer from Amy. She said Andrew Snope who I ran Volstate with didn’t know about it and didn’t have it for the beginning of the race one year. It’s made to go in the laces of the shoe. That makes it very difficult to change shoes since you have to unlace everything on 2 pair of shoes to move the chip. I never untie my shoes and I didn’t want to have it take forever to change shoes so I decided to buy some zip ties and attach it to my laces that way. Then we could quickly cut the zip ties to remove from one shoe and zip them into the next shoe very easily. It worked just as planned during the race so I would suggest zip ties if you plan on changing shoes.

We were a little concerned they would be testing everyone for Covid again at the check-in. This ended up not the case. I think the National Public Health people were there just to watch over stuff and maybe test those that weren’t vaccinated. That was good because statistically someone would’ve had a false positive with testing that many people.

While looking through the packet in my room I realized there wasn’t any mention of what starting wave I was in. The race was going to have groups of up to 50 people start in waves at least 5 minutes apart. This seemed like it would be a big cluster as how would anyone know what the time cutoffs were since everyone started at a different time. I talked to some Brits that were much more in the know about what was going on. They assured us we didn’t have to worry about the waves. This is when it dawned on us that like our experiences the past week, there is what’s supposed to happen and then there is what actually happens. Had we been told it was like this in Greece before we got there, we wouldn’t have been nearly as anxious. I’m not going to go as far as to say you shouldn’t worry or assume things will just turn out fine on their own. Just don’t expect as rigid of an environment as the rules make it seem.

We decided to go swimming since tomorrow was supposed to be cold and windy. There is a beach just a couple blocks from the hotel. The beach is rocky like most places on the Mediterranean it seems. I was glad I brought my aqua shoes. The water was kinda cold but we adjusted fine. There weren’t any waves so we didn’t stay in very long. I walked along the shore to look for interesting rocks while Jessie sunbathed. I didn’t need anymore sun after the last few days. We stayed only an hour or so.

After getting back to the hotel we walked around the town and was planning on buying a cooler for ice during the race from a store that someone on the WhatsApp group recommended. It was closed but indeed would have what we were looking for based on what we could see through the window. I don’t think the place even had a name. We asked the shop owner next door when it would be open and he told us the next morning. Glyfada is a nice area. Much less crowded than Athens and there are actual sidewalks you can use instead of just walking on the road like in Athens.

I ran 3 miles that afternoon and met up with Steve Troxel who was running on the same path along the beach. His wife didn’t come to crew as originally planned so she’ll have to come next time. We talked a little race strategy and had a nice relaxed run. That was the last time I’d run before the race.

Supper was served at 8PM. We always sat with Americans and eventually met almost the entire team before the race. I only knew 3 of them from Facebook and online chats. I knew I had run in races with a couple others but never met them before, I just noticed it while looking at their ultrasignup history. To us the food at the hotel wasn’t too bad. The chicken was always dry anywhere we went in Greece. It was buffet style, although there were very few options and never any milk which was annoying. Some hotels have worse food it sounds like and people eat elsewhere. We’re cheap so we only ate out the night before the race with a bunch of the American team. This was more to mingle than to eat somewhere else. The more connections we could make, the better off Jessie would be if she needed help crewing. After the drive to Marathon, I think she was getting concerned about finding her way.

Due to Covid there wouldn’t be any pre-race meeting. We had gotten an email weeks before that all the information would be put online. Finally at 10:30 Wednesday night they put a couple page note on the website. It was written as though it was to be read days before anyone arrived. It explained the trackers (finally) and about a couple detours (one of which was only for crew vehicles and not the runners). If you hadn’t known about the recent crew check point changes, it let you know about that. Another new change was made in this letter that there were now 13 check points that wouldn’t take drop bags. I was planning on using one of them so I had to adjust that. I certainly understand there can be last minute changes to a race but this was starting to get ridiculous. We just laughed as we wondered what new changes were in store for tomorrow. Perhaps we’d get an email the day after the race describing some changes that were to happen?

Thursday morning I got my drop bags packed up and ready to put in the drop bag boxes. They didn’t let you put anything in the boxes until later in the afternoon though. I enjoyed eating as many carbs as possible from my stash of food from home. We went and bought our cooler. They were out of hard side coolers. We had seen one in a store in Marathon so we should’ve just got that one. Oh well. We got a soft sided cooler instead and I guess that way we could bring it home instead of throwing it away. We also got our zip ties and batteries since I forgot those at home.

The main event for the day was taking our group photos for the American team and most of us having supper together at the traditional spot which is George’s Steakhouse I guess. At the photo I realized only 14 of us were there and not the 17 signed up. A couple were missing for injury and I’m not sure what happened to the third. I gotta say we looked pretty good in our team shirts. I was one of the younger members of the team and I’m 45. Only 3 people were under 40. To finish this race in your 60’s is pretty awesome. We split into a couple groups as the vegetarians understandably went to a different restaurant. I wasn’t planning on eating much there since I was carbo loading.

The 14 runners.
Runners and crew.

We sat with Thomas and M’Lee Jackson. I had actually done a preceptorship in vet school where they live in Washington. I think my wife was happy that we weren’t just talking about races. We had a good time and Jessie and M’Lee would help each other out during the race since they were both crewing on their own. It was starting to get late and we knew we should get back and go to bed.

Photo Credit: Amy Mower

I did my usual night before prep of taping my feet and such. I went to sleep pretty easy.

The Race:

The race was to begin at 7AM on Friday September 24th at the base of the Acropolis by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. We got up around 4AM so we could leave around 5AM. We wanted to make sure we’d have a parking spot and plenty of time to find it, etc. You don’t want to be short of time with a flat tire or something before the biggest race of your life. I had my homemade shake, beet juice, caffeine to get things moving, and a little real food. I put on my KT tape I need for runs longer than 20 miles and also put a piece on my belly hoping it would potentially help keep it from hurting. It doubled as protection from the waist belt rubbing on my skin. I also put on sunscreen right away so I wouldn’t have to worry about it during the race. I felt proud and lucky to wear our USA team shirt.

Beet Juice!

I felt ready. Was I ready? There’s always a doubt that creeps in before an ultra, even the ones I’ve done numerous times. 36 hours of running is a long time for something to go wrong. When I say running, I mean it. There was almost no time for walking in this race for me. If I could drop 8 minute miles for hours at a time, then sure I’d have time to walk. I can’t even do that for a marathon. This race is 6 of them in a row! There was definitely moments of imposter syndrome that showed up in the days before the race. I’ve raced with the best in the world before, but here, almost everyone was the best in the world, not just a couple. And almost half won’t finish! It reminded me of the “bright shining star” speech we all got the first day of vet school.

This speech was giving to us by the mental health department so we wouldn’t get depressed and off ourselves (it’s a real problem in my profession). They show you a bell curve that everyone that’s taken statistics has seen. They show that in high school you were way over on the right side of the curve and a “bright shining star”. Then in college, you were still on the right side of the curve but maybe not quite as far, still a “bright shining star”. Now in vet school you were likely just in the middle of the bell curve. They stressed over and over, you are still a “bright shining star”, you’ll just be getting B’s and C’s most likely. It made us all laugh but the message got through. In this race I was clearly way over on the left side of the curve. I’d made the cut to get here but I’d have to have a great race to finish.

We left the hotel around 5AM. The road was empty and we made it to the parking lot by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus within 15 minutes. XP9F+Q7 Athens, Greece is the google code. That’s 3-4 times faster than during the day. Traffic sucks in Athens! We just relaxed in the car for a bit. There was only 1 other car with people in it. They were with the race. I got out to check out the start line. There was nothing there. It’s 90 minutes before the race start and there’s nothing here. Did we go to the wrong spot? I found those people and asked where the porta potties were that are supposed to be here. They thought they’d maybe show up later.

What an awesome view to start a race.

I went back to the car after taking a couple photos of the lit up Acropolis. We searched around the parking lot in the dark and found a building that had WC (water closet) on it but it was closed and blocked off. I went up the hill of the Acropolis to see if the bathrooms at the entrance were open. Nope. The people said there is one in the parking lot where we were parked. Well that one is closed so I guess I’m pooping outside while it’s still dark.

My wife kept watch as I hid behind some trucks along a shipping container looking thing. I placed some toilet paper down on the ground and expertly landed my load on said toilet paper. I was pretty proud of myself. I picked it all up and put it in garbage dumpster that was on the other side of the shipping container thing I was hiding behind. Then I saw a faint light glow from the container for 5 seconds before turning off. I decided to investigate around it and then started laughing my butt off. The shipping container looking thing was a multi-stall temporary bathroom! In my defense, this thing was hidden behind multiple semi trailers. At least I knew where to go the next time before the race. It even had water in it.

That black space on the right was where I was. I’m still laughing about this.

I went back up to the start to see if anything had changed. There were a few more cars now and they were taping down the start line. In a race where there are permanent signs along the road and they paint markers on the road for the turns, there is no permanent start line I guess. In fact the start line area had nothing but this line. No banner flags, music pumping, crowds of people cheering, etc.

That red and white piece of tape is the start line. They also had a few glow sticks under the tape as well. This photo was taken exactly 1 hour before the race started.

We stayed in the car and slowly it got lighter and lighter outside. It was somewhat cold so we stayed in as long as we could and then I went up with about 25 minutes until it started. I turned on my tracker and hoped that the SOS button wouldn’t get accidentally pushed during the race. We had brought a gardening knee pad and a pillow from the flight to sit on. I wasn’t going to sit on stone or stand any longer than needed. About 15 minutes before the race it was time to start lining up. Due to Covid they were trying to keep everyone apart from each other, wave start, masks, etc. As we had already learned from being in Greece for a week, what people say will be enforced and what is actually enforced are very different things. I wore a mask until a few minutes before the start. It was clear everyone was just going to start running at 7AM no matter what the race directors told us to do. We all did our part to try to stay apart but it really isn’t realistic since we’ll all be running together once the race starts anyway.

Jessie and M’Lee – contemplating the monumental task of crewing their husbands alone for 36 hours. They would end up helping each other get through it.

There wasn’t any sort of check-in like most races have and like the rules said there would be. I talked to some of the other Americans and we lined up together. It was go time. There was a simple 10 second countdown before the race started. It was started with an air horn that seemed to never end. 280 of us started the race out of 341 that were signed up. Most of the people that didn’t show up were due to Covid restrictions in their own country (especially Japan) or injury. Normally there are 400 allowed in the race.

It was slow going to start with due to it being crowded. The beginning of the race is downhill so it was frustrating to not be able to open it up and just fly down 7 minute miles for the first 2 miles. I talked to Chris Calimano for the downhill about Arrowhead 135 of all things. It’s probably the most opposite race as you could get from Spartathlon. My main goal was to keep moving fast and comfortable for as long as possible to get a buffer on the cutoffs. You never know when you’ll need to stop for the bathroom and so I wanted at least a 5 minute buffer quickly.

Since I’m on the subject of bathrooms, here’s some important race information. There basically are no porta potties or bathroom facilities along the race. I knew this going in and was concerned about it. My wife said a couple check points (CP) had them but they were all out of toilet paper and worthless. Don’t fret though. There are plenty of places to go along the way, even in the city of Athens and for both #1 and #2. So in Athens you are along a busy road but after just a couple miles it starts going uphill (you better be running up this hill, it’s not bad) and there becomes opportunities. There are areas that look like they would maybe be a bus stop area but it’s not. It’s just an area of a bunch of junk, garbage, and overgrown plants on a widened area of concrete with a wall. Often times this is just after an overpass or bridge of some sort. You can hide behind these areas pretty easily. You’re not completely hidden but no one can directly see you other than other runners (no cars will see anything) and no runner is going to care. These kind of areas continue until you are out of town miles later. There are also lots of garbage cans in town. Once you get in the country they are rare. Of course bathroom use in the country should be pretty obvious as what to do. I always bring my own kit that includes enough toilet paper for a session, a couple wet wipes, and an individual use packet of butt lube. I’d replace the kit the next time I saw Jessie.

The race course supposedly follows as closely as it can the original route that Phidippides would’ve used. Of course now most of this route is paved but would’ve been dirt or stone then. We start from the Odeon but I’m guessing Phidippides would have been given his orders from the generals in the Agora and used the main road from there. That is on the North side of the Acropolis and not the South. It would’ve been really awesome if they would’ve opened the gates and let us run on the ancient paths through the Agora and Kerameikos area that had the gate to the city through the city wall. Regardless, once past Kerameikos, we were basically on the ancient path to Sparta as far as I know.

The blue is the race route. The red is the ancient road from the Agora.
The ancient road through the Kerameikos area. This is looking towards Athens and the gate through the city wall that used to be at the end of the path.
This is the same view as the Google map above. The gate into the city is in the top left and you can see the road going out of the city that we followed. Really crazy to be following a path that has been used for thousands of years.

They had one lane of the road closed off to traffic and there were cops at every intersection keeping traffic away. The race basically shut down all traffic on the roads we were on until we passed by. Horns honked to cheer us on. “Bravo” was said to us by everyone that we passed along the way. It almost felt like the crowds you’d see at a marathon. The lane being blocked off allowed us to be able to pass other runners as needed safely. It was rare that we were ever 3 people across though and it was mostly single file running after the first 2 miles.

This race doesn’t allow headphones. They say it is for safety and for solitude. For the first 10 miles or so you wouldn’t be able to hear them anyway. The traffic noise through town was so loud. And the fumes from all the diesel vehicles (way dirtier than our emission standards) was horrible. It was hard to breath at times. Since I didn’t want a repeat of the “Rocky Top Tennessee” incident of the Barkley Fall Classic, I decided ahead of time I needed a better song to have on a never-ending loop in my head. I actually put a lot of thought into this and determined that “Coolin’ With Da Homies” song from the Eurovision Song Contest Movie was the clear choice. It’s got the perfect cadence for cruising if you sing it a little faster in your head, easy to learn, and makes me laugh at how horribly lame it is every time I hear it. If you haven’t heard it, it’s basically what kids my age in the 80’s would make up ourselves, thinking we could actually rap.

If it doesn’t play for some reason or gets taken down, just google it and have a listen.

After about 10 minutes, the song was just automatically playing in the background in my head. I could even be talking something over in my head and still hear it in the background in my head like it was really there and not just in my head. Make sense? Anyway that song was on loop for almost all of the next 35 hours. Occasionally I would hear a song playing from a car driving by, or at a check point and that would be in my head for a while until I realized it. I’m thankful I currently can’t remember any of those songs now because they were all horrible. The only other time I didn’t have it on loop was when I was really tired early the second morning and was singing out loud everything I was doing and thinking in a rap version with some random beat that came in my head. Singing out loud is a great way to stay awake.

After a couple miles.

My first goal was to get to the marathon distance (CP 11) in about 4:15 which was what I did in my county run and other timed racing events. In normal years this would be the first crew support aid station. This year that wasn’t until the next one (CP 12). Things went pretty much as planned. My watch ended up losing all the data from the first 17 hours of the race so I only have the tracker data to go off of besides the official timing mats for most of my race data. By CP2 (5.8 miles) I already had a 13 minute buffer which made me feel good. I saw Bob Hearn twice while in the city and made sure to not get in front of him. If you’re in front of Bob, then you’re likely starting out too fast in my opinion. In general I was getting passed more than I was passing people and I was just fine with it.

This is the first race in which I never went into “race mode”. In other words I never tried to race anyone or do anything to get in a better position than anyone else. Perhaps I could’ve finished sooner if I had, but just as likely I would’ve pushed too hard somewhere and not finished at all. It’s almost cliche how often I hear you need to run your own race, but for me in this race, that’s exactly what I did. The only point of this race for me and I think most people is to see if you can run in the footsteps of Phidippides and finish in the same time. Now don’t get me wrong, we have a lot more help than he did. At the same time though, he was a professional runner, had certainly been on the route to Sparta many times, and had a lot more reason to run fast than we did. If becoming a slave under the Persians was the cost of failure, I’d be giving it my all too! The point is, the ultimate goal for most is just to finish. I sincerely wanted everyone in the race to finish, and I didn’t care if I was last.

The race course is pretty easy to follow. Some put the route in their watch to follow but I didn’t. People have made wrong turns in the past but usually don’t go too far off course. I never made a wrong turn which was good, I couldn’t afford the time. There are markers painted on the road that point the way to go at most intersections. They additionally have X’s painted on the roads you shouldn’t take. Since I was always within sight of someone else, I mostly just followed the person in front. That can be dangerous so I tried to always confirm it by looking at the road markers.

This is the typical newer sign. There are more worn ones that have the SP letters on either side of the arrow or at the top of the arrow. Photo Credit: Chris Calimano

Around the time school should be in session we were running through a town and came upon groups of children cheering us on. In one section they were in a tunnel under a road and their screams echoed like crazy! It was pretty fun running by giving high fives and such.

Marisa Lizak the first place American this year.

My belly pain had showed up right about an hour into the race. It continued to get worse until about 3 hours into the race and then just kind of stayed at that level. I tried to ignore it and stay in the moment of the race. If it got worse, so be it, I’d just have to deal with it.

Toward the first area of refineries outside Athens.

Even though I had Jessie crew me, there were long periods of time in the beginning where she couldn’t help and I didn’t even see her. Lots of other crew were along the course cheering but they just couldn’t give aid. I left things in a few drop bags so I didn’t have to carry as much food and such from the beginning. The first drop bag I had was at CP7. I was going to put it at CP6 but that was one of the check points that they recently said we couldn’t have drop bags at. It was just more gels and drink mix. I ended up only using 2 drink mixes the entire race. It was so hot that I had to use water from my bottle to wet myself constantly after the first couple hours of the race. Because of that, I didn’t want to spray electrolytes all over myself so I only put straight water in.

Lets talk about the weather shall we? As stated earlier, this is generally a hot race. I heat trained for years even though it’s really only the 10 days or so before the race that really matter as far as your body goes. The weather the day before the race would’ve been perfect. It was 70, cloudy, and windy all day on Thursday. It felt downright cold after the 100 degree weather earlier. Alas, on race day it was back in the 80s with full sun and no appreciable wind on the course. It’s almost like being in the mountains in snow when it comes to the sun in Greece. It seems to just bounce off everything and is way brighter than it should be for the latitude which is equivalent to the middle of the US. The air was much drier than I was told it would be. I constantly read in race reports that it was hot and humid. I checked the weather history and the dew points were in the 50’s and lower 60’s in September. That’s really comfortable compared to MN so I just assumed conditions along the course were different and the race reports were correct. No, it’s dry. I guess compared to Arizona it’s humid? Just looking at the country, you’d think you were in California. It looks very much like wine country in spots and dry central valley with scrub brush here and there in others. Clearly it doesn’t rain much and the Mediterranean doesn’t seem to pump much moisture into the air in September as least. This was both good and bad. Good because evaporative cooling actually worked but also bad because I wasn’t used to breathing in such dry air. The heat didn’t let up until around 6PM. While it was still hot, it certainly seemed to be one of the cooler weather years this year. I needed all the help I could get and 80’s instead of 90’s for temps was a great help!

There was a detour at CP 10 that added 0.4 miles to the course. Since I’ve never been on the course, I didn’t notice it. I just kept following the runners in front of me. By the way, I could always see another runner during this race save a couple 10 second periods in especially curvy areas through some small towns. It’s probably because I was in the back of the pack where most people are. 60 of the 167 people that finished the race, finished in the last hour. Over half finished in the last 2 hours. Think about that. That’s likely why I could always see someone.

The issue with the CP10 detour was that it wasn’t known to us until a couple weeks before the race and the road book that they gave out didn’t have the increased mileage included in the distances listed. The most critical issue for most was that they didn’t increase the cutoff times for any of the aid stations after CP10 to adjust for this added distance. I got to the marathon distance on my watch right on time at 4:15 and yet the CP11 seemed nowhere in sight. Did I make a wrong turn? If I did, so did about 50 other people. I kept going and about a half mile later I got to the checkpoint in 4:20 official time. Good thing I had the buffer built up to 30 minutes before this CP.

This is were the race started it’s ending for many runners. Lots got caught chasing the cut offs from here on out. CP16 has probably the hardest cut off to hit. It’s 36.3 miles this year with a cutoff of 6 and a half hours. That’s under a 10:45 pace which isn’t impossible but you also have to run 120ish miles after that so you can’t be spent. Many would be out of the race before CP22 (50miles) where the cutoffs start to get easier.

I saw Andrei Nana pass me just after CP11. I got to CP12 to see my beautiful wife in her crew outfit. It really helped that all the Americans and crew had on the same shirt. They were easy to spot from a distance and even if they weren’t your crew, they’d know where yours was and be cheering you on. I ended up never putting my sunglasses on so I just gave them to my wife. She gave me more gels and food. She failed to ask me the 3 questions she was always supposed to ask at every CP I saw her at. Did you poop? Do you need lube? Do you have garbage? I think she only asked them twice the entire race. So didn’t really forget anything else, save one, that was written down though so it worked out in the end I guess. I remembered those questions myself this race, even when tired (which is the whole reason she’s supposed to ask, I forget when I’m tired usually). The most important thing she gave me this aid station was a kiss. Trick! She was all business, no kisses or softness whatsoever. The most important thing was an ice bandana.

Ode to the Ice Bandana: You’re amazing!

OK, not much of an ode. I had never used an ice bandana before. I guess I’ve seen people have stuff on their necks during hikes on occasion in my life but I’ve never seen anyone use them during a race. I guess since most of my races are trail races and there’s no ice around and it’d never last anyway, that’s why I’ve never seen them used. I had only read in a race report about them a month before the race. Most people talk about putting ice under their hat or in arm sleeves or down their shirt. I tried the ice hat in training at home and it didn’t seem to help much. I tried the down the shirt and it didn’t seem to do much either, plus they would somehow find their way past my waist belt over time. I declare the ice bandana to be the “cats ass” as we’d say in college. Just google how to use one. Super easy and even though it takes 30 seconds to redo at every aid station, it’s worth it. Sometimes I could skip an aid station if there was still enough ice.

The ice cools all the blood going past your neck and then as it melts, the cold water goes down your body and then evaporates. It’s like 3 cooling actions in 1! I’m almost positive I wouldn’t have finished this race without it. I know Phidippides didn’t have people giving him ice along the way, but I don’t care. I’ll take the advantage.

The rest of the daylight hours of the race would involve the following cooling strategy. Drink water as needed. Ice bandana. Hat. Neck sun protector. Then I would take my water bottle and every 5 minutes put a little on my hat to soak through to my scalp. I’d also squirt it down my shoulder and each arm. It felt amazing. I’d also wash my face with some water every 15 minutes. There was an aid station about every 20-30 minutes where I’d fill up my water bottle and soak myself there as well. They have buckets of ice water with sponges in them that you can use to get yourself wet. Not the most hygienic I suppose but nothing about an ultra is hygienic. To the races credit, there was always ice at the check points. Occasionally there were only 5 cubes left but still enough cold water. I rarely put ice in my water bottle. It would melt almost instantly and really all I was after was the evaporative cooling effect anyway since it was so dry.

Corinth Timing Mat.

So what else was at the check points? Not much really. There is water and usually some Coke. Very occasionally I saw juice of some kind. For food there was very little. Some raisins or dried apricots. There were supposed to be figs which I love but never saw any. They had plain bread with nothing on it, also this dried bread that they must really like because it was everywhere (think giant crouton), often times potato chips, and crackers. I fell in love with the crackers. That’s all I ever got from the aid stations. There were supposed to be chocolates, candy, and yogurt at a lot of them but I never saw it. At I think 5 checkpoints there was a light meal. This usually was just some noodles in a small bowl or soup. I guess once my wife said there were meatballs. None of it ever sounded good so I usually never even went over to the food table when I was at a check point she could help at. I did have some soup once in the night I think.

CP 18. Not me in the photo of course but just wanted to show what a CP looked like. You can see the timing mat in the background. I had a drop bag here as well with more gels and food. You can see how sparse the options are. Behind the guys left leg is the bag of ice water and sponge. Also the drop bag area.

So I continued on with over a 20 minute buffer against the cutoffs. After CP12 is where it starts to get very pretty. This is about 30 miles into the race. There are occasional hills and lots of curves as the road hugs the edge of the sea, sometimes at sea level and other times on the cliff. The photos people take don’t do it justice. I’m sure there are professional photos somewhere that have the right colors but none of the regular Joe pictures I’ll put here. The water is so clear and you can see so far down in the water. The colors are amazing blues and greens. You can see islands in the distance. If it wasn’t for it being the hottest part of the day it would’ve been perfect. I walked most of the hills here as they were just at that point where you could walk or run but with the heat it just made sense to power hike up. I can’t remember how long this pretty area lasts, about 4 miles I think. After that you are still close to the sea but running in what seems like the longest town in the world. I’m sure it’s just a bunch of them together but there’s pretty much always a fence on the left side of the road and houses blocking the view of the sea. This is for miles. Here are photos Jessie took along the pretty section.

I was getting tired already somehow. I was also starting to hurt generally everywhere. My hamstrings where sending the message they could cramp at anytime and sort of laughed at me because they knew I didn’t have 20 minutes to spare to stretch them out like at Volstate. My belly pain wasn’t any worse and seemed like it was getting overpowered by all the other pain.

There are occasionally concrete pillars along side the road that have numbers carved in them. They were matching up exactly with the course in kilometers so I’m suspicious they were originally put there for the race. The first one I think was maybe 11? I for sure saw one at 49 but I never saw any more of them after that. Maybe I’ll ask around if I ever end up back there again.

So with this being a road race it would be wise to wonder about the road camber. I was somewhat worried about it but had seen on videos that we would run on different sides of the road at different times which lessened my worry. In my opinion, there isn’t really much to worry about at all. The first 10 miles or so are run on the right side of the road before we start going against traffic. Later on when the traffic is much less, you can basically just go wherever you want. Moreover, the camber on the roads in Greece is almost non-existent. It’s nothing like in MN or TN. The road is cambered on the curves of course but it goes both ways so it all evens out. I didn’t notice any issues from the camber whatsoever.

Just before CP16 was the bridge that only runners could cross. The road was more than half washed away leaving 1 lane to cross on. I made it past the difficult CP16 with over a 20 minute buffer (I still wasn’t going to use all that up just to stretch). That made me feel fairly good. My goal was to hit the 50 mile mark (CP22) around 9 hours (4PM) which would put me 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff. Again that time is based on previous events. An interesting fact is that the first race in 1983 had an 11 hour cut off instead of 9:30 for this check point. They also started at the Panathenaic Stadium about a mile away from the current start. I’m not sure when it changed.

CP 19 is another oil refinery with oil being pumped from ships offshore. The smell was what you’d expect. This is about 44 miles into the race and was the time I realized that I now had zero belly pain. I could cough and not feel any issue whatsoever. Perhaps the muscles finally relaxed like they often do once fatigued.

Soon was the uphill to the Corinth Canal. It’s only about 200 feet but seemed more. I guess since it’s almost 50 miles into the race it just felt like it was more. So I didn’t do much research on the canal. You can do it yourself I guess. It’s obviously over 200 feet deep though. This is the only time I took out my phone during the race. I wanted to so many times but it didn’t seem worth the risk of losing 30 seconds here and there throughout the race. Technically you can only carry a phone for emergency use according to the rules but people used them for lots of things: music, calling crew, etc.

Jessie would be at the next aid station CP22 which was only 1.6 miles further. This is only the second time I could see her. I crossed the timing mat at 8:55 race time which was 35 minutes ahead of cut off and about what I was hoping for. Only 103 miles left! There is a sense of relief to get past this point. The cutoffs get easier after this. Not EASY, but easier.

Don’t know this guy but that’s the bench I sat on and popped blisters. This is CP22. You can tell the British Crew by their red shirts.

My Altra Torins were giving me blisters on the top of my toes from rubbing with every bend of the top of the shoe. I had to take my shoes off earlier than planned. I was thinking about just cutting the toe box open but that would take time. I told Jessie to do it and she flatly refused. In fairness, she probably had no clue what I meant anyway. So we decided to switch to my tried and true Altra Olympus. They are significantly heavier though so I wasn’t excited about that. I was hoping Jessie would cut one of the 2 pair of Torins I had along in her spare time so I could use them after the mountain but that never happened. In the end I never changed shoes again.

I changed socks since I had my shoes off anyway. Jessie cut the timing chip from my Torins and got zip ties to put it on my Olympus while I popped my blisters on the top of both big toes through the tape on my feet. The tape does great at preventing most blisters but not on the top I guess. I had never gone this far in Torins so I wasn’t all that surprised there was an issue in an untested shoe. I put on new socks, gaiters, and shoes. I would regret the gaiters since they made my feet so hot and took them off at the next check point she could give aid at. I kept them off until the mountain.

Photo Credit – Robert Kulijewicz

The rest of the time spent was getting food and a protein sugar shake I made.

Speaking of food, I was doing quite well with food intake. Gels still tasted great which was unusual for me this late in a race. I usually am overheated and have to walk a lot to keep cool and have real food by 35 miles. The ice bandana and water was doing their jobs at keeping me cool and moving well. The shake ended up not sitting that well miles later. Nothing horrible but it didn’t give me the usual boost at all and made me slow if anything.

I had basically taken about 3 gels an hour. I use GU since they have glucose and fructose in the correct ratio for maximum absorption rates. I had only taken a packet of raisins and chips from the aid stations up to this point. The rest was my own gels and food (snack cake type things). Being able to continue food intake was something that was vital to me finishing this race in time. I couldn’t afford taking off time to deal with GI issues.

This is the time I realized I was in a pretty consistent group of about 25 runners. I might not see some for an hour but then I would again. This was pretty much the same group from mile 30 until the last 15 miles where I dropped back more than the rest of the group did. I never got to talk to anyone very long though. There wasn’t a language barrier as almost everyone could speak English quite well. In fact, the Irish were almost harder to understand than other Europeans sometimes 🙂 It was more that I didn’t feel like talking all that much (it just hurt to talk with the dry air) and I wasn’t going to change pace just to keep up to someone. Part of my race strategy going into the race was to have conversations since it makes me go faster most of the time and would pass the time quicker with the whole no headphones rule. It also keeps me awake when I’m tired. During the sleepy times though, no one was close enough to talk to. I could always see someone but they were too far away to talk to.

The next time I could see my wife was at CP26 (58miles) at ancient Corinth. She really wanted to look around there but didn’t have time I guess. I kinda remember running past an area that seemed like a cemetery to me at the time. I very much remember running down a cobblestone road in the town towards my wife and M’Lee sitting down at the aid station. It looked like they were having a good time enjoying the beautiful surroundings. What I didn’t notice was the giant ruins just to my left going out of town. It’s almost comical how I missed it. It sounds like almost everyone misses it their first time running the race. I think part of it is they have photographers on the other side of the street so you look that way at them. I guess we’ll just have to go back sometime.

Running down to my wife at ancient Corinth. The fence behind me is where you can see part of the ruins. Much more can be seen going out of town.

I had a drop bag here that had a spare headlamp in. I knew it would be too early to use it but the plan was for me to take it in case something happened and Jessie couldn’t make the next stop at CP29. If she wasn’t there, then I’d have it already and if she was there, I’d just give her the crappy one and take my good one. Well we both forgot about it so it got left. I realized it fairly soon after but I wasn’t going to go back to get it. I was 43 minutes ahead of the cutoff here which was about where I wanted to be. I should’ve been adding time from here until the mountain even with my slowest planned pace of 14 minute miles. Everyone says you can gain time here and you really can if things are going well. You’ll see that didn’t really happen.

I gave back my gaiters since my feet were hot. My toes were feeling great again in the Olympus shoes though. My stomach was feeling a little off. I wasn’t nauseous but maybe just gassy? I slowed down eating which I didn’t like. I figured it would have to just settle down after the shake I had back at CP22.

So I was somewhat worried as the sun was going down about the headlamp. I knew the math I did before the race had to be right and I’d have my headlamp in time, but I had to triple check since it was 3 check points until I’d see my wife again. These checkpoints were pretty close together so I was indeed fine. I remember in this section seeing a grandma teaching her little grandkids how to cheer us on. It was very heartwarming. She’d help them clap their hands and say “Bravo!” in the way only little kids can.

CP28 had a timing mat since it was at 100km. I got there at 6:40PM which would be 11:40 race time. That’s not too bad of a 100km time so I was still feeling pretty good about my pacing. Just before CP29 is the start of a 20 mile section that is almost all uphill. It’s not too steep to run but at the same time it’s nice to walk some of it since it’s over 60 miles into the race.

I got to CP29 just before 7PM so the sun was still up. I got my good headlamp and spare batteries since they made a point in the days before the race that everyone was required to have batteries. Of course no one checked. I think I ate a bit of food here. I got rid of my hat, ice bandana, and neck protector. I put on my headband. It would be mostly uphill for a while now and I wouldn’t see Jessie until CP32.

It was now pretty crowded on the road. There were LOTS of cars crewing the people around me constantly going back and forth, yelling things to their runners, honking their horns, etc. It’s very common for people to honk as a sign of encouragement. The traffic was kind of annoying as the road was curvy and it would’ve been nice to just get in the zone cruising up the hill and cutting corners. I got to CP30 at 7:30PM and then turned on my headlamp.

This is where my memory starts to get a little hazy. I remember I was plenty tired around this time but my pace was still good. I know I wasn’t eating much since my belly hurt. Looking at the data, I was moving much better than I remember at the time. Likely this was because it was cooling down. Anyway it’s just a constant uphill on a slightly curvy road. It gets pretty steep right before CP32.

So CP32 (mile 70) I think is where I started having some crackers. I had tried a little food before the aid station and I realized that the reason my stomach seemed off was that it was so empty that the first couple things I ate just made it grumbly since it finally had something to work on. Once I started filling it with crackers, it was back to normal and I could pound the gels again. The only other race I could eat gels this late in the race was my first 100. I still felt either gassy or like I’d have to poop at some point. I’m sure no one cares about this but some of this stuff I just put in so I can go back and learn from it in the future. I’ll just note these crackers didn’t really have much salt. They were more like a buttery flavored cracker, not a saltine type at all.

There is a short downhill which I couldn’t really distinguish at the time and then back to climbing up. The biggest buffer I had from the cutoffs up to this point was at CP 33 with an hour. This is where things started to go bad. I was eating fine, my legs were about the same as the last 30 miles. But I lost 10 minutes of buffer from CP33 to CP35 according to the tracker. The issue was I was basically sleep running. While it’s not that hard to sleep run, it is hard to run fast while doing it. To you non-runners, it’s a little hard to describe. You’re not actually sleeping by most people’s definition, and you’re not completely unaware of what’s going on. Like I’d know instantly if a car was coming or something like that. It’s more that you can’t concentrate on running or anything really. The mind just goes into a weird sleepy state. You go into and out of it every minute or so. I took some more caffeine but I was losing time. I wished I could just sleep for 20 minutes as that would fix it. 20 minutes isn’t something I had to spare though. I knew I would eat up some buffer getting to the mountain up the steepest part of the road so I had to save the buffer for that. Plus it’s not like you can guarantee that you’ll instantly fall asleep if you stop.

I got to CP35 (77miles) at 10:13PM. There was a timing mat here and my crew was before it. I went across the mat and then back to my crew. Yes I had to go backwards. It wasn’t much but it really pissed me off at the time. I was already mad about losing time and being so tired. Plus my stomach was not right still. Amy, Rachael, and Dave were helping out Jessie here which I was somehow expecting. I think I had maybe seen them along the route earlier? They ignored my attitude like an awesome crew should and helped out. I asked if they had some gas-x (I think my exact words were “that stuff you give babies for gas”) and they figured out what I meant and luckily had some which I took. It either ended up working or things got better on their own since I was eating better. Either way I was very happy about them being there and having it for me.

If there was a low point in the race, this was it. I know I always say there are multiple low points and there probably would’ve been here too but like Jessie Ventura said in Predator “I ain’t got time to bleed.”; I just didn’t have time feel low, and my mind accepted that as fact it seems. I remember sitting down on some weird ledge thing with my feet in a gutter by a church just mad at the situation. I was up 50 minutes but was wanting to be further ahead instead of losing time like I was. I remember saying out loud “this f-ing sucks and because I’m going so slow now, I’ll have to run 13 minute miles the last 50 miles and I don’t want to have to run 13 minute miles!” I never really thought it would be impossible to finish or had any thoughts of quitting. I just really didn’t want to have to run the entire last 50 miles. I wanted to be able to walk some if I wanted to, and enjoy it a little. I could see the future and it wasn’t going to be comfortable at all. Instead of getting by with 15 minute miles, I’d have to do 13 to stay ahead of the cutoffs due to hills and time spent at check points once I got over the mountain. If only I could sleep! I was very frustrated but there’s nothing to do but keep going. I reminded myself how crappy I felt after stopping in Andorra instead of making them force me off the course. I remembered I’m following the footsteps of someone trying to save his family. The speeches in your head are never as uplifting as the coaches speech in the movies and there’s never any music, but I got off my feet, pouted while I walked slowly up a hill on the stone road out of sight, and then yelled out and started running.

Again, not me but that is the ledge/gutter on the right side of the photo I was sitting in during my frustration.

It would be tempting to think that the race was half over at this point. Half the distance was completed but I looked at this race more by how much time was left. In my head I set myself up thinking it would take all 36 hours so I was still almost 3 hours away from being half done with the race. I think this was a good way to look at it. I’ve had winter races where I’d get excited that I’m only 5 miles from the finish but it still takes 2 hours to get there and it’s just mentally a drain. I wanted to prevent that. I remember at 50 miles thinking I’m a third done with the distance but only a quarter done with the race since it was 9 hours.

I pretty much kept a steady but slow pace. Instead of being in the “fast pace” column I had made on my time chart, I was now in the “slow pace” column. I think after CP37 is where the road turns to gravel for a few miles. The support cars were super considerate for me and drove under 10mph so they didn’t make a bunch of dust. I heard that wasn’t always the case for other runners. The moon was coming up. It was midnight. The moon at times was bright enough to turn off the headlamp but I didn’t. I wanted to keep the blinking light on in back and I guess there wasn’t a reason to save batteries. It was only 12 hours of dark.

Soon enough I got to CP40 (87 miles) and saw my crew again. My watch had stopped working a few miles before this. Usually it records everything before it dies but this time it didn’t do that so that kinda sucks. The plan was to give it to Jessie to recharge at this CP anyway so I gave it to her and got a regular watch so I’d at least know what time it was and could see how I was doing based on the cutoff times at the CPs before I saw her again in 5 miles. There’s some downhill before this CP and after. I made up a little time but not much. I was pretty much an hour ahead of the cutoff. I had hoped to be an hour and 45 minutes ahead.

All through the night I could hear what sounded like a shotgun on occasion. I wasn’t quite sure what it was all about at the time and it never seemed super close so I wasn’t too concerned. I also heard coyotes a few times. That’s what the gunshots were for I found out later. People set off charges to scare them away from the flocks or whatever else needs protecting I guess.

There are also dogs barking all through the night. I felt pretty sorry for the people that lived along the course since their dogs would bark all night long on race night. Also, all the cars kept on honking through the night. Some would do it right as they passed me and scare the crap out of me. I was fine if they honked as they pulled up to me but the ones that waited until they were right along side me would freak me out for some reason. Seriously guys, stop honking by 1AM. It’s just rude to the people that live there. In general I was getting tired of seeing crews helping their runners on the road as well. Some would just cruise along the runner for 10 minutes at a time. Others would stop every 100 feet and wait for the runner. Handing them stuff, etc. All of it was against the rules and more importantly dangerous when the road is curvy. The car is in the wrong lane basically stopped, how is someone coming the other way supposed to know you’re there? This happened day and night the second half of the race. I was glad I couldn’t understand what they were saying so at least I knew they weren’t Americans.

I saw my wife again at CP43 (92.5miles) and got my watch back. The plan was to eat a lot since the mountain was in a couple hours and I’d be going slow anyway up the steep road to get to the base of it. I think I did have some more shake here but I wasn’t all that hungry since I had been eating fairly well anyway. I was tired again I know and my pace shows it.

I had another beet juice at CP45 where I had a drop bag. The road gets pretty steep from here until the mountain base. From CP45 you can see the road switch back and forth with a good view of the mountain the entire time. It was weird seeing how high up the road would have to go in the next few miles. I walked the entire time which was the plan and by the time I got to mountain base CP47 where Jessie was, I was only 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff which of course wasn’t where I wanted to be.

I guess I’ll talk a little more about qualifications for this race. As stated earlier there are requirements to even apply for this race. For men you have to do a 100 mile race under 21 hours and for women 22 hours. Now it’s not unusual for women to have an “easier” requirement than the men for the races that have one. The issue with this race though is that the check point cutoffs don’t care what sex you are, you either get there in time or you don’t. The cutoff for CP47 (99.5 miles this year) is 22:10. That’s only 10 minutes longer than the requirement to get in for women. Plus you have 54 more miles to go plus the steep mountain pass. So if you’re just getting under the qualifying time at a flat 100 mile race and are spent at the end of it, you may not have what it takes to keep ahead of the cutoffs at Spartathlon. It’s just something to keep in mind. That’s part of why I didn’t feel ready to apply until I got under 20 hours for a flat 100mile race. With all that being said, not many people time out after the mountain as far as I’m aware and those that do usually are having some sort of physical issue like cramps or GI issues.

It was windy now and I had completely dried off so I didn’t need to change into a dry shirt before the mountain. Everyone looked cold waiting for us at the aid station. I put on my gloves, arm sleeves, and took my emergency poncho in case it was as cold as everyone says it is at the top. I was actually just starting to wake up. The cold wind felt amazing to me. I didn’t really stay long at all, maybe got a little food and more gels. I put my gaiters back on as well. I took the sharp left turn off the road and up the dirt trail to Sangas Pass on Mount Parthenion at 4:30AM.

The start of the dirt path up the mountain pass. Photo Credit: Chris Calimano

I warmed up in 2 minutes of going up the mountain so I took off the gloves and arm sleeves. The trail was well marked and had light markers everywhere. It was much easier than I was expecting based on all the reports I’ve read. The trail wasn’t very wide but the footing was better than I expected. It was smooth compared to the Superior Hiking Trail if you’ve been on that. I was passing a lot of people on this section, mostly because I felt so much better in the cold that had woken me up. I got up the 1.4 miles and 1000 feet in 20 minutes which was much faster than I was expecting.

Looking down part of the trail we went up. They had lights on all the poles and caution tape strung between them. Photo Credit: Chris Calimano

I saw flashes from a photographer at the top but I guess my picture must not have turned out well since they never posted it. I think maybe I took some water at the top but basically just kept on moving back down the mountain.

When Phidippides went over this same pass, he claimed that he met the god Pan. Pan called out his name and asked him why the Athenians paid him no attention, though he was of goodwill to the Athenians, had often been of service to them, and would be in the future. Phidippides told the Athenians this when he got back to Athens. Indeed, the Athenians believed he had met Pan because they believed Pan helped them win the battle against the much larger Persian army days later. The Persians are said to have had sudden and unwarranted fear during the battle. This is where the word panic comes from, because Pan caused the fear in them. From then on, the Athenians worshiped Pan more and had celebrations for him, etc. Kinda interesting I think. Anyway, I didn’t see anything unusual at the top of the pass other than a twisted destroyed high tension power line pole on the ground.

I was expecting to be able to go down the mountain even faster than I went up since I love downhills and reports made it sound like it was scree going down which would be easy to cruise down. It certainly wasn’t what I would call scree. It was a jeep road made of sharp rocks that for the most part didn’t move. I was glad I had on trail shoes just because of the extra cushioning, not necessarily due to the traction. The main reason I couldn’t go fast was because some of the rocks would roll and it didn’t make any sense on which ones would or wouldn’t. With natural rocks on a trail I can almost always tell where to put my feet. I don’t know why but I do. This was a road that they put a bunch of rocks on and it just baffled my skills I guess. Sometimes you’d hit a rock and it’d roll down just for me to step on it 3 more times as it kept rolling down. Everyone else seemed to have similar issues as we all tried to find a track in the road that wasn’t sucky. I must’ve gone back and forth on the road 15 times trying to find a better way down. I ended up taking longer going down the stupid mountain than up! I was frustrated by the time I made it into the town of Sagas. Stupid weird rocks! Looking back I guess it was better to go slow and not get hurt with 53 miles left in the race. Also if you think the trail down goes a lot further than the trail went up, it does. It seemed to take forever to get down the mountain on that stupid road. I would’ve much rather had an actual trail!

The bottom of the road coming down. It was steeper higher up and it seemed rockier as well. Photo Credit: Erica Sietsma

I kept making my way and the course levels out again. I could tell I’d have to use nature’s facilities at some point in the race and decided it was best to take care of it before it got light enough for everyone to see what I was doing. The road had a steep deep embankment so I went down it and took care of business as quickly as I could.

Just before CP52 (mile 107) there is a 150 foot hill back up to the aid station. This is the first time I could see Jessie again since the base of the mountain. This is I think also where Tom Jackson passed me up. I got there at 6:52 AM almost 24 hours into the race. It was getting light out again now. I gave back the headlamp, gloves, arm sleeves, gaiters, headband, and emergency poncho. I took back my hat and neck protector and got a new bathroom kit. She slathered sunscreen on me for the sun of the second day. There were meatballs here that my wife said were gross so I didn’t take any. I was 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff, the same as before the mountain. I would lose time from here on out. 46 miles in 12 hours was doable but I’d rather have 13 hours.

The sleep monster was back again as it started warming up. Usually the sun wakes me up but it did very little for me. After CP52 it goes down the 150 feet and is flat for about 17 miles. This area was farmland filled mostly with vineyards it seemed (especially after CP55). The workers were just starting to get to the fields and were getting ready to harvest the grapes. They looked so good! The bathroom fairy said it was time to go again. Now it was sunny so this would be a bit more difficult. All there was surrounding the road were fields. There weren’t any porta potties supplied for the harvesters so since they were clearly just using the field, I would too. I waited until I found a plowed field. It just seemed gross even to me to go in a field with grapes. I was much more visible in an open field but so be it. I was at least a bit more discreet than the guy I saw go while standing up on the side of the road. Can’t get that visual out of my head. Maybe he didn’t think he could stand up if he squatted? I didn’t take any Imodium as I was pretty sure that would be the last time of the race (it was).

Speaking of bathroom visuals, I have to describe something that just amazed me. So on the first afternoon of the race a woman stopped just ahead of me. Now by stopped, I don’t mean she moved off the road, etc. No, she was running along and then just suddenly stopped. She was wearing I guess what I would describe as boy shorts. She didn’t widen her feet, squat or anything. She just reached down and slid the crotch over and a perfect stream instantly came out. The best way to describe it is that it looked just like a water fountain that has the water bottle filler built in. It was a perfect, large, and forceful stream without any splashes or drops. I mean NONE! After 5 seconds, she just stopped peeing and started running again. That was easily the most impressive micturation I’ve ever seen. Many others including my wife saw her do the same thing and they were just as impressed.

CP57 (mile 116) came at 9:20AM. It was hotter today than the day before. I got my ice bandana back again. Oh how it love you ice bandana. There wasn’t any wind in the morning but by the afternoon there was wind.

Soon after CP57 Will Thomas passed me up. He had been fighting the cutoffs the entire race. He was gaining on them and I was loosing on them. I was now the last American. I was running almost all of the time. I would’ve loved to do a walk/run as was the plan. My hamstrings still weren’t right. My butt and hips were now starting to tighten up as well. Stretching for 20 minutes likely would’ve helped but I didn’t have the time. Generally things were still working well enough though. I think most of the slow moving in this part of the race was just due to being so tired mentally. It was hard to stay awake and focus on moving fast, not just moving like I can get by with in winter races. There were still 9 hours left in the race. It was still too early to put myself in the “smell the barn” phase of the race and go balls out.

I was doing math a lot as I watched people pass me. I was barely keeping up with the pace of the cutoffs. If I hadn’t been doing such a good job at managing aid station time, I would’ve already timed out of the race. In my plan I had 108 minutes allotted for the all 74 check points. I very likely used about 60 minutes total for the race. I won’t know exactly because of my watch messing up. I know 60 minutes still sounds like a lot, but that’s what I normally take in a 100 mile race even with a crew. This is including bathroom breaks, etc. Anytime I’m not moving is included in aid station time. If I didn’t have to remake the ice bandana I would’ve saved even more time but that was essential for me. The other ice methods just didn’t work well for me.

4mph is all I needed. That seemed easy. Then you remember you have to make up that 45 seconds at every CP getting ice and water. Then you remember the big hills yet to come. Ugh, stupid 13 minute miles are indeed what was needed and that required running almost constantly. This is where the run around the county helped out. It was there I realized that I could force myself to keep running almost indefinitely. It takes a lot of mental effort if there isn’t someone to run with, which there wasn’t. This is the only time in my life I would’ve loved a pacer. I’ve never used one, but here is where I would’ve finished at least 30 minutes sooner with one.

I wished I had the energy to catch back up to Will and see if that would get me going but that wasn’t going to happen. I could still see people but no one was close enough to talk to. I didn’t feel like talking anyway. I was pretty sure I would finish. No, I was somehow sure I would finish. I knew more things would go wrong but I knew I would just will my body through it somehow. That’s why waiting so long to do this race paid off for me. Experience has taught me that our bodies are capable of crazy things. Of course I had heard the same thing from other runners, but some things just have to be experienced on your own to fully understand. You think you can’t run another step, and then you see a competitor and you run to pass them. A great song comes on and you can push harder. So much of ultrarunning is mental, this race even more so. I’ve seen Andrei Nana (8 time finisher) write and talk about the mental part of this race in particular. In fact, his pre-race speech the night before the race was definitely unique. I won’t go into details, but there were some very odd things we could do to him if he didn’t finish the race. There is an attitude you need to have when going into this race in my opinion. I’m not saying people who don’t finish, don’t have the right attitude. Things can just go wrong with your body, same as with a car, and you just don’t have time to fix anything with the constant cutoffs every 30 minutes. I think though that this race is mentally and physically a “doctorate” level ultramarathon, you better study for both!

Running into Alea

CP60 (mile 122) I got to at 10:46AM. I don’t remember much about what happened here other than thinking to myself “there are 32 miles left and I have just over 8 hours”. I had used up so much of my buffer that I was now even with my slow pace side of my chart instead of the fast pace side of my chart like the day before. I started not even looking at my chart anymore. I just looked at the cutoff time for the next check point and used that as my gauge for how I was doing. The time cutoffs the rest of the race were very accurate for how long they took me to go that section. I was basically 8 – 15 minutes in front of the cutoff from here on out.

The last really big hill starts after CP61. It’s about 800 feet up a curvy, wide, busy road. It’s the road to Sparta. We’ll be on it for a long time before turning off onto an even more curvy but less used road on the downhill to Sparta. The addition in this years race is that the road was freshly tarred. As in, it was as black as possible and there wasn’t a line painted on it anywhere. Being in full sun on a completely black busy road at noon isn’t that fun, as you can imagine. So I hiked as fast as I could up this long hill. I was doing pretty well, even getting under 15 minute mile pace sometimes. Why couldn’t I move this fast when walking earlier? Oh yeah. because I was sleep walking then.

I never saw a single cow. I’d occasionally hear a cowbell in the dark but they were on sheep. I went past at least one larger goat farm at night based on the smell

I had some food in a drop bag at CP62 part way up the hill. Everything I ate tasted good. I was still eating gels even. Gels tasted good after 120 miles, crazy! Everyone had a clear sense of urgency in their face. Again the crew vehicles were doing some really stupid dangerous stuff. I guess since there weren’t any lines painted they thought they could drive wherever?

The wind had picked up a little. It was so hot with the hot wind off the asphalt that I started to carry an extra water bottle from each check point. I’d get myself soaked, fill up my water bottle and then take another half liter plastic water bottle to use along the way keeping myself wet. I would still almost be dry by the time I got to the next check point. At one point when I was almost out of water I saw a half full large water bottle in the ditch. I dumped it all over myself, it was indeed water.

For all the rules this race has, there is no rule against littering. There is a crazy amount of garbage along the roads in Greece. To Minnesotans and most Americans, with our adopt a highway program, and community service for criminals, the roads are very clean. There doesn’t seem to be anything like this here. You’ll even see a bunch of garbage along peoples front yard wall/fence. They don’t even clean up the garbage in front of their nice looking house. If it’s outside the walls I guess they don’t care.

Up to this point I had been collecting all my garbage like normal and dumping it eventually at a check point. Now things changed. I kinda feel like a giant douche but I started littering as well. Again, it wasn’t against the rules and there was already garbage everywhere. If I ever go back to Greece, I’ve already decided I’m filling up at least 2 giant garbage bags of trash from the road. I will only have to walk about 100 feet to do that. I’m not joking, there are spots I could fill 2 large bags in 20 feet.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t know. It’s the reality of the race and I’ve never read about it in a race report before. I’d use up the plastic water bottle within 5 minutes and in my current state it just seemed impossible to carry that empty bottle for another 30 minutes. Weird looking back on it. Like why didn’t I just crush it and put it in my waist belt?

I got over the top of the hill. The next section is kind of up and down through the trees. So it’s kinda walk run if I remember correctly. CP65 (mile 132) came and went. I could get aid here but I was trying to get through these things as quick as possible that I think I barely said hi as they helped with my ice bandana and got me water.

It’s mostly downhill to CP68 (mile 139). Things were hurting more now. I wasn’t cramping or anything but some muscles had certainly had enough of this whole “running all the time” thing we were doing. Problem was, the walking muscles were even more pissed it seemed. The downhills were hurting my butt muscles more than my quads which seemed weird. Sharp pains happened with almost every step. I tried lots of different gaits, seeing if anything would help. None did, and they all seemed to slow my pace a lot. In the very brief moments of time when things didn’t hurt, I could run 11 minute miles easily. I had the energy now as my mind was in “go time” mode but the pain was making me so conservative in my steps. I couldn’t fully trust that my leg wouldn’t buckle from the pain on any particular step and I’d fall. I’ve been in this situation before and just walked in the last 16 miles. That clearly wasn’t an option here.

There’s one more hill after CP68 that’s 300 feet. It really wasn’t that bad. It’s just a shorter version of the bigger hill earlier on the same road. It think it was along this section of road that I passed a man that was having a hard time of it going up a hill. He was frustrated and complained that it was impossible to finish the race in time. The cutoffs were ridiculous and it couldn’t be done! I just said we have to try. I knew I could finish and I wasn’t going to let the negativity get to me.

They like to say it’s all downhill after that “last” hill. It’s not. There are a couple undulations soon after the top of the hill so just know that going in. Soon enough though, it is mostly downhill. It’s about a half marathon to the finish and I had just over 3 hours to do it. Every mile I got done in 15 minutes was another mile I could take longer if need be since I still had a small buffer. I was getting so close but I knew I’d use up those 3 hours. No use getting excited just yet. Be smart and pay attention so something else doesn’t break.

My wife was now stopping to cheer at every check point like most of the crew had done the entire race. The rules say you’re not supposed to but of course how can they stop you and why would anyone follow the rules anyway? At least they’re all together and not strung out along the course like some do which is the dangerous thing to do. I did actually see the race officials tell one vehicle to move in the last couple hours of the race that was pacing their runner with the car down the curvy hill.

I had been seeing the bus that they put you on if you time out for hours. Basically I had seen it since the morning even when I was 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff. I never looked inside it.

I was still peeing a lot which it started to dawn on me was weird since it was so hot, although I was drinking a lot. I had taken a lot of caffeine so I was thinking it was from that. Then it finally dawned on me that I hadn’t been eating as much real food as I normally do and also hadn’t been drinking any electrolytes like usual. I realized then that I was probably hyponatremic for the first time in my life. The next check point was 71 which the crew can’t give aid at. I told them I was hyponatremic. I asked the aid station if they had salt. They did but it was just a big can of salt. I poured a big bunch in my hand, threw it in my mouth, and swallowed it down with water. It wasn’t too bad. When I was unpacking my waist belt at home after the race, I realized I had salt tabs in there the entire race. I had forgotten I put them in there just in case this happened. Another laugh out loud moment.

The crew could help at the next check point (72 at mile 147.4) so they gave me a couple salt tabs there to take. Within a couple hours everything was normal again. I wonder if this affected my performance or not? I’m not really sure but probably not that much in reality. Don’t get me started with the electrolytes prevent cramping myth. I never had cramps anyway.

Things really hurt after this check point. At least I think it was this one, it might’ve been before this. It took almost half a mile before I could try to run. It took a full mile to start running. Then things felt good and I cruised pretty well down hill. I was realizing that stopping even for 20 seconds was messing things up. I wished I didn’t ever have to stop again but I needed to get water at every check point since it was so hot. I got things down to 20 seconds or less at the checkpoints. I made sure to keep moving while at them other than the 5 seconds for the ice bandana. It seemed to help as it never took as long to get going as it did after that one horrible one. It was a good thing too as I was only about 8 minutes ahead of the cutoff based on my watch because of that section although the tracker has me even closer than that. I got a little scared there but realized that this close to the end, the officials would likely let me keep going as long as I was moving well and not crawling along.

I caught up to a couple runners here and there that were moving slow and then a race official would drive up to them and I’m guessing tell them to get moving or they weren’t going to make it. I never got talked to so I guess I looked good enough. I never really walked though either anymore.

We were on the smaller, more curvy road now. It seemed steeper now as well. I really wish I could’ve just opened up my stride and got this thing done but I just couldn’t trust my legs. I’d always eventually find the right stride length to keep things from hurting and just cruise along. I’d try to run in the shade as it was getting later in the day now but the race officials started yelling at people to stay on the same side of the road. I was keeping pace OK now and slowly building a buffer. More than that though, even with only 10 minutes of buffer I could walk a lot more now and still finish since there were only a few miles left.

I saw Jessie for the last time at CP73. I told her to not stop at CP74 and just get to the finish line so you’d have time to get there and park. There were about 3.5 miles left. People kept saying only 5K left but I know it’s further than that. It took forever to get to CP74. I was even getting worried I had missed a turn somewhere. The road flattens out after CP73 and you’re on a busy road again. Everyone is yelling bravo, cars are honking. It’s so uplifting! I always read in the reports about crossing the river and then turning left. Well you actually cross the river soon after CP73 as well so I was starting to think maybe that was the bridge and I missed a turn. I was just following the people in front of me but that doesn’t mean I’m on the right path. I hadn’t seen a crew car at all and there weren’t any painted markers on the road for miles. I asked a car passing by, and they told me I was on the right path. Yay!

I had to walk some along the road. I was going to finish. I had time to walk. I crossed the river again (which was completely dry) and finally got to CP74. I filled up my water bottle again, though it was finally getting a little cooler as the sun was going down. I had a drop bag with my American flag in it. I grabbed it and put my hat and neck protector back in the bag since I didn’t need those anymore. It was 6:23PM and I had until 7 to get to the statue.

The last mile and a half is through the busy town. Everyone is cheering you on. I almost felt bad that everyone was having to cheer for us for so long. The winner had finished before the sun came up and now the sun was almost gone. I was just projecting though and they were very supportive and excited to see us running through town. I’m sure there’s a great pride for all of Greece that people want to come from around the world to run in the footsteps of their ancestors. The road has small ups and downs the entire way it seemed. It took a while but there was an officer that told me to “turn here” so I did. More hills and more road.

I was enjoying my walk with an occasional run and trying to soak everything in. This is where I got passed by a couple runners. Interestingly one of them was the same man that hours before was complaining that it was impossible to finish. I reminded him of that and he just smiled.

Another turn and now I was on the last leg to the finish line and the King Leonidas statue which you touch to finish the race. Of course he wasn’t king yet in 490BC but we ignore that little detail. I ran from here on out albeit slowly. It’s almost cruel that they make you run all through town when it could be a straight shot to the statue. There was a boy riding along side me with a bike. I’m sure there are usually more in a non Covid year.

I can hear faint music now and everyone is cheering. Kids are all around and I give them some fist bumps. I have my flag around me running down the path on the closed off, palm tree lined street. Tears welled up. I guess the realization that I was finally finishing this race that I’d been building towards for so long made me very emotional. I could finally let my mind stop being so concerned about the race and just…be. Joy is the best word to describe it. Pure Joy!

I could now see other Americans that finished cheering me on. I saw my wife just before the last block and she said she could run the last part with me. Now the statue was in sight. We stopped running when I got there. I walked up the steps, crossed the timing mat, and kissed the foot of the statue as is tradition. It was 6:47PM, 13 minutes to spare and almost exactly the time I had for my slow pace on my chart. I paused there briefly and then got a hug and kiss from my wife. We hugged and cried for a bit. I think we pretty much both said “that was really f-ing hard”.

I got a olive wreath put on my head and handed a finisher shirt and medal from the city of Sparta. Normally there are girls there that also give you water from the river to drink. I’m sure it’s just bottled water they pour in since the river is disgusting but regardless, this year they didn’t do it due to Covid. I didn’t even see any of the girls although they were there based on photos I’ve seen. We got some photos taken and then were brought over to a finishing area where they are supposed to check you over medically and such.

Ok prepare for lots of photos and videos.

The top photos are from spartavoice.gr which I think is a local online newspaper. The bottom one Jessie took.
Taken by my wife.
Taken by Amy Mower. Thanks.

At the medical area they seemed to be understaffed and inundated with runners. Someone was finishing almost every minute the last hour of the race. I had to flag someone down to give my timing chip and tracker to. There were 5 people to finish after me. Two of them were after 7PM but they were allowed as official finishers. I suppose with the detour adding distance, that was the reason? After the last runner came in of course we heard Zorba’s Dance. If that doesn’t sound familiar, trust me you’ve heard it. You hear it a lot in Greece and I don’t mind it. As you’ll find out later we danced to it even…poorly.

After about 15 minutes I started shaking like crazy from the cold of being soaking wet and no longer producing any heat. I got a blanket but after 20 minutes of not having anyone look at me, we decided it was just best to leave. They are supposed to clean your feet and pop your blisters, etc here. Some people even get IV’s and such. I didn’t know if we’d get in trouble but I didn’t care. We got up and I very slowly walked in my socks and slippers to our hotel 3 blocks away, shivering like mad. I guess a lot of people did the same thing and just left after waiting for so long.

Sitting down waiting to be looked over.

I wondered if I had the slowest American finish so I looked it up. Nope, I have the second slowest time ever by an American. I am the 65th American to finish this race. I guess since Scott Jurek was born in MN I can’t say I’m the only Minnesotan to finish. Speaking of Jurek, if not for Covid, I was thinking of seeing if Dusty Olson would want to help my wife crew me since he never got to go. We asked a few people earlier but in the end we were worried about someone popping positive for Covid right before the race (we weren’t sure if they’d test us right before the race or not at the time) and then having to quarantine instead of racing. The less people in my group, the less chance that could happen was our thought. My time of 35:47:42 is ranked 3472/3671 of the total finishes in the 39 years of the race. Pretty bad and yet still very good to me. I’m proud of it. Overall 167 of the 280 starters finished the race which is just under 60% I think that is pretty average now that the entry requirements are harder. It used to be less than half that would finish. 9/14 Americans finished which is 64%.

After a brutally slow walk we got to the Hotel Apollon which was the hotel that the Americans were placed in. We cranked the heat up in the room so I could warm up. The shower in this place is ridiculous. It was 2 foot by 2 foot square with a shower curtain for the walls. The water wasn’t even lukewarm which really sucks when you’re already shivering. I really wanted to have a tub to soak in and clean off but it was better than nothing I guess. I quickly posted that I finished the race. I simply wrote 2 words: Joy, Weary. I could think of no better way to describe it.

The bed felt like it was just a box spring mattress. You could feel wood and springs poking up through whatever cushion there was supposed to be. Good thing we were dead tired. Before sleep though, we needed to eat.

The food is served at a restaurant offsite. It was odd to get a voucher from the from desk and then go to another place to eat but that’s the way it works at least for this hotel. Luckily we were told this by some veterans or else we wouldn’t have figured it out. Communication in general is pretty poor with this race as I’ve mentioned before. Some people didn’t even have rooms set aside for them at the hotels and they had to find places to sleep. Usually you can figure something out with teammates but you shouldn’t have to. Plus with everyone finishing at different times, you never know if you’ll get a hold of anyone else on your team. We walked to the restaurant with my finisher shirt on and sat with a couple other Americans that were just getting done eating. The food was really good. You didn’t have an option what you got but it was good and enough to fill me up. We were of course wide awake now which always seems to happen so we talked for awhile before heading back to sleep.

Sleep came easily and lasted for about 4 hours for me. I was then up from the typical leg pain. I got online and sure enough most of the American team was up and online as well. It doesn’t matter how tired you are, you just can’t sleep for 10 hours straight after an ultra. Your legs won’t let you. Well in this case the bed sure didn’t help either.

One other weird thing about the entire time after the race on Saturday was that we had profound deja vu. I think I might have seen a photo of the courtyard of the hotel somewhere online at some point but otherwise that was it. We’ve never been to Greece let alone this hotel in Sparta. Everything seemed familiar. The toilet, the shower, the weird window vent in the bathroom going to the main hallway, the walk to the restaurant, the bedroom, the elevators, basically everything. We both felt it which was even more creepy. My only theory was that our immense weariness was affecting our brains to give us that feeling.

So a newer tradition to Spartathlon is the “Spartan Mile”. It’s called a mile but we just do one lap around the track that is directly behind the statue of Leonidas. There is an additional race right after where they do a full mile but not many do that. Both are open to every participant of the Spartathlon regardless of if they finished or not.

Here is the history of it as written online:

The idea was born on a bus towards the World Championships in Turin in 2015 … The Swedish runners Andreas Falk and Johan Steene wanted to find out who was the fastest to run a Swedish “mil” (10 km). “But…” Andreas said “… we have never equally good conditions! There is always one of us who just ran a race and that´s unfair…” A twinkle lit in Johan’s eyes … “Yes… we may never have equally good conditions… but sometimes we have just as bad! Let´s have a duel in Stockholm two weeks after Spartathlon!” Now Annika Nilrud got excited: “YES! I’m coming! I’ll support you guys! This is the event of the year!!” Six months later, just before Spartathlon, Annika was wondering “Well, what about the “mil” race!? I’ve already booked tickets!” Johan and Andreas twisted uncomfortably. Didn’t they have to do the laundry or some other necessary chores? And maybe feed the cat? Then Johan said: “Ok… now we’re here after all! We can take it right after Spartathlon – the very day after!” Andreas stared, but Johan continued: “Maybe a “mil” is too far… but how about a mile? There’s an athletics track just behind the statue of Leonidas! Everyone can join!” Collective anxiety… a mile the very day after Spartathlon? It felt extremely long! We all decided that after Spartathlon a mile isn’t a mile – then it corresponds to one lap of the athletics track. And, ideally according to ancient Greek tradition – all runners should be naked! Or at least very lightly dressed. A new tradition was born. From that time the anxiety before The Spartan Mile by far exceeded the nervousness before Spartathlon.

I was looking forward to this even almost as much as the race itself. I know that seems weird but I was really excited for it. Even if I was the only one that showed up, I was doing it. Just a perfect example of the stupid stuff we do as ultrarunners.

It’s supposed to be done completely naked like the Greeks raced. Well actually they tied their penis with a rope somehow but I’ve never seen a diagram or anything about how that was done so I couldn’t do that. Of course with all the cameras and stuff in the modern age we just go in our underwear. No shoes of course either. I’m sure almost everyone would be naked if it could be guaranteed no photos would be taken. My stories of bathroom breaks at ultras should show how little we care about what people see. I myself won’t put any photos or videos here either but if you really want, it shouldn’t be that hard for you to find them online. There’s even a Facebook page.

About 30 of us started at 11AM. Man did those first steps hurt! Everyone was laughing and having fun. It took a full 200 meters before I could start to run a little faster and open my stride some. There was nothing pretty about it that’s for sure. The vast majority of us were just happy we could move at all and weren’t trying to race. The people that didn’t go the full distance at Spartathlon of course had an advantage with not being as sore. The winner finished in 1:19. I got 2:42. I think I finished about mid-pack. I have to say “running” a lap with the podium finishers the day after a race is pretty special. Very few sports have that kind of camaraderie. I hope this sport always stays that way. The mile was won in 6:07 by the way.

We had gotten my drop bag before I did the spartan mile. It seemed no one knew where we were supposed to get our bags. Even some of the veterans didn’t know because someone else had always gotten them for them. Finally we found some Brits that knew and it was a bit of a hike. It’s the municipal gymnasium of Sparta. The coordinates are: 37.07686574185248, 22.43414709693198 They put all your drop bags in 1 bag for you. Or at least they’re all supposed to be in there. They didn’t have my headlamp in there so now it’s gone. Sounds like that’s not uncommon so don’t put anything in the drop bags you can’t afford to lose. That’s why I put my older headlamp in there to begin with. They made it sound like they would put all lost and found stuff in Athens but that was very vague. I assumed it would be in the hotel we stayed in Glyfada since that was the hotel we registered for the race at but there was nothing there. In an email the next week, it sounded like the lost and found was at the Hotel London. Whatever, it’s gone now.

We checked out of the hotel, checkout is nice and late in Greece, and took off in our car for Olympia. Many people go to ancient Corinth since it’s on the way back to Glyfada but we’d never be closer to Olympia than we were now. We went past areas that were burned out from the recent fires. It seemed like most of the olive groves were spared from the fire since they cleared the underbrush from those areas. There were lots of roadside stands with potatoes for sale in big sacks. We were always on the lookout for a grocery store so we could get some caffeine pop. Most were closed due to it being Sunday. We finally found one with reasonable prices and got a bottle. We also ate at a nice town square restaurant in some town I’d never be able to remember how to get to. It was very pretty.

Now where we wanted to go to was the place where the original Olympic games were held thousands of years ago. What we got was a tree lined pasture on both sides of a small road on top of a hill. We kind of suspected about a mile before that it wasn’t right. It was a pretty drive so we weren’t too upset. We figured it out and put in Archaeological Site of Olympia into google and we drove the 20 more minutes to get there.

It was pretty cool. I mean everything is pretty much in ruins like everything else but the stadium is in good shape. The one you see is actually the third stadium to be used for the games although all 3 were in the general vicinity since it all was done where they worshiped Zeus. It was a religious event and so any rule breaking was almost always met with death. The word stadium comes from the distance “stadia” which is the length of the footrace they had. The start and finish line are made of stone and are still there. The distance is 197.27 meters according to the sign there.

Entering the stadium.
That’s the start line and the finish is of course at the far end.

We saw a couple racing each other barefoot but not naked. We walked down to the other end of the track. Jessie didn’t want to but I wasn’t about to come all this way and not go to the other end. Once we were there, it was decided to race back to the start. No way was I going barefoot, the surface was not friendly looking. We took off and Jessie took a commanding lead. I think she thought she had it in the bag after watching my performance at the spartan mile and seemed to let up. I told her that I was starting to feel better and would be able to run faster soon. Sure enough I could start to get some speed and was now gaining on her. I passed her with about 20 yards to spare. The spectators complained we weren’t barefoot.

This is the spot that the Olympic flame is started for the current Olympics.
This is the mirror they use to collect sunlight to start the fire. Pretty cool it’s lit by sunlight.
Zeus temple.

We didn’t go to the museum there as it was getting late enough already. It was a long drive home, over 4 hours since traffic just sucks there. Even on the toll roads, it’s pretty slow. If there is any sort of highway type looking road in Greece, it’s a toll road. You don’t need to have a pass, almost all lanes are cash lanes. It’s fairly expensive. I think it cost 12 Euro for just this drive and not even half the distance was on toll roads. It’s faster than the non-toll roads though. It’s straighter too, so if you don’t like curves, take the toll roads as much as possible.

We weren’t too worried about missing supper. They don’t even start serving until 8PM so we were fine getting there around 9:30. We talked to some teammates about what we all did for sightseeing that day and then the hotel staff kicked us out of the restaurant and had us go to the pool area instead. I think we finally went to bed around 11PM

The next days goal was getting a Covid test so we could fly back. I would’ve rather got one Sunday but nothing was open not surprisingly. We got tested and eventually got our results. We were negative so we had to go home and not get a 2 week vacation from the government of Greece. Mostly we spent the day repacking everything for the trip home the next day. We did a little shopping, eating desserts at one of the many dessert/bakery shops you’ll see in Greece. Lots of ice cream places as well. I got a bottle of wine for the awards ceremony that night since I was told they tended to run out there. Plus I rarely like whatever they serve. It took a little bit to understand what the bottles were since it was all in Greek but I got something I ended up liking. Nothing had a screw top but I figured they would have a bottle opener at a restaurant that serves wine. Oooo, foreshadowing!

The awards ceremony was at an outdoor place on the shores of the Mediterranean a couple miles away. You don’t have to dress up, but most do so we got fancied up. We didn’t drive in case we couldn’t drive back safely. We should’ve just drove, or taken the tram. Instead we took the bus which was slow and we were warned it was slow so we felt pretty dumb. Anyway, the view at the place was great. It was an older run down place but in the dark you couldn’t really tell.

Sunset on our last night in Greece.

We sat at a table of Americans, some of which we hadn’t talked to yet. One woman instantly reminded me of one of my wife’s college friends. I knew they would get along great and called her “new Lanae” in my head until I learned her name (Erica). The food was served slowly and there were multiple plates. While that’s not surprising for Europe, we had no clue that’s what was going on. We all just got the same 1 plate at the beginning. Nothing else was served until after the awards ceremony an hour later. Some even left before the second plate came out. There was no vegetarian option. I’m not even close to being vegetarian but I was pissed for those that were. There are a lot of ultrarunners that are vegetarian, more than the general population. Probably almost as many as in the veterinarian community. I had seen some salads on a table so I went and got some (they didn’t serve them until the third plate) so they’d at least have something. I mean come on. Oh you ran this really hard race? Enjoy your crappy salad with no protein as your reward.

I’m getting ahead of my wine story though. I brought my bottle of wine and right away went to the bartender to open it up. Sure enough, all their wine had screw caps so they didn’t have one. Turns out this was just a catered event and there was no real bar or restaurant so they didn’t have a way to open the bottle. There are ways to open a bottle without a corkscrew but they are all a little messy and of course have the risk that you’ll break it. You can push the cork down or put it in a shoe and pound it against a wall. There really wasn’t a wall anywhere and that seemed the more risky of the 2 options. The knives were too wide for the opening to get the cork pushed all the way down. After much effort with a fork handle and completely bending it, I got it. Of course I also spilled on myself but it was white wine and dried quickly. It was very good wine so I guessed well at the store.

The wine and fork. Photo Credit: Erica Sietsma

The awards were given out by country so we had to wait a long time to get ours. The race just had the medals on a platter and you were supposed to pick one up yourself. For our team Andrei took them and put them around our necks like normal which was nice. Only 1 team member wasn’t able to make the ceremony so we were 8 strong up there instead of 9. I’d love to see 20 Americans up there someday as finishers.

The American finishers!

Once the awards were given out and a couple movies taken during the race played, the music started. It wasn’t very good to start with. We had noticed that the radio stations that played English music had a lot of Micheal Jackson and other 80’s music. This is what the DJ was playing here too. Certainly not the songs that an 80’s station would play back home. It was kind of funny to us. We kept wondering “Do they think we like this music?” Finally some Salt-N-Pepa came on which was all that was needed to get the American women out there. If you see videos of people dancing at the awards ceremony, I can almost guarantee you that the Americans are out there busting a move in it. After walking around and it having been 2 days since I finished the race, I was able to dance perfectly normal which surprised me some. It’s rare that my wife ever dances so I had to take advantage of it and be out there with her. The music was good from then on. There was even some new EDM that he played, the kids would’ve loved it.

Good thing the weather was nice.

At one point the Czech team brought out a wine bottle and then you jump over it. Seemed odd to us but we played along. Then they stacked another on top, etc. No one ever knocked one over. More food was served here and there. Some fruit and cheese, salad, dessert. Only 1 bottle of wine was ever brought out for a table of 9 so there was clearly no worry of getting drunk.

Finally Zorba’s Dance came on while my wife and I were out there and a Greek woman instantly grabs us and all of a sudden we’re in a circle trying to figure out what we’re doing and not to trip. It starts slow but we never got the hang of it so by the time it got fast we were doing pretty bad.

We are in the middle. It had gone on for about 2 minutes before this video started. We had to quit before it was over. My legs were on fire after dancing for an hour and then this!

We decided to leave after that. We asked the bus driver when he was leaving and he said he didn’t know. We ended up walking home which was dumb. The tram didn’t seem to be going the way we were going so we couldn’t take that either it seemed. We should’ve just waited for the bus. We did get to see a prostitute on the walk home though.

Our flight home was delayed for over 6 hours but we had to return the rental car by 9AM so we ended up going to the airport before then anyway. We ate and tried to sleep in the airport. For some reason, the Athens airport must want everyone to join the mile high club. They played nothing but Barry White and similar music for 60 minutes straight while I was trying to sleep at the gate. The plane was pretty empty since most people could get on other flights. Everyone had their own row on the plane to lay down and sleep if they wanted. With the delay we missed our connection so we had to sleep in Chicago. The only good thing is that Europe has pretty strict laws about airline delays so we each got 600 Euros from the airline. You have to ask for it. They aren’t required to tell you that you are entitled to it. It took about a month for them to respond to our request but we’re getting paid without a lot of hassle so that’s good.

Once I started running again at home days later, the belly pain came back. I’m super bummed about it and not quite sure what to do.

If you want my wife’s perspective on all this, you can read her crew report. It’s pretty good and gives details on things I didn’t know during the race. In fact it’s probably best the runners don’t know what’s going on. Otto’s crew got a flat tire and he never knew about it since they got it taken care of between check points they could give aid at. I think he even had to run past the repair shop they were in and they were worried he’d see the van.

This is a short video of the race put out by the race itself. It’s not an American heard at the beginning at the race. Kinda funny though.

Thanks for reading and I hope it helps if you plan on running this race. Here are some links to get more information. There is usually good information in other race reports as well.

https://britishspartathlonteam.org/ Probably the best place to start. They are very well organized and have a lot of veteran knowledge on their team. Make sure to go to the resources section for a good excel spreadsheet planner.

https://spartathlon.us/race-reports Go to the bottom of the list for a good report for crews among other things on the website.

Bob Hearn has some good information including the best elevation profile I’ve seen, good race reports, he also has his runs on strava that give mile by mile pacing and elevation changes that helped me in my pace planning.

http://www.Spartathlon.gr The actual race website. Usually the information is very slow to come out. I’ve learned everything through other channels days before anything is published on the website. You’ll have to be more proactive with gathering information for this race than you’re probably used to. Don’t assume anything and document everything you send/receive from the race. They don’t send out confirmation emails that they received things from you generally. Bring all of that documentation with you to the race. You likely won’t need it but if you do, it will be so much easier. They didn’t have marked down that I had my doctors letter even though I sent it in to them months ago. I had it with so I just handed it to them and kept on moving.

A video showing the entire route in fast speed.

The following is the excerpt from Herodotus Book 6 Chapter 100-117 that talks about the run with some context before and after.

100.

When the Eretrians learned that the Persian expedition was sailing to attack them, they asked for help from the Athenians. The Athenians did not refuse the aid, but gave them for defenders the four thousand tenant farmers who held the land of the Chalcidian horse-breeders.1 But it seems that all the plans of the Eretrians were unsound; they sent to the Athenians for aid, but their counsels were divided. [2] Some of them planned to leave the city and make for the heights of Euboea; others plotted treason in hope of winning advantages from the Persians. [3] When Aeschines son of Nothon, a leading man in Eretria, learned of both designs, he told the Athenians who had come how matters stood, and asked them to depart to their own country so they would not perish like the rest. The Athenians followed Aeschines’ advice.

1 Cp. Hdt. 5.77.

101.

So they saved themselves by crossing over to Oropus; the Persians sailed holding their course for Temenos and Choereae and Aegilea, all in Eretrian territory. Landing at these places, they immediately unloaded their horses and made preparation to attack their enemies. [2] The Eretrians had no intention of coming out and fighting; all their care was to guard their walls if they could, since it was the prevailing counsel not to leave the city. The walls were strongly attacked, and for six days many fell on both sides; but on the seventh two Eretrians of repute, Euphorbus son of Alcimachus and Philagrus son of Cineas, betrayed the city to the Persians. [3] They entered the city and plundered and burnt the temples, in revenge for the temples that were burnt at Sardis; moreover, they enslaved the townspeople, according to Darius’ command.

102.

After subduing Eretria, the Persians waited a few days and then sailed away to the land of Attica, pressing ahead in expectation of doing to the Athenians exactly what they had done to the Eretrians. Marathon1 was the place in Attica most suitable for riding horses and closest to Eretria, so Hippias son of Pisistratus led them there.

1 For a detailed discussion of various questions connected with the battle of Marathon, readers are referred to How and Wells, Appendix XVIII.

103.

When the Athenians learned this, they too marched out to Marathon, with ten generals leading them. The tenth was Miltiades, and it had befallen his father Cimon son of Stesagoras to be banished from Athens by Pisistratus son of Hippocrates. [2] While in exile he happened to take the Olympic prize in the four-horse chariot, and by taking this victory he won the same prize as his half-brother Miltiades. At the next Olympic games he won with the same horses but permitted Pisistratus to be proclaimed victor, and by resigning the victory to him he came back from exile to his own property under truce. [3] After taking yet another Olympic prize with the same horses, he happened to be murdered by Pisistratus’ sons, since Pisistratus was no longer living. They murdered him by placing men in ambush at night near the town-hall. Cimon was buried in front of the city, across the road called “Through the Hollow”, and buried opposite him are the mares who won the three Olympic prizes. [4] The mares of Evagoras the Laconian did the same as these, but none others. Stesagoras, the elder of Cimon’s sons, was then being brought up with his uncle Miltiades in the Chersonese. The younger was with Cimon at Athens, and he took the name Miltiades from Miltiades the founder of the Chersonese.

104.

It was this Miltiades who was now the Athenian general, after coming from the Chersonese and escaping a two-fold death. The Phoenicians pursued him as far as Imbros, considering it of great importance to catch him and bring him to the king. [2] He escaped from them, but when he reached his own country and thought he was safe, then his enemies met him. They brought him to court and prosecuted him for tyranny in the Chersonese, but he was acquitted and appointed Athenian general, chosen by the people.

105.

While still in the city, the generals first sent to Sparta the herald Philippides, an Athenian and a long-distance runner who made that his calling. As Philippides himself said when he brought the message to the Athenians, when he was in the Parthenian mountain above Tegea he encountered Pan. [2] Pan called out Philippides’ name and bade him ask the Athenians why they paid him no attention, though he was of goodwill to the Athenians, had often been of service to them, and would be in the future. [3] The Athenians believed that these things were true, and when they became prosperous they established a sacred precinct of Pan beneath the Acropolis. Ever since that message they propitiate him with annual sacrifices and a torch-race.

106.

This Philippides was in Sparta on the day after leaving the city of Athens,1 that time when he was sent by the generals and said that Pan had appeared to him. He came to the magistrates and said, [2] “Lacedaemonians, the Athenians ask you to come to their aid and not allow the most ancient city among the Hellenes to fall into slavery at the hands of the foreigners. Even now Eretria has been enslaved, and Hellas has become weaker by an important city.” [3] He told them what he had been ordered to say, and they resolved to send help to the Athenians, but they could not do this immediately, for they were unwilling to break the law. It was the ninth day of the rising month, and they said that on the ninth they could not go out to war until the moon’s circle was full.2

1 According to Isocrates the distance traversed was 150 miles.

2 This statement probably applies only to the month Carneius (Attic Metageitnion), when the Carneia was celebrated at Sparta in honor of Apollo, from the 7th to the 15th of the month.

107.

So they waited for the full moon, while the foreigners were guided to Marathon by Hippias son of Pisistratus. The previous night Hippias had a dream in which he slept with his mother. [2] He supposed from the dream that he would return from exile to Athens, recover his rule, and end his days an old man in his own country. Thus he reckoned from the dream. Then as guide he unloaded the slaves from Eretria onto the island of the Styrians called Aegilia, and brought to anchor the ships that had put ashore at Marathon, then marshalled the foreigners who had disembarked onto land. [3] As he was tending to this, he happened to sneeze and cough more violently than usual. Since he was an elderly man, most of his teeth were loose, and he lost one of them by the force of his cough. It fell into the sand and he expended much effort in looking for it, but the tooth could not be found. [4] He groaned aloud and said to those standing by him: “This land is not ours and we will not be able to subdue it. My tooth holds whatever share of it was mine.”

108.

Hippias supposed that the dream had in this way come true. As the Athenians were marshalled in the precinct of Heracles, the Plataeans came to help them in full force. The Plataeans had put themselves under the protection of the Athenians,1 and the Athenians had undergone many labors on their behalf. This is how they did it: [2] when the Plataeans were pressed by the Thebans, they first tried to put themselves under the protection of Cleomenes son of Anaxandrides and the Lacedaemonians, who happened to be there. But they did not accept them, saying, “We live too far away, and our help would be cold comfort to you. You could be enslaved many times over before any of us heard about it. [3] We advise you to put yourselves under the protection of the Athenians, since they are your neighbors and not bad men at giving help.” The Lacedaemonians gave this advice not so much out of goodwill toward the Plataeans as wishing to cause trouble for the Athenians with the Boeotians. [4] So the Lacedaemonians gave this advice to the Plataeans, who did not disobey it. When the Athenians were making sacrifices to the twelve gods,2 they sat at the altar as suppliants and put themselves under protection. When the Thebans heard this, they marched against the Plataeans, but the Athenians came to their aid. [5] As they were about to join battle, the Corinthians, who happened to be there, prevented them and brought about a reconciliation. Since both sides desired them to arbitrate, they fixed the boundaries of the country on condition that the Thebans leave alone those Boeotians who were unwilling to be enrolled as Boeotian. After rendering this decision, the Corinthians departed. The Boeotians attacked the Athenians as they were leaving but were defeated in battle. [6] The Athenians went beyond the boundaries the Corinthians had made for the Plataeans, fixing the Asopus river as the boundary for the Thebans in the direction of Plataea and Hysiae. So the Plataeans had put themselves under the protection of the Athenians in the aforesaid manner, and now came to help at Marathon.

1 In 519, according to Thucydides (Thuc. 3.68); Grote gives a later date.

2 The twelve gods were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Hermes, Hestia. The βωμὸς was a central altar in the agora, from which distances were reckoned.

109.

The Athenian generals were of divided opinion, some advocating not fighting because they were too few to attack the army of the Medes; others, including Miltiades, advocating fighting. [2] Thus they were at odds, and the inferior plan prevailed. An eleventh man had a vote, chosen by lot to be polemarch1 of Athens, and by ancient custom the Athenians had made his vote of equal weight with the generals. Callimachus of Aphidnae was polemarch at this time. Miltiades approached him and said, [3] “Callimachus, it is now in your hands to enslave Athens or make her free, and thereby leave behind for all posterity a memorial such as not even Harmodius and Aristogeiton left. Now the Athenians have come to their greatest danger since they first came into being, and, if we surrender, it is clear what we will suffer when handed over to Hippias. But if the city prevails, it will take first place among Hellenic cities. [4] I will tell you how this can happen, and how the deciding voice on these matters has devolved upon you. The ten generals are of divided opinion, some urging to attack, others urging not to. [5] If we do not attack now, I expect that great strife will fall upon and shake the spirit of the Athenians, leading them to medize. But if we attack now, before anything unsound corrupts the Athenians, we can win the battle, if the gods are fair. [6] All this concerns and depends on you in this way: if you vote with me, your country will be free and your city the first in Hellas. But if you side with those eager to avoid battle, you will have the opposite to all the good things I enumerated.”

1 One of the nine archons, all chosen by lot.

110.

By saying this Miltiades won over Callimachus. The polemarch’s vote was counted in, and the decision to attack was resolved upon. Thereafter the generals who had voted to fight turned the presidency over to Miltiades as each one’s day came in turn.1 He accepted the office but did not make an attack until it was his own day to preside.

1 Each general seems to have been head commander in turn.

111.

When the presidency came round to him, he arrayed the Athenians for battle, with the polemarch Callimachus commanding the right wing, since it was then the Athenian custom for the polemarch to hold the right wing. He led, and the other tribes were numbered out in succession next to each other.1 The Plataeans were marshalled last, holding the left wing. [2] Ever since that battle, when the Athenians are conducting sacrifices at the festivals every fourth year,2 the Athenian herald prays for good things for the Athenians and Plataeans together. [3] As the Athenians were marshalled at Marathon, it happened that their line of battle was as long as the line of the Medes. The center, where the line was weakest, was only a few ranks deep, but each wing was strong in numbers.

1 There was a fixed official order; but Plutarch’s account of the battle places certain tribes according to a different system. Perhaps the battle-order was determined by lot.

2 e.g. the great Panathenaea, and the festival of Poseidon.

112.

When they had been set in order and the sacrifices were favorable, the Athenians were sent forth and charged the foreigners at a run. The space between the armies was no less than eight stadia. [2] The Persians saw them running to attack and prepared to receive them, thinking the Athenians absolutely crazy, since they saw how few of them there were and that they ran up so fast without either cavalry or archers. [3] So the foreigners imagined, but when the Athenians all together fell upon the foreigners they fought in a way worthy of record. These are the first Hellenes whom we know of to use running against the enemy. They are also the first to endure looking at Median dress and men wearing it, for up until then just hearing the name of the Medes caused the Hellenes to panic.

113.

They fought a long time at Marathon. In the center of the line the foreigners prevailed, where the Persians and Sacae were arrayed. The foreigners prevailed there and broke through in pursuit inland, but on each wing the Athenians and Plataeans prevailed. [2] In victory they let the routed foreigners flee, and brought the wings together to fight those who had broken through the center. The Athenians prevailed, then followed the fleeing Persians and struck them down. When they reached the sea they demanded fire and laid hold of the Persian ships.

114.

In this labor Callimachus the polemarch was slain, a brave man, and of the generals Stesilaus son of Thrasylaus died. Cynegirus1 son of Euphorion fell there, his hand cut off with an ax as he grabbed a ship’s figurehead. Many other famous Athenians also fell there.

1 Brother of the poet Aeschylus.

115.

In this way the Athenians overpowered seven ships. The foreigners pushed off with the rest, picked up the Eretrian slaves from the island where they had left them, and sailed around Sunium hoping to reach the city before the Athenians. There was an accusation at Athens that they devised this by a plan of the Alcmaeonidae, who were said to have arranged to hold up a shield as a signal once the Persians were in their ships.

116.

They sailed around Sunium, but the Athenians marched back to defend the city as fast as their feet could carry them and got there ahead of the foreigners. Coming from the sacred precinct of Heracles in Marathon, they pitched camp in the sacred precinct of Heracles in Cynosarges. The foreigners lay at anchor off Phalerum, the Athenian naval port at that time. After riding anchor there, they sailed their ships back to Asia.

117.

In the battle at Marathon about six thousand four hundred men of the foreigners were killed, and one hundred and ninety-two Athenians; that many fell on each side. [2] The following marvel happened there: an Athenian, Epizelus son of Couphagoras, was fighting as a brave man in the battle when he was deprived of his sight, though struck or hit nowhere on his body, and from that time on he spent the rest of his life in blindness. [3] I have heard that he tells this story about his misfortune: he saw opposing him a tall armed man, whose beard overshadowed his shield, but the phantom passed him by and killed the man next to him. I learned by inquiry that this is the story Epizelus tells.

Some more history on Hippias:

The name and family of the mother of Hippias are unknown.[2] He succeeded Peisistratos as tyrant of Athens in 528/7 BC. His brother Hipparchus, who may have ruled jointly with him, was murdered by Harmodius and Aristogeiton (the tyrannicides) in 514 BC. Hippias executed the tyrannicides and it was said that he became a bitter and cruel ruler, executing a large number of citizens and imposing harsh taxes.[3] Hippias’s cruelty soon created unrest among his subjects. As he began losing control, he sought military support from the Persians. He managed to form an alliance by marrying his daughter, Archedice, to Aiantides, son of Hippoklos, the tyrant of Lampsakos.[4] This relationship with Hippoklos helped facilitate Hippias’ access to Darius’ court at Susa.[5]

The Alcmaeonidae family of Athens, which Peisistratos had exiled in 546 BC, was concerned about Hippias forming alliances with the Persian ruling class, and began planning an invasion to depose him. In 510 BC Cleomenes I of Sparta successfully invaded Athens and trapped Hippias on the Acropolis.[6][7] They also took the Pisistratidae children hostage forcing Hippias to leave Athens in order to have them returned safely.

The Spartans later thought that a free and democratic Athens would be dangerous to Spartan power, and attempted to recall Hippias and re-establish the tyranny. Hippias had fled to Persia, and the Persians threatened to attack Athens if they did not accept Hippias back. Nevertheless, the Athenians preferred to remain democratic despite the danger from Persia.

Soon after this, the Ionian Revolt began. It was put down in 494 BC, but Darius I of Persia was intent on punishing Athens for its role in the revolt. In 490 Hippias, still in the service of the Persians, encouraged Darius to invade Greece and attack Athens; when Darius initiated the campaign, Hippias himself accompanied the Persian fleet and suggested Marathon as the place where the Persian invasion of Attica should begin.[8] According to Herodotus, the night before the Persian fleet reached Attica, Hippias dreamed that he had sexual relations with his own mother, a dream which encouraged him greatly, since he took it as an omen that he would regain possession of his native land. But when he set foot on Greek soil, one of his teeth, which was loose due to his advanced age, fell out on to the beach. Hippias was dismayed, believing that this fulfilled the real meaning of his dream: he would only regain this bite of his native country.[9]

Hippias had five sons, all of whom along with other Peisistratids joined the invading Persian army of Xerxes in 480 BC. Never again would the Peisistratids have influence in Athens.[10]

Hippias is said to have died on the return journey from the Battle of Marathon, at Lemnos.[11]

Hippias was one of several Greek aristocrats who took refuge in the Achaemenid Empire following reversals at home, other famous ones being Themistocles, Demaratos, Gongylos or Alcibiades.[12] In general, those were generously welcomed by the Achaemenid kings, and received land grants to support them, and ruled on various cities of Asia Minor.[12]

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