Legends, sandals and sweat, Spartathlon ticks all boxes

Mon Sep 29, 2014 1:39pm EDT
 
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By Karolos Grohmann

ATHENS (Reuters) - From a daring attempt by a group of friends to one of the most iconic endurance races in the world, the 246-km Spartathlon has defied the downturn in Greek sports, drawing record numbers as ultra marathons become more popular.

In a country that has seen international events wiped off the calendar amid a ravaging economic crisis, this race has captured the imagination of runners the world over making it a rare example of how to succeed in difficult financial times.

First completed in 1982 by a group of British friends and now with a budget of less than 250,000 euros, organizers have created and cultivated an event whose international market value far exceeds that of its cost of staging.

Up until a few years ago the budget for the race was just half that before a private Greek foundation pitched in as the race's sole sponsor.

Retracing the steps of ancient Athenian messenger Pheidippidis, who also ran from the Marathon battle ground to Athens to announce victory over the Persians, when he ran to Sparta to seek help against the invading army, this race takes runners on a highlight tour of ancient Greece.

Elefsis, Corinth, Nemea, Megara and Sparta -- landmark cities and city-states in ancient Greece, lie in the runners' path on the way to the Peloponnesian heartland.

Through citrus orchards, vineyards and olive tree groves along the sparkling Aegean sea, and up the 1,200m high Parthenio mountain at night with temperatures dropping to single digits, this race is equally picturesque as it is grueling.

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Italy's Marco Bonfiglio kisses the foot of a statue of ancient king Leonidas after completing the Spartathlon race, in Sparta, September 27, 2014. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis