WITNESS: A 36-hour non-stop run through Greece

Thu Oct 9, 2008 3:02am EDT
 
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By Balazs Koranyi

ATHENS (Reuters) -- Balazs Koranyi, a correspondent in Budapest for five years, took up ultramarathon running in 2004 after retiring from a middle-distance running career that took him to two Olympic Games. In the following story, he describes his run in the Athens to Sparta Spartathlon: to prepare for it, he ran more than a dozen times over the marathon distance this year, including all-night sorties and 100 km (62 mile) runs through mountains.--

I sat down, or more accurately fell down, and buried my head in my hands. Cold winds blew through my shirt. Would my body survive the punishment I was dealing it? Why was I doing this?

Just over halfway through the 153 mile Spartathlon, a 36-hour non-stop footrace from Athens to Sparta that traces the route of an ancient messenger, my body was already hurting beyond belief.

It was around 3 am on a Saturday in September. A relentless climb toward a 4,000-feet-high mountain pass had left me dizzy. I ached. I had been running for 20 hours, my only sleep was to be occasionally wandering off the road when I dozed off.

A day earlier, nearly 300 of the world's strongest and most stubborn runners had left from the Acropolis. People tend to run the race at their own pace: now, 99 miles into the race, I was crying for my mommy.

I have always admired the Spartathlon and its runners. It is an extreme sport that humbles its athletes but if you succeed, victory lifts you to seventh heaven.

I had until 7 pm on Saturday to reach Sparta and touch the statue of ancient king Leonidas.

The Spartathlon, in its 26th running this year, traces the run of Pheidippides, a messenger sent to Sparta in 490 B.C. to seek help against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.   Continued...

 
<p>Balazs Koranyi, a Reuters correspondent in Budapest for five years, took up ultramarathon running in 2004 after retiring from a middle-distance running career that took him to two Olympic Games. REUTERS/File</p>