In the year 490BC Pheidippides was sent on a 245km journey from Athens to Sparta to seek aid against the imminent onslaught of the Persians in the battle of Marathon. He departed the city and arrived at Sparta the following day, having covered the distance in no more than 36 hours … or so the story goes. Over 2,400 years later in 1983 a British RAF Wing Commanger by the name of John Foden wanted to see if the story was possible, so he and four colleagues headed to Athens to try the seemingly impossible feat for themselves.
With that the modern Spartathlon was born. Since then every September contestants from around the world head to Athens to compete in the historic ultra-distance running race…
400 entrants, 245 kilometres, 36 hours …
Spectators may enjoy the sunshine and beautiful mountainous terrain that Greece is world renown for, but these are just additional challenges that the athletes have to face whilst running the equivalent of almost six marathons back-to-back through some of Greece’s most famous landmarks.
At the break of dawn on the morning of the race the athletes meet at the base of Athen’s spectacular Acropolis. Beneath the looming presence of the Parthenon, ancient Greece’s tribute to the goddess Athena and a memorial to the empire’s power, the four hundred athletes begin their gruelling journey.
From there they head west towards the Corinth Canal and past the Isthmus of Corinth. This natural land bridge connects the Peloponnese Peninsula, renowned for its pristine white beaches and historic sites (including Ancient Olympia, the site of the original Olympic games), to mainland Greece. It is also the location of the Ancient City of Corinth, one of Ancient Greece’s largest cities, the ruins of which are still accessible today.
Having passed the half way mark, the athletes will continue on to ascend the Sangas mountain pass located on Mount Parthenon. Here it is said that, on the original run, Pheidippides saw a vision of Pan, the God of nature, wild, the shepard of flocks, who ordered Pheidippides to tell the Athenians to pay honour to him.
As the runners enter their final destination of Sparta they are welcomed by the locals lining the streets, cheering them on to the finish line at the statue of Leonidas I (who’s story was recently retold in the film 300). Here they are presented with an olive wreath and celebrated how ancient olympians would have been with water from the Evrotas river.
‘Athletes are cheered into Sparta like ancient olympians and bestowed with olive wreaths and water from the Evrotas river.’
You can watch the Spartathletes along the route at any stage of their journey however for the best atmosphere I’d recommend getting as close to the start or finish line as possible. Head to the base of the Acropolis early on the 28th or locate the statue of Leonidas I in Sparti the following afternoon. Or why not do both?
Athens has many public transport options; there is an extensive tram and underground system that is cheap and easy to navigate. There are buses and trolley buses and most tickets allow you to use the tram, underground, and buses. Taxis are available but can be expensive so try and plan your route in the best way possible.
If you’re planning on heading out of the city look into hiring a car to explore some of the more scenic parts of the country.
Along the route tourists have a huge selection of accommodations to choose from. These range from 5* resorts like King George, a Luxury Collection Hotel, to tourist friendly city hotels and hostels in any of the cities on the route. Why not hire a car and follow the competitors? This opens up the option of more budget friendly accommodations located just outside of the city centre as well as more flexibility travelling around mainland Greece.
head to the map below for the best hotel and Airbnb deals in the city.
There’s no end of things to do in Athens. After cheering off the athletes in the morning why not head up the Acropolis towards the Parthenon and view the ancient sites such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus or visit the Agora of Athens. Following that head over to the ancient Pantheonaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world build entirely from marble, which played host to the first modern olympics.
The Spartathlon takes place in late September every year to match the time of year that Pheidippides completed his run. This year’s dates are September 27 – 28, 2019.
Book your stay nearby Spartathlon 2019 from the map, displaying all the available Airbnbs and hotels nearby, at the lowest prices.
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