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Spartathlon: Runners Trace Footsteps of Pheidippides from Athens to Sparta

Runners started from Athens on Friday. Credit: Sparta Photography Club/Spartathlon 2022

Hundreds of ultra-marathon runners are taking part in the historic Spartathlon race from Athens to Sparta that started on Friday.

The Spartathlon is a historic ultra-distance foot race that takes place in September of every year in Greece. It is one of the most difficult and interesting ultra-distance races in the world because of its unique history and background.

The Spartathlon revives the footsteps of Pheidippides, an ancient Athenian long-distance runner, who, in 490 BC before the battle of Marathon, was sent to Sparta to seek help in the war between the Greeks and the Persians.

It was in September of the year 490 BC when, just 42 kilometers (26 miles) outside of Athens, a vastly-outnumbered army of brave soldiers saved their city from the invading Persian army.

But as the course of history shows, in the Battle of Marathon, they saved more than just their own city. They saved Athenian democracy itself, and consequently, protected the course of western civilization.

According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides arrived in Sparta the day after his departure from Athens.

According to Herodotus, Pheidippides ran back to Athens after delivering the message. His journey on foot to and from Sparta lasted an incredible three days.

Just as in the other version of the story, the military courier ran from the battlefield at Marathon and then collapsed and died afterward.

Spartathlon, the ultimate long run

In 1984, the International Association “Spartathlon” was founded, which has since then continuously organized the race each September.

In 2021, Greek runner Fotis Zisimopoulos won the 39th Spartathlon.

Zisimopoulos, 38, covered the 246 kilometers in 21 hours, 57 minutes and 20 seconds, followed by Czech runners Radek Brunner, 46, in 23:17:30 and Milan Sumny, 44, in 23:52:57.

Diana Dzaviza, 34, a Latvian athlete living in Austria, won the women’s race, clocking in at 25:23:59.

Greek veteran runner Yiannis Kouros, who won the first edition of Spartathlon, still holds the record time at 20:25:00.

Kouros has been called many things by his peers, running experts, and the public: “The Running God,” “The Golden Greek,” “Modern Pheidippides,” “The Master of Pain,” and “Unstoppable” are among these. All these epithets are more than well-deserved.

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