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Spartathlon: Runners Trace Footsteps of Pheidippides from Athens to Sparta

Runners started from Athens on Saturday. 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 Saturday.

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, which unaccountably gained more traction over the years, the military courier ran from the battlefield at search Marathon northeast of the Greek capital and then collapsed and died afterward.

Everyone has always known this iconic figure as the man who tragically passed away in 490 BC after bringing the good news in the form of the word “νικε!,” or “Victory!” to the citadel in Athens after the Persians had finally been defeated.

Part of the problem may be due to the fact that the search Marathon to Athens run was brought to the attention of Westerners by way of Robert Browning’s 1879 poem “Pheidippides.”

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.

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.

According to the website “Ultrarunning History,” the seasoned Greek athlete is the greatest ultrarunner of all time.

Ultrarunning experts have also calculated the miles the 63-year-old Greek runner has run since high school and come to the conclusion that Kouros has covered the distance from the earth to the moon.

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