Monday, 12 October 2015

How to qualify for the British Spartathlon Team and more importantly why.

We receive the occasional email from runners inquiring about entry for the Spartathlon and joining the British team.

There are only two criteria for membership of the British Spartathlon Team.

1) Hold a British passport. I think holding one is enough, you don’t actually have to have one.

2) Have a place in the race.

Entry Criteria

Applications for the race are opened to the public in mid-January of each year and there are several ways of qualifying for a place, such as running 100km in under 10 hours or covering more than 200 km in a 24 hour race or having finished the race previously. The updated qualification criteria can be found on the official Spartathlon website here

As long as you complete one of those by the date of your application, then you have a fair chance in the ballot. The ballot is typically over-subscribed with around twice the number of applicants as places.
To guarantee a place you need to achieve a finish 20% faster than the qualifying times (i.e. under eight hours for 100km).

Finally, there is also a limit of 25 permitted runners per country (with a few notable exceptions Japan, Greece and Germany for historic reasons). In 2015, we had 45 British applications, so that is another reason to aim for an automatic place if you can.

Why run Spartathlon?

Why would someone want to do this race? 

  • UTMB has more hills. 
  • Badwater is hotter. 
  • La Ultra is higher.

What Spartathlon has is two things.

Firstly the history. A course first run in 490BC… and the retracing of the journey of the Athenian messenger Pheidippides who ran the distance in advance of the Battle of Marathon to ask for Spartan help against the invading Persian forces.

Secondly the cut offs. Every one of the 72 checkpoints has its own cut off. Fail to reach the Checkpoint in time and you are out. Each Checkpoint has a board that is confusing after a few 50kms
You have to race the hilly, hot, mainly tarmac course at such a pace not to be caught by the ‘Death Bus;’ that is ever eager to gobble up the next unfortunate soul that has miss calculated.

Race tactics and strategy can be tricky. Go too slow, as I did in 2012, and you don’t even reach the first major Checkpoint at Corinth; go too fast, as I did in 2014, and you burn out and watch your buffer, that you built in the first 40km, slowly and agonizingly deteriorate; take a moment too long at a Checkpoint, as I did in 2013, and the ‘Death Bus’ gets you.

All the while you have to pound the tarmac in the heat ascending or descending the next undulating part of the course. It is not flat, any person who says so, lies.

Tarmac, that beautiful harsh mistress. At once beautiful, in its smoothness that allows you to trust it and run at speed and at the one and the same time, harsh as it smashes your legs with it’s unforgiving hardness.
You run out of the bowl that is Athens, down a steep hill and get to what seems to be a visual treat, the view of the Sardonic gulf. A beautiful blue shining sea as far as you can see. The heat is pouring down from the sun on to your head….It is bouncing off the tarmac and frying your legs…It is held in place by the immense cliff to your right that signifies that the that road was cut into it, is actually a deep scar and cliff really wants to make you suffer….Finally it is reflected off that beautiful sea.

Get past this and you run over the Corinth Canal and into the Peloponnese hinterland. More tarmac, more hills, more heat. By 100km, the sun starts to go down and the roads are pitch black. You run on following the lights ahead, worrying that you have missed a turn and then there is the climb to Nemea…half way…finish the climb and you drop down to Lykria…miles of downhill running on tarmac that mashes your quads and sucks the energy from you….

Now I have to end my personal recollection as this currently marks the end of my journey, so far.
I am told that the path to the mountain seems to go on forever. Then it is a hands on knees job to get to the Sangas Pass, where Phedippides saw the God Pan.Then down and up again, a long climb to the final hill and then forty kms of downhill until you reach the city of Sparti.

Children and Police escort you to the finish and what a finish it is! I have never seen anything like it, a true Heroes welcome with masses of people congratulating the runners who complete the journey and take the final steps to kiss the statue.

The statue of a man who wasn’t King at the time of the original race, but who cares about history when the race is done?

That is why people want to run this race. It is not the hottest, hardest, toughest or hilliest.
It is Spartathlon.

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