Spartathlon: The world's toughest race?

Published 6:48 AM ET, Tue September 30, 2014
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The Spartathlon is one of endurance running's greatest races with competitors undertaking an epic, non-stop, two-day slog across Greece from Athens to Sparta. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
Around 350 brave souls attempted the feat of endurance last weekend running the 246-kilometer (152-mile) route. The race revives the legendary feat of Pheidippides who is said to have run from Athens to Sparta in two days in 490BC. Entrants set off on their own historic journey just before sunrise beneath the Acropolis on Friday September 26. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
The Greek historian Herodotus tells the story of the courier Pheidippides (center) who, at the request of Athenian generals, was dispatched to Sparta to request reinforcements in the Battle of Marathon during the Persian Wars. Rischgitz/Getty Images
The Spartathlon was first run in the autumn of 1982. The idea was conceived by a British RAF pilot John Foden who was curious to find out if it was possible to run the distance from Athens to Sparta in under 36 hours. Mike Hewitt/ALLSPORT
Foden and a group of friends completed the run arriving in front of the statue of King Leonidas in Sparta (pictured), starting what has become a modern classic of endurance running. Film buffs will know the name Leonidas from the 2006 Hollywood blockbuster "300" starring Gerard Butler which retells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae between the Persians and the Greeks. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
Runners during the early stages of this year's epic run. Dimitris Troupis, a Greek endurance runner and editor of online magazine "Advendure" has covered the race for the past three years. "This race is very special among the ultrarunning community worldwide," Troupis told CNN. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
Four seasons in two days: From rain in Athens to sunshine at the Isthmus of Corinth (pictured). The Spartathlon owes its legendary status not only to its history but the tough racing conditions. "It is very difficult for three reasons," explains Troupis. "It's a road race, but it has a lot of climbs. Second, the weather is not steady. During the day and the night you have a lot of variations of temperature which is very hard for the runners. Also, there are very strict cut off points. If you don't make one you are disqualified." Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
Wide open road: There are 75 checkpoints dotted along a route which takes in some of Greece's historic landmarks and settlements including Nemea, Nestani and Tegea. Runners encounter a variety of terrain crossing vineyards and olive groves as well as having to negotiate a 1,200-meter ascent of Mount Parthenion at around the 100-mile (160-km) mark. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
Troupis says that temperatures can reach as high as 36 degrees Celsius in September so rest and rehydration is vital for runners who frequently make use of the many feeding stations along the way manned by an army of volunteers. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
As night falls the runners keep going. "There is also a lot of enthusiasm from the villagers en route," says Troupis. "They are all out at 3-4 am in the morning trying to cheer on the runners." This year, Troupis and his colleagues tweeted video and text updates throughout the entire race.
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A checkpoint near the village of Nestani showing runners how far they have come and how far they have to go to the finish in Sparta. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
The first runner to complete the course this year was the Italian Ivan Cudin -- seen here resting his weary head on the feet of Leonidas in Sparta. Runners have to touch the base of the statue to officially complete the race. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
Cudin, 39, finished in a time of 22 hours, 29 minutes and 29 seconds -- meaning he averaged around 5½ minutes per kilometer. It was "an unbelievable time," says Troupis, but not quite as impressive as the all-time record held by Greek endurance runner Yiannis Kouros. In 1993, Kouros finished in a time of 20 hours and 29 minutes. "The three best records belong to him and they are all below 22 hours," Troupis says. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
A runner chases through the massed crowds near the finish in Sparta. "There are thousands of people waiting there and a lot of media," says Troupis. "The atmosphere in Sparta is incredible." Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
Many kisses have been planted on Leonidas' bronze boots over the years. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
Everyone who finishes the race is awarded with an olive wreath and a cup of water from the nearby Evrotas river. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
A competitor celebrates by mounting the statue. The event attracts runners from all over the world including 55 from Japan, 40 German entrants and 11 from the U.S. this year. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions
Never again?! According to the official results, 207 of the 359 starters finished the race. Christos Boukoros/Free Life Productions