Race Report 2017: Laurence Chownsmith

Race Report 2017: Laurence Chownsmith

Looking back on this challenge, I have many feelings, relief of finally finishing after 3 failed attempts, immense personal satisfaction, and thanks to my Family, especially Allison, for her encouragement to get out of bed and run for the past 6 months and thanks Martin in helping me get to the finish with just the right advice when things were going pear shaped.

This time I also fully appreciated how much this race means to the other runners, and even more so how much it means to the Greek people who are involved in it and how proud they are of this race and the history it points back. Pheidippides historic run back in ancient Hellas helping change the course of history and turning the tide against the other super power of the age the Persians.

 The encouragement from the Greek supporters was fantastic and really gave me a boost. Even the many a honks and waves from passing motorists, locals or support crews all helped in a small way to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The British Spartathlon team is now the best organised, had the loudest and most fun support crews. The web site and organisation with team kit has been largely down to Rob Pinnington, Paul Ali and James Ellis. American lady runner said they don’t bother with theirs they just look at the British site and copy it, praise indeed.

I have been coming to the Spartathlon since 2006, the first time on a bike following the race, and supporting Martin. I even got to run over the mountain in 2006 ,but this would be the last time until 2017 that I got over it! When running in 2008, 2010 and 2012, each time the race ended for me before the mythic mountain. I had put much more training in than previously and also realised that this was going to be my last attempt so I had put additional pressure on myself to finally pull off a finish. In fact I was so nervous I managed to leave my chip and number at the hotel in Glyfada, only realising this once in our room in the centre of Athens at 2000 hrs! After ringing Kostis and finding it was still there, thank Zeus, Martin went and fetched the forgotten item. Martin remained calm and encouraging but must have been thinking I had lost the plot!

The start of the race and the finish are both iconic and unique experiences in ultra running .The Acropolis with all its history and majesty, looming above the runners on the start line giving the race such a unique atmosphere. The future, present and the echoes from the past all seeming to mingle in the space, creating an excitement palpable to us all. The finish running down the Sparta high street full of Spartans cheering you on to the statue of Leonidas where custom dictates you kiss the foot of the Spartan King , are given a wreath of olives and drink from the cup of the reviving water of the Eurotas river, a truly marvellous, theatrical and never to be forgotten finish.

Running the first marathon out of Athens has changed dramatically since Pheidippides, no longer the trails and meadows but tarmac roads and stilled traffic, all the cars waiting for the race to pass by before their normal Friday can resume.

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Described as the world's most grueling race, the Spartathlon runs over rough tracks and muddy paths (often it rains during the race), crosses vineyards and olive groves, climbs steep hillsides and, most challenging of all, takes the runners on the 1,200 meter ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night.
This is the mountain, covered with rocks and bushes, on which it is said Pheidippides met the god Pan.

Spartathlon is the event that brings this deed to attention today by drawing a legend out of the depths of history. The idea for its creation is belongs to John Foden, a British RAF Wing Commander. As a lover of Greece and student of ancient Greek history, Foden stopped his reading of Herodotus' narration regarding Pheidippides, puzzled and wondering if a modern man could cover the distance from Athens to Sparta, i.e. 250 kms, within 36 hours.

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