Athletes start at the 35th edition of the annual ultra-marathon race Spartathlon from Athens to Sparta, started at the foot of the Acropolis hill in Athens, Greece, Sept. 29, 2017. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
ATHENS, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- The 35th edition of the annual ultra-marathon race Spartathlon from Athens to Sparta, one of the most grueling long distance courses worldwide, started at the foot of the Acropolis hill in Athens on Friday morning.
About 400 athletes from 52 countries and regions set off at 7:00 am local time following the footsteps of ancient Greek soldier Pheidippides in the 246 kilometers race to the city of Sparta in southern Greece.
Spartathlon, like the Marathon race, is inspired by the feat of Pheidippides, according to the International Association "SPARTATHLON" which organizes the event each year.
In 490 BC, ahead of the battle of Marathon against the Persian forces, according to historians, the soldier-messenger was sent from Athens to Sparta to request support, making the journey on foot nonstop within two days.
In 1982 British RAF Wing Commander John Foden, an ultra-marathon runner, with four friends decided to test whether ancient Greek historian Herodotus' reference to the Pheidippides deed was correct. Could the distance be covered within 36 hours?
They did it and thousands of runners of various ages and professions from across the world followed their footsteps ever since, testing the limits of human stamina and mental strength.
The target is to reach within the 36-hour time limit the statue of ancient Spartan King Leonidas in the center of Sparta to be awarded with an olive wreath and a sip of water from the nearby Evrotas river.
Only about a third of participants complete Spartathlon each year, according to the statistics.
Spartathlon runs over rough tracks and muddy paths under the rain, crosses vineyards and olive groves, climbs steep hillsides and takes the runners on the 1,200 meter ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio in the dead of night. The mountain is swept by strong winds with temperatures dropping as low as 4 Celsius degrees.
Greek veteran runner Yannis Kouros, who won the first Spartathlon, still holds the record time at 20:25:00.
In the 35th Spartathlon which is held under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Tourism, several well known athletes are taking part. Among them is Italian Marco Bonfiglio, Joao Oliveira from Portugal, the Czech runner Brunner Radek, and the Hungarian Lubics Szilvia.
Greek runner Nikos Sideridis, who won the 34th Spartathlon, is also participating.