Race On Tour

A mini marathon around the Greek is­land of Spet­ses is divine, finds RW’S Joe Mackie

Runner's World (UK) - - IN THIS ISSUE -

The Spet­ses Mini Marathon, Greece

The the­ory goes that Odysseus passed this way on his slow, wan­der­ing re­turn from that rum­ble in Troy, and as I take in the views from Po­sei­do­nion Square, I be­gin to won­der if per­haps all those tales of Cy­clops and sirens were just a cover story for an ex­tended so­journ in this slice of par­adise.

I’d hap­pily linger in the race start area for a decade or so, with the sky the kind of heav­enly blue you’d ex­pect Zeus to use in the fam­ily nurs­ery, and the wa­ter­front cafes look­ing out over the masts of yachts slow­danc­ing to the gen­tle rhythm of glit­ter­ing Myr­toan Sea. But, like the oth­ers milling around in in­tent-sig­nalling shorts and sin­glets, I’m about to set forth on my own lit­tle odyssey, a 25km race that will take us on a full cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the 22sq/km is­land of Spet­ses, the most south­ern of the Ar­goSa­ronic is­lands, ly­ing just off the coast of the Greek main­land’s Pelo­pon­nese penin­sula.

The ‘mini marathon’ is the cul­mi­na­tion of a mul­ti­event weekend that also in­cludes a 5K (which my wife is lim­ber­ing up for), a 10K, sev­eral chil­dren’s races and a 3,000m swim across the Bogazi Chan­nel from the main­land.

The at­mos­phere is as warm as the early morn­ing sun, though the in­creas­ing strength of the lat­ter is giv­ing me slight cause for con­cern. The Greek sun god He­lios must be gig­gling into his Sugar Puffs as I have race spon­sor’s sun­screen lib­er­ally ap­plied to my

BACK TO THE START The race takes run­ners around the is­land of Spet­ses. Be pre­pared for hot weather.

pig­men­tally chal­lenged Celtic skin.

With a mere 500 or so run­ners, the start is a low-key af­fair and af­ter leav­ing the square we flow in a tight bunch along traf­fic-free Spet­ses Town’s seafront. As if no match for the ris­ing sun, the vil­las, bou­tiques and tav­er­nas soon melt away, leav­ing us un­der the spo­radic para­sols of pine trees.

The field too soon spreads out, with the breath­ing and foot­falls of run­ners giv­ing way to the am­bi­ent sounds of na­ture car­ried on the breeze as we fol­low the wind­ing curves and con­tours of the coast road. Once out­side Spet­ses Town the is­land feels al­most un­touched, aside from the road be­neath my feet and oc­ca­sional gates whis­per­ing of op­u­lent vil­las con­cealed be­yond.

The kilo­me­tres tick by and the con­ser­va­tive start means I’m grad­u­ally mov­ing up through the sparse field, reel­ing in solo run­ners or small groups who, col­lec­tively, are just enough to re­mind me that I’m in a race, but not enough to in­trude on an in­creas­ingly in­ti­mate con­nec­tion with the is­land’s nat­u­ral beauty.

There is, how­ever, a price to pay. With a to­tal climb of 1,250ft (381m) , it’s hardly alpine, but the road un­du­lates in sync with the hilly coast­line and – as the ef­fer­ves­cently friendly pro­pri­etor of a tav­erna had shown me the pre­vi­ous evening – there are no­table lumps in the el­e­va­tion pro­file at six and 12km. My diminu­tive stature and de­cent power-to-weight ra­tio gen­er­ally help me on hilly cour­ses, but by the second sig­nif­i­cant lump, He­lios is re­ally hav­ing some fun with me and my pace drops to what would gen­er­ously be classed as ‘se­date’.

Thank­fully, when­ever my in­ter­nal tem­per­a­ture dial seems to be veer­ing into the un­pleas­ant, one of the well-stocked wa­ter sta­tions mag­i­cally ma­te­ri­alises out of the heat haze and I can split a chilled bot­tled be­tween re­hy­dra­tion and a bliss­ful drench­ing. Tem­po­rar­ily re­vived, I can re­turn my fo­cus to the pine forests tum­bling down the hill­sides, and some­how man­age to re­sist the lure of de­scend­ing paths, with their prom­ises of se­cluded beaches, and even a sign with that siren’s call: ‘Beach Bar’.

Re­turn­ing to Spet­ses Town means ne­go­ti­at­ing tight turns through nar­row cob­bled streets, where flow­ers tum­ble from bal­conies in cas­cades of bril­liant colour. There’s a sin­gle run­ner ahead of me, but the gap be­tween us is no longer nar­row­ing. I’m car­ry­ing a me­mento of Spet­ses’ hills in my calves, so I hap­pily for­get about the nascent race­within-a-race and fo­cus in­stead on savour­ing th­ese fi­nal me­tres.

Soon we’re hug­ging the har­bour front, fun­nelling through tight cor­ri­dors of spec­ta­tors crowd­ing the cafes and bars, clap­ping us on be­tween sips of chilled espresso. Then the course opens up into a fi­nal push for the town square, where the fin­ish line lazes in the scorch­ing sun. The guy in front has faded but I mir­ror his drop in pace so as to not pass him be­fore the line. Once we cross it we ex­change the wearily elated smiles of shared ex­pe­ri­ence.

An hour later, af­ter a wan­der through what seems to be a town-wide post-race party and hav­ing con­sumed enough wa­ter to put the Sa­hara in bloom, I’m sat with my wife on a tav­erna ter­race at the wa­ter’s edge, re­fu­elling on freshly caught fish and lo­cal beer. I can fully un­der­stand how, once you dis­cover Spet­ses, it may take some time to get home. This year’s race takes place on Oc­to­ber 8. Visit spet­ses­marathon.com

SPET­SES, GREECE ONE FOR THE ROAD In th­ese con­di­tions, it’s vi­tal to stay well hy­drated, but don’t for­get to en­joy the ride.

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