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