Lithuanian runner Aleksandr Sorokin won the 35th edition of Spartathlon, one of the most challenging and historical ultra-marathon races, in Sparta on Saturday.
Sorokin, 36, touched the feet of the statue of ancient Spartan King Leonidas in the center of Sparta before dawn around 5.00 am local time, covering non stop 246 kilometers from Athens in 22 hours, 4 minutes and 5 seconds.
It was the fifth best time in the history of the event, according to the International Association "Spartathlon" which organizes the event each year.
Sorokin, a casino employee who took up running five years ago to lose weight, shouted "Sparta" as he reached the finish line. The victory in his first participation in Spartathlon was the best gift for his birthday on Saturday, he told Xinhua.
"It is a great event. I dedicate the victory to my wife. I am so happy," he said.
Czech runner Radek Brunner finished second in 22:49:38, Greek Nikos Sideridis came third in 22:58:41 and Japanese Ishikawa Yoshihiko fourth in 23:20:57.
"This is the best race in the world. I hope next year I will be the first," Brunner told Xinhua. The 43-year-old owner of a gardening company and father of two, had ranked third in last year's event.
"Whoever finishes this race is a winner," Sideridis, a Coast Guard officer, said. It was his third participation in the race. The first time he had not managed to reach the statue of King Leonidas.
For Ishikawa Yoshihiko, 29, it was his first participation in Spartathlon. Earlier this year he won the world championship in 24-hour running in Belfast. He will definately return to Spartathlon in the future to improve his ranking place, he told Xinhua.
The 35th Spartathlon from Athens to Sparta kicked off at the foot of the Acropolis hill on Friday morning at 7 a.m.
This year 400 runners from 52 countries and regions competed, following the footsteps of ancient Greek soldier Pheidippides from the Greek capital to the southern Peloponnese peninsula city of Sparta.
In 490 BC, ahead of the battle of Marathon against the Persian forces, according to historians, the Athenian messenger who inspired the Classic Marathon was sent to Sparta to request support, making the journey on foot non stop 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's reference to the Pheidippides deed was correct.
They made 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 Leonidas in order to get 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, 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.