Inside the minds of four Spartathletes

Think you could run 246 kilometers on just figs, olives and dried meat? Well, Greek-American ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes will attempt to do just that in this weekend’s Spartathlon race from Athens to Sparta, in the footsteps (and on the diet) of ancient messenger Pheidippides, while a British film crew will be on hand to follow him, along with three other runners – on a normal diet – in this grueling challenge for the human mind and body, with the aim of creating a unique documentary.

“This is not a sports documentary, but an ‘artumentary’,” insists “The Road to Sparta” producer and director Barney Spender, a Briton who spent five years in Greece as a reporter and radio producer before joining Eurosport in Paris.

His project revolves around capturing the mind-set, preparation and mental effort of Karnazes, probably the most famous ultramarathon runner in the world, as well as Britons Rob Pinnington and Mark Woolley, and a Greek nurse from Athens, Angela Terzi.

“It’s about what you think about when you run six marathons one after another,” explained an enthusiastic Spender. “We’ll be trying to shed light on what goes on inside the runners’ minds.”

The 30-minute film, an independent production for which the money is coming from crowdfunding, will follow the four runners from the start on the morning of Friday, September 26, all the way to the finish line in Sparta the following day, as they attempt to emulate Pheidippides’ feat when he ran the distance to ask the Spartans to help the Athenians in the Battle of Marathon circa 490 BC.

Karnazes, whose family hails from the Peloponnese, has long been fascinated by the story of Pheidippides and is currently in the process of writing a book about him. Now he will try to run from Athens to Sparta for the first time in his glorious career in long-distance running, and do it on the very food Pheidippides would have eaten in the process.

The other runners featured also have their own stories. Pinnington is facing a mental battle, given that he has already tried twice to finish the race without success, but is promising a better result this time, saying that he has made sure not to neglect preparing his mind for the race. Woolley, on the other hand, is the most experienced of the four in the Spartathlon, as this will be the sixth time he has run it.

As for Terzi, she is an experienced ultra-runner, but, like Karnazes, this will be her first crack at the Spartathlon. “My only fear is that a sudden injury during the race could force me to stop. If that doesn’t happen, I will try to finish even if it means doing so on my knees! As Dean Karnazes says: ‘If I can’t run, I will walk. If I can’t walk, I will crawl,’” she said.

Joining forces for the production will be Greek band Old House Playground, based in Manchester, England, who will produce an original score for the documentary, and Clive Martin, the musical director who engineered the music for Oscar-winning film “The Last Emperor.”

A surprise star in the project will be Olympic gold medalist Ioannis Melissanidis. The gymnast-turned-actor will not only be the artistic consultant to the documentary, but he will also lend his voice to Herodotus, the so-called father of history who first recorded the Pheidippides’ feat, and narrate the historical events on the film.

Spender, always on the lookout for sponsors and supporters for this unique project, said volunteers would also be welcome, especially film students. So far the production has raised half of the 15,000-euro budget, so the prospects are good, he told Kathimerini, adding that he intends to present the film at the Thessaloniki Film Festival and other Greek festivals around the world. “Why not on TV, too?” he pondered.

Anyone wishing to participate in the production in any possible way can visit the project’s page on Facebook (The Road to Sparta) or on

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