Greek-American ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes has no doubt about it: Spartathlon, the 246-kilometer race that traces the footsteps of ancient messenger Pheidippides, is uniquely special, and he is thrilled there is a documentary that encapsulates the drama, excitement, agony and ecstasy he experienced when he first attempted the race from Athens to Sparta.
“The Road to Sparta,” a 60-minute award-winning film that comes out on DVD on October 11, offers runners who have managed to finish this unrivaled annual race a great souvenir by which to remember their experience, and the rest of us – the uninitiated – a powerful sense of the exceptional battle of the mind and body that the Spartathlon constitutes.
“This historic run from Athens to Sparta is the stuff of legend, following the ancient footpath of Pheidippides, the original ultramarathoner,” Karnazes tells Kathimerini English Edition on his latest return to Greece for the Navarino Challenge in Messinia.
“I have attempted the Spartathlon on three occasions, though only succeeded on one of those,” he confesses. “My relationship with the race is bittersweet, an epic Greek drama as I have really struggled. The Spartathlon is a race that must be respected and revered no matter who you are or how hard you have trained.”
The film follows Karnazes in 2014, when he chose to swap the modern nutritional advice for traditional Greek food such as dried figs and pasteli (honey and sesame seed bars). It also follows three other runners, including Greek nurse Angela Terzi.
“The Road to Sparta,” produced by Ragged Rock in association with Tribal Films, is a poetic impression of the athletic pilgrimage to human grandeur, ancient Greek history and the timeless, universal values embedded in the race.
Viewers get a taste of this mix of grief, determination and conscience of history, as well as the pain the race entails and the sense of triumph for those who succeed, all set against the beautiful backdrop of the Greek landscape. The original score by British-Greek band Old House Playground adds to the effect with its touching melodies.
It also offers some very useful tips for running enthusiasts, along with explaining jargon such as the dreaded “death bus.”
“It captures the spirit of the race beautifully, the ups and downs, the highs and lows, victory and defeat. It is an honest film, raw and emotional. And the original soundtrack stirs the soul. The ‘Road to Sparta’ documentary has won many prestigious film awards around the world. And when you see the movie you understand why. It is really powerful,” says Karnazes.
True, “The Road to Sparta” has already received several distinctions, such as the Best Documentary award at the Satisfied Eye Film Festival (UK) in 2018 and being highly commended at the 2016 British Sports Journalism Awards.
One could say this documentary is about the Spartathlon; in fact, it is about the value and limits of self-knowledge.