100 kilometers a day, 6900 altitude meters and extreme temperatures. But the biggest fear has four legs and a hairy tail.
After 27 hours and 50 minutes he arrived. September 24, 2021, empty and broken down, Simen Holvik put his lips on the bronze-clad feet of King Leonidas.
The dry kiss marked the end of a 246-kilometer journey across a barren and inhospitable landscape.
Slowly he bent his neck and had the symbolic laurel wreath placed on his head. The proof that he had just completed the Spartathlon, one of the world’s toughest ultramarathons.
He turned around and looked back at the road he had just covered, all 246,000 meters of it. With trembling legs and tears in his eyes, he thought about:
What if I turn around and run back?
In the footsteps of antiquity
The race Simen Holvik completed in the autumn of 2021 was not just any race.
The Sparathlon race follows in the footsteps of Feidippides. The messenger who ran from Athens to Sparta to obtain military aid when the Persians tried to conquer Greece in the year 490 BC.
Feidippides and the Spartans never reached the battle of Marathon in time, but the messenger’s journey can be said to have been war enough in itself.
Hundreds of kilometers over mountains and wastelands, in scorching heat during the day and biting cold at night.
– It is a very tough race. The vast majority do not complete within the deadline of 36 hours, says Holvik about the 246-kilometer race from Athens to Sparta.
If Holvik says it’s tough, those are words worth listening to. Only a couple of months earlier, in the summer of 2021, he set a new track record in «Norway along». 26 poor days was all the runner needed to cover the barely 2600 kilometers from Nordkapp to Lindesnes.
An enormous achievement in itself, but the trip had a different purpose.
– Norway along was training for the Spartathlon, he says in cash.
That was last year. Now he will recreate the feat twice.
According to legend, Feidippides met the god Pan on top of the mountain Parthenon. Although ultra-distances are known to produce strong hallucinations, Holvik never met Pan on the mountain top.
But 1200 meters above sea level, some thoughts still came to mind.
The thoughts wandered back to Feidippides, who ran from Athens to Sparta and back again to the city of Marathon (40 km outside Athens).
It gradually became clearer to him. Sparta was really only halfway there. When he reached the finish line on September 24, 2021, he quickly made the decision.
The following year I would try to see if I could run the entire original route.
On Friday 1 July, the painful dream will be put into practice.
– Is this harder than “Norway along”?
– I would definitely say that, Holvik states.
There are several reasons for this.
First and foremost, he must be self-sufficient. This means that he has to run with a backpack to transport food to segments where there are no shops, or during periods when these are closed.
Not to mention the huge heat wave that is sweeping across Europe. Much of the arduous journey he must cover temperatures well into the 30s.
But exhaustion, navigation, loneliness and extreme heat are not what worries Holvik the most. When the sun disappears on the horizon, scary creatures lurk in the shade – namely stray dogs.
– I did not experience being attacked during the Spartathlon last year, but I know of several Norwegians who have been bitten, says the runner.
To avoid attacks from biting dogs on the 620 kilometers he has to cover, he has taken tips from experienced runners.
- Avoid eye contact
- Do not run away, but walk slowly backwards and around
- Speak in a calm voice
- If the dog is still aggressive, pick up rocks so the dog can see it
- If no reaction – throw stones in the direction of the dog (not on)
- In the event of an attack, use dog spray
But not all shadows are known monsters.
The thought of dogs can be just as frightening. The nerves can become frayed after extreme distances, Holvik explains. At one point during the race last year, in the middle of the Greek wilderness, he suddenly saw a shadow. The Norwegian froze, and cold gufs shot down his back.
– I thought that now a dog will come, but then it was just my own shadow, he says with a laugh.
Should he be able to handle dogs, extreme temperatures and steep mountain passes, he will be the first to complete the route in 2500 years. In addition, he will run a few miles extra.
– What is the driving force behind these crazy projects?
– It makes me feel good. It’s my way of feeling good. It’s about feeling that you are really alive, he answers.
Along the way, after hours on the path or asphalt, he may feel a euphoric intoxication.
– In a way, you become a junkie who hunts for the next shot.
But Holvik’s most important driving force is not about euphoria or the pursuit of the most extreme intoxication. It is about stepping out of modern everyday life, to find your way back to the roots – the primitive man.
– When I ran “Norway along”, I felt it. After a week of 100 kilometers a day, it got easier and easier. It was as if something said bang, and then I was back to a genetic rooting. This is what we were created for, the ultra runner states.