If the Sparta Trifecta Weekend isn’t already on your radar, allow us to tempt you with this teaser from the official event page. “Get ready to test your mettle beside the ghosts of greatness. The miles will hurt. The obstacles will intimidate. But rebirth beckons.” Wow. So basically, it’s a race with Greek ghosts and rebirth. The only thing missing are centaurs and an obstacle that involves stealing fire from Zeus. If ever a Spartan race has been deserving of the word “epic,” it’s this one.
It’s happening the first weekend of November, in a city in southern Greece called Sparta. It’s a magical place with a history steeped in mythology. During the classical era—roughly the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.—all Spartan men were warriors and the women were treated as equals. The city got its name, according to legend, from a spawn of Zeus, the god of sky and thunder. (By comparison, New York City got its name from the Duke of York, some British dude with an inflated title.) “It’s a no brainer as to why we wanted to do a Spartan race here,” says Sean Meehan, Spartan’s regional director for Europe. “It’s the root of our brand. It’s the city that inspired the name.”
But an event like this doesn’t come easy. It’s no accident that it’s taken this long for Spartan to finally bring its iconic race to Greece. “I’ve been working on European events for about three and a half years,” Meehan says. “And that’s about the length of time it’s taken to make this Trifecta happen.” It’s not just about deciding where to mount a race and working out the logistics, he says. They had to convince the locals in Sparta to host them. These are the everyday people whose DNA is part of Spartan history, the cab drivers and restaurant owners who could say, “I’m a descendant of Heracles,” and there’s a reasonably good chance they’re not kidding.
“It’s going to be raw. We’re bringing it back the primacy of the early days, when an obstacle course race was just about people in nature battling the elements.”
When the community was convinced that the Spartan race would live up to the ideals of their ancestors, then came the real work. “We sent a couple of guys to do a reconnaissance mission on the ground,” says Meehan. If that sounds like a military operation, it wouldn’t be that far from the truth. “Our best course designers went over the landscape with a local guide, seeing what could be used and what couldn’t be used,” Meehan says. “They talked to the landowners, and the farmers, and the guys growing olives in the field. They had to make sure everybody was on board.”
Thomas Blanc, a race director who collaborated on the Sparta course with event director Olivier Castelli, calls this the most exciting project he’s ever worked on. “As soon as we got the green light, we flew straight away to Sparta,” he says. “Once you’re on the ground, in the middle of the Spartan’s hills, it hits you ... you are at Sparta!” This is where so much history happened, where ancient warriors once walked, says Blanc. “You’re looking at the same mountains they looked at before going to battle.”
Not the fictional battles, like the kind you see in Hollywood movies like 300. Real battles, like the Peloponnesian War, the epic conflict for survival between the armies of Athens and Sparta. Blanc remembers being in awe while standing in front of the massive Leonidas statue, and “climbing one of those hills covered with olive trees looking up at the Mount Taygetus. That view was the exact same 3,000 years ago.” Surrounded by all the history, says Blanc, the ideas “just started flowing. Then it’s just a matter of seeing what are the ones that we can actually implement on a course of that scale.”
So what can you expect if you sign up for the Sparta Trifecta? We can’t give you specifics, obviously. But Meehan will say this much: “It’s going to be raw. We’re bringing it back the primacy of the early days, when an obstacle course race was just about people in nature battling the elements. It was all carrying logs and sandbags and crawling up steep hills and crossing rivers.”
While planning the race, Blanc says that he and the other organizers read as many history books on the Spartans as they could, immersing themselves in the “stoic spirit” of the period. “Everyone—the craftsmen, builders, farmers, women, slaves, even the kids—were doing those crazy tough chores on a daily basis,” he says. “The obstacles in the Sparta Trifecta will be reflecting this. They are going to be rough, heavy, raw, and dirty.” If you’re expecting obstacles like you’ve find in other races—which Blanc calls “shiny and polished”—he promises that you’ll be disappointed. “The only hint I can give you is you can forget about that soft sandbag sitting nicely on your shoulders,” Blanc says.
This isn’t just a race for people who love Greek mythology—who want to come to Greece and blind a metaphorical Cyclops, so to speak. It’s a race for anybody with the Spartan spirit coursing through their bloodstreams. “This race is more about the community,” says Meehan. “It’s not necessarily for the elite athletes, although they’ll definitely be welcome. This is for the die-hards who’ve been around since the beginning, who have a Sparta tattoo and think of these races as a lifestyle. We want to provide them with a place they can come together at the end of the season and make great memories together. This race is for them.”
But let’s get an answer to the question you really want to know. When Spartan comes to Greece, obviously it’s going to be unlike anything we’ve experienced or even imagined from an obstacle-course race. Can we expect a man-made Mt. Olympus? Not surprisingly, we didn’t get a straight answer. “That’s not part of the plan right now,” laughs Blanc. “But we are still waiting for Joe De Sena’s personal input.”