On Friday, 14th of October 2011 it started to drizzle. Over the next three days, the picturesque island of Spetses experienced more rainfall, than the whole of the year. Still, the unflappable locals came up to me saying “gouri”, “gouri”- the Greek expression for good luck! Lucky or not, over 800 athletes gathered, in spite of the rain to run the 25K & 5K routes, thus inaugurating the amazing journey of the Spetses mini Marathon phenomenon.
Spetses is an island with a long and rich naval history, culture and stunning architecture complete with cobbled streets, fragrant bougainvilleas, jasmine lined courtyards and horse-drawn carriages still the most popular mode of transport. Complementing the main town’s beauty, the island’s stunning scenery of lush pine trees and azure seas create the perfect backdrop for the races and assures runners, swimmers and triathletes a memorable time.
In 2012, more events were added to the SMM calendar, including a Cross Channel Swimming Competition,simulating the swimming events held in the 1950s by the renowned Anargyreios and Korgialeneios Boarding School, whereby the graduating class would celebrate by swimming from the island to the Peloponnese and a popular kids run. Both events added a significant amount of new visitors, spectators and athletes, who gathered for a sunny week-end in October to run, bike, swim and enjoy the scenery of a passing summer.
In 2013, the Spetses mini Marathon was complimented in April by a Spetses triathlon (co-organized with the Hellenic Triathlon Federation), which brought triathletes from Greece and across Europe to compete and the Spetses mini Marathon event was, once again, held in October with a staggering 10,000 participants and visitors!
At the heart of both events, success lies in an island community that opens its arms, and its hearts, to thousands of visitors. Suddenly, a small island used to coming alive during summer, teems with life in the autumn to late spring as well. Shop owners will close their shops during races to make sure the athletes run unhindered, clapping and cheering on young and old. A local women’s group will bake 1000 hearty pies for famished swimmers while the traditional boatbuilding society of Spetses keeps swimmers safe by creating an avenue on the sea with their small wooden boats.
Since tourism became the main industry of the island in the early 20th century, generations of Spetsiots have known that the island comes out of its winter slumber in late spring before mid-September signals the long, hard, lonely winter ahead. But for three years now, locals and visitors have reclaimed a month from this slumber. During these events a postage-stamp of an island is taken over in the name of friendship, fellowship and merriment where to win is to participate. The picture is of an island painted with the colors of race-shirts, bunting, and bracelets. A circumference of twenty-five kilometers where one constantly sees and hears results and race highlights endlessly talked over the local almond cakes or “amygdalota” while dark coffee copiously consumed fuels long winding speeches.
The high-summer routine of long lunches of grilled fish or aromatic tomatoes returns for the pleasure of those who now know to venture out a short 54 miles from Athens to grab the best of a Greek summer in a few private, autumn and spring days.
As the nights are longer so are the possibilities that dark brings. Watching for falling stars, the bars of the Old Harbour for dancing and drinks, or evening post-race cocktails on the verandah of the majestic Poseidonion Grand Hotel complete a summer decanted and the promise of a new beginning in Greece.
By Dr. Marina Lida Coutarelli, President of the Organizing Committee Spetses mini Marathon and Spetsathon, CEO Communication Lab