Higgins battles Zorba and the road to Sparta

by James Hendicott

Stoneybatter resident Alastair Higgins became the fastest ever Irish-based competitor to complete the notoriously difficult Spartathlon long-distance footrace in Greece earlier this month.

Spartathlon is a race that follows Pheidippides historic route from Athens to Sparta. This year’s event was a particularly challenging edition with a break from the usual heat in the form of a developing hurricane and belting winds across the hilly 246 km route.

Higgins, originally from Scotland but a long-time resident of Dublin, has become an extremely competitive mainstay on the niche ultra-distance circuit in recent years. He specialises in distances of 100 kms plus.

Higgins progressed through a strong field to finish in the top ten having set his pre-run expectations at finishing in approximately 27 hours. Despite having to tackle the extreme conditions, he beat the fastest Irish resident’s time, finishing in a touch over 26 hours.

Irish distance running legend Eoin Keith has finished two places higher in 8th in previous years.

“I was lucky to finish quickly in the end as other runners had to deal more with the full force of hurricane Zorba. I was already in the medical tent in a survival blanket, beer in hand,” Higgins joked afterwards.

“I trained hard but, even in my wildest dreams, I only thought top ten would take a miracle. In the end, it was all about perseverance. Imagine having ran 120 miles and feeling like you’re done but doing an extra 33 mile fun run. That’s Spartathlon.

“It was brutal and hugely challenging, especially because of the extreme weather, but I found some great form up until the last 30k or so when it was just a slog to the finish. My legs are wrecked.

“The race left me with some knee ligament damage so I’ve only managed a few short runs since.

“Ironically, it’s the exact same injury that sparked my interest in the sport in the first place. Like before, the best way to fix it is to run on it.”

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