Spetsathlon race information
This is the ideal race if you want to combine a holiday on a Greek island with a triathlon event. The race included the following events: triathlon endurance (1500m swim, 50km cycle, 10km run) and sprint triathlon (750m swim, 25km cycle, 5km run) as well as relays of both events on Sunday, while on Saturday there was a 1km swim and a 25km bike race. The 25km bike rides are one round around the island, while this is repeated for the 50km one.
To register for the race the website is both in Greek and English. Of note is that in order to take part the events you are required to have a certificate from a GP or a cardiologist giving you the OK to compete. If you cannot bring you own bike, the organisers suggest a couple of bike shops on the island where you can rent one from. Although not ideal not to have your own bike if you are a cyclist, if you are travelling from abroad this may be a solution.
You can pick up your bib number starting Friday afternoon of the race weekend and up to half an hour before the triathlon races begin on Sunday morning. You are given your running number and stickers with your bib number for your bike and helmet as well as a swimming cap. Your starter pack also has a GU gel and (of all things) a small can of a “light beer” (low alcohol and less calories). There is a race briefing on Saturday evening where the officials from the Greek triathlon association give information and advice about the routes. If you are a first timer at a triathlon event you may find this intimidating and may have a lot of questions even after the briefing, I find that these address more experienced athletes. Do ask your questions, either during the briefing or privately at the end. The events are quite complicated and no questions are stupid, really! The officials are extremely experienced athletes and they can be of immense help.
Regarding the actual race, although the water temperature was bearable (we were told it was 19oC) and I swam without a wetsuit, lots of people were in wetsuits and perhaps this is the way to go. There were lots of jelly fish on the day but this is not necessarily going to be the same on future events, it depends on the wind direction. In any case, if I managed to swim with them anyone can and in fairness I did not get stung. The sea is beautiful and clear. Lifeguards were all around us.
The bike route was described by the organisers as a very technical one. Although I haven’t myself been around the island on a bike, my husband has and I have run part of it, so we can both verify that there are lots of hills and difficult turns, so even at the downhill sections care needs to be taken. The organisers had marked all difficult spots with red markings. Total elevation for one round of the island is 360 meters, as given on the organisers’ site. Water and Powerade were were given at 13km of the bike race and of course at the end.
For the running you start at the transition area and head towards the old port and back. It is a pretty much flat route apart from some incline just after 2km. At the half point there is water and Powerade. I have to say that it was hot and I poured water all over me twice, despite the short distance. The marshalls were very encouraging and all of them cheered me on as I was going past.
At the end of the race there is water, Powerade, bars and bananas so you are very well looked after. You also get a very nice looking medal.
There was an ambulance that did actually have to pick a cyclist up as there had been an accident during the bike race, so one feels safe and well looked after in case of emergency.
The fist man finished the sprint triathlon in 1h12min, while the first woman did it in 1h26min. Intimidating as this may seem this is not a race for experts only, give it a go and enjoy it (do train for it though).
The race was very well organised and despite triathlons being such complicated events everything worked very well.
How to get there
Spetses is an island near Athens. You can arrive to Spetses from the port of Piraeus either by flying dolphin or by the Catamaran of Hellenic Seaways. They take between 2.5 and 3 hours. Beware, the flying dolphins only take FOLDING bikes. I believe the Catamaran takes bikes as I saw one coming out of ours but do check with Hellenic Seaways.
You can drive to the port of Costa and then cross to Spetses. You can do this by Ferry boat or by taxi. Ferry boat takes about 15 minutes and costs 1.5 euros per person and bike. Taxis cost 20 euros per trip and can fit 3 bikes and 6 people. They are really fast so the trip should take about 5 minutes. Safe parking for your car exists in Costa.
You can also use public buses, which take about 4 hours from Athens, but I don’t think I would recommend this, as all Greeks avoid taking them if they can. Not sure that they can carry a bike either, but it may be worth asking.
Spetses, its history, where to stay and swim
Spetses is a beautiful, very green island, with beautiful beaches and traditional architecture.
It was the first Greek island to join the Greek revolution of 1821 against the Ottoman rule with the heroine Bouboulina raising the first revolutionary flag on her battleship Agamemnon. It is therefore an island full of history and a visit to the Bouboulina museum is worth your time.
We were lucky to be able to stay at Poseidonion Grand Hotel. It has been a dream of mine to stay there in a sea view room. It was no less than what I had expected. It’s a very beautiful building, extremely well renovated, with real 5 star service. I felt like I was in a different era. Dinner there was also really good and the drinks were amazing and affordable. In the summer months you can eat outside on the verandah. However, my favourite was dinner in the inside dining room on Sunday night after most people that had come for the weekend had gone and outside was a bit too windy. The dining room is beautiful and the whole experience was romantic and rather nostalgic.
Another hotel complex you may want to try is Νησιἀ (Nissia), that started off in 1920 as a textile factory, was then used as an electricity power station and has recently been renovated to operate as a hotel. Many other more economical options exist on the island. One word of advice though. Although the island is car free, motorbikes are allowed and there are lots of them. They are loud and can be very annoying if you stay in a room facing the road (even the inside roads).
The island has some amazing beaches including Zogeria, Agious Anargyrous and Agia Paraskeui (my favourite). Boats leaving from the port every morning can take you to the beaches and bring you back in the afternoon after your swim (or you can use water taxis again).
Do take a walk to the old port where the shipyard still exists and take a horse-drawn carriage on the way back. Go to see the old 20th century schools of Anargyreios and Korgialleneios, beautiful buildings kept in excellent condition and used as conference centres today. Sit at the Dapia and have a coffee and a waffle. Before you leave the island buy some traditional almond sweets (amygdalota) from the sweet shop Vanilia.
My personal story, experiences and memories from Spetsathlon
As I am writing this I have the melancholy feeling that one gets after a wonderful holiday has finished and one is back to their routine and stresses of everyday life but with the heart and brain full of nice memories.
A couple of months ago, my husband (who is not really into sports but should be) had decided with quite a bit of enthusiasm that him and I should do a triathlon as a relay team, I would do the swimming and running and he would do the cycling. We therefore registered to take part in the relay event of the triathlon that would take place at the beginning of May on the gorgeous island of Spetses, about 3 hours away from Athens. I was really happy to see my husband go out on his 20-year old bike and enjoy his training. He seemed to love the process of looking after it, taking it for a service, buying new proper cycling shoes and gear. Where we live there are an awful lot of serious hills but he still went out regularly and had some fun. I of course continued with my running as usual but failed to train for the swim. I know I can do the distance as I do it every day during the summer months at our local lake or at the sea, slowly but steadily. Before the Spetsathlon I had swam once at the lake to make sure I still remembered how to swim after all the winter months, once at the sea and once for the swimming part of a swim/run race I did a couple of weeks before the Spetsathlon. As we were not taking this competitively and as we just wanted to have a go at it and enjoy it, we felt we had done enough! So last Friday morning, my husband, my son, my mum and myself loaded ourselves on the Catamaran, destination Spetses! I was very excited as we were staying at the iconic hotel of the island, which first opened its doors in 1914 and has recently been renovated to regain its former glory.
When we arrived the island was still quite but preparations for the races were well under way and one could sense the excitement and anticipation!
After taking some lovely walks along the sea front and having a wonderful dinner on Friday evening with excellent company, early Saturday morning I set out for a 10 mile very hilly run. I know I’m not supposed to do this the day before a race, but as I was treating the run leg of the relay more as a tempo run and as I hadn’t been able to put in a longish run in the last couple of weeks due to racing all over the place, I felt this was a good idea. I had run on the island before and new what to expect. Outside the port town it’s practically traffic free, very very hilly, very green and with amazing sea views. You get a totally different perception of Spetses like that, alone, in the middle of nowhere, you, your breathing, the sea and the birds, slightly thirsty and hoping your water bottles will last you till you get back in town. For me, this is the way I connect with a place. On my way back I stopped to buy some more water from a small grocery shop. The lady in the shop took a look at my exhausted and sweaty self and gave me the bottle for free.
After this I deserved a nice breakfast and that’s exactly what I did! During the day there were 2 races, swimming alone and cycling around the island. In the evening there was the pre-race briefing where all competitors gathered in the garden of the Bouboulina museum, Bouboulina being one of the heroes of the war of independence against the Turks that lived and acted on the island of Spetses. Back at the hotel we prepared our gear for the morning race, stuck bib number stickers on the helmet and bike, prepared goggles and swimming hats. Two things concerned us. My problem was the big number of jellyfish that I had seen all over the sea during the day. People had advised me to stay behind other swimmers as jellyfish don’t stay on the water surface when lots of people go past them. Oh dear, have I mentioned my immense dislike for jellyfish???? My husband’s problem was that the cycling route around the island was really up and down a mountain, multiple times, as the organisers said the route was very technical with lots of uphills and difficult turns. We had decided we would face the challenge and after another lovely dinner we went to bed. I get a bit nervous before races and may not sometimes sleep that well. That night however it wasn’t me, it was my husband being up at least since 6.30am (that’s when I saw him). Around 8.30 he took his bike to be checked and set it in the transition area.
The swimming kicked off at 10am and off I went!!! Although this time the water was significantly less cold than it was 2 weeks ago during the Kalamos aquathlon, I found myself stressed again in my breathing and not being able to settle into a smooth stroke.
The first buoy seemed like it was not getting any closer, as if I was stuck on the same spot. I managed to go around it and was swimming near two guys. As I was thinking that we were lucky and that the wind had taken away the jellyfish, we hit a group of them. That was truly too many for me, even the one guy stopped and told me ‘there are jellyfish here’….. We got past them, I don’t know how but after that they were all over the sea. After the second buoy I was swimming alone and I had to stop and wait for people behind me so we could all swim together, I didn’t fancy being on my own. In the end I managed to get out of the water and passed the chip to my husband to go on the bike. I then took a look at my time and was quite disappointed with my disastrous swim time… Anyway, I had time to run to my room, have a shower to warm up, change into my running gear and go out again. I was expecting my husband to be quite slow as he is not a cyclist but he made it around the island in one piece and at a very decent time. I took the chip again and tied it onto my ankle and set out for the run. I started well but soon got tired, got hot. This was turning out indeed to be a tempo run rather than a fast 5k! Just before the finish line by husband and son were waiting, my little boy started running after me. I tried to grab his hand but I missed, he ran the 20 meters to the end following me looking like he was having fun!
In the end the lady put the medal over his neck and we all kissed and rejoiced for having competed our task and that we had actually worked well as a team!
The results came out and this is when I was a bit disappointed (devastated more I would say). Our team was second to last and from the relay competitors I had come out last out of the water (there were still other people swimming when I came out but they were in the triathlon category, not the relay). So it was me and not my husband to blame for our team position, and my run was not amazing either. My uncle that also was on the island, when I told him about our position he said I should see the positive. That we did it together, that my husband wanted to take part in a thing that I usually do alone, that instead of having someone next to me that complains about me being away all the time training for my running or waking up at the crack of dawn to go to a race, I have someone that supports me and wants to join in. it’s true, out mission was accomplished, we managed to get around while actually having an amazing time and a wonderful weekend.
I now close my eyes and recall the lovely walk we had with my son on Friday afternoon, soon after arriving at Spetses. He was so excited to be on holiday, sensing that I was also relaxed and that we were free from our daily routines, that he was walking on the wall above the sea holding my hand so freely and happily, dancing and singing as we stopped to get our selfies. It’s those emotional moments that a sport event can indeed create.
On the day of our departure nothing reminded one that this place had been so full of life just the day before. As we left the hotel heading to the to the port, I took a glimpse of the statue of Bouboulina, lonely, looking into the distance, perhaps recalling all the beautiful moments that had taken place in the last couple of days.