Earlier this month, a Filipino was making history on the other side of the planet, following in the footsteps of Greek mythology – literally. On that day, Ireland-based Bacoleño Rolando “Junjun” Espina Jr, completed the Spartathlon, a grueling 246 kilometer ultramarathon covering the distance between Sparta and Athens. Introduced in 1983, the Spartathlon is held in honor of Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger who, according to legend, ran from Athens to Sparta to ask for aid in fighting the invading Persians.
Covering a variety of uneven terrain, slopes, and inclines, the Spartathlon is considered the toughest of its kind in the world. To complete the race, runners have to hit 75 checkpoints laid out along the route, and cross the finish line within a 36-hour time limit. Among the 390 runners who took part this year, Espina wasn’t just the only Pinoy – he’s the first Filipino join the event, period.
Knowing full well that only one in three runners actually complete the Spartathlon, the enormity of the challenge wasn’t lost on Espina, who told media before the race that it was his dream to fly the Philippine flag at Sparta.
Amazingly, the 42-year old Espina isn’t a longtime runner, having only taken up the sport six years ago when he was diagnosed with obesity. Six months later, he felt confident enough to join his first marathon and now, six years later, has completed over a hundred races, including an ultramarathon the month before the Spartathlon.
Before embarking on the race, Espina told media, “I also feel pressured. But at the same time, I’m also positive. That’s the only way to succeed in this kind of sport…You need to think that you can finish it.”
And so it came to pass that Junjun Espina’s dream came true, and the three stars and a sun were flown proudly at Sparta. In a land where so many myths and legends were born, it was only fitting that Espina accomplished something greater than a mere race – he had become someone every Filipino athlete could look up to.
Image source: ABS-CBN Sports