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The Road to Sparta : Retracing the Ancient Battle and Epic Run That Inspired the World's Greatest Foot Race

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  995 ratings  ·  120 reviews
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 25th 2016 by Rodale Books (first published September 3rd 2013)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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Start your review of The Road to Sparta : Retracing the Ancient Battle and Epic Run That Inspired the World's Greatest Foot Race
Brent Soderstrum
Aug 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-read
I won this book through GoodReads First Read program.

I am not a runner and had never heard of ultra marathons but I really enjoyed this book by Dean Karnazes-who is kind of a rock star of marathoners. Dean will get you in the running mood.

He gives you his background and how he got to be a marathon runner. He also sets out all of the marathons he runs which includes multiple ultra marathon. I never knew people ran that far. He talks about his Greek heritage and his big calves that are as a result
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
As good as the author's intentions were here, the bottom line is he can't write. Karnazes starts out trying to retrace the route Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta, then he mentions an earlier scholarly expedition that attempted to do the same, and then he runs the Spartathlon. It's never clear why he insisted on determining the route independently when others more qualified than him already did so. Still more problematic is his uncritical approach to the whole Pheidippides legend. There are ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it liked it
As a reader of Herodotus and Thucydides I was looking forward to new insights on Greek history. This book brought a small dash of that and a whole lot of purple prose regarding running and the glories of the author's Greek heritage.

The book centers around the accomplishments of Pheidippides, the renowned Greek herald who was central of the victory of the city states against the Persian invasion on the plains of Marathon. The Athenians, along with some smaller city-states, were facing overwhelmin
I'll file this under not for everyone, but worth reading if you're (or have been) a distance runner (particularly someone who has ... at some point ... logged many miles) or genuinely interested in ancient Greek history.

Karnazes runs, and runs, and runs ... a lot ... and covers a lot a ground. He's also (obviously) quite smart, and ... when he's running (or not running), he's obviously thinking, and ... the output (among other things) is books.

Unlike the other book by Karnazes I read, I thought
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Enjoyed learning about Pheidippides and his role in the battle of Marathon. As an ultrarunner, I feel the description of Dean's Spartathlon was a long boring stretch and tedious to wrap up. I appreciate the effort he put in articulating his journey, but the true experience of running an ultra is somewhat spiritual. Hard to express in words for a layman. If you're fascinated by running or getting into it, read Born to Run - Leadville 100 is narrated as a thrilling adventure.

To be fair, this book
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great mix of history and running!

This book brings together two of my favorite things: History and Running...and somehow even hits on other things I love (economics, the California Missions, and even Mick Jagger). A quick and inspiring read this is a must for those who need some motivation to complete a marathon!
Rob Richard
Just finished this book. Highly recommend it, even if you're not into distance running. It's a really powerful "human story." Dean is a famous ultra runner who really helped bring recognition to the sport. He ties his own personal family story (he's Greek) and running story into the historic tale of Pheidippides, the Athenian who ran from Marathon to Athens to inform the Athenians of the victory against the Persians. That run was the inspiration for the marathon race, which has become a symbol o ...more
Jackie Petroulias
“And thus we are once again reminded that dying is part of living, that without death there would be no life, without darkness there would be no light... The ancient Greeks lived close to these dualisms, honest and in celebration of the insuperable realities of existence, both the glorious and the tragic. “Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued,” Socrates said shortly before drinking the poisonous hemlock. Only when the unbearable sorrow of our doomed fate is recognized and embraced ca ...more
Mar 29, 2017 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed listening to the audio version.
This is a fascinating book! Karnazes told his own story and Pheidippides' story well. His vivid descriptions of the ins and outs of running ultra marathons were very interesting. And his retelling of the battle of Marathon and of Pheidippides' unbelievably long runs as Athens' messenger were quite captivating.
It was unfortunate, however, that Karnazes believes he has found "salvation" through his journey as an ultra-marathoner following in the fo
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
A great book that rehashes Dean’s intro to running and some added back story (not mentioned in his first book). Then the book dives into Dean tracing his past via his family and Greek history. I imagined Dean and I were doing a long run together , a real LONG run, and he was explaining to me this fantastical story. 😀

I am biased as I relate to his running but I feel like others could relate regardless. It’s a personal journey to uncover the past and reconnect with a culture that feels elusive.
Andrea Parker Eason
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dean has a fantastically readable writing style and it makes for an enjoyable and fact filled book. Runner or not, his glance into the history of the marathon juxtaposed against his own experience was interested and fun to read. Runners will glean from his experience and knowledge, and find much inspiration in his words.
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Couldn't finish this book and gave up at 40%. Too much of painting a Greek scenery and hyping up the author's Greek heritage; not enough running. ...more
Heather Jones
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Another great read by Dean. So much more to Phidippedes' story than lore tells us. ...more
Michael Wayne Hampton
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A great personal narrative, and informative read that spans the history of marathon running, Ancient Greece, finding one's place in the world, and the man who may have arguably saved Western civilization. ...more
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Runners and wannabe's
Today's book review is for "The Road To Sparta" (2016©) written by Dean Karnazes. Karnazes may not be the "Dean" of ultramarathon runners, but he is certainly one of the sports most famous names and faces. Karnazes lives in the San Francisco Bay Area (where I also was raised and currently live), and, from his writing, appears to have totally adopted the ethos of being from Northern California. Clean air, physical fitness, sometimes single minded pursuit of one's goals, etc.

The book is another se
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
The Road to Sparta
By Dean Karnazes

By most assessments, Dean Karnazes is not an average guy. He runs marathons in the morning for his daily exercise, routinely competes in the world’s most grueling endurance competitions, and invents new challenges. He has run in Death Valley and Antarctica. He will observe a strictly regimented diet while training, but will eat an entire pizza on the run to fuel himself in a race. So his behaviors might make him seem an oddball.

However, like every human, Karnaze
May 08, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very badly written book. Parts of it is a rehash of the author's personal story we know from "Ultramarathoner man", which, although short and unpretentious, is a much better book, in my view. The other part is author's attempt to recreate the events of the first marathon, the famous run from the field of Marathon to Athens. Author is clearly out of his depth here, and makes a huge hash of history (and geography as well: for example, how about the fascinating fact that "California is on ...more
Janeen Leese
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dean Karnazes is one of those runners that only comes once in a blue moon. The type that are more at home 100 miles from the nearest civilization with a pizza in hand than they are cuddled up on the sofa on a Saturday night.

Karnazes is wild and fun and loves to put his body through the worst kinds of Hell. With this book, and the many books before this, I often find myself wanting to join him on his journey before I remember that I'm not totally crazy!

In this novel, Dean tells the story of his f
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
It's certainly a book about running, but it's so much more than that. Karnazes delves briefly into his own history and how he came to be such an incredible runner, but it focuses on his cultural heritage as a Greek, and why this inspires him to find out more, and eventually recreate the run of Pheidippides. Other parts of the book cover some fascinating history of the Persian invasion of Greece, the valiant stand of the Athenian and Spartan city states, and the historically overlooked importance ...more
Sam Dean
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Dean Karnazes outlines his experiences participating in the Spartathlon in his thrilling book “The Road to Sparta.” He retells his encounter with the Spartathlon, a 153 mile footrace from Athens to Sparta.
After recording a long list of running accomplishments (including running an ultramarathon across Death Valley in 120-degree temperatures, running to the South Pole in −40 degrees, and running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days) Karnazes details the hardships and triumphs in trai
Erik Rostad
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-books
Interesting look at Pheidippides' famous run from Marathon to Athens to let the Athenians know of the great Greek defeat of the Persians at Marathon. Little did I know that Pheidippides' run from Marathon to Athens was just a short portion of the 300+ miles he did in just a few days. He first ran from Athens to Sparta (+/- 150 miles) in 2 days to encourage the Spartans to help in the ensuing battle. He then ran back from Sparta to Athens and then from Athens to Marathon (24.85 miles). After seei ...more
Jim Thompson
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Glad I finally got around to reading this. I meant to pick it up early this spring to get me into a running from of mind to start training for some races. I kept putting it off, which is just as well, as a calf injury put me out of order for about 10 weeks. I'm still getting things going again with fits and starts, trying to make it a regular routine, and so this was a good time to finally get to this book. Reading about other people doing amazing runs always inspires me.

This Dean Karnazes' sto
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars

I don't read much non fiction but this one piqued my interest.

I'm not a runner these days although I did run a bit many years ago but never a marathon distance.

My love of ancient history however did lead me to the story of Pheidippides and his famous run. An integral part of the Athenian history at the battle if Marathon even if it's unlikely he actually fought. The inspiration behind the modern marathon his story always seemed interesting to me.

So when I saw this at work I decided to giv
Michel B.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads
4 stars or 3.... 3.5? Okay here goes: It's a book about that almost makes it an automatic. And it's by/about Dean Karnazes who was one of the inspirations for me to run more than the initial one or two marathons... so that should make it a 4 or 5 star. I like history a lot and this book deals with a fair amount of history. BUT

But, the book doesn't read that well. I think DK wanted it to come across as philosophic and erudite. To that end, I think he must have worn the crap out of h
Hunter Marston
Oct 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the third book by Dean Karnazes I read, and in my opinion, his best so far. It seems clear he has improved as a writer from past books. This one was a joy to listen to on many long runs. He recounts his Greece trip and run to Sparta in such vivid detail, recounting characters and scenes along the way, that he brings you in with him in a very real sense.

I particularly enjoyed a few of his observations on running: at one point in his 160-something-mile run, he mentions an out-of-body expe
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hoping for a great book but wasn't overly impressed here. I listened to the audio version on Hoopla and almost stopped somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of the way through. With half ratings I might have given this 2.5.

The book combines Greek history, Karnazes history, the history of a Greek runner at the battle of Marathon, Karnazes destiny, and the running of several races. There are sections where the word choice seems too wordy. If my feet had been soaking in water for too long I might say
David Wilusz
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
While Pheidippedes is most well-known for running from Marathon to Athens to announce Greece's victory over the invading Persians (and immediately dropping dead), and thereby giving birth to the modern legend of the marathon, he achieved something far more impressive a few days prior. He ran from Athens to Sparta to seek military assistance - covering about 155 miles in roughly 36 hours. That journey has given rise to the modern Spartathalon, the running of which became something of a spiritual ...more
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
While Pheidippedes is most well-known for running from Marathon to Athens to announce Greece's victory over the invading Persians (and immediately dropping dead), and thereby giving birth to the modern legend of the marathon, he achieved something far more impressive a few days prior. He ran from Athens to Sparta to seek military assistance - covering about 155 miles in roughly 36 hours. That journey has given rise to the modern Spartathalon, the running of which became something of a spiritual ...more
Sam Brief
Dec 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In a creative masterpiece, Karnazes tells a gripping personal story and an overlooked history simultaneously. Millennia later, we still feel reverberations of Phidippides' heroic ultra-runs across Greece amidst the raging Persian War. In many ways, his jaunts "saved the world," as Karnazes puts it.

But while the history is gripping, equally entrancing is Karnazes personal journey to recreate Phidippides' ancient path. He battles innumerable mental and physical hurdles during his run, and years la
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Dean Karnazes (b. Constantine Karnazes) is an American ultramarathon runner and author.

News & Interviews

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
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“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon. If you want to talk to God, run an ultra.” 1 likes
“Life is at its most extraordinary during the struggle, not during times of idle contentment” 0 likes
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