A University of Galway alumni is attempting to conquer one of the most prestigious ultra-marathons in the world, Spartathlon.
Gary Elbert, who recently finished his postgraduate degree here, is one of only 400 runners that will attempt the 245-kilometre race this September.
It takes place between Athens and the modern city of Sparti that stands on the site of the ancient city of Sparta in Greece.
The race retraces the steps of Pheidippides who had been sent to ask the famous Spartan warriors to come to the aid of Athens when they came under fire from the Persian army. The race was then founded in 1982 when five British servicemen attempted the course.
Elbert will be joined by endurance runners from across the globe along with five other Irish men. In August he placed second in the Connemara 100 one of the biggest ultra-marathons in the country, before taking on several more races in preparation for Spartathlon.
The mountain 90 kilometres into the course won’t be the first 41-year-old has had to overcome. Elbert who grew up in a disadvantaged area with little to no culture of attending third-level education dropped out of college after a brief time when he was 18 years old, a decision which led him into a poor lifestyle. At the age of 32 through the University of Galway Access Centre, he began his journey of self-reinvention “that was the start of rediscovering who I was”, which in turn influenced life outside the program “college life coincided with improving myself physically as well”.
In 2015 he decided to return to education as a mature student, completing an Access Programme and going on to achieve a first-class honors undergraduate degree and a post-graduate degree. His return to fitness came firstly through martial arts such as kickboxing and in the last couple of years ultra-running.
Elbert hopes one day to be the best ultra-marathon runner in Ireland and to continue to excel academically by undertaking a Ph.D. He praises the Access Centre for giving him the skills he needed to succeed academically but most importantly “that atmosphere of support that’s always there from the word go” that gave him the self-belief to know that “you are capable of a lot more”.