The Spartathlon is one of the toughest ultra races to gain entry into. Limited to only 390 athletes, the 153-mile course takes runners from Sparta to Athens in Greece. Ultrarunner Alex Anyse is one of 21 Americans selected for this year’s race, which begins on Friday, Sept. 29. However, Anyse’s goal is not just to finish. He wants to raise as much as he can for the non-profit organization Smile Train in the process.
Smile Train is the world’s largest cleft charity, providing free, safe, high-quality surgery and comprehensive cleft care for children. Anyse is part of Team Empower, the organization’s charity endurance program. His goal for the Spartathlon is to raise $38,250—a smile for every mile run.
“I always say that Smile Train brought me to running and running brought me to Smile Train. When you find a cause that means a lot to you, and you know that every mile counts and can help change a child’s life, it can make the physical challenge more manageable,” Anyse said in a statement.
To gain entry into the Spartathlon, Anyse ran a 100-mile race in under 20 hours. From there, he was selected among other qualified athletes from around the world. Anyse also hasn’t just been running to train for his ultra. In June, he summited Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world. All of this has prepared him to take on 153 miles in a race that only one third of those who enter finish.
“During most of the long runs, I make an effort to smile and remind myself that I made a decision to take this on. When it’s difficult, I think about the children,” Anyse said.