05 October 2015, 7am
Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon
Sun 13 September 2015
Lithuania welcomes runners to its capital city of Vilnius in the first month of autumn every year. The weather is perfect for distance running at this time. This year was typical: the temperature was 10C and there was no rain. Runners coming from warmer countries found it a bit cool but objectively, with due preparation, it is possible for them to maximise performance in these conditions.
The Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon is already reaching world standards with its scenic route along the most beautiful streets of the Old Town, and the growing number of participants it attracts.
At the inaugural event in 2004 the Vilnius Marathon drew just a few hundred runners but over the following years numbers grew to reach several thousand. The 12th edition boasted a record 16,000 runners from 49 countries. It is by far the largest running event in the country and places the organisers at the forefront of the running movement and the promotion of running culture.
The route of the Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon takes in all the most appealing sights of Vilnius. The city is built on seven hills, making the landscape attractive and the route inspiring — despite all the uphills and downhills testing the preparation and commitment of runners. The race starts at the foot of Castle Hill in the very heart of the City, close to Cathedral Square.
The unique quality of the historic centre of Vilnius has been recognised by its inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Old Town, covering 360 hectares (900 acres), is the largest in Eastern Europe. Between the 14th century and the end of the 18th century the City influenced the architectural development of the entire region. It is a good surviving example of the street network and urban structure characteristic of medieval times. The rich diversity preserved in the cityscape includes many Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical style buildings that have survived in a good state of repair. The streets and buildings reflect the patterns of life of the many ethnic groups that have populated the city: Lithuanians, Jews, Poles, Russians, Germans, Byelorussians, Karaites and Tartars.
From the Castle runners head towards the river which flows through the City Centre then to Vingis Park a green space of 162 hectares (400 acres) particularly dear to the residents of Vilnius. According to researchers of ethnic culture one of the most prestigious areas through which the route passes — Žverynas — has a special spirit emanating from the River Neris, which should assist runners through this section of the course.
From Žverynas the marathon route traverses the political heart of the nation passing all the centres of state power: the buildings of the Seimas and the Government. The Marathon is supported by Vilnius City Municipality and traditionally the mayor is called upon to start both the marathon and the half marathon.
Runners then pass through the narrow streets of the Old Town to reach the Town Hall. Since ancient times it has been the main place to hold festivals. In 1812 the Town Hall saw the defeated army of Napoleon Bonaparte retreating past. Then in Užupis runners pass St. Ann’s Church: a centrepiece of Vilnius and a Gothic masterpiece. Legend has it that Bonaparte wanted to take this church in the palm of his own hand to Montmartre in Paris.
The present two-lap route was run only for the second time this year and was much to the liking of the winner, Teklu Getu Metaferia from Ethiopia: “I liked it very much here. The route was interesting but had its challenges.”
At the finish runners are greeted by the crowd. Vilnius has over 500,000 residents and the number of those who have caught the “running virus” keeps growing. Fans come with banners and runners along the route are motivated by several hundred volunteers. From an early age parents teach their children to take an interest in sport — and the Marathon offers a special 200m race for them with all the benefits of the main race: shirts, medals and other gifts.
Organisers take care to ensure that there is enough music in the city on the day of the event. This year 17 bands and DJs played along the race route. The event was opened by a joint Lithuanian-Latvian-French company thunderously beating the drums. The organisers traditionally invite drummers from abroad to perform at the Marathon.
In order to commemorate runners’ efforts and record their emotions video cameras are placed at each of the 5km split timing points along the route and at the start and finish lines. Runners can retrieve this video material and all the photos taken during the event which are posted in an easily- searched databank.
Part of the runners’ fees are donated to charity, and the event also provides a possibility for making donations on the day.