01 July 2016, 7am
Sun 24 April 2016
Not so long ago Kazakhstan was a place with a most secretive identity. As part of the former Soviet Union the desert steppes of Southern Kazakhstan was the place from which Yuri Gagarin took off in Vostok 1 to become the first human in space back in 1961. Launched from the Baikonur space station – purposefully named after a village more than 300km away to divert attention from its true position – it took a U2 spyplane for the location of the launchpad to be detected.
While the ‘Cosmodrome’ remains a very active facility spaceships are not the only thing in Kazahstan that are taking off. Since independence — the last of the former Soviet Republics to attain that status at the end of 1991 — oil revenues have buoyed up the economy. The national debt was repaid well ahead of schedule. The main cities of the country are booming. Almaty, with a population of 1.7million people, is the largest city of Kazakhstan. Although it lost its status as capital to the new, more centrally-located city of Astana it has recently acquired one of the essential trappings of any city with international status: a mass-participation marathon.
The Almaty Marathon was first held in April 2012 and attracted 2500 runners. It was the first time a marathon with any significant numbers had been held in Kazakhstan.
The race is now run on a point-to-point course which allows the city’s scenic sites to be viewed to better advantage. The freestyle tour of the city begins in the First Presidential Park and goes through several neighbourhoods, passing along one of the biggest of Almaty’s thoroughfares — the Avenue Al-Farabi. Runners pass the distinctive business centre Nurly Tau and through Abay Square before finishing in Almaty’s Central Stadium.
Every year the Almaty Marathon chooses a charitable cause and sets a money-raising target to be achieved. This year the target was to buy four medical apparatuses for supporting-motor system recovery for the ARDI rehabilitation centre. The uniqueness of this device is in simulation of indices of physical effect imitating a walking process: pressure level, time characteristic (pulse time, time interval between effect on foot zone and metatarsal zone, time interval between effect on right and left feet) directly activating brain-cortex area responsible for walking ability.
Thirteen thousand runners were in the First Presidential Park to make this charity goal come true. The most popular distance was 10km (around 9000 runners). The Half Marathon had around 3000 runners and there were 1200 brave souls who tackled the full marathon. About 600 children took part in a 3km run and 250 in a new Nordic walking race. The oldest runner was 79-year old Larissa Veselova who ran the 10km.
“It was our honour to salute both old and young runners during the 5th Almaty Marathon”, said race director Saltanat Kazybayeva. “This year we had more than 12000 runners from Kazakhstan and around 400 foreign runners from 40 countries all around the world. Next year we expect Almaty Marathon to be still more impressive and appealing to the entire field of runners and to those thousands of spectators cheering them on for the entire 42.195km”.
The Almaty Marathon must be one of the fastest growing footraces anywhere, having attracted around 20,000 participants in 2015. Part of this popularity has been derived from the Almaty Marathon joining AIMS in 2013. Year after year more and more foreign runners from all around the world come to take part in the Almaty Marathon and enhance its international image. Last year’s race was not just the largest marathon in Kazakhstan, it was the largest marathon ever held in Central Asia.
Taking place every April, it provides the perfect launchpad for a year of running. It’s a typically urban race, perfect for beginners, with the majority of the course downhill — apart from the beautiful mountain views of the first few kilometres.