These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.



The Košice Peace Marathon

    
 
 photo: TASR

Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda sat down with me in a Bratislava café a few years ago to discuss a common interest: running. At the time, Dzurinda was a veteran of 36 marathons, while I was training for my first. So I listened intently as he described his running programme leading up to the following week’s Košice Peace Marathon, held every October.

“I ran 100 kilometres in July, 150 kilometres in August and 200 in September - that’s an average of seven kilometres a day,” he said.

Pfft, I thought smugly. I run more than that.

Dzurinda then leaned into the conversation and explained slyly that he was “just hoping to finish in less than four hours. Any time over four hours is not running. It’s walking.”

Well, I was certainly not walking (at least, not the whole time), but I finished at 4:13... a full 37 minutes behind Dzurinda, who was running his 14th Košice marathon. His personal best is 2:57. Touche.

More than 25,000 runners have completed the International Peace Marathon (Medzinárodný maratón mieru) since 1924. The event has never once skipped a year, and race organisers say it has the longest uninterrupted history of any marathon in Europe.

Among those who have competed is Róbert Štefko, the country’s best long-distance runner and the winner of the Košice Marathon in 1999. In 1961, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, twice Olympic gold medallist, won the race barefooted.

The route consists of two loops beginning and ending on Košice’s Main Street. Thousands of locals line the streets shouting encouragement (it was here where I learned the Slovak word ‘vydržať’, equivalent to ‘hang in there’). Kids stick their hands out, hoping to get a ‘high five’ from one of the runners. Without their support, I’m not sure I would have finished under the five-hour time limit.

That is the only marathon I have ever run, but one local assured me that the Košice race is the country’s tops. “There’s something special about Košice,” he said. “Everyone standing on the street and shouting for you is something else. It is certainly a far cry from the Bratislava-Hainburg Marathon, where the only people on the streets are angry, vodka-guzzling youth cursing at you as you run by.”

Incidentally, the Bratislava Marathon was called off last year for lack of interest and funding. But the Košice Peace Marathon marches on. To participate in the 2002 race, check out the web-site www.mmm.sk.

- Chris Togneri


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2002.


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