RW Race Report: Nordea Riga Marathon and Half-Marathon

James Barnard discovers that "Riga is like... whoa!" on a trip to the Latvian capital's biggest race.



by James Barnard

When: May 22, 2011

Where: Riga, Latvia

First man Julius Kuto 2:15:48 

First woman Desta Girma 2:37:14 

Last finisher 6:20:37

No. of finishers 14,240 (across the marathon, half-marathon, 10K and 5K events)

On touchdown in Latvia I was slightly concerned that the antics of my fellow countrymen had left a bitter taste in the mouths of the local residents. After all, I had just flown in a plane with no less than three half-cut grooms-to-be, all excited to explore what Riga has to offer. And why shouldn't they be excited? A third of Latvia's population lives in the capital, and at the centre of this buzz is a city that boasts a merchant past stretching back eight centuries, spectacular architecture, cheap prices and an eccentric night-life.

But for one day in May, the city turns its head and focuses its attention on something other than pre-marital boozing. In the words of my (West Ham supporter) cab driver, "Right now, Riga is like... whoa!". This year the Nordea Riga marathon events attracted a record number of participants, including the most foreign runners recorded in the 21-year history of the race.

The two-lap course (one lap if you're running the more popular half-marathon) offers high PB potential. It's flat and the breeze from the Baltic Sea offered a cool respite to the surprisingly hot weather. The course crosses the river Daugava in two places. Firstly, across the magnificent cabled-stayed Vanšu Bridge. At its busiest this resembled the iconic aerial shots of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge during the New York Marathon; admittedly on a smaller scale, but no less impressive. Crossing the river a second time, over the Dienvidu bridge, was less memorable but offered a view of the unimaginatively named Riga Radio and TV Tower, an impressive feat of architecture and the tallest structure in the EU.

The course is mostly wide, reducing the congestion impressively and increasing those PB chances. But the dual carriageways that facilitate this aren't much to look at and the first half of the race includes a frankly demoralising 6K straight along the riverbank. Running the half-marathon, as I did, I'd have liked to see more of Riga, particularly as the marathon runners take a slightly different route on their second lap, twisting and turning through the city streets. (Although they do cross the same bridge again and have to cover some very cobbled roads).

My last race of note was the London Marathon. So in comparison, the support around the course was always going to fall short, and with 14,000 Latvians running on the day I was surprised there was anyone left over to spectate. However, there was certainly no stinting in the organisation of the race, with an appropriate number of drink stations, marshals, starting pens and even pace groups on offer. There are also 5K and 10K distances to choose from, along with a marathon expo held in the hotel you'd probably choose to stay at. There is even a WIFI point at the finish, so you can update your facebook status with your new PB - which is exactly what I did. I would have liked to have seen a few more volunteers at the baggage drop - I faced almost an hour's wait to retrieve my belongings. But the wait passed quickly while I enjoyed the explicit versions of a couple of US hits that had slipped through the net on the DJ's playlist. It's a good job the local children didn't understand English!

The Nordea Riga Marathon is a fantastic way to race against some of the continental competition, with the field represented by 45 countries, all the while taking in some breathtaking scenery. Who knows, it could even be a fitting end to your stag or hen do, and the perfect start to your detox.

Fancy it? Visit www.nordearigasmaratons.lv/en/ for more details.


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