Running a marathon is a major event for most of us. That’s why more and more of us are heading abroad to race over 26.2 miles. Most of us who visit European cities to race, such as Stockholm or Berlin for the weekend, think of the marathon and nothing else. Rather than exploring the new surroundings, or experimenting with the local cuisine, we avoid city tours or exotic food, and stay in our rooms resting for the race. Try one of these non-marathon events, however, and you’ll have the time and energy to see the sights and still run a great race.
Stramilano, Milan, ItalyWhen Usually last weekend in March
Why If you’ve run the Flora London Marathon or the Great North Run, you probably think you’ve been in a big race. But try the Stramilano and think again. Over the race weekend there are actually four events. Elite athletes have the Saturday to themselves for a half-marathon. The real fun comes on Sunday with the non-elite half-marathon, a 6K junior fun run, and the 15K Stramilano dei. 50,000. As the name suggests, up to 50,000 runners congregate outside the Piazzo Duomo (the city’s massive white marble cathedral, which dates from 1386) for the 15K. You can set a PB at an odd distance, savour the atmosphere of one of the world’s biggest road races, experience Milan’s fantastic restaurants and maybe even catch a decent game of football.
Contact: Comitato Organizzatore, Via Lorenzo Valla 16, 20141 Milano; tel 0039 284 742380; fax 0039 284 742384; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web www.stramilano.it
City-Pier-City, The Hague, HollandWhen March
Why Picture Holland, and the tourist in you will conjure up images of Amsterdam, while the runner will think Rotterdam. You probably won’t give The Hague a second’s thought, but if so you’re missing out on an interesting city and a great race. The City-Pier-City Half-Marathon, in Holland’s administrative capital, is regularly enjoyed by 15,000 runners. It gets its name because the route heads out from the city to the North Sea, spends a few kilometres on the promenade and then heads back into town. As you’d expect from a Dutch race, it’s flat and – if it’s not windy – fast. Excellent road and rail connections mean Amsterdam is within easy reach if The Hague’s museums, 15th- to 18th-century architecture, royal palace and parks don’t appeal as much as those funny coffee shops.
Contact: SMC B.V., Postbus 21955, 3001 AZ Rotterdam; tel 0031 174 517273; e-mail email@example.com; web www.fortiscpcloop.nl
Lisbon Half-Marathon, PortugalWhen March
Why The Lisbon Half-Marathon offers a fantastic PB opportunity as it’s predominantly downhill. The race starts high on the toll plaza of the Ponte 25 de April (April 25th Bridge), with a spectacular view of Lisbon, and then heads along the River Tagus. As you head through the streets of Lisbon, it can be difficult to concentrate on your running, as there’s so much to see – the National Museum of Ancient Art, the Triumphal Arch, and the Lisbon Fair to name but a few. You’re rewarded for your efforts with a finish at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a quite stunning 15th-century monastery. Stay on in Lisbon afterwards and you can explore its pretty, old neighbourhoods. Alternatively, the beaches at Estoril are just 30 minutes away.
Contact: tel 0035 121441 3182; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web www.lisbon-half-marathon.com
Berlin 25K, GermanyWhen May
Why Races over 25K are very popular on the continent, while in Britain only Mitcham offers the opportunity to compete over this distance. If Surrey in January doesn’t appeal, then wait a couple of months and head over to Germany for arguably Europe’s best 25K. A flat course, run through the city’s wide streets and its parks, lends itself to fast times, and vocal crowds and a finish in the Olympic Stadium only add to the occasion. Another bonus is that with just under 5000 runners the race doesn’t feel as crowded as others. On top of all this, of course, is Berlin itself. The remains of the Wall are a must-see, and the city is famous (or perhaps infamous) for its nightlife.
Contact: Run Berlin, Glockenturmstraße 1, 14053 Berlin; web www.berlin-laeuft.de/25km/info_e.php
Gothenburg Half-Marathon, SwedenWhen May
Why The Swedes are pretty good at putting on races. The Stockholm Marathon has been called the best in the world. And if numbers are any indication of a race’s quality, the Gothenburg Half looks pretty good. Every year around 30,000 take part, meaning it rivals the Great North Run for the title of the world’s biggest half. The Great North might be the more convenient of the two races, but Gothenburg is definitely the prettier. The rolling course starts in a beautiful park and circles the city, allowing you take in views of Gothenburg and its harbour. As an added bonus every runner gets a free ticket to Liseberg, an amusement park that the race organisers tell us is “one of Northern Europe’s most exciting”.
Contact: Göteborg Half Marathon, P.O.Box 12 174, S-402 42, Göteborg; tel 0046 31 772 78 80; fax 0046 31 772 78 90; e-mail email@example.com; web www.goteborgsvarvet.com
Brussels 20KWhen May
Why Like Paris, Brussels is incredibly easy to get to. Just hop on the Eurostar at London Waterloo and you’re just a couple of hours away. And like the Paris-Versaille, the Brussels 20K gives you the chance to run an odd distance in a great city. The biggest ‘fun run’ in the Belgian calendar, it attracts between 15,000 and 20,000 runners. The race starts and finishes in the centre of Brussels, at the impressive Cinquantenaire. The course takes you through the prettier streets and parks of Brussels, and you’re helped along by the relaxed atmosphere. If the scenery and the ambience don’t tempt you to take the run easy and enjoy it, then the hills might. Don’t expect a fast time; it’s what organisers call an undulating course and the numbers mean that it will also take you a couple of minutes to get over the start line. The city itself has plenty to offer – museums and open spaces, but especially Belgian beers and the local delicacy, mussels and chips.
Contact:20km of Brussels, Rue de la Chapelle 17, 1000 Brussels, Belgium; tel 0032 251 190 00; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web www.20kmdebruxelles.be
Ballycotton 10, Ballycotton, EireWhen June
Why Ballycotton is a stunning, unspoiled fishing village 25 miles to the south-east of Cork, and the countryside and coastline are just one reason to run its 10-mile race. There are plenty of others. RW voted it the best 10-mile race of 2000, and it came ninth overall in our top 50 races of last year. Then there’s the legendary ‘craic’. A Guinness-fuelled party atmosphere permeates the whole race weekend. But if you don’t overdo it, fast times are possible. This year’s Ballycotton 10 should have taken place on March 11, but like so many other events in the UK and Eire it was postponed because of the foot and mouth outbreak.
Contact: Ballycotton Running Promotions, Ballycotton, Eire; fax 00353 21 4646064; e-mail email@example.com; web www.ballycottonrunning.com
Route Du Vin Half-Marathon, LuxembourgWhen September
Why Don’t head to Luxembourg expecting a mini-version of the ‘pub crawl’ that is the Médoc Marathon. Drinks stations don’t offer runners glasses of the region’s finest products; you have to make do with water and a sponge. Instead you get a fast, flat and beautiful run along the banks of the River Moselle between the small towns of Remich and Grevenmacher. It’s called the Route Du Vin because for the past 39 years it has been run during the Luxembourg wine-region’s grape harvest, and the vineyards provide the scenic backdrop to the run. Although there’s no booze en route, you will get a bottle of Moselle wine when you finish.
Contact: Route Du Vin, Route d'Arlon 3 L-8009 Strassen; tel 0035 2480 670; fax 0035 2480 572; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web http://routeduvin.rtl.lu
Paris-Versailles, FranceWhen September
Why Paris-Versailles is the classic French road race. Starting in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, the scenic route takes you along the banks of the Seine, through the Bois De Boulogne forest, and finishes next to the beautiful Palace of Versailles. More than 30,000 runners of all standards make for a great atmosphere, and if it’s your first time you’re guaranteed a PB – how many other 16.3K races have you heard of? If you’re really pushed for time you could use Eurostar and make the trip to and from the French capital on race day. But you should really use the race as an excuse to spend a weekend in one of Europe’s greatest cities.
Contact: Paris Versailles Association, BP 452, 78004 Versailles Cedex, France; web www.parisversailles.com
Marseilles-Cassis, FranceWhen October
Why If you want a Tour de France experience in a running event, then this is the race for you. Fantastic organisation, messages chalked onto the road, vocal and highly enthusiastic supporters, samba dancers and television coverage all help you to feel as though you’re in the bike race’s peleton. Perhaps the only problem is that it’s more like one of the Tour’s mountain stages than the prologue. There’s just one hill, but it goes on for five miles, so don’t expect a fast time for the 20.3K run. As the race starts and finishes by the sea, the long uphill is followed by a downhill, and that’s tough on the legs too! You need to apply early though, as the tough course doesn’t stop the 13,000 limit being reached months before the race.
Contact: Marseilles-Cassis, SCO St-Marguerite, 26 Boulevard de St-Marguerite, 13009 Marseilles, France; web www.marseille-cassis.com