September is marathon season in Lithuania's capital, and thousands of runners hit the pavements of Vilnius on 14th September to take part in the city's various race events. We take an insider's look at the event, this year's results and what is arguably one of the most scenic running destinations in the world.
The Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon isn't just for those prepared to make the Herculean effort it takes to run 42.195km in less than five and a half hours. With numerous events including the full marathon, a half marathon, a 10km stretch, a 4.2km family fun run and even a post team relay race all taking place on one day, the city was full of runners in various states of exhaustion, determination, despair and pride. Ten thousand participants took to the streets of Vilnius last year, and this year's race was no different.
Start at the heart
Lithuania's own Remigijus Kancys won the Vilnius 42.195km marathon this year, which starts and finishes outside the dramatic Cathedral of St. Stanislaus and St. Vladislav. Spectators are always spoiled for choice when it comes to local sightseeing around the picturesque circuit, thanks to the cathedral crypt and the nation's oldest fresco, which dates from the 14th century. The runners quickly crossed the Revier Neris as the course meandered west beside the river bank, right past our Radisson Blu Hotel Lietuva, Vilnius.
Picnic in the park
Just after the 5km mark, the course entered Vilnius's largest green space, Vingis Park. While the runners enjoyed respite from the summer heat under shady trees, spectators were able to keep up with the pack by hiring rollerblades or bikes from local vendors. Although the marathon traditionally passes this section of the course twice before it ends, it's always worth heading down to the park after the event is over to watch hot-air balloons taking off in against the shimmering sunset.
After emerging from the park, the route travelled along the south bank of the river before turning back on itself and veering left down Gediminas Avenue, Vilnius' main retail and dining street. It's possible that the attention of spectators started to wander here, as high-end department stores like Gedimino 22 beckon temptingly. Those sticking with the runners into the 17.5km mark will have found themselves in Kudru Park, or the Park of Ponds, and then onto the winding roads of Užupis, a self-proclaimed republic with no internet cafes, malls or governmental institutions.
Daydream into the Old Town
The bridge across the River Vilnia marked the 20km point for runners, as they sped closer to the start of the second lap back at Cathedral Square. The current course records stand at 2:21:15 for men – with 2014 winner Kancys turning in a respectable 2:23:41.0, along with a record of 2:45:31 for women, so those unwilling to follow the athletes into the second pass may have found themselves waiting a long time for the final results. The men's awards were presented at 12pm, with the women's following 40 minutes later, and only runners that completed the course in less than three hours were around to see the commemorations, but there was a medal for everyone who took part.
Win or lose, the 2014 Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon was a fun, inspiring event that fitness fans far and wide should add to their running bucket list.