The Naisten Kymppi has around 100 international participants each year.

Running is quickly gaining momentum. Some say it has even replaced golf as the businessman’s ultimate status sport. Whilst this is still debatable there is no denying that participating in marathons, half marathons and other runs is a growing trend. Running in your home country may take considerable effort, but travelling abroad to run takes the hobby to a whole new level. SixDegrees took a closer look at the phenomenon.

On 27 May over 18,000 women switch their normal Sunday routine to run 10 kilometres for charity run Naisten Kymppi (The Women’s Ten) in Helsinki. It is not quite a marathon but it is the biggest running event in Finland and was organised this year for the 29th time. Earlier in May half marathon Helsinki City Run attracted 16,000 people and the upcoming full length Helsinki City Marathon, which will be ran in August this year, is again expecting thousands of runners. Also coming up in autumn for the fifth time now is Espoo Rantamaraton, which is run on the capital region’s beachside.

Out of Helsinki City Run’s 16,000 participants this year, 511 were foreigners who had travelled here specifically for the run. Last year’s figure was 360 and there were over 40 different nationalities represented. Last year the full length Helsinki City Marathon attracted 790 people from abroad with over 45 nationalities represented. Helsinki City Marathon actively promotes itself by advertising at different marathons around the world.

Naisten Kymppi typically has around 100 participants from abroad each year, mostly from Eastern Europe countries, Estonia and Russia. “The trend is growing and we get a lot of groups from abroad as well,” states a representative from Naisten Kymppi. “They only travel here for the one day to run.” So, what is with marathon holidays? We asked two passionate runners about their experiences.

Local marathons internationally
• Out of Helsinki City Run’s 16,000 participants this year,
511 were foreigners who had travelled here specifically for
the run.
• Last year the full length Helsinki City Marathon attracted 790
people from abroad with over 45 nationalities represented.
• The Naisten Kymppi typically has around 100 participants
from abroad each year, mostly from Eastern Europe
countries, Estonia and Russia.

On the run

“Travelling for marathons is a great way to experience a new city,” explains Aulikki Nieminen, 46, who has been running actively for the past 12 years, and travels abroad for marathons two to three times a year. “On the next day after running a marathon, you are meant to walk. It’s fun to explore a new place while recharging your body.”

Nieminen has run in a number of different locations: Rome, Stockholm, Budapest, New York and Berlin to name a few. She is currently planning a marathon trip to Riga and then New York in the fall. And of course she has also run in Finland. “There is no carnival or festival happening around the marathons in Finland compared to other countries,” she observes. “The audience here is rather lukewarm – it’s like being in a funeral procession:”

Her best experience is from the New York City Marathon, due to the audience reaction and general good atmosphere. The New York City Marathon is a major event with many world-class professional athletes and around two million spectators. “There were around 47,000 runners and the people were cheering us on the whole way,” she recalls. “When you reach the finish line, you feel like a winner.” Nieminen is looking forward to returning to New York in November even though the marathon is on cement, which means that afterwards her feet ache considerably. Running in Rome is even worse for feet because of all the cobblestones. “With people cheering, screaming and applauding you don’t even feel the pain.”

For Jorma Puumalainen, 58, running marathons abroad is fun because travelling widens your perspective. He used to run from 1988 to 2007 and travelled abroad for marathons around ten times. He has run in such cities as Stockholm, Amsterdam, Prague and Italy.

“When you reach the finish line you feel like you have overcome yourself and have taken exercising to a new level,” he explains. The audience seems to play a part for Puumalainen as well as he remembers his most memorable run to be the Italian International Marathon: “We were running through this small village and there were soldiers on the side of the road cheering us on and clapping!”

The Italian International Marathon starts in Maranello and arrives at the traditional finish post in Carpi. It is one of the most important marathons in Italy, and the marathon has been praised for its high quality of services. That is something Puumalainen can agree with. “The service and food were excellent. They offered us honey bread on the route!”

For him it was great running from one city to another. “Most of it was downhill as well, which probably made it a bit more enjoyable”, he laughs. Puumalainen has done most of his running in Finland but thinks travelling for marathons is great too. “Travelling gives you a broader perspective on things.”

Sticking with the pack

Both Puumalainen and Nieminen favour travelling to marathons in groups. With Nieminen it is a group of friends who travel together. Some run and some don’t. “It’s a hobby we have together,” she explains. “The people make the trip and it’s also nicer to run in a group.” Puumalainen, on the other hand, travelled for marathons with a marathon club of around ten people depending on the run. There are a number of amateur and semi professional marathon clubs in Finland.

Travel agencies have picked up on the trend as well. For instance Finnish Aurinkomatkat organises special package trips to popular marathon destinations such as New York, Berlin, Paris and Rome. Also, the running magazine Juoksija (“the Runner”) organises trips together with Kaleva Travel. They offer help with training, preparing, running and recharging. The reception for marathon tourists differs. Not everyone is thrilled to have their city’s road filled with runners. “For instance, people in Rome don’t look forward to the marathon at all, whereas Paris is excited about the event,” Nieminen explains.

Like with any other travel experience, by choosing a travel agency you get off easy and don’t have to organise anything yourself but can instead focus on the run and the experience of being in a new place. However, by organising the trip yourself you can save money. “We book our own flights and hotels, and by acting early we can get them for an affordable price,” Nieminen states. They have already booked their flights and stay in Berlin for next spring. Four days for only 290 euros certainly doesn’t sound too bad compared to travel agency prices.

For sports massage therapist Nieminen, running and sports in general are a natural part of her lifestyle. “I got my sport genes already in my mother’s milk. Without exercising my quality of life would be a lot lower. Running is excellent for teaching resistance to pressure.” She also does yoga, which gives a nice relaxing contrast to her more active running hobby. For a new beginner to marathons she has the advice to start little by little and slowly build your stamina towards a marathon. “Many people, especially newcomers, make the mistake of starting running straight from their door step and continue with the taste of blood in their mouth,” she states. “It is much better to patiently build your stamina. First you can start by just walking and then with time increasing your pace to running.”

Marathon running as the Olympic sport it is today has been around for little more than 100 years but there have been forms of long distance races since the time of the ancient Egyptians. It is no surprise as running comes naturally to people. After all humans are originally hunters – and for a hunter one of our greatest assets is stamina. Humans have once run distances far greater than a marathon. So it is not at all an overwhelming task to participate, but as Nieminen suggests it is best to start slow. Most of our days are today filled with computers and desks rather than running in the wild so it might take a bit of practicing to get to your original hunter condition.

Tiiamaria Pennanen