The sauna marathon is an annual event that takes place in Otepää, Estonia. It is a unique winter sports event where participants run a distance of 3.2 kilometres while making stops at several saunas along the way. The idea behind the event is to combine the health benefits of running with the traditional Estonian sauna culture.

During the race, participants run from one sauna to another, where they can take a break and enjoy the warmth of the sauna. They then continue running to the next sauna, where they repeat the process. In total, there are usually four or five saunas on the course.

The event is held in February, when the temperatures in Estonia can drop below freezing, making the warm saunas along the course a welcome relief for runners. The sauna marathon is a popular event in Estonia, and it attracts participants from around the world who are interested in trying this unique and challenging winter sport.

What’s involved in the Estonian sauna marathon?

During the sauna marathon, participants typically make stops at four or five saunas along the 3.2-kilometer course. At each sauna, the runners have the opportunity to take a break and enjoy the warmth and relaxation of the sauna before continuing on to the next one. The number of saunas and the order in which they are visited may vary slightly from year to year, but the core concept of the event remains the same.

Sauna marathon first began in 2007

The first sauna marathon in Otepää, Estonia was held in 2007, and the event has been held annually ever since. The idea for the event was developed by a group of Estonian friends who wanted to combine two of their favourite pastimes: running and spending time in the sauna. The sauna marathon quickly became popular in Estonia and has since attracted participants from all over the world who are interested in trying this unique winter sport. Over the years, the event has grown in popularity, and it has become a beloved tradition in the Otepää community.

Not your usual competitive marathon

The sauna marathon in Otepää, Estonia is not a competitive event, so there are no official winners or prizes for finishing first. Instead, the event is more about having fun, staying healthy, and enjoying the Estonian sauna culture.

That being said, there are still some wellness traditions associated with the sauna marathon that could be considered a reward for participants. For example, at each sauna stop along the course, runners are offered traditional Estonian foods and drinks, such as black bread, sauerkraut, and warm juice or beer. The warm saunas themselves can also be considered a reward for participants, as they provide a chance to relax and recharge before continuing on with the race.

Additionally, all participants who successfully complete the sauna marathon are awarded a certificate of completion, which serves as a commemoration of their accomplishment. Many participants also choose to purchase sauna marathon merchandise, such as t-shirts or hats, to further commemorate their experience.

Participants in the annual Sauna Marathon in Otepää, Estonia

Participants in the annual Sauna Marathon in Otepää, Estonia

Training for the sauna marathon

It is recommended to train for the sauna marathon if you plan to participate. While the event is designed to be a fun and enjoyable experience, running 3.2 kilometres and stopping at several saunas along the way can be physically challenging, especially in the cold winter weather.

Training for the sauna marathon should include both running and sauna sessions. It is important to gradually build up your endurance through regular running and cardio workouts in the weeks leading up to the event. You should also practice running in cold weather conditions to get used to the lower temperatures.

In addition to running, it is also important to spend time in saunas to acclimate your body to the heat and humidity. You can gradually increase the amount of time you spend in the sauna over time to build up your tolerance.

It is also important to stay hydrated during the sauna marathon, so drinking plenty of water and electrolyte-rich drinks in the days leading up to the event is recommended. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can also help to support your body during the event.

Overall, while the sauna marathon is a unique and enjoyable event, it is still important to prepare and train for it to ensure that you can complete the course safely and comfortably.

Other sauna related events

The sauna marathon in Otepää, Estonia is a unique event that combines running and sauna culture, and as far as I know, there are no other countries that have an identical event. However, there are other sauna-related events and competitions that take place in different parts of the world. For example:

  1. Sauna Open Air: This is a music festival that takes place in Jyväskylä, Finland, and features live performances by Finnish and international artists. The festival also has a traditional Finnish sauna, which attendees can use to relax and refresh.
  2. Sauna World Championships: This is another sauna competition that takes place in Heinola, Finland, and involves participants sitting in a sauna with a temperature of 110 degrees Celsius and trying to withstand the heat for as long as possible.  The event was discontinued in 2010 after a tragic incident in which one of the competitors died.

While these events may not be exactly the same as the sauna marathon in Otepää, they all celebrate the cultural significance of saunas and provide unique experiences for participants and spectators alike.

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About the Author: Kenton Mann

Kenton Mann
Kenton Mann has been at the helm of Leisurequip ltd. and involved in the wellness industry for over 40 years. In that time he has become an expert many times over in the design and construction of a myriad of bespoke wellness rooms. Furthermore, he is also the UK's pre-eminent Tylo Sauna & Steam expert with unparalleled knowledge not found anywhere else.

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