RIGA - The days are dreary, the nights are long, but what better time than now to stretch those muscles, shed those winter pounds and get ready for one of Riga's biggest events 's The Riga Marathon.
Now I know it's not ideal jogging weather in Latvia right now and people might stare, but really, one gets strange looks while wearing running gear no matter what the season. The marathon is in May 2009, but that's no reason not to start training now before the rush starts.
While it might seem like a simple thing to lace up the running shoes and go, the process is very complex.
I was taken by surprise last year after training for a few months to see so many people (Latvians) participating in the marathon. Where had they been practicing? I had only seen maybe five other people on my bi-weekly runs.
The secret is to get out of town. My favorite place is Mezaparks. Hop on the number 11 tram and it drops you off right at the gates. Mezaparks, home to the famous Song and Dance Festival, is also a winding, never-ending maze of trails, both paved and dirt. There are a few signs along the way to tell you where you're going, with a gorgeous lake to stop and take a rest at. While you won't see many runners, you will see many people walking along with families 's even in somewhat icy conditions. It seems that exercise is something best kept hidden in the woods, away from prying eyes.
Another favorite for runners are the Adidas-sponsored paths through four of Central Riga's gardens. Vermanes, Bastejkalna, Kronvalda and Esplanade all have the distinct three white Adidas stripes on the ground to lead runners around the garden.
The Adidas Baltic's marketing director explained that the purpose behind this move was to promote Riga as more than a night club town. And it seems to be working. In 2008, over 5,300 participated, shattering expectations and closing down Riga's streets during the marathon.
In 2009, as with 2008, Jelena Prokopcuka, winner of the New York Marathon, is patroness of the event 's drawing in runners from as far away as Kenya to battle for the top prize of 10,000 euros.
Don't feel too pressured by training for a full marathon. There are 5 kilometer and 10 kilometer options as well as team relays. However, the sooner you decide, the cheaper participation is. If you sign up before March 31, the full marathon registration fee is 20 lats. The fee increases 5 lats every month until the day of the marathon.
Don't worry too much about being speedy 's should you choose the full marathon, you have 6 hours to complete the 42 kilometer course through the center of Riga. But if you choose to run a smaller distance, you get participation medals as well, so everyone has a winning feeling. Plus it's hard to beat the feeling of satisfaction after crossing the finish line.
This event is great for families too, believe it or not, as I saw people with strollers and small children. Dressing up is also popular for businesses such as Durex and Hansas bread company. It's a good time, people waving flags, singing and crowds cheering the runners on. Luckily, in May running surfaces are far less slippery than now.
For more information, visit www.nordearigasmaratons.lv