Half marathon is the perfect excuse for a city visit to Prague
Running events really bring out the best in cities. The roads are closed, people take to the streets and a new and refreshing attitude dominates the place.
It’s the same across the world, as I discovered when I headed for a short trip to the Czech Republic for the Sportismo Prague Half Marathon earlier this month.
This was a new experience for me. Most of the events I take part in are fairly local to the Highlands and I know them well, but this was different.
I landed in Prague just 12 hours before the start of the race – without my number and tired after a day of travelling. In hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t the best preparation for 13.1 miles through the city streets!
All that was soon forgotten, though, when I was on the start line of this IAAF gold standard race in the heart of this historic city beside the world-famous Rudolfinum concert hall and gallery, which was also home to the race headquarters.
“ALL RUNNERS ARE BEAUTIFUL” exclaims the organiser RunCzech’s promotional material, and this run lived up to the same standards. The superbly organised event takes runners – 11,500 of them from world-record-chasing athletes to fancy-dress fundraisers – on a spectacular tour of the city.
Staying close to the Vltava River which flows through Prague, the route crosses five bridges and has views to Prague Castle, which dominates the skyline above, and the 14-century Charles Bridge.
Lost in the wonderful atmosphere as the race got under way, I ran straight past the famous bridge – which is just a few hundred metres from the start – without noticing, but thankfully the route loops round to give you a second chance.
The nature of the route, with out-and-back sections and loops, meant that mere mortals like myself were also able to catch a glimpse of the leaders at various points around the course.
Bands were playing music every kilometre or so and there were plenty of water stations, which I made good use of in the hot conditions.
The race was even broadcast live on the internet, with a streaming camera at the 8km mark where you could wave to family and friends back home. Support on the streets was constant too, a real benefit of a course that sticks to a central location like this, even though it did mean some long sections on cobbles as it passes through the old part of the city.
It was here that I returned to after collecting my medal at the finish, some 45 minutes behind men’s winner Benard Kimeli of Kenya (59.07) and 39 minutes behind women’s winner Caroline Kipkirui (1.05.44), who hails from Kenya but runs for Kazakhstan.
With an early flight to catch home the next morning, this was my one and only chance to get out and explore the city, which is home to more than 1.2 million people.
First I took a stroll over the Charles Bridge, already thronged with tourists from all over the world. This is the oldest bridge in the city – building began in 1357 by Charles IV and was completed in 1402. There are fortified towers at either end and you can even climb up these for a unique view.
Next I headed down ancient streets to the stunning Old Town Square. There is so much to see here and such beautiful architecture, though it is impossible to rush through the crowds.
I wanted to see the 15th-century astronomical clock on the outside wall of the Old Town Hall and it is hard not to be struck by the 80m gothic towers of the Church of Our Lady before Týn.
Away from the tourist centres, the city has wonderful gardens, green spaces and parks to relax in, while getting around is easy with trams constantly on the move and a metro system, as well as plenty of bikes using the mixture of traffic-free paths and on-road sections.
Combining a big event with a city break seems like the perfect way to experience a new place. But Prague has so much to offer that a longer weekend will be required next time to take in more of its cultural and architectural gems.
Pass me my running shoes… there’s a marathon coming up there next month.
Need to know
Fly to Prague’s Václav Havel Airport, half-an-hour’s drive from the city.
John flew from Inverness, changing at Schiphol, Amsterdam, with KLM and Czech Airlines.
EasyJet operates a direct flight from Edinburgh to Prague.
John stayed at the Hilton Prague, courtesy of RunCzech.
Prague visitor information
A vast range of tourist information is available in English at prague.eu – including places to visit, events, food and drink and accommodation, ranging from budget to five-star hotels.
The Sportismo Prague Half Marathon is organised by RunCzech, which also hosts a number of other running events in the Czech Republic and further afield.
This year’s races include:
- Volkswagen Prague Marathon Weekend – May 4-5
- Mattoni Karlovy Vary Half Marathon – May 18
- Mattoni České Budějovice Half Marathon – June 1
- Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon – June 15
- O2 Prague Relay – June 25-27
- Birell 10 km Race Prague – September 7
- Adidas Women's 5 km – September 7
- Mattoni Ústí nad Labem Half Marathon – September 21
- Liberec Nature Run – October 5
- Sorrento Positano (Italy) – December 2
- Napoli City Half Marathon – TBC
For more details visit runczech.com