The wonders of the ‘White City’ marathon

What is it that marathon runners value most when they put their weeks and weeks of training to the test on the big day?

For some, it’s a fast course. For others, it’s a race day experience that will provide lifelong memories. Others seek a picturesque course, whilst some will just be praying for good weather.

According to Race Director Dejan Nikolic, the Belgrade Marathon offers all of these and more.

Belgrade Marathon and European Athletics have been working together for years to try to provide a race that really serves the needs of runners around Europe and even further afield. As well as the marathon that has taken place every April since 1988, the organisers also put on a half marathon, 5km fun run and 'children’s marathon' each year, helping to raise participation levels in the city.

With a race programme that caters for everyone, Belgrade Marathon was awarded the European Athletics Running for All 3-star status earlier this year, much to the delight of everyone involved, says Nikolic.

“The Running for All standards are important because running is more popular than ever so our understanding of mass participation at running events needs to improve. European Athletics recognised the need for all major European races to have clear quality and safety standards, which need to be met by the organisers.

“The whole Belgrade Marathon crew were extremely pleased that we were one of the first races in Europe to meet the initiative's standards. Naturally our partners and the media were very happy, too, and it's great to have this certification from European Athletics. We're always pushing forward though and have 5-star excellency in our sights; we think that we are already there or close to being there, and will apply for a 5-star certification in the near future.

“We think that the real value and importance of the Running for All standards will be proved in the near future when runners from all around the world start to recognise all aspects of it and include it in their own system of selecting the races where they would like to participate.”

With a population of just over 1 million and sitting on the famous River Danube, Belgrade is a beautiful city, the historic centre boasting some wonderfully varied architecture, which provides the focal point for over a million tourists every year. The city also boasts an extensive public transport system with buses, electric buses and trams making it easy to get around the city even with a marathon in your legs!

Starting in Old Belgrade, the race mostly navigates New Belgrade, which is completely flat and offers the perfect running surface. Passing the Serbian Republic Parliament building, the Old King’s Palace and crossing the River Danube and Sava intersect, there is enough beauty on offer to distract from the inevitable pain of 26.2 miles of running.

With average April temperatures of 18 degrees, the weather on race day is often perfect for marathon running and with course records of 2.10.54 and 2.29.44 for men and women, respectively, Belgrade certainly offers athletes of all calibres a chance to attack their personal bests.

The international nature of the race means that surprisingly there has never been a Serbian winner of the men's race in its 27-year history; however both Suzana Ciric and more recently Olivera Jevtic have prevailed in the women's race.

But it isn't just top level performances that Serbia's number one road race caters for.

“Each course is a showcase of the city and of our beautiful sport of athletics at its best” said Nikolic. “This year's race on 18 April 2015 was the best Belgrade Marathon so far with close to 25,000 participants in all three races, despite the rainy day.

“There were many things that we tried to achieve organising the 28th SuisseGas Belgrade Marathon but there are still many things to improve and to innovate, and we believe that is a big difference when you compare our race with other event in athletics or even in sport.

“This year's innovation saw the Serbian Championships in half marathon relays included in the race, with pupils, students and corporations making up more than 40 teams. We also catered for more than 300 disabled people who participated in this year's races as well as offering a livestream of the race for the first time, which saw viewers from over 50 countries around the world tune in to watch the action.”

Named an event of special importance to the city in 1996, Serbian athletics stars of the past and present also get involved in the race, with the 2015 edition featuring the world record holder in the long jump, Galina Chistyakova, who talked proudly of fellow long jumper Ivana Spanovic's recent medal spree, including bronze at the 2013 worlds and 2014 world indoors, silver at the Zurich 2014 European Athletics Championships and gold at the Prague 2015 European Athletics Indoor Championships.

Held a week before the main race the Children’s Marathon took place around Belgrade Zoo, and the 2015 edition gained the support of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, with the Serbian icon himself tweeting words of encouragement to children in the build-up. This is something Race Director Dejan Nikolic is extremely proud of, saying:

“It is not just a phrase to say that all those who participated are the winners, as from the very start of their lives they have taken the route of health.

“The 28th SuisseGas Belgrade Marathon was a complete success in all areas of organisation and not only kept but improved its position as the most important traditional sporting event in the country.”

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