Last Saturday, I ran the 2018 Belgrade Marathon. This was pretty much a spontaneous marathon for me and one I signed up for simply because I wanted to review it and visit a new country. It was a very inexpensive marathon as entries go and included a lot. But, was it enough?
The Belgrade Marathon Review
TL:DR – The Belgrade Marathon was certainly a race embraced by the people of Belgrade with plenty of crowds – for the first part of the race. The race to run here would be the half-marathon as the crowds are the best and you will be out of the heat quicker. The marathon could have been much better if the organizers would make it have an earlier start. Having a 10AM start made the Belgrade Marathon a very hot one with the second half of the race very different from the first half.
The Belgrade Marathon was run this year for the 31st time. That means this race has been succesful enough on the various levels that organizers have kept it going all of these years. As the biggest (only?) marathon in Serbia, it is obviously a race that will draw a lot of nationals to its starting line.
The Belgrade Marathon was definitely something of a city party as the starting/finishing area (near the beautiful Moscow Hotel) was packed with balloons, partygoers, families, and a lot of festive spirit. I always love when a city embraces a marathon and it certainly seemed like Belgrade embraces their local marathon!
For entry prices ranging from $25-ish to $50, you get a lot of value for your money! Not only do you get to run the marathon with a bib and aid stations, but you also get a nice pasta dinner, a quality race shirt, and a nice finisher’s medal when it is all done! For the price, it is a great value!
Ease of Access
The starting and finishing area are located right near each other and very easy to access by foot or by car. It is worth noting that the roads and the bridge near this area will be closed for sometime before and after the marathon so it may be better to plan on getting as near as you can by public transportation and then walking the rest.
I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Belgrade which was about 1.5-2 miles away from the area and I just walked there and back. It allowed me to stretch a bit before the race and was another chance to take in some of the city. If you stay at the Hyatt Regency, just plan on walking as it is less of a headache.
The expo was far from what you may expect at other marathons. The packet pickup areas consumed most of the space in the room where the small expo was held. It was really not a place where you would plan on picking up any kind of running gear on the cheap – or maybe at all.
The expo/pickup center was held at the Belgrade Youth Center (or Dom omladine Beograda). It stays open until 8PM Friday night before the race. Parking is available at small paid lots in the area and can be had for as little as $1 per hour.
Unless you want to attend the pasta dinner (held at a different, but close, location), I would say skip the expo and just pickup your packet the morning of the race. That is allowed and can be done up until 8AM at the starting are of Nikola Pasic Square.
The Pasta Party
Included in your marathon packet is an invite for the pasta party. It is held about 1/4 mile away from the expo area at a restaurant in the event area of the restaurant. I wasn’t expecting that much for the dinner since the marathon fee can be as cheap as $25 depending on when you signed up.
I was wrong! It was, of course, pasta and sauce, but you could have as many helpings as you wanted and it was pretty good! There were two kinds of pasta to choose from (penne and rotini) and two kinds of sauce (a bolognese and neapolitan with just vegetables in it). They really heaped it up on your plate!
With the pasta, you also got a bottle of water and a rolled package of some kind of fiber-type cookie. It was a big package and certainly more than one person will eat at a sitting! In fact, I ate some back at my hotel, ate some for breakfast, and still threw away half of the package.
The pasta dinner was surprisingly good!
Starting Line | Belgrade Marathon
The starting line for the Belgrade Marathon was easy to find – balloons everywhere and lots of crowds! With a start time of 10AM (more on that below), people began congregating there quite a bit before that. I arrive around 8:45AM and found a ton of people already there.
One of the cool things was the presence of a demo table for sunscreen near the entrance. I had not brought any since the earlier forecasts had called for clouds and maybe some rain (yeah, I should have anyway), but the ladies there were spraying and applying it for the runners and that was a big help! I made sure I got quite lathered up (spoiler, it didn’t work enough!) and headed over to the main starting area.
The instructions said that everyone had to be in the coral by 9:45AM but there was really no enforcement of this at all. I actually stayed just outside the area so I could get more shade from a nearby tree (yes, it was that hot with the sun) and then slipped in just a few moments before the race – as did many other people.
They did have volunteers holding starting tape to mark out the different pace corals – for the marathon, it was <3:30, <4:30, and everyone else. Of course, there were many people who didn’t pay attention to this (and I don’t mean people who did not have the plan go their way – runners who started in places they definitely shouldn’t have and then ran about 2 minutes per mile slower than they should have to have been in that area).
Entertainment, Crowds and the Course | Belgrade Marathon
First 11 Miles
For the start of the race, the half marathoners and full marathoners went out together – and it was crowded! But, it was nice to have so many people around!
The entertainment was very plentiful for this part of the race. There was everything from jazz bands to DJs to marching bands to an actual classical orchestra on a bridge (all dressed up in formal wear and sounding fantastic!). The crowds were also frequent as family members of the race participants were clumped together at various stages of the race.
The Last 15 Miles
I had to split it up like this because this is really the conflicting part of the race. For the first 11 miles, everything was fantastic and it was really a fun race to run. The crowds were nice, the views were great, and the route was very interesting.
But, as I will summarize below, it was a little bit like everyone forgot about us who were doing the full after we split from the half marathons around the 11 mile mark. For some reason, even though I had seen the map, I was assuming we were going to go out again and do pretty much the same course that we had done at first – and I would have been great with that! There were some great elements of the course that I wouldn’t have minded seeing again.
They sent us on a different route, however, and this route had far fewer crowds and entertainment sources. In fact, until around mile 21, it was like a totally different event. In some places, it felt like I was doing a long run by myself in an empty area of a strange city.
My highlight for the second part of the race was really just the little kids. There were little groups of them around with their families and they would always get so excited when I would high-five them and say “thank you!” Whenever they would hear that, they would get all excited and say something to their parents about the American. 🙂 Yeah, there weren’t that many of us in this race so we were a novelty!
The course itself was very interesting and enjoyable for the first 11 miles and the last 4-5 miles. The miles in between really were not highlights at all.
Water stops seemed plentiful in the first part with water bottles being given to all runners. With most runners taking a few sips and tossing them, it did seem a bit wasteful (though as the day progressed, more runners began dumping the remaining water on their heads).
In the second part of the marathon, it didn’t seem like the aid stations were as often. That could have been because of the heat rising like it was (it was high 80s by this time). Many of the aid stations at this point were now offering water cups that were filled by volunteers dipping them into big buckets. The buckets were filled from water trucks nearby.
They had Powerade at many stations but the problem was the packages of these bottles were in the sun and when you went to drink, they were quite warm. Definitely not very helpful when you are looking for something more refreshing! In fact, I would go so far as to say it may have been better to not even offer the Powerade at all.
They had bananas at many aid stations, especially later in the race. But, they also had something I am not used to seeing at marathons – lemons. To go along with the bananas, I am used to seeing oranges but never lemons as often as I saw them. To be honest, while I understand lemons, I thought they were a mistake. It was so hot at this point and peoples’ faces were so dry that many people actually were making sounds of pain from the lemon juice hitting their faces.
Used Water Bottles?
Finally, another issue I had with the aid stations had to do with there not seeming to be enough for the middle miles given the heat. They did have plenty out there but it was too hot for many people to go a couple miles without getting more water. There was even one aid station were volunteers were picking up the used water bottles (that runners had already drank out of) and offering them to runners! No thank you!
Bathrooms and Cooling Areas
They seemed to have enough port-a-potties along the course. I never saw anyone waiting in line for one. They also had trucks setup with hoses for people to spray mists for the runners. There were probably 5 or 6 of those and they were a very welcome spot for all of us runners!
Finish Line and Recovery Area | Belgrade Marathon
As we approached the finish area, there were definitely more crowds. They would even set up little tunnels of people for runners to go through and be encouraged. This happened about 2.5 miles from the finish (which is about where the half-marathons parted from us earlier in the race).
The finish line area was definitely well put on and they had tents for runners to relax and get massages. They also had bags waiting for people with more Powerade, water, and apples and bananas.
All in all, the finish line was definitely something that was well executed and a great place to finish at!
The Conflicting Part of the Report…
Update with a Comment – a member of the organizing committee read my review and commented below with some perspective on parts of the marathon and I told him I would include it here so you could see that they are listening and why some of these things did happen:
Now, we get to the part of the race report that is kind of hard for me to write about. I realize I am coming into this with an American marathoner’s perspective but since many of my readers are from America, I feel I need to address these things.
Starting Time and Weather
First of all, I have no idea why the organizers chose to start the race at 10AM! To me, that makes no sense and even borders on dangerous, given the weather conditions. The temperature along the course at various spots read to be in the mid 80s. Of course, organizers cannot predict the weather but they certainly can start this race at least 2 hours earlier so that people are not out running in the hottest part of the day.
Once we cleared the half-marathoners, I saw many marathons down over the rest of the course. Some were being attended to by medics along the course and some were laying under trucks to get out from the sun. It was pretty bad and I felt bad for these runners that were hampered so much by this hot weather.
A Great Half-Marathon To Attend and Run…
This event would be a fantastic half marathon to attend and run. I cannot give the same endorsement of the marathon event itself. To be honest, it kind of felt at various points of the second half of the race that the full marathon was just an add-on or an afterthought.
Sidebar: This is very hard for me to write because I know that many people from Serbia run this event and enjoy it each year! That is why I am saying that it is from the American perspective!
Don’t Expect to Hear English
One more thing – if you are coming from America to run this event, keep in mind that this is very much a national event. I tried to speak with some people along the course and they with me and we couldn’t because of the language barrier (yes, I know am the foreigner here and I am not saying they should have spoken English!). Also, all the instructions, announcements, etc. given before the race were in Serbian so do not expect to understand any of that either.
So, would I recommend this marathon to other American runners? No, I would not – especially if you have never done a foreign marathon before. If you are going to be in the area and want to experience Belgrade, then definitely sign up for the half-marathon!
Good Value for the Price
In the end, I definitely got more than I had paid for! With the marathon costing as little as $25 (if you sign-up early enough), you are getting a nice pasta dinner, a quality race shirt, a nice finisher’s medal, a beautiful course with a decent amount of aid stations, and a great time exploring the city of Belgrade.
But, with things like the late start time, the second half of the course vs the first half, and the sparseness of the marathon leg, I do not plan on returning for the Belgrade Marathon.