Marathon Running in the Mountains of Heaven

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Posted by on May 12, 2014

Marathon Running in the Mountains of Heaven

It could be any marathon anywhere, but it isn’t.

spectators at a marathon

There are barefooted runners, boisterous supporters, and beautiful backdrops;
but also pearlish lakes and unanticipated feasts of sushi and tempura.

sushi being cut

japanese chef cooking tempura

But these will have to wait, because those belong at the end and this is the beginning.

marathon runner's tags

‘Alternative travel’ gets tossed around a lot, and I imagine for a lot of people Kyrgyzstan would already be pretty high up on the list of oddball places to visit. Coming all the way to Kyrgyzstan to run in a marathon, though? Now that’s alternative! And yet, the ‘2014 RUN the Silk Road’ marathon on the shores of Issyk-Kol is already in its third year and still seems to be growing.

marathon running at issyk-kol

From a small start back in 2012, it has already grown to over 500 participants from something like 14 countries. Kyrgyzstan is, no surprise here, the country that puts up the most representatives. Any guess who comes second?

marathon runners with a car passing

As a matter of fact, Japan. ‘RUN the Silk Road’ is promoted and supported by a number of NGOs and local groups, but one of the strongest ties is to the Japanese community in Kyrgyzstan – of which I’m starting to learn there are quiet a lot of representatives!

In many ways the event was similar to what I would expect from any marathon anywhere: lots of supporters, a strong sense of community, and a bevy of volunteers to hand out water and help with stretches and generally just make sure the whole thing runs smoothly.

halfway point of a marathon

stretching during a marathon

water point at a marathon

supporters at a marathon

volunteers at a marathon

There were a few moments that made me particularly smiley, though: a barefoot runner, some particularly Kyrgyz snack choices, and a couple of kids that by all appearances came up with a homespun way to join in the fun.

running a barefoot marathon

snacks at a marathon

child running in a marathon

No matter whether the the full-on 26 Miles Marathon or the quicker 5k or even just the ‘Friendship Run’ for local kids the day before, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

bicyclist supporting a marathon runner

kyrgyzstan fun run event

Forty-two kilometers is a lot of road to cover, of course, so it helps to have something to look forward to beyond the finish line.

finishing a marathon

In this case? What does one do after RUNning the Silk Road?

kyrgyzstan traditional music

japanese dance party

spectators watching a performance

Japanese food and a dance party! “Sa sa sa sa!” Surprise Sushi never tasted so good.

japanese food on a plate——-

I was in attendance as the Official Photography Sponsor of RUN the Silk Road, but all thoughts here are very much my own.

‘RUN the Silk Road’ is an annual marathon in the village of Bosteri on the shore of Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kol. The dates for 2015 don’t seem to have been decided yet, but keep an eye on their official website  for more info. If Marathon Running isn’t your thing but you’d still like to visit Issyk-Kol, we stayed in Bosteri Village at the ‘Kyrgyz Seashore‘ resort. It was nice in that ‘faded Soviet era’ sort of way, and is only about 2.5k from the center of Bosteri and even shorter than that to the weekend market. I can also confirm, based on reports from those who know, that the resort does NOT smell like the Soviet Union. Take that knowledge and use it as you will. 

Oh, and if you find yourself in Bishkek and unsure what to do, check out my Bishkek Travel Guide!

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2 Responses to Marathon Running in the Mountains of Heaven

  1. Vanessa

    I’ve done one marathon before – and one was enough! I went to Paris to run their marathon in 2006. It was one of those incredible experiences you’ll never forget. If you’re going to go through the challenge of all the training, you might as well get the reward of an amazing trip in exchange.

    • Stephen

      I honestly think I’ll be the same. I want to do one, at some point, but don’t anticipate it being a major part of my life! Paris sounds like a cool one, too! I think for some of the Japanese at the Silk Road marathon, they were there partially to run and partially just to see what Kyrgyzstan was like.

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