Prague International Marathon

Dreamt up over a beer, this high-profile running event is now the Czech Republic's biggest sports event of its kind

Two Italians go to a pub and, over a beer or two, decide to organize a marathon.

It might sound like a joke but, 13 years on, Carlo Capalbo, founder and president of the Prague International Marathon (PIM) organization, is having the last laugh.

Last year, PIM events attracted 34,351 runners from 81 different countries, and were watched by 180,000 spectators. The marathon is now the Czech Republic's biggest sports event of its kind.

It helped, of course, that Capalbo's drinking partner was Gelindo Bordin, marathon gold medalist at the 1988 Olympics, and the fact that Capalbo was already a successful businessman probably didn't hurt his chances of success.

But while the race is now a permanent fixture on Prague's sporting calendar, the Naples native's idea was initially treated with skepticism and suspicion.

Unlike London or New York, whose world famous marathons were set up by running clubs, Prague had relatively few recreational runners at that time.

Mid-'90s Prague was also a bureaucratic place to do business, and securing City Hall approval for the race involved five months of red tape.

On June 4th, 1995, however, the inaugural Prague International Marathon took place, with legendary athlete Emil Zátopek firing the starting pistol.

That year's event -- won by Ethiopian Tummo Turbo -- lost 8 million CZK, and rather than attracting 15,000 runners, as the organizers had predicted, only around 7,000 took part.

Another man might have been discouraged, but Capalbo, blessed with seemingly limitless enthusiasm, pushed ahead with even more ambitious plans for the following year.

Constant Improvements

A big part of the run's attraction, of course, is Prague itself, with famous tourist attractions like Old Town Square and Charles Bridge forming part of the course.

But a large part of the marathon's success is down to the constant improvements that the organizers have made to the event.

These days, for instance, the marathon is only one of a series of running events under the PIM banner.

In 1996, the marathon acquired its first sister event -- the Grand Prix.

Staged in September, this competitive 10-kilometer road race features a field of world class runners. Previous participants have included Haile Gebrselassie and Stefano Baldini, and Paul Tergat is a three-time winner.

March's half-marathon was added to the calendar in 1999, providing amateur runners with the ideal preparation for May's main event.

A range of fun runs have also grown up around PIM's main events.

The full marathon is preceded by noncompetitive four- and eight-kilometer runs, plus a 10-kilometer race for rollerbladers, and -- new for 2007 -- a leisurely two-kilometer walk through the city's traffic-free streets.

Similarly, September's elite Grand Prix is accompanied by a five-kilometer women's run and a 10-kilometer fun run solely for men.

Alongside the regular half-marathon, PIM invites companies to enter four-person relay teams in its "Corporate Half Marathon," with each member covering a 5.27-kilometer leg of the course.

Similarly, PIM's "Junior Marathon" features 10-member relay teams made up of high school students, together covering the full marathon's 42.195 kilometers (26 miles, 385 yards).

Quality Not Quantity

With the number of race entrants now pushing the limits that the city can handle, the organizers' focus has shifted from the quantity of runners involved to the quality of their experience.

Most obviously, 1999's introduction of live music along the course of the various PIM runs has helped turn a purely sporting event into a cultural celebration.

Fittingly, this year's marathon also features an innovation that harks back to the night the Prague International Marathon was first dreamed up.

In addition to the usual water stops, Staropramen is offering runners nonalcoholic beer along the route.

In Prague, it seems, everything revolves around beer.

Official Prague Marathon Website

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