The Estonian town of Otepää has been chosen to host the next European Sauna Marathon.
Actually, it wasn’t that much of a surprise. Despite the name of the competition, Otepää is the only place in Europe that’s crazy enough to host this event every single year. We even make that same joke every year.
The organisers at Otepää Municipality and their Otepää Cultural Centre have just announced that it will next take place on Saturday 15 February 2020 (a little later than usual) and that tickets will be on sale in January. For now, you can click ‘going’ on Facebook here.
Last year’s event was the tenth anniversary — and the most international yet. Tickets sold out at record speed as the event attracted almost 1,000 people from Estonia and around the world, including the BBC and Reuters who both filmed video reports, and also teams representing countries as far as Mexico and the US.
Despite the enormous demand to take part, the organisers want to preserve what makes the event special and don’t want the saunas to be overcrowded so they won’t be increasing the number of tickets available. If you want to attend, you’ll need to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale.
Wait… what on earth is a sauna marathon anyway?
The rules are simple and it’s mostly about having fun.
The sauna marathon is not to be confused with sauna events elsewhere (since banned) where competitors have to endure high temperatures for as long as possible, which is just stupid. The main point here is just to see as many saunas as possible and make friends along the way. If you want to enjoy the saunas properly (and hopefully this event inspires you to do so) then you’ll need to come back.
Here’s how it works.
You need a team of up to four people and a car. In the morning, you’ll get given a map of the area with a list of saunas that you have to visit. Teams then set off from noon to track down and visit all the saunas. Start times are staggered because there are so many people taking part.
The dress code is rather relaxed.
You need to spend at least three minutes in each leiliruum (sauna hot room), which you’ll need to record by checking in and out.
And you can get time deducted when at least one team member goes in each ice hole.
..And also if all team members go in a tünnisaun (hot tub).
You will see a lot of weird and wonful saunas along the way from an old Estonian smoke sauna to the best of contemporary Estonian sauna design. Last year’s event also included a local pub where you have to run half naked past locals enjoying their lunch, a Soviet army truck converted into a sauna, and several tent saunas including one operated by Estonia’s Disaster Relief Team.
There is then a big party at the end where prizes are awarded for things like best costumes, but winners for those who complete the race are mostly selected randomly. If you think that’s unfair then you are taking all this way too seriously.
The real competition is actually between the saunas themselves though because competitors have to vote for their favourites who then get given plaques they can hang up outside the sauna.
Bribery is perfectly acceptable so the sauna owners will offer entertainment, food and drink along the way in order to win your votes.
Last year’s winner had excellent smoked pork.
Every year though, the biggest winner is Otepää itself. The real purpose of the race is to bring the local community together and raise awareness beyond Otepää about why people should visit our winter capital and enjoy the saunas — although perhaps at a more leisurely pace.
For more inspiration, here’s our report from last year’s event:
RACE REPORT: The European Sauna Marathon 2019 in Otepää, Estonia
The 10th annual competition featured new technology, more nationalities and crazier outfits.
All photos in this article were taken at last year’s event by Adam Illingworth.
Thanks for reading
The Estonian Saunas blog is run by Anni and Adam, explorers and exporters of Estonian saunas. We’ve supported the European Sauna Marathon for the last three years and are now official sponsors for 2020!
We export to the UK at EstonianSaunas.co.uk and also have two saunas in Estonia open to visitors and created with the best of Estonian design and technology — our Tallinn smoke sauna and our Tallinn Airbnb apartment with an e-sauna. Our global online store will be launching soon. We’re also shareholders in HUUM, Estonia’s top designer of sauna stoves and heaters.
In addition to our blog, you can follow our own adventures exploring and exporting Estonian saunas on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. You can also join our Facebook group for fans of Estonian saunas, especially if you don’t yet have a team because we can help you find friends there. We’ll spread the news in all those places once the tickets are available for the European Sauna Marathon so click like, follow, etc if you want to be the first to know.
You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a journalist who wants to cover the event.