This Saturday, the Estonian winter capital of Otepää will host one of the world’s most weird and wonderful annual sporting events: the European Sauna Marathon.
Here’s a guide for anyone taking part:
- How does the race work?
- When and where is the registration, start line and finish line?
- What kind of weather can we expect?
- What’s different this year?
- Who will be taking part?
- What do I bring?
- What do I wear?
- What kind of saunas will there be?
- Where’s the after party?
- Can I see videos of previous events?
- How can I follow the event on social media?
How does the race work?
Well, for a start, it’s not meant to be taken too seriously.
The European Sauna Marathon is a fun orienteering race between saunas in and around Otepää. Participants compete in teams of four and need a car.
During registration, you’ll be given a map with a list of saunas to visit, your tracking device for checking in and out of each sauna, and your start time. The start times are staggered to avoid overcrowding, but you can also choose the order to visit each sauna. Your team must spend at least three minutes in each leiliruum (sauna hot room) then you can also visit hot tubs and ice holes/non-icy water.
Very important: Each sauna has a post outside the door for your tracking device, as shown below. Don’t forget to check in and out of each sauna as you enter and exit the leiliruum.
You need to return to the finish line by 17:30 then the winners are selected randomly (so as not to encourage speeding!) among the teams to complete the course. If you think that’s unfair then you are taking the race too seriously as you will have fun no matter where you finish! There will also be special prizes, such as for best dressed team.
Bear in mind that the saunas are also competing with each other. When you complete the course, you’ll need to vote for your favourite saunas based on a range of categories.
When and where is the registration, start line and finish line?
Registration on the day will take place at Otepää Gymnasium Sports Hall (Mäe 23, Otepää) between 09:00 and 11:30. That’s also where you can get changed before heading to the start line, which will be at Pühajärve laululava inside Pühajärve rannapark. That’s the song festival stage next to the main beach.
The finish line is then back at Otepää Gymnasium Sports Hall, which you have to return to by 17:30. You can then get changed, enjoy some soup, and get the party started.
What kind of weather can we expect?
It’s unusually warm weather at the moment in Estonia (and most other places, it seems). That being said, still expect to get very cold.
There’s almost no snow and very thin ice, but we will all have lots of fun anyway. Current forecasts for Saturday say temperatures will be just below 0 in the morning and just above 0 in the afternoon and possibly snow showers into the evening.
The most important advice is: Please drive carefully as there may be black ice on the roads and please don’t walk on ice because it is too thin. There will be ice holes, but don’t walk on any ice around them.
Due to the lack of snow, the European sauna marathon is now the only international winter event taking place in our winter capital this season. That’s really important because the sauna marathon is not just a very fun way to explore saunas. It also does a great job of letting more people around the world learn about Estonia as a sauna-loving nation and the joys of visiting Otepäää and south Estonia more generally. At present, 75% of visitors to Estonia stay in Tallinn, but that’s slowly changing.
What’s different this year?
Many participants will have been to previous events, but there’s a few changes this year.
Most notably, organisers have simplified the rules. There will be no time deducted for additional challenges, like jumping in hot tubs and ice holes — although you are still encouraged to do so! All that matters is that you visit all the saunas, spend at least three minutes in each leiliruum, have lots of fun along the way, and return by 1730. Every team that completes the course and returns in time will be in with a chance of winning prizes.
Also, the orienteering will be done using paper maps again this year. Last year’s mobile app didn’t always work smoothly with the beautiful rolling landscape of south Estonia.
The centre of Otepää is currently under renovation thanks to new investment, which is why there won’t be the usual collection of mobile saunas there. As a result, there won’t be saunas around the start line so you’ll need to jump straight in your vehicle.
Who will be taking part?
There will be 150 teams of four people each, which means there will be about 600 participants — in addition to media attending from around the world.
Organisers are keen to preserve the quality of the experience for participants so they limited tickets even more this year, even though the event has become more popular in recent years.
120 team tickets sold out in a record 1 hour, fifteen minutes so a second ticket sale was organised for an additional 30 team places and those were sold out within minutes. Don’t forget to thank whoever on your team was organised enough to buy the ticket so quickly!
The participants come from all over Estonia and the world — including a team of firefighters from Kihnu island and a surprisingly large number of Brits flying in. Introduce yourself to other competitors by telling us about your team. You can leave a comment on this story, either on Medium below or where you saw it posted on social media. That will also help media outlets understand the variety of teams taking part and organise interviews.
What kind of saunas will there be?
Well, that’s a secret until Saturday. But we can give you a few hints.
A huge range of saunas are taking part, both old and modern, from public facilities and luxury lodges to cozy home saunas. We can’t tell you which ones yet because you’ll need to find them on the day.
There will also be some mobile saunas, which have been given secret locations around Otepää.
That includes this wonderfully quirky SaunAudi:
And also this ZiL-131 SAUN, made out of an old Soviet Army truck left behind in Estonia:
This sauna actually belongs to myself (Adam) and my partner, Anni. We write this blog so say hello to us when you reach it. If you are thirsty by that point then our friends at Tanker Brewery have given us plenty of their new alcohol-free Sauna Session for you. After the race, we’re then driving our ZiL-131 SAUN up to Tallinn and renovating it with more Estonian sauna design inside, which you can learn about here.
Each sauna will be doing their best to provide you with an unforgettable experience, partly because they want your votes at the end of the day!
What do I bring?
Each team will need €35 in cash.
That’s the deposit for your team’s tracking chip. You’ll get your money back at the finish line when you hand it back in.
What do I wear?
Anything goes, but think about comfortable shoes and robes …or something a bit more creative.
You’ll need to get your shoes off and on a lot, as well as run around the frozen landscape, so choose your footwear carefully. Old trainers or comfortable sandals are best.
You won’t be getting dressed properly until you reach the finish line, but think about how to keep warm between saunas, such as by throwing on a robe or a warm coat. Flasks of hot drinks are also a good idea.
Finally, spare a thought for whoever’s car you are in. You might want to spread towels across the seats so you can easily jump in and out without causing too much mess.
Where’s the after party?
Once you reach the finish line, you’ll hand in your chip, get your deposit back, and vote for your favourite saunas.
You can can then get warmed up by getting dressed and taking some pea soup, which has become traditional after the sauna marathon. If you are still hungry then you can also get 10% off pizza here.
There will be a party at the finish line along with prizes for the winners then there will also be another after party later at Otepää nightclub Comeback where Estonian superstar 2 Quick Start will be performing. The entrance is free from 22:00 to 23:00 with a competition wristband.
Can I see videos of previous events?
Sure. The European Sauna Marathon attracts media coverage from around the world (and this year is no different).
Here’s the BBC Travel Show with their feature from last year:
And here is Reuters’ report, also from last year:
Running on steam at the Estonian sauna marathon | Reuters Video
Participants from all over the world take part in the 10th European sauna marathon. Rough cut (no reporter narration).
This is also an excellent first-hand perspective, made by my teamate from last year. (We competed for ‘Team Japan’).
And here is a report in Estonian about this year’s event, which also contains clips from previous years:
Reporter: Otepää rahvusvahelise saunamaratoni võistluspääsmed müüdi välja ühe tunniga
Selle tunni jooksul registreeris end saunamaratonile 560 saunalist. See on hetkel korraldajate jaoks ka lagi. Kas…
How can I follow the event on social media?
If you are posting pictures, use the hashtag #saunamaraton. (That’s the Estonian spelling without a h.)
Thanks for reading
This Estonian Saunas blog is run by Anni and Adam. We introduce people to Estonian sauna culture to support the export of Estonian sauna design and technology from HUUM, as well as encourage more sauna tourism to Estonia. We also sponsor the European Sauna Marathon in the Estonian winter capital of Otepää.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can check out our online HUUM store at EstonianSaunas.com (or EstonianSaunas.co.uk for the UK). HUUM stoves combine ancient sauna building knowledge with a contemporary design that is inspired by nature and keeps the stones as the central design focus of any sauna. Their large number of exposed stones is not just beautiful, but also delivers a superior heat and steam.
You can check out our own saunas built with the best of Estonian design and technology, and also other recommended saunas in Estonia at EstonianSaunas.com/our-saunas. We often host events at these saunas where we talk to people about the history and traditions of Estonian saunas.
We’re also currently crowdfunding to open a pop-up Estonian sauna inside an old Soviet Army truck. You can support us here on Hooandja (an Estonian equivalent of Kickstarter).
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.