Run Republic Weekend: Conquering the Tirana Marathon

April 27, 2024

A series on global marathons you say?

Yes, you heard correctly, so grab your passport and lace up those battered running shoes! We shall embark on a journey to explore some of the more unique marathons the world has to offer. In fairness, what better way is there to see the world than through the blurry, sweat-soaked lens of a marathon runner?

We've handpicked marathons that not only promise an unforgettable running experience but also offer you the chance to get that coveted entry ticket without having to sell your kidney. So, sorry London Marathon, Casse-toi Maraton De Medoc – we're all about the hidden gems, the underdogs if you may.

We've handpicked marathons that not only promise an unforgettable running experience but also offer you the chance to get that coveted entry ticket without having to sell your kidney. So, sorry London Marathon, Casse-toi Maraton De Medoc – we're all about the hidden gems, the underdogs if you may.

Albania? Really?

Our first stop takes us to the vibrant capital city of Tirana, Albania, for the Tirana Marathon! With the inaugural marathon only taking place in 2012, this marathon may still be classed as a relative newcomer to the scene in terms of European capital marathons. However, unlike some of its pricier counterparts in Western or Mediterranean European countries, Tirana offers affordable accommodations, eating out, and sightseeing at a very reasonable cost. Plus, with a plethora of museums, galleries, and monuments scattered throughout the city, there's no shortage of sights to explore once you've crossed the finish line.

Much of this charts Albania’s past, including its crackpot ex-leader Enver Hoxha. The man who turned paranoia into an art form and transformed Albania into a socialist state for nearly half a century. Who knew running a marathon would offer such an educational experience?

The Marathon Route

The marathon will start at 9 am on October 24th from Skanderberg Square, reminiscent of the hugely imposing squares found in past and present communist authoritarian regimes. The route then takes you through Tirana’s fascinating thoroughfares before doing a long loop of Tirana park round the artificial lake before taking you back into the city center. You get to run past the eerily dystopian Tirana Pyramid, once a symbol of Hoxha's regime, and be reminded of Albania's complex past. The route culminates in a return to Skanderberg Square.

The marathon route

Delicious Ottoman-Influenced Food and Sightseeing Beyond Running

So, setting aside running, what else does Tirana offer? Delicious Ottoman-influenced food, for starters! Begin your mornings with burek, the sumptuous pastry that you will find all over the Balkans, filled with cheese, spinach, or minced meat. These are sold in bakeries all over Tirana in the morning. As for dinner, Albanian cuisine features a huge variety of grilled lamb, beef, and chicken, similar to much of the Balkans. And, of course, there are many salads to balance things out! Other regional specialties like Goulash, Ferghese, and Pule can also be found. On my last visit to the city, I found many reasonable eateries located on Kavaja Street, just off Skanderberg Square.

Skanderbeg Square

And finally what holiday, marathon, or otherwise can be complete without some sightseeing? Well fortunately Tirana offers many museums and galleries that offer a fascinating insight into the country's troubled period under the rule of Enver Hoxha from after World War 2 until the late 1980s. We recommend visiting the following:

Tirana Pyramid - Once a symbol of the communist regime, this unique structure was initially built as a museum honoring Enver Hoxha, but now serves as a reminder of Albania's tumultuous past. Its unconventional design and historical significance make it a must-visit for those interested in Albania's communist era.

Enver Hoxha’s Former Residence - If you are wandering around the city center, go have a peek through the fence of the former home of Albania's longtime communist leader, Enver Hoxha. This residence offers a glimpse into the personal life of Albania’s former communist dictator.

House of Leaves Museum - Explore the history of Albania's secret police history at the House of Leaves Museum. Housed in a building that once served as the headquarters of the Sigurimi, Albania's notorious secret police force, this museum provides a chilling account of surveillance and espionage that was conducted during the communist era.

National History Museum - With a vast collection spanning from prehistoric times to the present day, this museum offers an in-depth exploration of Albania's history, including its struggles for independence and periods of political upheaval.

Bunk Art 1 & 2 - Step into Albania's underground history at Bunk Art 1 & 2. Located in former nuclear bunkers, these museums showcase Albania's communist past through immersive exhibits and multimedia installations. From propaganda to resistance, Bunk Art provides a comprehensive look at life under the regime's shadow

Practical Information for Participants

Registration: Will open by the summer at the latest at Tirana Marathon website.

Getting There:

From Ireland: Lufthansa currently offers return flights from Dublin connecting flights to Tirana via either Munich or Frankfurt

From the UK: Budget Airlines Ryanair and Wizz Air offer direct flights from Stansted and Luton respectively. British Airways also offers direct flights from Heathrow yet they seem to be on the pricier side.

Taxi Transfers from the airport to the city center cost around 20 euros. A bus leaves from the back of the domestic terminal that costs 300 LEK.

Accommodation: Tirana offers extremely reasonable hotel rates from 50 euros per night for three-star hotels all the way upwards. Good quality apartments can be booked at an even cheaper rate via Air BnB.

Visa Requirements: Albania is visa-free for all EU citizens and visas are only required for a small number of countries. It’s always worth checking with the airline if you have any concerns.

So in conclusion, if you've missed out on the Dublin Marathon or are simply seeking a completely different and more unique destination, the Tirana Marathon is the perfect choice. Tirana offers many opportunities to explore Albania's rich history, along with delicious cuisine and affordable accommodations,. So, pack up all your gear and prepare for a marathon journey that combines 42.2k with exploration in one of Europe's lesser known capitals.

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