Race Preview: Esztergom Half Marathon 29th September 2019
Type: Road What are you doing on the 28th and 29th of September?
Your answer may be that you will be attending or running the Budapest Marathon, but here at RCHU we like to offer something different. Here we offer alternatives to the big events to tantalise your adventurous running nature and help you experience more of what Hungary has to offer. Keeping this in mind, today’s Race Preview looks at the Esztergom ‘Bridge Running’ Half Marathon!
History of Event
There are few places in Hungary which offer as interesting a history and ‘border experience’ as Esztergom. With its twinned Slovakian town Štúrovo and the bridge which link them, this event attempts to embody this heritage.
The catalyst for the race was to mark the rebuilding of the Mária Valéria Híd (Bridge) which spans the Danube river and the border between Hungary and Slovakia, a move which healed a vital link between people on both sides of the watery divide. Moving on from past traumas and injuries, the race also did much to look towards the future, originally having a strong focus on supporting students to lace up their running shoes and get moving which it continues to this day!
In recent years the event has had nearly 3000 participants and a strong charity element (500,000 Ft. given to students in the region) and seems to be a well-oiled machine at the time of writing.
The history of the Mária Valéria bridge (and the focus of this event) begins by an Archbishop renouncing his rights to control trade in the area of Esztergom, and proceeds with it being destroyed and rebuilt three times. Something of the historical situation of the border can be read in the way, and why it was rebuilt each time.
Construction of the first bridge began under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph and the new way over the river was named after his daughter the Archduchess Maria Valeria. This bridge, a demonstration of Imperial control, was destroyed at the end of World War 1 by retreating German soldiers just as the old monarchy collapsed. Rebuilt in 1927, it was once again destroyed by retreating German soldiers at the end of another war, and by the command of another failing order.
Even though there were detailed discussions from 1964 with regards once again rebuilding the bridge linking the two - now communist - states of Czechoslovakia and Hungary nothing came of it until much later, with the changing of the political regimes and the rise of an entirely new entity – the EU. With funds from the European Union and in the name of “friendship” the link was renewed on 11th October 2001. This running event soon followed.
Looking back over the history of this one bridge it is remarkable how times have changed. At first the bridge was an expression of Imperial strength, control and culture. Then it was a strategic element in two World Wars. Finally, it was rebuilt following decades of neglect under Communism, as political systems across Central/Eastern Europe changed, the link between the communities of Esztergom and Štúrovo was healed.
The whole weekend is dedicated to running. Saturday’s 4km is an expression of close cooperation between the two towns on either side of the Danube, whilst on Sunday the half marathon will occur. Entry for the main event will cost 5,000 HUF, on the Sunday there will also be a 10.5km race which costs 3,700 HUF.
The route itself will follow well-appointed cycle paths along the river and roads through the town. Starting in the centre of the small city, runners will find themselves along the Kis-Duna, a controlled canal with bars and moorings for boats. The route touches the Danube after crossing the small island made by the Kis-Duna, and then returns to the canal but on the other bank. The main challenge of the race follows with a short but steep climb up to the Basilica. After a switchback the race follows the edge of the Danube. Those doing the half-marathon will repeat the lap.
What was intended as a very short overview of an event became much longer than expected. This is all thanks to Esztergom and Štúrovo’s rich history and culture, which is expressed and embodied by a humble half-marathon, but also, I hope, your participation in it.