This is not just another story about the Plitvice Lakes; this is one of the few untold stories about this breathtaking wonder of nature that has attracted a large number of visitors for years. Once a year, a large group of visitors who are avid runners also come to visit.

History of the marathon

How did it all start and what was the idea behind a marathon in an area where you are surrounded by greenery and an infinite number of waterfalls? In the Park area, there had been an increasing interest in sports activities and more and more investments were made in sports. A newly built sports hall, outdoor sports fields, paths for walking and running along lakes and waterfalls, rowing on the lake, bicycle tours around the Park, skiing in winter and a ski school… all this inspired Prof. Ivan Teklić to take up a new work challenge. One of his priorities was to bring trails along lakes and waterfalls closer to all running enthusiasts. The first Plitvice Marathon took place in October 1981, with 165 competitors taking part. As the news spread quickly, more and more competitors from various countries took part every year. The beauty of this oldest and greenest marathon in Croatia is recognised not only in neighbouring countries but also in other countries worldwide. The course that passes along most of the lakes and waterfalls, through areas rich in forest, further encourages runners to achieve better results. One interesting fact is that in 1984 and 1985, a cross-country skiing competition was organised. In 1984, cross-country skiing took place at Entrance 2, while in 1985, competitors could enjoy cross-country skiing along frozen lakes and waterfalls.

Courses

For all fans of marathons and other races, the surroundings in which they run is certainly important. When we are surrounded by nature, every step we take is easier and as we “dive” more and more into the greenery that surrounds us, we notice strain less and less because we are filled with the beauty of nature. Runners who come from the urban jungle to a green oasis, and breathe in the fresh, clean air, run with a big smile on their faces, and you will certainly not see that anywhere else. The Plitvice Marathon is one of the most popular races in Croatia and offers you an exceptional opportunity to run directly above the Great Waterfall, the lake and the Black and White rivers.

The races are divided into a marathon, a half marathon and a 5 km race.

The 5 km race starts in front of the Mukinje Sports and Recreation Centre. Competitors run towards the National Park to the Flora auxiliary entrance. From there you can see the Upper Lakes, the largest waterfall of the Upper Lakes – Veliki Prštavac. There is also a turn, and the runners return to the finish line by the same route. The course is family-friendly, and it is intended for walking in the shade of the beech forest all the way, without big climbs, or it can be a real treat for fast runners.

The 21 km race or half marathon  also starts in front of the Mukinje Sports and Recreation Centre and comes out on the main road. After 1.5 km you reach the Josip Jović monument, and you run in the direction of the Korana Bridg, which is also the lowest altitude point of the half marathon course. From the Korana Bridge there is a wonderful view of the Korana River at the foothill. After that, the course climbs towards Poljanak and after Poljanak you go in the direction of Plitvica Selo. At the 26th kilometer, you enter the Plitvice Lakes National Park, at Kozjak bridges, where you reach the train station, and continue through the Park back to Mukinje. During the half marathon, you can find refreshments at four refreshment stations.

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In 2021, the Plitvice Half Marathon was named after Valentina Valjak, the prematurely deceased winner of the 2020 Plitvice Half Marathon.

The 42 km race, i.e. the marathon, also starts in front of the Mukinje Sports and Recreation Centre, and the runners follow the same route as the half marathon runners. In this race, the runners do not go towards Kozjak bridges, but continue their route towards the highest peak, Prošćansko Lake, and go in the direction of Ljeskovac, where there is a turn at the 32nd kilometer and after that they reach the Upper Lakes and return to Mukinje. It is a unique course that features two big climbs, but that also means that the runners can enjoy a wonderful view of the lakes and the forest. Almost half of the course is next to the lakes themselves, and there are two sources of drinking water on it. It also passes by the “Čorkova uvala” rainforest, which is the oldest rainforest in this part of Europe. There are seven refreshment stations waiting for you at the marathon.

Plitvice Marathon 2023

As part of the sports and recreational tourism offer, the Plitvice Marathon is traditionally held in the first week of June. As one of the oldest and greenest races, it attracts an increasing number of competitors every year, and this year competitors from more than 25 countries are expected to take part. The 38th Plitvice Marathon will be held from 2 to 4 June, and this year competitors can choose between a 5 km course, a half marathon (21 km) and a marathon (42 km). It is interesting that this year the Plitvice Marathon is part of the competition calendar of the 1st Croatian Road League, which is held in cooperation with the Croatian Athletics Federation. The number of competitors is limited to 1,000 – 350 in the half marathon run in honour of Valentina Valjak (deceased winner of the 35th Plitvice Half Marathon), 350 in the marathon and 300 in the 5 km race. Each competitor will also receive a ticket to the National Park in their starter packs. The race is set to start at 9 a.m., on 3 June 2023 in Mukinje, in front of Mukinje Sports and Recreational Centre – Sports hall.

Running through the largest and oldest national park is a special experience of mind and body achieving perfect harmony.

Benefits of running

What does running mean to you? What emotions do you feel when someone mentions the word running and that they love to run? Can you imagine yourself being free, without a worry in the world, enjoying the fresh air and releasing all the stress and negative emotions that have been building up inside of you? Because running does just that! It is a popular physical activity loved by many, and it is super simple – meaning that you just need to get up and go. Running has a number of benefits for the human body as it reduces the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attack and a number of other diseases. Studies have shown that running greatly improves mental and emotional health and helps achieve longevity. Some of the studies conducted on people who are runners have confirmed that they felt better after just 30 minutes of running, and that running has a positive effect on people suffering from depression and related disorders. It is interesting that running outdoors, while enjoying beautiful nature, increases self-confidence. This is just an additional reason why you should take part in the Plitvice Marathon, just imagine all the scenery that you will get to enjoy… Running, as a physical activity, contributes to our overall better physical appearance, fresher appearance of the skin and improves our posture. Regular running contributes to heart health and increases bone density, and improves endurance, which makes training all the more enjoyable.  Running is an aerobic activity that will speed up your circulation, metabolism and fat burning.

Accommodation in a hotel nearby

Recharge your batteries in the green heart of the Plitvice Lakes and get ready for the start of the Plitvice Marathon. Anyone who likes to be located right near the marathon courses can find their oasis of peace at Hotel Jezero. Hotel Jezero is cocooned in a calming atmosphere and only around three hundred meters away from the emerald greenery of Kozjak. After running a marathon, everyone should relax, and looking at nature is a real relaxant, and a cure for restlessness and stress. (If you are not a fan of running, relax in our hotel and cheer on your loved ones right next to the courses.) In addition to rich culinary specialties, find a wellness corner and give your body a real rest after a hard run. The Plitvice Marathon is certainly one of the most attractive marathons in the world, because along with the courses that pass through the beautiful fresh forest, in some parts you also have a view of surreal, breath-taking lakes.

Plitvice Athletics Club

The Plitvice Athletics Club was founded in 2017, at the initiative of local sports enthusiasts who played various sports. The idea was to create a new sports club in an area that is rich in natural beauty and whose sports activity would involve the local population, in order to raise awareness about a healthy lifestyle. In 2020, the Plitvice Athletics Club was granted a concession for the organisation of the 35th Plitvice Marathon, the oldest marathon in Croatia. After a successful first year, the Plitvice Athletics Club has been the organiser every year since.

Their ultimate goals are the promotion of athletics as one of the oldest sports disciplines, working with children as the foundation of the future in the form of active participation in sports activities and creating a beautiful environment in the local community. Today, the Club has about fifty members.

This is Croatia’s oldest marathon and given the increasing popularity of running, the race is at the very top of running, where it deserves to be. So, pack your sneakers and take part in the greenest marathon in Croatia.

Tomislav Kovačević is General Manager at Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest and biggest national park in Croatia.

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