Fotografas R. Ščerbauskas
Fotografas R. Ščerbauskas

Interview with Algirdas Pukis, the organizer of Kaunas Marathon.
Kaunas Marathon, which has been going on for four years in a row, has become a necessary part of yearly plans of running lovers. The event grows every year, attracting more and more foreign and local participants to the city and proves that running can become a festival of the entire city, not only for the athletes. We have interviewed Algirdas Pukis, the founder of Kaunas Marathon and the head of Kaunas Marathon Club. He also represents Kaunas’s initiative to become the European Capital of Culture.
How did you discover the pleasure of running and how the idea to organize Kaunas Marathon was born?
I have discovered the pleasure of running in the United States. It was the summer of 2009 when I and my wife went on a honeymoon and visited my brother. He lived in a small town which in size was similar to Kaunas. My brother was a runner then. I saw him running once, twice, then a third time, and I felt like I wanted to do the same. So, the fourth time I ran together with my brother. We were able to prepare for the 10-kilometer run within three weeks. Although the town was small, but every weekend there was at least one sporting event (mostly running). Imagine, every weekend there would be 500-1000 people, who were trained for running.
After returning to Lithuania, I continued to run but it took me more than half a year until I found a running event in Kaunas. It took place right here, in Panemune park, where we are now talking. It was Christmas run which was attended by 200 people, and everyone knew each other. It was quite surprising that other people did not know about this run or simply did not participate. It was a matter of a quite closed community. It was probably then a desire to show the citizens that running events can be fun was born.
Panemune is one of my most favorite places for running. That’s why I have set our meeting here. If I had to choose the best place for running route in Kaunas, I would choose Panemune park. Fresh air, great atmosphere for a workout, and the lap is about six kilometers long.
When you started practicing this sport, running has not yet become a widely popular form of wellness as it is now. Are you surprised by the popularity of running? What do you think, what inspired this trend?
Today, there are a lot of running events and interest in them is really huge. I think this is a sign of developing society because the numbers of cyclists and other sports lovers grow too, not only of runners. A variety of clubs, hobby groups, and other initiatives are opening. I think that society itself is growing, and interest in these activities increases as well. I don’t think that this could stop soon. I wouldn’t call it a trend but a continuous phenomenon.
Each year Kaunas Marathon picks its bar up higher, and the ranks of participants grow. What is the secret of a good marathon event?
I think there are several key factors that make – at least our Kaunas Marathon – exquisite and peculiar. First of all, it is an organizing team without which nothing would happen. It decides all the organizational details, sets the priorities. Another important element of our marathon is the community of runners. It is Kaunas Marathon Club amateurs, and the community of city marathon runners as well. The latter is the major contributor to the event, and at the same time, they create a family-like atmosphere of the event. Although we always attract more than 5,000 people, but the marathon atmosphere remains more of a family-like, more intimate than in the major world marathons.
What are the challenges you face as an organizer of an international marathon?
The first Kaunas Marathon took place in 2013, and this year it is the fourth marathon now. The idea of Kaunas Marathon was born in 2011 when we have officially registered the Kaunas Marathon website. It took two years before we decided to organize such an event. It was the first event of this kind for me and I did not have any significant experience in event organizing myself. Everything was very new and it took a while until we learned. We still didn’t have any connections with the Athletic Federation of Lithuania or other organizers of sporting events. That’s why the first Kaunas Marathon was physically very difficult for me personally. During the preparation for the first event, both the city and the sponsors did not really understand the idea of the marathon, so I had to educate my partners in this regard. With each year, things got easier and the city had time to get used to this event. The 3rd and the 4th marathon events were held in Kaunas Town Hall Square, so the challenges and scale were quite different. Meanwhile, this year Kaunas Marathon was completely different because we had a stronger team. At the moment the priorities are international networking and attraction of communities.
On the last marathon, more than 100 volunteers joined the organizers. What is their role in the event, and what does motivate the citizens to join this event?
This year Kaunas Marathon had more than 200 volunteers, not 100. We are very happy that we have so many volunteers, and their contribution to this event is increasing significantly. Every year, the contribution of the volunteers is huge and they devote quite a lot of their personal time. Volunteering allows a young person to accumulate a certain experience, and most importantly, it helps to develop the sense of community.
At the moment your home city Kaunas is seeking to claim the title of the European Capital of Culture 2022. Being a member of the project „Kaunas: European Capital of Culture 2022” team, what is your vision for 2022? How is sport connected to culture and in which way sport will feature the program if Kaunas wins the title?
I get to attend various discussions on Kaunas objective to win the title of European Capital of Culture. Meetings, discussions and other initiatives that are related to the event are going on for more than a year and a half now, so it is very interesting to see how things are growing and developing. From the very beginning, it was very clear that this title is very important to Kaunas.
As I see it, Kaunas grows and becomes modern. In the sense of culture, this is a cultured city of young people. Of course, the sports have not been forgotten – it has always been an important part of the city. Kaunas has a number of spaces that are important for sports: such as Darius and Girenas Stadium and Kaunas Sports Hall. Therefore, I think, once Kaunas becomes the European Capital of Culture, this would be a huge motivation for the citizens, athletes, and cultural representatives to come together and produce a significant input to the city.
The notion of culture in the program of European Capital of Culture is broad and combines sports, business, food, architecture, arts and many other fields. I think that the sports in this project will play an important role, especially since the sport was in its prime during the inter-war period. When we organized the first Kaunas marathon, we were looking for archives from previous runs that took place in Kaunas. I was really impressed with one of the inter-war era photos of the entire Liberty Avenue flooded with people who came to support the runners. I think we need to uphold this level of interest in the sport today and promote it. Today, sporting activities and initiatives are quite numerous, but there is a lack of greater involvement of the citizens. We want to involve the whole city in the events of this kind so that besides running people would support each other. In 2022, I imagine the Kaunas Marathon as a true city marathon, with more than 20 thousand participants from Lithuania and around the world. I see a lot of people who came to support marathon participants, and they are having picnics throughout the city. It is also our goal to have a running track of one lap (42.195 km) that would connect cultural objects of Kaunas city and district.
The major world marathons attract a very large number of runners from other countries, these events, so to say, have become a certain form of sports pilgrimage. Is Kaunas Marathon aiming to become a place of pilgrimage for runners? What do you think about the opportunities of sports tourism development in Kaunas?
Marathon tourism as a phenomenon is very popular all over the world. People who made running their daily routine, have a practice of going abroad, at least once a year, where at the same time they can explore the city, which hosts a marathon. We, the members of the Kaunas Marathon Club, visit the running events in other countries.
Kaunas is very suitable not only for the further development of running tourism but also for attracting other sporting events because the city’s location is quite convenient. This year we had about 250 foreign participants from 36 countries. This is a significant contribution to the city because foreign participants who visit the city get acquainted with it and are willing to come again next year.
The organization of running event is only one of your activities. The second one is a Kaunas Marathon Club, which brings together professional track and field athletes. There are notable athletes among them, like Olympic sportswomen Rasa Drazdauskaite and Inga Juodeskiene. Tell us, what did motivate this initiative?
Along with Kaunas Marathon, we have established Kaunas Marathon Club as well. This is a social project in which we seek to support Kaunas athletes. Athletics is a sport which makes it quite difficult for practicing athletes to support themselves. The Kaunas Marathon Club wishes to contribute to the promotion of athletics by funding various grants, or in other ways.
The club has around 30 professional athletes. Coached by Inga Juodeskiene among them are Rasa Drazdauskaite and Remigijus Kancys who went to the Olympics this year. Monika Juodeskaite and Remalda Kergyte also met the Olympic marathon requirements but their results were not sufficient to go to Rio. We also have a lot of young representatives of other sports who are the best in Lithuania. Eva Misiunaite (400 and 200 meters), Rokas Pacevicius (400 meters) celebrate the best results in the country, Matas Adamonis reached decathlon record among eighteen-year-olds, spear-thrower Liveta Jasiunaite participated in the European Championship.
We also have about 60 amateur runners who train together and defend the name of the club in competitions. The Kaunas Marathon Club took second place in the Athletics Federation of Lithuania Cup, and we were the first in the Amateur Runner Cup of Lithuania in 2015.
The club also organizes free running workouts „Run Easily” and other running events in Kaunas. In addition to the Kaunas Marathon that takes place in June, we also organize an August night run, and in October, the run of pink ribbon „The Pink Run with BEN”. This year, we organized a love day run „Catch the Valentine!”
What would you advice to those who have decided to try out Kaunas Marathon track?
The best advice is “go on and run”! Once you start running, you will discover the city that you have never seen.

Video: Marius Paplauskas