Going to 20 saunas in one day might sound like overkill, but that is exactly what participants in the European Sauna Marathon let themselves in for.
The event, held in the small Estonian town of Otepaa, attracted some 600 sauna lovers who put their bodies through extremes of hot and cold, as they travelled through the snowy landscape from sauna to sauna, stopping at ice holes and plunge pools on the way.
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"It was an amazing view to see naked people running through the snow in this beautiful, hilly, rural landscape."
Saunas have long history in Estonia and almost all homeowners here have at least a small one in their house or backyard.
A year ago, a cultural centre in the small, southeastern town of Otepaa decided to organise a sauna marathon. There was a lot of interest in the event and it was even voted one of the best tourism attractions in Estonia.
This year more than 600 people arrived to race between 20 different saunas – from ancient smoke saunas to modern ones in local spa resorts.
Participants were organised in teams with four members each. Each team was given an orienteering map, showing the locations of the saunas, and a competition guide. All the team members had to be in each sauna for at least three minutes.
To check that everyone spent the right amount of time inside, a team had to give their sauna card to the owner of the sauna when they entered. The owner then confirmed that the team members had completed their stint by marking it on their card.
As a bonus, there were ice holes to dip into, plunge pools and other attractions as well as entertainment provided by the sauna owners. This year a heavy snowfall also threw up some surprises for the participants.
The distance you have to cover to visit all 20 saunas in and around Otepaa is more than 100 kilometers (62 miles). Teams used cars to get to each place. Driving on the narrow and snowy rural roads was an attraction in itself – like a winter rally.
It’s no surprise that some cars got stuck and team members had to work up a sweat pushing them back onto the road. I had to ask for help twice from some of the participants to push out my own car.
Traditionally a sauna is enjoyed with beer, but the drivers in the competition were following a strict non-drinking rule, so there were no accidents.
Many of the sauna owners parked their cars at a distance from the sauna and participants had to run a few hundred yards to get into the warm. It was an amazing view to see naked people running through the snow in this beautiful, hilly, rural landscape.
Another extreme part of the race was reaching a sauna on the top of a steep hill and then getting back down the icy slope.
The event was organised as a competition, but many sauna lovers spent much more than three minutes in the best saunas. They weren't worried about their timing!