This Saturday, Kosovo’s Gjakova Municipality hosts the Highland Marathon, the region’s first cross-border race.
Western Kosovo’s picturesque, historic town of Gjakova does not sit far across the border from Bajram Curri, a remote, mountainous town down the valley from Valbona. The two towns share strong cultural, linguistic, and geographical links, but during the socialist period relatives on either side were barred from seeing each other.
Today, the quiet border still divides Kosovo and Albania, but in a less dramatic fashion. And on Saturday, for hundreds of runners, it will momentarily disappear.
The Gjakova Highland Marathon’s route connecting Gjakova to Bajram Curri stretches across mountain terrain for a race that is both challenging and symbolic.
“A lot of the diaspora from Albania and Kosovo come to run in this marathon. This is a marathon that we run with emotions,” said Gjakova-native Saranda Rexha, a body psychotherapist and one of the marathon’s participants. Her running club partner Nebahate Maqastena, an engineer from Prishtina, nodded in agreement.
This is the second Highland Marathon organized by the Municipality of Gjakova. Mayor Mimoza Kusari-Lila, an avid supporter of sports and wellness, will be running in the race herself.
Last year, participants ran for the cause of environmental protection and outdoor adventure. Proceeds from the ticket sales went to the purchasing and planting of 900 tree seedlings along the marathon route.
This year the race’s campaign is “He for She,” a nod to the United Nations campaign against gender inequality.
Volunteers will stake out along the route handing out energy boosters such as bananas and water to keep the participants going. But runners won’t be slowed down by the border. On Saturday, their running sneakers will serve as their passports, since the race pre-organized the border controls.
The town of Bajram Curri is lending a hand with logistical support at the finish line. Last year, crowds in the town cheered and blasted music to welcome the runners.
Organized busses will transport people from Bajram Curri to Valbona Valley when the race is over. After catching some rest, participants will eat and party at the Fusha e Gjese Hotel.
“Last year we danced for four hours at the party, after all that running,” Rexha said laughing, adding that volunteers, both joking and exasperated, asked the runners, “what is wrong with you!?”
“But afterwards, you say to yourself, everything is possible.”
The Gjakova Highland Marathon also includes a half marathon and a relay-race. Dinner and hotel reservations in Valbona are open for guests on first-come-first-serve basis. For more information, e-mail [email protected] or visit the website.
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