The 24th edition of the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships will take place on 29 March in Gdynia, a city of 246,000 residents on Poland’s Baltic coast.
Once again, runners of all abilities will be able to join the elites and take part in a mass participation half marathon, which will set off in waves just minutes after the elites. With 25,000 runners having already signed up and with multiple youth runs and relays for children taking place the day before, the weekend should be a true festival of fitness.
Gdynia is city of music, film and theatre that is replete with various clubs, cafes and restaurants, but on the last weekend of March it will be all about sport as the world’s top half marathoners take to the streets. Whether you’re thinking of travelling to take part or simply to witness the world’s best in action, it’s a trip well worth making. Here are some of the key things you need to know.
How to get there
Gdynia is located 20km to the north of Gdansk’s Lech Walesa airport, which is by far the best option for international travellers, with the local train service taking just 30 minutes from the airport to reach the centre of Gdynia. If flying to Warsaw, you can take a three-hour train to Gdynia.
The half marathon will begin in the centre of the city, on Skwer Kosciuszki, then head northwest before making an about turn on Janka Wisniewskiego. After 9km it will pass nearby the start point again – a great place for spectators to follow the race – and then head south to loop around the impressive Gdynia Arena and Stadion Miejski w Gdyni. After 18km it again passes within a couple of blocks of the start before heading east. The final kilometre will be run alongside the shore on Bulwar Nadmorski before finishing at the beach, just 500 metres from the start.
The elite women will set off at midday, with the elite men to follow at 12:45pm and the mass race waves from 12:50pm.
Where to stay
Given its compact size, you can’t go too far wrong once you’re in central Gdynia, with Kamienna Gora or Srodmiesce ideal areas given the proximity to the half marathon start/finish. With the massive influx of visitors on the weekend of the championships it’s no surprise many of the hotels are already sold out, but there’s still a variety of options available in central locations for 350-450 PLN per double room (€80-€105/$90-$115).
What to see
Gdynia is one of the youngest cities in Poland, but the so-called nautical capital has a lot going for it. While it is most popular in the summer, a leisurely stroll along the seafront promenade or on the main beach is a great way to spend an hour at any time of year. For a brilliant view of the city take the train or walk to the top of Kamienna Gora (stone mountain) where you’ll see a huge cross, well-kept gardens and enjoy a stunning view, particularly at sunrise or sunset. If that sounds like too much work, then relax at the Gdynia Film Centre, a three-screen cinema studio at the foot of Kamienna Gora with an art gallery, bookshop and cafe on site. Kids and adults will both enjoy the Gdynia Aquarium, while it’s also worth checking out Kosciuszki Square, a thriving hub of activity in the evenings. History buffs should take in The Marine Station, built in 1933, which is one of Gdynia’s most significant historical buildings and houses the Emigration Museum.
What to eat
There is no shortage of tourist hotspots in the centre of Gdynia where English menus are usually available, but for a more genuine Polish experience it’s worth venturing where the locals do. The Green Way Wegetarianski Bar Mleczny is hugely popular for all kinds of vegetarian food and offers great curries and cheap breakfasts for as little as 4 PLN (€1/$1). Another popular venue with locals is Cyganeria Kawiarnia, which is in the centre of the city and has been open since 1946. It has a traditional interior that made it popular with writers, poets and musicians over the years, and offers local specialities like a variety of fish dishes or pork knuckle. No trip to Poland would be complete without trying pierogi (Polish dumplings) and one restaurant renowned for them is Bar Mleczny Sloneczny, where you can also try nalesniki (Polish pancakes) or various types of zupa (soup). A great place to restock before or after the race is the Hala Targowa, a popular market where you can buy all sorts of food and drink, along with gifts for those at home.
Where to get your caffeine fix
Runners love coffee, providing as it does that essential pick-me-up before a big effort, and Gdynia has a variety of great places to get your fix. For a quirky coffee experience check out Bialy Kot Kocia Kawiarnia (The White Cat Cafe) where the coffee is great, the prices are low and you can hang out with a variety of, well, cats. If you’re near the beach, check out Contrast Cafe, so-called because it serves coffee, cake and light meals during the day but turns into a beachside bar every night. Post-race, reward yourself with an ice cream (and some more coffee) at Cafe Klaps, which is one of the trendiest spots in town with a cinema-themed interior.
Where to run
There’s a good chance that if you’re travelling to Gdynia to run the half marathon, you won’t be logging a whole heap of miles in the days before, but either way the city has some great spots to get a few runs in. For a picturesque 8km run around Gdynia, start at the wooden pier in Orlowo and run to the Kepa Redlowska nature reserve, a route that takes you near the Orlowo cliffs with stunning views of Gdansk bay and the beautiful beach of Gdynia. The journey back down from the cliffs will take you past the Polanka Redlowska glade, which leads you back to the seaside boulevard.
Where to raise a toast
There are few better ways to celebrate a race than by raising a glass with fellow runners, and Gdynia has plenty of thriving nightlife spots at which to share stories. Most of the nightlife is concentrated around the seaside area at Al. Jana Pawla and Skwer Kosciuszki. A popular backstreet bar with multiple taps and a hipster vibe is Morze Piwa, while AleBrowar is a start-up brewery with 13 different taps. The Docker’s Inn is a British-style pub with a variety of draft beers, while Donegal is a popular Irish pub with live music and a selection of well-known international beers along with some local craft beers. For a quieter option, try Srodmiescie where the menu offers a variety of burgers and a well-stocked bar with multiple craft beers. Cheers! Or as they say in Poland, Na Zdrowie!