Every winter, sauna enthusiast from around the world gather for the annual European Sauna Marathon in Otepää, Estonia. The purpose of the championships is to inject some warming fun into the midst of winter, taking place as it is in February, the coldest month of the year in Estonia.
The event is not really a sporting event, but rather an opportunity to eat, drink, and enjoy each other’s company when winter is at its very darkest. Participants compete in teams of four, and the grand prize at stake is their very own hot tub.
In Estonia, saunas are an important part of the country’s cultural heritage.
"Many people think saunas are just hot rooms, but to Estonians, they are so much more," marathon participant Adam Rang said to Business Insider on Twitter.
Estonians have been taking saunas for hundreds of years, and in 2014, UNESCO even put the traditional Estonian smoke sauna on the list of "intangible cultural heritage of humanity."
Most of the participants are from Estonia, but some come from far away countries like Mexico, New Zealand, and Japan. During the Sauna Marathon, the teams visit 19 different sauna stations around the small village of Otepää. At every stop, there are three tasks for the teams to perform:
- The team spends 3 minutes in the sauna.
- They take a bath in a wood-fired hot tub.
- At least one team member must take a cold water plunge.
This is not a competition in speed, and the winners are chosen randomly – to avoid stress and people driving too fast between the saunas.
“I always thought people were running because it was a race,” one participant told Estonian World. “But I now realize that we have to run just because we are so very cold!”