Challenge Samarkand: probably the most special race we’ve been to

Challenge Samarkand (Picture: Challenge Family)

It is perhaps one of the most special – if not the most special – races we went to last year: Challenge Samarkand. Taking a giant step back in time, we took a look at the city that dates back to the eighth century and enjoys most of its fame because it was part of the Great Silk Road: a network of Eurasian trade routes between the East and West, active from the second century BCE until the mid-15th century. Apart from all the cultural and historical heritage, as an athlete you’ll enjoy a more than well-organized race and the luxury of ultra-modern hotels directly at the race venue.  

In fact, the contrast couldn’t be bigger: Uzbekistan was part of the former Soviet republic, and Samarkand itself is the country’s second largest city. In Samarkand – and you’ll past all the highlights on the bike course – numerous magnificent historical monuments that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. At the same time, just a two-minute walk from the start and finish area of Challenge Samarkand you will find a strip of hotels that are almost incomparable in terms of luxury. Here, as an athlete – or guest – you lack nothing and imagine yourself in the most comfortable world possible. Western customs – including Western cuisine – are very common here; which is nice when you are preparing for your race.

Rarely did we encounter so many spectators along a triathlon course

Samarkand is a city that can be divided into two parts: the old part of the city and the new part, which developed during the time of the Russian republic and Soviet Union. Since 1991, Uzbekistan has been fully independent. English may not be the most common language in the country – mostly young people speak it, older people virtually none – but still the locals try to do everything for you and are very helpful. Rarely did we encounter so many spectators along a triathlon course: the locals took great interest in the race and sometimes stood rows thick to watch all the athletes passing by.

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Emma Pallant-Browne riding the Challenge Samarkand bike course (Picture: Challenge Family)

The race itself – Challenge Samarkand – is remarkably uncluttered: the swim course is nicely laid out in a rowing lake and thus consists of an easy to navigate back and forth course. The bike lap takes you through the city of Samarkand twice, on perfect roads that have all been cordoned off by hundreds if not thousands of people from the organization as well as emergency services like police and army. Nowhere else, even at the best organized races, did we see a bike course that looked so flawless and safe. It’s simply spectacular! The run course is also very easy to navigate: you run several laps around the rowing lake and are thus always near the stadium and crowd.

The hunt for a personal record

The course of Challenge Samarkand is – except for a few climbs during the bike – fully flat. The race therefore lends itself perfectly to hunt for personal records. Just be aware though that it can be hot in Samarkand: so it may pay to prepare specifically for that. Don’t expect temperatures like in exotic places like Hawaii or the Canary Islands, but the climate is fairly similar to that of central or southern Europe.

The city has a lot to offer, the race is worth adding to your calendar

After your race, there is more than enough to explore in Samarkand, with the architecture in particular being phenomenal. For example, take a look at the imposing Registan Square, the Shahr-i-Zindar Monuments, the Gur Emir Mausoleum, the Ulugbek Madrasah or any of the other historical sites the city has to offer.

Challenge Samarkand is one of the most unforgettable races we experienced in 2023 – and will experience once again in 2024. And for you, it is definitely worth adding to your race calendar. Challenge Samarkand will take place this year on September 8, 2024.