Chronicle.lu recently had the opportunity to speak with Erich François, Founder and Managing Director of step by step SA, the organisers of the ING Night Marathon Luxembourg, about how the event has evolved over the years and the challenges associated with organising a marathon as the world starts to "wake up" after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Erich François launched the first ING Night Marathon Luxembourg back in 2006. "Back then, we had 6,000 runners and we were completely sold out", he said. Fast forward to 2019 and the marathon had attracted 16,000 participants. As Mr François explained, the course has also changed several times over the years. "This year, it has changed extremely, because we had to integrate the tram (Luxtram), Mudam and Philharmonie and all of this. That was more than one and a half years of work, only for changing the course", he said, adding that the organisers also had to get permission from various departments and authorities, such as the Grand Ducal Fire and Rescue Corps (Corps grand-ducal d'incendie et de secours - CGDIS) and the Grand Ducal Police.
Preparation for this year's ING Night Marathon Luxembourg, which is taking place on Saturday 28 May 2022, began "the day after the marathon in 2019". Mr François elaborated: "It is always like this: the day after the race, I start with the preparation of the new one". Note that the 2020 and 2021 editions of the marathon had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regarding organisational challenges, Erich François explained that this year had been particularly challenging "because lots of people were sleeping in the pandemic and it was really hard to wake them up again". In addition to attracting runners, the organisers have struggled to get enough volunteers to support the event, not least because a lot of the country's sports and running clubs seemed to have lost members during the pandemic. "It was really a disaster this year", he lamented.
A total of 12,000 runners have signed up for this year's ING Night Marathon Luxembourg. "Every year, we had 1,000 runners more. [...] In 2019, we had 16,000. We were planning to have the 17,000 [in 2022], because we were always sold out", explained Mr François. "But this year, it was not possible. [...] We lost lots of runners from companies". Traditionally, about 5,000 runners from companies in Luxembourg took part in the event; this year, the number stands at about 1,000. "It is because lots of people were at home office", he said. "We lost lots of runners from companies. And it’s not only us: Paris normally [has] 50,000 runners, they had 30,000, for example, Berlin… everybody was crashing down this year. And I’m happy that we survived".
Whilst registration is now closed for runners, the organisers are still looking for volunteers for this year's event. "We need every helping hand", Erich François noted, explaining that they currently have about 1,300 volunteers, but more are needed. He recalled that clubs can set up a booth in Luxembourg City and sell food and drinks during the event. Rather than volunteering for free, they can actually bring in money (and gain visibility) if they show up with at least fifteen helpers.
The 15th edition of the ING Night Marathon Luxembourg will kick off at Luxexpo The Box in Luxembourg-Kirchberg on Saturday 28 May 2022 at 19:00. The 42.195 km circuit will take runners through the districts of Kirchberg, Limpertsberg, Belair, Merl, Hollerich, Gare and the city centre, before bringing them back to the starting point.
In parallel with the ING Night Marathon Luxembourg, step by step is organising the fourth edition of the "Roll & Run" wheelchair-accessible event, which will depart Glacis in Luxembourg-Limpertsberg at 18:00. Before and after the 7.3 km race, as well as throughout the evening, food and drink stands will be set up in Glacis.
Erich François explained that the Roll & Run event was an integrated race for "people who cannot run, who can only roll", such as those in wheelchairs. "We wanted to do something for people who cannot run but it was not easy to find a course for them, because making a course in Luxembourg is not easy like it is in Berlin. You don’t have flat streets and you just go for it", he elaborated, adding that the organisers had worked together with organisations that support people who are in wheelchairs to find an adapted course.
In addition to the ING Night Marathon Luxembourg and the Roll & Run event, participants are invited to attend the Diekirch Pasta Party and visit the Expo42 exhibition at Luxexpo The Box. As Erich François explained, "The pasta party is a tradition in every marathon, because the day before the race, you eat pasta to have enough carbohydrates for the day after". In Luxembourg, the situation is a bit different since the marathon does not start until the following evening. "Normally, you eat the pasta at 8 o'clock in the evening and you run at 8 o'clock in the morning so you still have something from your pasta, but in Luxembourg, we start at night", noted Mr François. "But it's a very nice tradition and we do it". For its part, the Expo42 is an exhibition on everything related to running, featuring big brands like Adidas and Puma, as well as sport nutrition.
Regarding the decision to hold the ING Night Marathon Luxembourg at night rather than in the morning like many other races, Erich François stated: "In 2006, when we started with the marathon, you already had more than 300 marathons in Europe and it was very clear that we should find something that would be special". He added that the organisers believed that more people in Luxembourg would be willing to run a marathon in the evening than in the early morning.