Organised by the local sauna enthusiasts and entrepreneurs, Adam Rang and Anni Oviir, the race follows in the footsteps of the Otepää European Sauna Marathon that takes place annually – usually in February – in the namesake Estonian “winter capital”.
Rang, originally from the UK, and his Estonian partner, Anni Oviir, have until now been involved in sauna races around Estonia as competitors, hosts and sponsors, but decided to add their own tweaks to the format for the World Sauna Race, due to take place in Tallinn in June 2022.
A competition between the saunas
During the race, participants will be given a map of Tallinn with a list of saunas to find on it. After experiencing the leil (an Estonian word for the steam that is generated by pouring water onto hot rocks inside a sauna) inside each sauna, they must then return to the finish line and vote for their favourite ones.
The participants will also need to find the answer to a question at each sauna to help them learn about the sauna they are visiting, as well as Estonian sauna culture more broadly.
But the real competition is between the saunas – competing for titles that include the “Best Leil”, the “Most Sociable Sauna”, the “Most Entertaining Sauna”, the “Most Instagrammable Sauna”, as well as the grand title of the “Best Sauna”.
Getting the word “leil” into English
Rang added that, although Otepää Sauna Marathon does already an “excellent job”, their tickets “sell out instantly” – and Tallinn has the potential to host a great summer sauna race. “The Finns have managed to get the word ‘sauna’ into English but the world still needs to learn what makes a good sauna – so it’s time Estonians got the word ‘leil’ into English,” he said.
Rang and Oviir said six saunas have already agreed to take part, with “more than 20 expected to be confirmed” – including inside startup offices and private homes. A former Soviet ZiL-131 army truck, now turned into a sauna and owned by the couple, will be part of the race – as will be a converted Audi 100 Avant.