Bulgaria has the lowest levels of physical activity in the EU: according to the 2013 Eurobarometer, 78 % of Bulgarians never exercise or play sport and only 2% play sport regularly. In addition, an alarming 64 % of the adult population are smokers, and the country has the highest rate of cardiovascular diseases in the EU.
The country’s main running event, the Sofia Marathon, was not held in 2011. Runners in the Bulgarian capital had only three annual events to choose from. It was then that a group of local runners set up the Begach Running Club.
Club founder Elenko Elenkov says it was about reversing a national decline. “We wanted to address the escalating inactivity crisis in Bulgaria and boost the country’s mass sport events,” he says. “Back in 2011, around 100 runners came to our first trail event in the mountains near Sofia. Today, we attract thousands of competitors to a wide variety of events including a kids run, a trail marathon, a 6-hour ultra-run and Bulgaria’s biggest triathlon event. Fundraising is also a crucial element of the club’s culture, and in 2016 alone we donated over €25,000 to charities.”
As Elenko points out, organising the races can be challenging. “Municipalities in Bulgaria could do more to support running events. We find that it’s often easier to organise races in the mountains because municipalities are unwilling to close roads. We’ve also closed down business parks to hold corporate relay races,” he says.
The running industry is now growing across Europe, and Begach is going from strength to strength. With many exciting events already lined up for 2018, the organisation is hoping to make a real difference in the EU’s most inactive country.