Thursday, March 8, 2012

Marathon on Ice in Siberia


There are a few adventures that I have undertaken, that really stayed on my mind for a long time. Of course I remember them all, but they tend to merge and blend and I lose some of the details. Sometimes it’s just the beautiful scenery you find yourself in. Sometimes it’s the outstanding physical or aesthetically pleasurable experience. Sometimes the good company or the inspiring people I met, or the different and admirable culture, or the unusual circumstances.
And sometimes it’s all of the above. 
And that’s how it was: the Baikal Ice Marathon
Picture this, 5,5 hours flight and you and end up 5 time zones away from Moscow in Irkutsk. 
It’s 5 am, but the taxi guy is already waiting at the 400 sq. m total size airport. He doesn’t talk, just grunts, just like they do in Moscow. My throat is painfully sore but the pharmacy is open that early (!) and I am “prescribed” some strong pastilles, so strong that I am considering the business opportunity given the fact that they cost not more than $1. And hour later we are in the village of Listvyanka, it’s pitch dark and we are staying in the reception of awkwardly decorated “elite” hotel Mayak. I booked a   “regular room” which turned out to be a closet with a bathroom. Given my claustrophobia, I could not even stay in the place for a minute. We are given far larger room with lake view for an extra $80. Believe it or not in LIstvyanka they know capitalism pretty damn well. Since it’s 6 am, they charge you for every hour before 2 pm for early check in. WTF?? :) Even I can’t argue after having not more than 2 hours of sleep.. 
The room is huge, warm and feels cosy despite the tacky furniture. We pass out. The race is safely 48 hours away. 
Morning, cool -24 C, what else can you do but venture dog sledding?? The forest is crisp fresh and white like a wedding gown. The dogs are running as if there is no tomorrow and I am happily struggling to make the turns squatting in my light but solid windproof winter cloths. The sounds of the sled piercing the snow make me shiver of pleasure, the smell is making you feel born again. This is pure white pleasure, driving around with your Siberian huskies. I start a polite conversation with my guide. Turns out my lead dog is the fastest dog in Russia, won 3 years on the row number the most important sledding competition. He is whitish with light blue eyes, beautiful as far as a canine goes with enviable amount of confidence. He knows he is good. And I don’t mean just good. He know he is The dog out there. Probably the Being there, since we human are kind of silly walking on two legs anyway ;) 





We go back to the house to settle the bill with the lady of the house. I just had to take a picture of her. First of all, she is beautiful. But secondly she has these special Siberian traits that I have already noticed around. The local people look very Mongolian - Central Asian, yet very slavic in the same time. In this particular case, she might have as well been Native american or from Alaska. Beautiful broad face with high cheek bones, alabaster complexion, light brown hair, freckles. Added bonus to my photo, her daughter with the dog-sledding business owner. The guy looked very slavic with a bit of scandinavian.  The daughter got little from her mom, except her high cheeks and is promising to be beautiful, how good that would do her in such a small village is a whole different story. 

I am yet not nervous about the race. I mean it’s still 36 hours away.
We hang around the village meaning it was bearable for 40 min at -20, calm  and sunny.  Some pre-race necessities shopping such as bananas and back  the the hotel via the lake. The winds blew and blew and blew. My nose got so cold that I could not breath anymore. I sunk my face in the jacket and certainly oxygen got available again. Despite the heavy ski gloves I could not feel my hands. We try run for 500 m and that was hard beyond believe. Getting back to the hotel made me feel about what meant for those North and South Pole explorers reaching base camp after a day of passage search. 

***
Morning, 24 h to the race. We move to “Krestovaya Pad” which turned out an awesome place considering it’s Listvyanka in Siberia. Who needs curtains when you can have icicles instead ;) 

Our group all arrives in various degrees of jet lag and lack of sleep so we agree a later afternoon run and head to the rooms for some much needed relaxation. 
The 5K training run goes relatively smooth. 5 pm we meet all the participants of the Baikal Ice Marathon. Damn, we are only 120 runners. 1/4 women, only 1/6 Russian, some americans, quite a few Germans, Brits and French, Honk Kong was well represented, also Japan, I am listed in the NL side, making us 4 but I then figured I might be on the only Bulgarian Woman ever to run it, so I make sure I add BG to my nationality. I look around, people look pretty fit. Some typical running faces, you can’t help but recognize the accentuated cheek bones, slim body, shorter torso, longer limbs. 
We learn you can get disqualified doing just about anything. It was pretty much the joke of the meeting, so you breath, and you get disqualified, who cares. 

Only 18 h to the race. I am getting very nervous knowing all the things that can go wrong. 
I raise my hand at the question section of the meeting and ask if I can run 30 K. No I can’t. I have to be brought back from either the halfway point or at the end, so no way. I ask if I can run full marathon? No pain in asking, right? Uh.... not too sure but I should decide on the spot. Uh... not ready for it. Whatever, I will just do half. 
We eat pasta in our cottage. Pretty nice to put our legs up waiting while 4 men are working in the kitchen. I am the only girl to run from our group, it has it's advantages. The evening is quiet though I had some wine, I am pretty relaxed with only 21 K next day. Might be hard but I am training for a full marathon in Paris, right?:) 
Next day, early breakfast in dawn and we head to the start line. This is a seriously small race. Never before started at 2nd row. Hubs and I run together. It’s a beautiful day. 
And the sun shines 
and there is no wind
and it’s a good -25 but climbing up
what more do you want 
loved every minute of it. 
16 K pass easily. 
I am thinking about the opportunity I have here. I am running on the frozen lake Baikal, in central Asia. I am, so far, rocking it. I could potentially cross the lake and be the first Bulgarian that have ever done that! I was prepared to run 30 K. Where there is 30, there is 42. You know what, I am just going to do it. What am I to lose??
We hit the halfway point and I have already made my decision. I am going to cross that lake today.That's it







By the 27K, the pain starts but it’s fairly moderate. The lake looks white and smooth like a fresh bucket of milk. The sky above is intensely blue. It’s so gorgeous that it almost makes you want to stop and stare. But that’s not how you run a marathon, right/ By the 35K the temperature raises to -10 C and with little wind, I had to remove my gloves unzip my jacket and take off my face mask which was  around my neck to prevent the sweating. Between 35 and 42, pain is unavoidable. Someone once told me to get some advil, but I forgot about it. I mean I was not thinking about running 42 this morning, pretty set on 21. 
Strangely mark 39K was the last one for the race and involved a bit of a confusion as the terrain where we were supposed to run, right of the flags was not well cleaned while the one left from it was pretty good. Most people, myself including ran on the left and risk the disqualifying. 
Finally there was the Finish! 
Last meters on my heavy like stones legs. No sprinting and...
What a joy! 
I did it, ran the while bloody 42 km.
It was a bit like running on sand where the lake was covered with snow, and running on glass when running on the ice. It was cold, and there was a compulsory 600 m walk on the uneven sharp icicle surface after the middle. Given all that, 5:07 minutes did not seem that bad. In comparison to my Berlin marathon time 4:31, I’d say I have done pretty well. 
I had to fight to put my results down and they considered not allowing me to be noted as  a finisher of the full. We got pelmeni and water and those pelmeni tasted so great, it was surreal. Of course being drained from energy, anything you would eat probably tastes divine. 
I had to strip in “public”, to be able to get rid of the wet cloths but no one really seemed to care. We were transported back by a giant truck and it took good 1,20 min to get back to the hotel. It was pretty obvious that we have gone a long way. 
Half a bottle of wine and some more of the local fish omul was enough to knock me out. Slept pretty well that night. 
One more scalp on my adventurous belt :) 

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