As I so carefully explained in the blog post “Why I Will Run A Marathon Across Lake Baikal”, this all began with some smarty pants Oxford graduates casually mentioning the greatest idea ever at a dinner in my home.
The greatest idea ever began on March 1st, when my “close friend” Eugene and I flew from Moscow to Irkutsk. For the sake of this blog, we will call Eugene by his nickname, Zhenya.
I am fairly skilled in the area of geography. And what I mean by “fairly skilled” is that I know where places like Tajikistan and Armenia can be found on a map. I also know that the capital of Mongolia is Ulanbaatar. And if there is a country where I pride myself in geographical knowledge, that country would be the great nation of Russia. After all, I’ve lived in Russia for my whole adult life and travel quite a bit around this curious land mass. Also, Russia map gazing is a form of relaxation for me.
Furthermore, since I travel quite a lot, I usually only seriously look into travel details just a few hours before departure.
Because of these facts, I was set up for that awkward moment, just a few hours before flying out of Moscow, when I realized that the city of Irkutsk that “Zhenya” and I were flying to was (and is) close to Lake Baikal, but only “close” in Russian proportions.
Indeed, as I began to read Baikal Ice Marathon information pamphlets for the very first time, I discovered that our final destination was the fine burgh of Listvyanka, located 70 kilometers from Irkutsk, and for our purposes absolutely perfect as it is right on the banks of the great Lake Baikal.
A lively discussion ensued with my wife who insisted that if Zhenya and I had trained all these months for a marathon, we had better find lodgings in Listvyanka and not Irkutsk.
So, after our short 5 and a half hour overnight flight from Moscow to Irkutsk, arriving on March 2nd, Zhenya and I rested for a few hours at a friends place in Irkutsk and then found a bus heading on to Listvyanka.
Zhenya and I were naturally a bit unsure of what an Ice Marathon was all about. After all, neither of us had ever participated in an ice marathon. A quick look around the Listvyanka “Lighthouse Hotel” lobby quickly indicated that participation in an ice marathon is usually just a small part of owning lots of cool looking cold weather running clothes.
The informational meeting for the Baikal Ice Marathon, chaired by the “ice captain”, was a train wreck. The Ice Captain would speak in English and then in Russian, giving conflicting information in the two languages, while rejecting offers of a translator as “we didn’t have time for that”. We seriously couldn’t understand how any of this was to work out except that we were to report to the hotel lobby the next morning at 7:30 a.m., which if I may grumble about jet lag, was 3:30 a.m. Moscow time for us.
However, we found out that before a marathon it is necessary to get a “carb load”. Not wanting to ever miss out on a “carb load”, Zhenya and I immediately signed up for the “Pasta Buffet” for the price of about $25 each. But naturally, we felt that it must be important because everyone was doing it.
After we each ate our first plate, they ran out of pasta.
We headed to our room to for a short night’s sleep.
The next morning we had some breakfast and were at the lobby at 7:30 a.m. sharp in order to nervously stand in a nervous international crowd (with everyone wearing really cool gear), and with, as our friend from Oxford put it so precisely, “gangs of Germans eating bananas”.
The ice captain turned on the megaphone and it’s attached flashlight, stood in the center of the lobby and continued his development of confusion that he had so adequately launched the evening before.
A short hour and a half later the marathon began!
It was about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, sunny, and no wind. The surface of the lake was ice, covered with a layer of packed snow. This was absolutely perfect conditions.
Emotionally, the marathon at times was difficult as the surface of the lake was completely level. That meant, you could see the next “tea/water/nuts/candy station” miles away and couldn’t really get a feel for distance covered or distance remaining.
It was kind of like the guy running in this video (except for the part where he starts stabbing everybody in sight):
Although the informational meetings were clinics in bewilderment, the marathon itself was well organized. The “tea/water/candy stations” were staffed by smiling volunteers . I almost always chose the hot tea option. Easier to swallow hot tea at that temperature than cold water. They also had some curious chewable candy that caught my fancy and I’m sure contributed somehow to me actually finishing the marathon.
The main organizational “challenge” we met was just a few kilometers before the finish line. We understood that we must always run to the right of the flags sticking out of the snow. If we ran to the left of the flags we would be disqualified. Well, here we were, just a few kilometers before the finish line and someone had made the mistake of putting the flags on the wrong side of the trail. We debated taking the trail and risk being disqualified, but in our fear ran to the right of the flags in some tire tracks, slipping through the soft snow in our beleagured state. When we were just a snowball’s throw from the finish line, a man on a snowmobile blew past, pulling all the flags out of the snow…
Oh wait, Zhenya made a video of us running. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I can’t even begin to calculate how much this video is worth in comparison to the written words of this blog. So enjoy, and please consider the larger marathon we mention at the end of the video!
After the marathon, some friends invited us to a banya. I nearly passed out. Later on, we were treated to a great dinner complete with tasty soup and a variety of Baikal fish.
I was more than happy to check “Baikal Ice Marathon” off my bucket list. After the marathon, I started receiving messages that read something like “next year I want to run the Baikal Ice Marathon with you!”
Hmmm… not so sure about that.