I ran a half marathon in Siberia this past weekend. A friend happened to mention she was running in the Lake Baikal Marathon/Half, and was I interested in it also? Ahhhh, yes. Who wouldn't be? This gave me a solid three weeks to prepare for the half marathon after a two and a half year break from running. Luckily, I had a crack theory on how to train for long distance races.
A friend of mine (who also took part) theorizes that the best running program is one where you avoid injuries from over-training. So, the more you run, the greater your chances of injury. The less you run, the less chance of injury. Taking this theory to its logical conclusion, he avoided any risk of injury by doing no training. I took a less radical approach and did a little bit of training. I managed to run a total of four times before the big day. Though I do follow his theory of no training in just about every other endurance sport.
The Lake Baikal Marathon/Half Run was some of the most fun I've ever had. It takes place in the small village of Listyanka outside Irkutsk. Listyanka is a lovely Siberian village with charming homes and incredible views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The air is squeaky clean, the sky a palette of blues from light to dark, and the snow brilliant white. The biggest danger for a runner is actually snow blindness, then killer Nerpa seals.
There are lots of activities in the area -- dog sledding, snow mobiling, skiing, hiking, touring other villages around the lake. Everywhere I went the food was excellent. The cuisine is Russian with Siberian influence. Most of the meals in local restaurants include the fish from Lake Baikal called omul. These guys are related to trout and quite delicious.
Everything I ate was good, except for one meal -- the pre-race spaghetti dinner. Yes, we had spaghetti noodles, but the sauces were very odd and salty. It's like the chef based recipes on images of spaghetti sauce without a list of ingredients. Better we had had a pre-race pelmeni dinner.
Now for the race: Imagine running in 7 degrees fahrenheit ( - 236 degrees celsius for our international readers), on the world's deepest lake, on ice, across snowdrifts, leaping over chasms of roiling lake water, dodging hovercrafts filled with crazy picture snapping relatives, rabid seals, and the strangest sensation of frost bite and heat exhaustion at the same time.
And no toilets on the course! It's a lonely yet very public thing to take a potty break on frozen flat tundra with nothing to hide behind except the curvature of the earth. Only people in Florida didn't have a view to the show. I did feel much better afterwards, though - and shame, yes, but I think I made the right choice.
The race itself was very well organized. The people running the show were personable and competent. The runners were a hardy, insane breed from all over. We had groups from China, Japan, Germany, and Australia. A couple of guys from Spain. A sprinkling of Anglo-American types, an Austrian, someone from South Africa, some other places, and plenty of locals, who swept the medals for the men's full marathon.
"Please, please, no running to the left of the red flags. You may be disqualified. No questions." The pre-race information meeting was dominated by warnings to not run to the left of the red flags. Killer seals? Anti-Putin protests? Mystery...