2009 Baikal Ice Marathon

Бродяга к Байкалу подходит... (A tramp is approaching Baikal...)
Russian folk song

The date is March 8, celebrated in Russia as Women's Day -- I guess running a marathon is one way to do it. Woke up at 5:30, that's 12:30am back home, and it felt that way :/  Didn't know how far the station was from the hotel, had a cab called for 6am -- turned out it was no more than a 5 minute drive, so came to the assembly point at the station early. There was a bit of excitement when I didn't see anyone remotely resembling a runner there, started to wonder if I'd missed it, started to make contingency plans, turned out the train was leaving at 7, not 6:30... Then saw first obvious runner types show up, then more and more... There's a total of 47 registered, but that includes about a dozen half-marathoners.

The train left at 7 sharp. The ride took about 4 hours total, but the train was comfortable enough, so actually managed to squeeze in some sleep on the train, half an hour or so -- feel ok, or better.  Spent some time thinking which pair of shoes, goretex or non-goretex, to wear, thought about putting my . Will most likely put on yak-trax, the anti-slip thingies.

Bibs were given out on the train, mine is #4.  Good thing I'm not Chinese.

The train stopped only very briefly at our destination, so we had to get out quickly. The lake was only a short distance away, we went down to the waterfront through snow, knee-deep in places, finished to gear up -- most people changed into racing outfits on the train. The wind felt 3-4 mps, I decided to put on windproof pants -- an interesting exercise in wind and snow :P  -- and a hat on top of balaclava (didn't regret either improvement later on the course), and finally, the yak-trax.

So off we went at around 11:30. The starting point was on the eastern shore of the lake, and the finish -- on the western side, Took me quite a bit to settle into my pace and warm up : the snow was 5-15 cm deep, powdery, so lots of sinking, poor push-back.  We were all going single file pretty much from the very beginning, following the car track.  Overtaking required stepping off track into the virgin snow, more sinking, double the effort. Then by about 5k, we more or less sorted out by initial pace, I was #9 or 10.  The wind was blowing from the south, so the left side of the face required some attention, had to rub it from time to time.  The temperature must have been around -10C, not too bad.

For aid stations, they used 3 vehicles which leap-frogged one another.  The first one was 10k out, then we were told they'd be spaced about 5k.  On a usual (warm) road race, that would be too sparse, but I figured that in this temperature, that'd be all right -- and it would have been, except they apparently decided to save on one after the mid-point, so instead of Mark 25 (or 26), they had it only at 30k -- so there was a bit of anxiety there, and a hint of dehydration...  not too bad though.  I only had warm tea/water, no solids, except for one small chunk of chocolate, that's my usual course intake at a marathon.

Back to the competition.  I never actually looked at my watch to check on pacing, except only once, and even then it was to flick it to the compass to check the heading -- that was when visibility started to deteriorate, and I wanted to make sure I could maintain the direction if I lost sight of the course markers.  When it became clear that I could more or less comfortably follow the front pack, I started to reel in 'stragglers,' slowly.  By about 15k, I caught up with the lead guy, with maybe 2 or 3 other people close behind.  We chatted, he said he wasn't sure if he wanted to complete the whole course -- apparently, this was his first snow run, and he wasn't comfortable with the feeling.  I decided not to try and talk him out of it :)  I also saw another runner, #43, do a squatting excursion, then again -- wrong pre-race food, must have been.

At mid-point, my co-lead punched out -- the winner of the half-marathon -- I carried on.  The surface now changed. Patches of clean ice became wider and wider, eventually taking up about 80% of the track, the rest being packed snow.  My yax-trax did their job, they held solid, no slippage.  As always though, I knew I should have tried them on before the race -- they require a bit of extra clearance on the inside, and it took me awhile to adjust my step without snagging the inside of my calf muscles.  But, I'd gladly suffer that, in return for the good surface grip.  There was a bit of a weight penalty as well, may have cost me my 1st place as it later turned out -- but again, a good compromise.

By about 25k, I had about 100-150m of separation from whoever was behind me.  The course arched to the left, slightly, the wind became mostly headwind.  Visibility also deteriorated, it started to snow.  By and large, I felt good though -- except for that missing aid station.  Only then the support cars overtook me, I figured one of them had to be my next checkpoint, started to manage my expectations.

Finally, got my drink at 30k, still in the lead.  By now, the western shore was clearly in sight, even with the continuing snow -- it sort of petered out soon anyway.  The course was easier to follow now.  The markings were little streamers on wooden sticks, most of them were in place.  I heard that the last year, an Austrian runner who lead the race, went off course after missing one of these, had to loop back, lost time, came in second.  Always pays to watch the markers -- I know that from personal experience (several years ago, in the Gobi March, we front runners overtook the course setter and missed the turn... 15 km extra).

Went through 35k, the last food station before the finish.  Soon after it, heard footsteps behind, with a clear extra creaking sound to them -- somebody was also using ice-proof footware.  The guy caught up with me -- it was #43!!  No more signs of stomach trouble, a most excellent gait, and it became clear why -- he was wearing spiked track shoes!  Not the most obvious shoe choice for an extreme marathon, but a very clever one, with 50% of the course on ice.  This is just shows how our background affects our thinking -- I come into this race after many offroad events, I know I need solid trail shoes as a minimum, I think yak-trax is the best improvement to handle ice.  I'm guessing he's probably done lots more of track running than I have, so he thinks of spikes. A lesson learned.

I tried to match for a little while, but he just kept pulling ahead.  I looked back, figured I could sustain a second place, and let him go.

The ice was very clear, if not transparent.  In places, it was solid, and it's impossible to tell how thick it is -- could be 5 cm, or 150.  I'm guessing though that for the most part, it is at least a meter thick -- there are cracks that go rather deep down, they give some perspective.  The thought that there's a few hundreds of meters of water below never enters my mind -- too busy running. Few pressure ridges to speak of, that was good news.

40k marker.  Various aching muscles, nothing too bad though.  The town of Listvyanka in plain view.  About 15 min later, the finish line, right at what would have been the water edge in summer.  I finish in 3:57:45, 6 minutes behind the winner (3:51:41 -- Vladimir Balynskiy of Krasnoyarsk, Russia), and very happy overall.

 

A big meal, awards ceremony, separate thank you to all the women, runners, staff and volunteers, bus ride back into town, hotel at 9pm... shower!! The first marathon of the year is over.