Are you a up for the adventure of a lifetime? Are you an athlete who wants to try something different and exciting? Do you want to experience a magnificent and unique sport and at the same time to be surrounded by wonderful natural beauty?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you need to be going to Syberia, Russia for the Lake Baikal International Ice Marathon. You’re not going to be disappointed, and you’ll be amazed at what the event can offer you.
The Ice Marathon is a unique competition where 120 participants from 50 countries take part in a race crossing the frozen ice of Lake Baikal, the oldest, deepest and largest lake on planet Earth.
Based in the town of Listvyanka the route for the race is one of the most beautiful places on the lake. Apart of the Ice Marathon there are other festivals as part of the “Winteriada” Baikal Nordic Games Festival, like Baikal Kamchatka Ice Fishing Cup, Ice Safari Expeditions, sled dogs races, snow mobiles races, Baikal Prize Open Ice Golf Tournament, Alpine and extreme skiing, snow volleyball, snow football, hunters festivals and many many others.
The preparations for the marathon start a month and a half before the event. Since the surface of the lake often contains small hills of ice and the movement of the ice can cause holes to form, there is a period of preparation where the terrain is cleared and the path for the race is created in safe areas.
There is an “Ice Captain” who with the help of his team of experts prepare and plot a course that is safe and secure for the participants of the marathon. They start the preparations with the help of satellite photos, where they analyze how the lake’s surface freezes and behaves in that particular winter so that they can determinate the probability of cracks in the ice surface, it’s important because they could be up to five miles long.
One week before the event the team creates a preliminary course, but the final course is set right before the start of the Marathon since the movements of the ice cannot be precisely determined. The final course is usually long at around 26 miles. Right before the race, the course is double checked by the Emergency and Rescue Committee, and they give the final approvement for the race, and all’s good to go.
On the day of the event, the participants in the Marathon are transported to the opposite side of the lake so that they start the race in Tanhoi and finish in Listvyanka. A traditional way of starting the marathon is by taking part in the ritual of “vodka sprinkling,” to honor the spirits of the Great Baikal.
The conditions on the course are often hard, and they change as you go through the race. The surface is mostly flat and covered with a layer of snow, but sometimes it can be uneven and even be very polished making it very slippery. Although it is usually sunny enough to get a sun tan, the temperature is freezing, and the high wind can also make it even harder for the racers.
Once you’re out there on the ice the race can feel cold, long and lonely; the lake is so big that your perspective can show it as an endless distance, creating confusion and disorientation. On the 26 miles long course there are eight to ten food and drink stands placed at regular intervals, with hot beverages, food, and of course vodka!
“The far reaches of Siberia may not be the first choice destinations for many endurance athletes, who may prefer instead the warmer, and more glamorous, climes. But for those that brave the splendid Russian winter, the reward is a fantastic race, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, on a one-off running surface”- said Kym McConnell & Dave Horsley, authors of the book “Extreme Running“.
For more beautiful photos from the Baikal Lake check out our story on its magnificent wonders.
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