Ultra Staffellauf
Dave Cowee – 10-31 July 1998

staffellauf1998-usrelayUltra Staffellauf, a 5300K ultra relay, is the creation of Peter Loffler, a German banker who resides in the city of Hamburg. As a frequent participant in the Siberian International Marathon (SIM), in the city of Omsk, Russia, Peter developed the idea of running a relay between the two cities. Working in conjunction with the SIM Committee, the idea has been transformed into reality – and this summer, at Noon on July 10, 1998, the first relay runner will depart from the Hamburg City Hall. This will put into motion a relay that, on Friday July 31, at 4 PM, will reach Omsk in time for the Opening Ceremony of the 9th Siberian International Marathon.

The route of travel, shown on the map, takes the relay from Hamburg through Berlin, to the Polish border; due east across Poland through Poznan and Warsaw, to the Belarusian city of Brest; north-eastward across Belarus through Baranovichi and Minsk to the Russian city of Smolensk; then generally to the east through Moscow, Vladimir, and Nizhniy Novgorod to the city of Kazan; north-eastward to the city of Perm and across the Ural Mountains to Yekaterinburg; the final leg, across Western Siberia will pass easterly to Tyumen, then southeasterly through Ishim to Omsk.

The relay team is composed of 25 runners, divided into 5 groups of 5 runners each. Each group is responsible for covering 60K of the route in a 6-hour period of time, after which that group has a 24-hour rest before starting their next 60K leg. The team is composed of 17 German runners (including one Italian), one Austrian runner, one Dutch runner, one American (Fairbanks runner Dave Cowee), and 5 Russians from Omsk (one with each of the five groups). Each group will have their own 9-passenger van, which will be making a one-way trip to Omsk; three of the vans will be donated to orphanages in the Omsk region, and the other two will be donated to the Omsk wheelchair running club.

Arrangements are being made with local running clubs for overnight lodging enroute at gymnasiums and sports halls. Police escorts will accompany the relay across the entire route, from Germany through Russia. We hope to receive e-mail reports from Dave, as the relay proceeds along its course. Watch this page and see if we are successful in receiving communications from the road.

Report from Fairbanks, Alaska – Friday June 26, 1998

Peter called from Hamburg this morning and did a lot to ease some of my ‘fears’ about unknowns, like my Visa (none of us have them yet – he goes to the Russian Consulate Monday morning with the Invitation in hand from Omsk, 19 German Passports plus the copies of my Passport); the structure of the relay (all mapped out, every 60K segment – at least as far as the Ural Mountains, using maps available on German CD-ROM); the composition of the team (all German residents except for me and the 5-6 Russians – 4 of whom I met last summer, and 3 of whom I know – one speaks fluent English, but he’s not joining the relay until we reach Moscow); water enroute (no special provisions, except they plan to buy whatever’s available in the way of mineral water – all of which is pretty salty to my taste – I found one good brand of water last summer, and only one – or beer).

Anyway I told Peter about my flight plan, and the status of my standby flights – they all still look like they have seats available, the tightest being from Salt Lake to Atlanta, but there are 5-6 flights that I could take and still make my Monday night Hamburg flight. So he’ll be expecting me in Hamburg Tuesday AM, barring complications. Our departure is at 12 Noon on Friday, not Midnight, so I get 3 nights of sleep in Hamburg (I hope) before we hit the road. And from that point on, we run, according to schedule, just like a Swiss watch.

Report from Atlanta, Georgia – Monday 6 July 1998

Here’s a brief update from Atlanta. Had good flights down from Fairbanks yesterday. Sixty MPH crosswinds and a dust storm, while we were circing to land in Salt Lake City, resulted in enough diverted flights that I was able to get a seat on the first flight to Atlanta. And the best outcome: I got my first good night’s sleep in weeks! Received our running schedule from Peter and, up to the Ural Mountains it’s as follows:

July 10 – Hamburg Noon   July 11 – Berlin 5:30 PM
July 12 – Polish Border 3:00 AM   July 14 – Warsaw 9:00 AM
July 15 – Belarus Border 3:30 PM   July 16 – Minsk 7:30 PM
July 17 – Russian Border 8:45 PM   July 18 – Smolensk 4:00 AM
July 19 – Moscow 8:30 PM   July 20 – Vladimir 4:30 PM
July 21 – Nizhny Novgorod 3:30 PM   July 23 – Kazan 6:00 AM
July 24 – Izhevsk 7:45 PM   July 26 – Perm 4:20 AM
July 26 – Bykovo / Urals 7:15 PM   July 31 – Omsk 4:00 PM

Our times in the cities east of the Ural Mountains are still dependent on information that hasn’t arrived yet from Omsk. Just talked with Peter this morning – he sounded like a man who is trying to put out too many fires at one time. He said as far as my visa is concerned everything looks OK, including Kemerovo. But the letter from Kemerovo with the Invitation hasn’t arrived yet – I guess I’ll find out if that will be a problem. And he will try to have someone meet me outside of Customs in the morning. More later.

Report from Hamburg, Germany – Wednesday 8 July

Very warm reception in Hamburg yesterday morning from Peter and his secretary Cornelia. Found out why Peter sounded so distracted, as almost our entire route across Poland has changed (because of the Polish government’s refusal to allow us on the main east-west road – too heavy truck traffic and poor road conditions); this leads to a mojor change across Belarus also. We’ll now enter Belarus due west of Minsk and rejoin our original route there. Also still up in the air is our route through or around Moscow.

The 5 Russian runners arrived last evening, on the train from Berlin, after flying Omsk – Moscow – Berlin. We’re staying in the same hotel, and I’m sharing a room with Pavel Fedossenko who I know from last summer. Also here are Vitali Tovstoukha and Evgeni Zhitnov, who I know from last summer, and Sasha Shoutov and Jacov Sarenko. We all had a very nice welcoming dinner, courtesy of Cornelia and her husband Felix, at their flat.

Managed to get in a short run in the rain this morning, before the Russians had to go to the Polish Consulate to apply for their Polish Visas. Evidently many exceptions were made by the Polish government to accomodate this special event with expedited Visas, thanks to Wierslaw Adamcxyk, Consulgeneral of the Hamburg Consulate. With my extremely limited Russian, I found myself translating between the Russians and Cornelia, as they all worked on completing their application forms. What next?

Sightseeing and some sunshine after that, before a 4-hour meeting between Peter and the Russian runners, to discuss the event. Fortunately one of the German runners, Ernst Dyck, a former Russian resident of Omsk, was also present to translate – fortunately for me. Very late dinner tonight (at 11:30 PM) – it will be good to get running and be done with the preliminaries. The plan for the relay start sounds like quite a plan.

Report from Hamburg, Germany – Thursday evening 9 July

Just about set to go. Vitali and I set out on one last 45-minute run in the rain this morning, to the lake and back. But with a short run up a side street, we promptly got lost, as the rain, clouds and fog obscured our landmark TV tower. At the 1-hour mark we found ourselves asking bypassers for help, in both English and Russian for help, and getting answers in both German and English. We finally found our hotel after more than 2 hours of running and thoroughly soaked.

We met many of our German co-runners at a relaxed dinner at the Stutgart Winefest. This annual event is held in tents in the public square in front of the Rathaus, Hamburg’s Town Hall – and also site of tomorrow’s relay start.

Report from Grabow, Germany – Friday evening 10 July

We’re in a Youth Hostel in Grabow, Germany tonight. I’m in Wagen No. 4 and our first running shift begins at 6 AM tomorrow, about 60 K east off here. So we have a 4 AM wakeup call and a 4:45 departure.

We finished loading our belongings in our vans before 11 this morning, received a few final instructions along with our Passports with the Russian visas attached (and with Polish visas attached for our Russian colleagues), and joined the opening festivities in front of the Rathaus – Hamburg Town Hall. Much music (the Stutgart Winefest is underway in the adjoining square) and media attention, and the Russian runners passed among the crowd with their traditional loaf of bread and salt. The Burgermeister of Hamburg gave his greeting and good wishes to our group, and sent with us a letter to his colleague, the Mayor of Omsk. Both the Russian and Polish Consulgenerals were present for our sendoff.

Following these opening festivities this morning, all 25 runners together ran the first miles, on a loop in Downtown Hamburg and out past the main Railway Station. Then it was car No.1 for the first 6-hour shift. They just arrived at the hostel and said their running was mostly easy, because of bike paths next to the road. After some miles with the Police escort, and the huge pileup of following cars (on the 2-lane roads they stacked up fast – 50 or more at a time), and with the runner on the bike path, the Police escort left. We’ll find out what it’s like on the narrow roads in a few hours.

We’ve already made the crossing from the former West Germany into the former East, across the River Elbe. The change was noticeable mostly by the disappearance of densely populated residential areas and the appearance of mostly forest and farmland. Each village we’ve passed since the crossing, on our way to Grabow, has one huge church with a tall steeple – all built of red brick. Very impressive. To bed now to rest for our first run, and our passage through (well, almost through) Berlin tomorrow evening. More later..

Report from Munchenove, Germany – Sat 11 July

Our group’s first and only run in Germany is history – this morning, under low clouds and occasional rain showers, we ran roughly 55 K on the 2-lane road towards Berlin. Traffic was not a problem until late in the morning, when cars started stacking up behind our van. But German drivers do not need any help in being told when or how to pass, so was not really a problem.

We were escorted through Berlin, nearly 40 K, by 3 Police cruisers and 8 motorcycles. Our preferred route through the center of Berlin and the Brandenburg Gate was not available to us because of the Love Parade. Police had told Peter in advance that the expected parade crowd of 1 million people was not compatible with our run – so our convoy of runners and vehicles was escorted non-stop through the City. We could have run through Berlin unnoticed if we had each prepared for our run properly by coloring our hair red, or green, or blue, or yellow. But we failed to prepare properly.

Berlin is a very prosperous looking city (2nd largest that we pass through) although the differences between the former East and West Berlin is still quite visible. Our wheelchair runner, Rudolph, ran the entire escort through Berlin as did Jacov from Omsk.

When the police left us on the NE edge of Berlin, we drove to our overnight accommodations at the hostel in the small village of Munchenove. Peter made our approach to the hostel an adventure by leading us through an Enchanted Forest, on a single lane muddy wagon track. As we left the darkness of the forest and drove slowly out into the daylight of the summit of the track. I expected to see Julie Andrews, arms outstretched, standing in the grass singing ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music’ …

Report from the road, east of Pila, Poland – Monday 13 July

We crossed our first border, into Poland, as a group, starting at 2 AM Sunday. The formalities at the frontier were time consuming, despite the months of preparation. They involved the export of our 6 vehicles, as well as immigration clearance for 25 runners bearing the passports of 6 nations (1 each from USA, Netherlands, Austria, Italy, 5 from Russia, and the balance from Germany).

At 5 AM, under light and clear skies, we finally entered Poland. As the sun rose we drove across marshy areas dotted with storks, then pasture land and small villages as we approached the city of Lodz. The huge cathedral with ancient wooden doors, whose sign said dated to the year 1290, was visible for a long distance. We drove on to near the start of our Noon relay leg, breakfasted and tried to get some sleep.

Excellent running today, under mostly sunny skies, with a slight tailwind. My 12K leg was through beautiful mixed pine forest on rolling 2-lane (no shoulders, paved or otherwise) road – route 10 to Gdansk. Good warm running conditions, after a very chilly morning.

Have had a police escort since the border and that really helps with the Sunday traffic on this road (moderately heavy). Police in front, with our beacon-equipped van following our runner. No safety problems so far. Short drive from the end of our leg into our hostel in Pila, where a hot meal awaited us, as well as a large load of communal laundry. Hard to believe that I’ve been away from Fairbanks for 8 days already – but the laundry load showed it. I’m sure I’ll be an expert at doing my laundry in hostel bathroom sinks by the time we reach Moscow.

Report from a swamp in Eastern Poland – Early Wednesday morning 15 July

I think that the day between our 6 PM – Midnight run and our Midnight – 6 AM run is going to be the tough one, following our experiences yesterday with our first one. We finished running Monday evening near the city limits of Warsaw, at midnight. But rather than driving into Warsaw and getting a hotel room, Peter insisted that we drive back to the church in the city of Sierpc, where the other teams were staying.

We drove for over an hour, through rain, into a dark city, looking for a darkened church on a dark street. After some time of searching, we finally peered over the correct stone wall into one church courtyard and spotted several of the other vans. However, after finding that the teams inside were sleeping on the floor in one large, dark room, and that there was no water in the building – we all voted to return to Warsaw and to find a hotel.

Easier said than done. By the time we got into bed, the sky was getting light and the clock said nearly 6 AM. We did have an opportunity to do some sightseeing in Warsaw later that afternoon, before leaving for the two-hour drive north to our next overnight stop. This was in Ostroilika, where a hot meal and one hours sleep awaited us.

It’s now about 2:30 AM Wednesday and I’ve just completed a 12K run through nothing but darkness, running across what appears to be a Polish swamp. We’re running on a narrow two-lane road, that appears to be elevated above the surrounding terrain. The croaking of the frogs, the flashing of the red lights of our Polish police escort on the trees, an infrequent dog barking in the distance, and the sounds of my shoes on the pavement – that’s all that kept me awake. Even though we complete our run at 6AM, we have nowhere to go to rest or clean up, for at 1PM, we all meet in the town of Kuznica to cross the border into Belarus together. It’s time for a nap.

My LOST Report from Kuznica, Poland – Wednesday noon 15 July

Again, no telling when you’ll receive these messages (“This one arrived in Fairbanks September 13, 1998”), but I’m writing seated on a curb on the Polish side of the border with Belarus. Our group finished our run at 5:30 this morning, drove the 40+K to Kuznica and have been waiting for the other groups to join us so that we can cross the next border together. We expect this one to be quicker thhan the last one since there is no vehicle export to deal with this time.

Since my last (Monday, 13 July) report we have been working oour way across central Poland, with a side trip down to Warsaw. Poland looks prosperous, from our path, with lots of new construction everywhere – both commercial and residential. There are automobile dealerships everywhere and it appears from the traffic on the routes we’ve followed, that both merchandise and people are very mobile.

We ran the other evening (Monday) from near Plonsk to the outskirts of Warsaw, down Poland route 10 – finishing near midnight. Early in the evening the traffic was very heavy, with lots of truck traffic headed to Warsaw from the Baltic Sea ports. Our police escort across Poland contines unbroken – and it has been more than helpful,. especially in slowing most, but not alll, of the traffic speeding past us.

Following our midnight finish on Monday evening, thru a commbination of circumstances, group 4 found itself in the relatively luxurious confines of the Polise Hotel in downtwn Warsaw. And with no running on Tuesday, we were able to do a little sightseeing in Warsaw in the afternoon.

Report from Minsk, Belarus – Friday morning 17 July

Our border crossing at Kuznica, Poland, into Belarus was an interesting exercise in geopolitics. We learned that Belarus and Russia are now ‘one country’ from the Belarus Customs lady, as she ripped half of our Russian entry Visa out of our Passports and rapidly applied two stamps to the remaining papers. Customs’ clearence took only 90 minutes or so for the 6 vehicles and 25 runners (plus one photographer), but it was high drama throughout – all to do with our vehicles.

When we entered the Customs checkpoint, after the entry gate was opened for us, the Polish Customs officer counted the riders in our vehicle. He wrote license number and number of passengers on a piece of paper, stamped it and gave it to our driver. We drove on through the checkpoint, to the first Belarusian Customs officer – who requested the piece of paper. He recounted us and stamped the paper again. Before the final Belarusian Customs officer went with the key and unlocked the gate into Belarus, we had been counted and stamped 6 times. Wlecome to Belarus!

After all that, we found the Mayor of Grodno, Belarus waiting to welcome us with traditional costumes, bread and salt, flowers, and to wish us well. After visiting the first of many sports halls, in Grodno, to take showers because ‘our overnight accomodations didn’t have running water’, we found ourselves lodged at the Hotel Turist in Grodno. The hotel was an excellent accomodation with restaurants, gift shops, money exchange, and of course, hot and cold running water; the first of many seeming contradicitons in these different countries, Belarus and Russia. But the food was excellent and inexpensive – Shashlik, our first of the trip – but Polish beer is better than Belarusian.

We’re now behind schedule, having lost 3 hours at the border (referred to as granitza, the Russian word for frontier), plus other adjustments. Each group is running longer distances in their 6-hour time slots, starting today. Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day – not too hot yet – with our ever-present Belarus police escort throughout. I had a fast run, completing my 12K in 56 minutes in the early morning fog – the green light was on today for a fast run.

The relay was set up around a relatively slow schedule of 12K in 72 minutes, 60K in 6 hours; but conservative has proven to be good so far, after numerous slow downs waiting for police escorts (as in Berlin) and border-crossing delays. We started one hour late yesterday morning owing to hassles from the GAI (pronounced guy-ee), the local traffic police, at their first checkpoint outside of Grodno. We had to purchase Belarus transit license plates for all our vehicles, and then to return the plates for the other vehicles to the hotel in Grodno. But we still completed our 60K in our 5 remaining hours.

There are lots of of new buildings and parks in Minsk, and some areas are quite pretty; it seems to be a prosperous capital city. But the Belarusian economy is kept afloat by printing money as needed, with the current exchange rate set at 56,500 Bel. Rubles to the US Dollar. We all walk around with big wads of paper bills in our pockets.

Thursday night in Minsk, we slept on the floor of a sports hall for the first time, and I had an opportunity to rewash my mildewed socks that had refused to dry. So of course it rained overnight on our laundry. And now on Friday morning, we’re racing Northeast on a 4-lane freeway towards our Noon start point, in a van festooned with wet socks. OOO-RAH!

Report from Orsha, Belarus – Friday evening 17 July

In my last report, you may recall that we were racing Northeast on a 4-lane freeway, towards our Noon start point ……. well, it was the wrong 4-lane freeway!

We left Minsk this morning, with the Director of our overnight-lodging Sports Hall crammed into the back seat of our van, to show us the road to Orsha, the M1 freeway. Unfortunately, just as we dropped him off at a bus stop, he put us on another road that eventually leads to Orsha, the M3 freeway. And with no truly accurate roadmaps of Belarus on hand, it took us some kilometers to figure out that we were on the wrong road. Our map showed only one freeway, the M1; and the M3 appeared as a 2-lane road. After asking lots of questions of passing motorists – cars do stop on freeways here when they are flagged down – we eventually found our way to the M2 (also a 4-lane freeway) and back to the M1. We reached our Wagen No. 3 runners about 45 minutes late (keeping intact another precedent that we had established, regarding

We ran mostly on 4-lane freeway today, route M1 to Moscow, through light to heavy rain and always with a moderate headwind. Temperatures were maybe near 15C / 60F, but wet running in the headwind was not much fun. I had another relatively fast run – 13.5K in my 60 minute slot, and we covered over 65K in 5:15. Unfortunately, I was coated with mud at the end of my run and I was wearing my last pair of clean socks; all the rest are hanging inside our van drying – our rolling, sweaty and damp laundry wagon.

The countryside is gently rolling, very open with few trees; and today I spotted the first clumps of fireweed. We appear to be slowly gaining elevation, and the tops of the rolling hills offer grand vistas in many directions of the open pasture land; there are few cities along through this area – and we still see occasional storks. Our temperature may have reached 18C / 64F today, and we hear that it’s 35C / 95F in Omsk!

Our group’s run finished about 20K from the Belarus-Russia border, so we drove ahead to see what was there and what formalities would be needed for the vehicles. Guess what? The first of the old border customs facilities has been replaced by toll booths. So perhaps Belarus is slowly integrating itself back into Russia after all (the Customs lady at the Polish border was right).

Belarus appears prosperous on the surface: very good main roads, new buildings, nice parks in Minsk, new homes, excellent and inexpensive food. However, the bubble of prosperity breaks at the border, when the currency exchange banks refuse to accept Belarusian Rubles for conversion into any other type of currency. The Bel. Rubles are worthless everywhere except in Belarus. The exchange rate is approximately 56,500 Bel. Rubles for 1 US Dollar, and our Thursday lunch (salads, soups, hot plates, drinks for 5) had cost 1.5 million Bel. Rubles (approximately $30 US). All their currency is paper, no coins, and their smallest currency is worth about 1/5 of 1 US Cent.

Not-so-Brief Report from Vyazma, Smolensk Oblast, Russia – Saturday evening 18 July

Fast day today, as we had our 2nd excellent meal at the restaurant upstairs in the sports medicine hall in Orsha where we slept last night. We had been serenaded earlier in the morning by the sports hall Director with his balalaica. After breakfast, we shopped in the Orsha bazaar trying to use up our otherwise worthless Bel. Rubles.

We had been joined last evening in Orsha by our GAI escorts from Omsk: two traffic police officers, Sergei and Volodya, who had driven the 3500K from Omsk to assist our relay in whatever way we needed. Their first order of business was to lead us at high speed through the center of Orsha, with red lights flashing. Traffic and pedestrians scattered as our van careened through the city and back out onto the M1 highway, following Volodya and Sergei. The high speed, red lights, occasional siren and harsh commands to other drivers through their loudspeakers, continued all the way to Smolensk, some 130K. It was quite a show – we all enjoyed it.

After several totally unsuccessful communication attempts at the Glavpochtampt (main post office), we didn’t have much time to sightsee Smolensk. But we did drive past some of the historic old churches, in this slightly rundown old city along the banks of the Dneiper River. I’d like to return someday.

Our 6 PM – Midnight run, along the M1 highway to Moscow, was abbreviated to 5 hours to compensate for the one hour time change at the border between Belarus and Russia. It was another run through heavy downpours, but no thunder and lightning of earlier today. We didn’t reach our hotel until after 1:30 AM – an old stone block building in Vyazma. No showers were ever installed in the building, because there was no hot water. And no toilet seats, just squatting toilets – but at least a very comfortable bed.

Although we still have the local GAI police escorts with our runners, we’ve lost our Omsk GAI until Monday. It seems that while they have absolute authority throughout Russia, and even Belarus, they have none within the Moscow Oblast (an oblast is the rough equivalent of one of our states) – Russian politics. We’re told that they will have to drive around the edge of the oblast on one of Moscow’s ring roads. As for our route tomorrow, we still haven’t received any word from Moscow authorities about running through the center of Moscow.

Along Moscow’s Ring Road, Moscow Oblast, Russia – very, very early Monday morning 20 July

It’s almost 1 AM and I’m about to start running east from Moscow on Highway M7 (it’s our second trip over this section of road), now that we’ve finally found Wagen No. 3. It’s a long story, but Sunday was a long and confusing day. Among other things: Pavel was asked to take over responsibility for arranging our overnight accomodations; the government of the Moscow Oblast and Mayor Yuri Luzhkov completely ignored our relay run, neither responding to our request to run through the city nor providing GAI escorts through their oblast; last-minute overnight accomodations in Zelenograd, near Moscow, were arranged by Boris Prokopiev, editor of the Russian running magazine “Running and Us”; our scheduled swap of runners took place, as Michael Plankar returns to Germany in a few hours, and Sasha Boiarkin has taken his place; and we decided to halt the relay for a few hours, so that our entire group could be photographed in Red Square.

Our intrepid leader and fastest van driver, Peter Loeffler, aka Glavniy Peter (Chief Peter) and Peter Pierviy (Peter the First), gave us a rapid fire tour-of-the-city and history lesson (he’s been doing business in Moscow since the early 1970’s) as we sped towards Red Square in the early afternoon.

As we all walked towards the square, we were hit by the first of several tropical downpours. We took refuge in GUM department store and waited the storm out. The rain finally let up, and many photos were shot over the next 30 minutes, including a few of our estaffietta (relay, in Russian) group with a company of Russian Army soldiers.

We drove to the northern suburban city of Zelenograd, where Boris directed us to our accomodations. Our group ate supper, I had time for a quick phone call to fellow-Fairbanks runner Michelle Mitchell (in Moscow for part of the summer), and then it was time to take to the road and find Wagen No. 3. That was no easy task as Group No. 3 had been running the Ring Road freeway, around the southern edge of Moscow, since 6 PM.

Peter was certain that they had passed the Jct with highway M7, and were running east towards Vladimir. However, after not finding them by the 35K mark on route M7, we turned around and headed back towards Moscow. There was major construction at the Ring Road-M7 jct. and it was very difficult to see both sides of the freeway. However, we finally spotted them, Wagen No. 4 and a lone police escort (as it turned out, it was our GAI friends from Omsk), waiting for us right at the junction off-ramp. And, once again, we were a fashionable one hour late. But we’d been busy.

Highway M7 east of Vladimir, Vladimir Oblast, Russia – Tuesday morning 21 July

Last night we slept in comfortable rooms in the Stadium ‘Torpedo’, in the city of Vladimir. Since Sunday, the day we spent in Moscow, was our second ‘no run’ day, we’d not slept in more than 36 hours. Monday was spent sightseeing Vladimir, meeting with the Stadium Director, saunaing, doing laundry, and enjoying dinner in a very nice outdoor restaurant.

But it was a short night, as we were awakened at 3:15 AM. We loaded our van in the dark; our van which, with the others, was parked on the track inside the stadium, under guard, following the theft several nights ago in Vyazma of two suitcases. And we headed east towards our starting point, near the village of Gorohovets, through another foggy dawn.

Monday’s Midnight – 6 AM run had been mostly uneventful, as we climbed gradually up and away from Moscow. We arrived in Vladimir, at the stadium, in the early morning. The city, built primarily in the hills overlooking the Klyazma River, is located astride the Vladimir Road (route of today’s Highway M7), the route by which those banished to Siberia walked into exile.

Towards midday, we walked through the city with a large group of runners to sightsee the many old churches, and the historic Zolotiye Vorota, the Golden Gate, built in the 12th century. This massive structure is an extremely rare surviving example of medieval military engineering. Home to many churches and other historic structures dating to the 12th and 16th centuries, Vladimir is a city where we saw both Russian and foreign tourists, and is another city that I would love to return to.

As we near the halfway point of our estaffietta, everyone is still speaking to each other. We’ve had almost no people problems and only a minimum of other trouble (one minor accident, the theft in Vyazma, and at least one Russian speeding ticket). Aside from the daily uncertainty of where we’re sleeping that night, and what our facilities consist of, we’re virtually problem-free!

Report from the village of Varatinets, Nizhegorod Oblast, Russia – Wednesday morning 22 July

Yesterday morning’s run got off to a good start, when a small busload (maybe 15-20) of runners from Nizhniy Novgorod met us along the busy highway at 7 AM. Their runners alternated running with our group, until we entered the city of Nizhniy Novgorod just after Noon.

Nizhniy Novgorod, located at the confluence of the Oka and Volga Rivers, is celebrating it’s 333rd anniversary this year. As we neared the center of the city, all of our runners (from 3 vans) and their runners, ran together. We ran through the old downtown, past many old buildings, the city’s fair and circus, an ornate old structure designed by Alexander Nevsky. All along the way, people at the crowded bus stops and along the sidewalks cheered us along. We ran across the bridge spanning the Oka River, and up a steep hill into and through NN’s Kremlin. We halted our run at an overlook, on top of the highest point in the city, with a grand vista from the northwest to the east, overlooking the Volga River and miles beyond.

Everyone enjoyed a short break to absorb the view, then the Nizhniy Novgorod runners headed on to the south and east, out of the city, with our runners from Wagen 5. Through with our running for the day, we enjoyed pizza and beer and the view – in the sunshine of the 30°C/85°F day, our first sunny day, all day long – and then a liesurely walk through the grounds of the Kremlin.

We continued on our way east on M7 in the evening, down the greater Volga River valley, towards the small village of Varatinets, and our overnight stay. In many places, the narrow 2-lane highway was lined with vendors selling everything from fresh produce from their vegetable gardens (agaroads), fresh eggs, berries, fruit, and mushrooms, to homemade drinks and pickles. So we stopped, several times, and we bought, several times. We were also short of bread, chocolate, and water, so we surprised the heck out of the local shoppers, when we drove down a dusty back road in a small village (between Liskava and Varatinets), to shop in their only grocery store (magazin pradukti), aptly named ‘Sputnik’.

Once again there were no showers and no hot water in our small hotel. But Varatinets was not totally lacking in amenities: there was a beautiful pond near the edge of town. Under still-clear skies, about a dozen of us hit the water just as the sun was sinking below the northwestern horizon. Cool water, warm evening, another great end to another great day.

Report from Mozhga, Republic of Udmurtia, Russia – early Friday morning 24 July

Our days move past much faster now. On Wednesday we followed the broad Volga River Valley down into the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan’s capital of Kazan, where we spent the night in a Russian (as opposed to Western) hotel. And here we observed the most polluted air that we’d seen so far on our run (lots of working industry plus nearby oil and gas fields). Our road continues to be mostly 2-lane, with the quality and width of it changing every few miles. But generally in this area, it is uneven and rough. We have yet to see two sunny days in a row: following Tuesday’s beautiful weather, it rained Wednesday intermittantly and we never saw the sun.

Wednesday morning, a group of young runners met us as we ran on the bypass road around their city of Cheboksary, in the Autonomous Chuvash Republic. Following a roadside welcoming ceremony and local media event, their 15 runners (ages 8-18), ran with us for over an hour. One of our Russian runners said that Cheboksary still operates their sports running schools in the style of the former Soviet Union, seeking out and keeping the best through a weeding-out process. They also train some of the World’s best race-walkers here, and they said that the Men’s Olympic 50K Racewalk winner in Lisbon, Andrei Perlov, was from Cheboksary.

After our run ended, we crossed the granitza into the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan. A Tatar GAI officer stopped us and talked with Pavel for some time before allowing us to continue on. We drove on towards Kazan (still more than100 K away) and shortly a GAI car with flashing lights pulled in front of us and motioned for us to follow. At first he drove 60-70 KPH, then he gradually speeded up; At 120 KPH, he was still picking up speed on a long downgrade and he gradually disappeared from sight – I couldn’t keep up.

We continued on, now closer to the Volga River. And soon we picked up our second police escort – the same man who had talked with Pavel. With red lights flashing, he led us towards Kazan at speeds up to 130 KPH – I managed to keep up this time. Our biggest thrill was crossing the Volga River Bridge at very high speed – now with the siren on and warnings coming from the loudspeaker – cars scattered in both directions as we flew across the very center of the bridge. A once in a lifetime trip – where else but here!

He delivered us right to the front door of our Russian hotel in Kazan, located in a 7-story highrise apartment building. It was an interesting arrangement with small, clean rooms – each two rooms shared a Russian-style bathroom (primitive to western standards, but with a great shower with plenty of good, hot water); there was also a large room on each floor for preparing and eating meals, and each room had a tea kettle, dishes and some silverware. This was one of our few overnight stops where there was an elevator (lift), and it worked, and where our passports were kept at the hotel desk.

It was a warm evening, and we ate shashlik at midnight in an outdoor cafe near downtown Kazan. The cafe had only the shashlik and some plates of salad for us, so we bought our bread and drinks in an adjacent 24-hour grocery store (magazin produkti). No Russian flag flies anywhere in Kazan or in the rest of the Republic of Tatarstan – only the flag of the Autonomous Republic.

All of the street signs and building signs are dual language: Russian and Tatar. Here Russian Orthodox meets the mosques of the East. On Thursday afternoon there was time for some sunny sightseeing in Kazan’s Kremlin – mostly restored, with several old churches and several towers – before heading east towards our evening run rendezvous.

All of the street signs and building signs are dual language: Russian and Tatar. Here Russian Orthodox meets the mosques of the East. On Thursday afternoon there was time for some sunny sightseeing in Kazan’s Kremlin – mostly restored, with several old churches and several towers – before heading east towards our evening run rendezvous.

More festivities at a roadside cafe by the Vyatka River bridge, at the start of our run: the government of Tatarstan laid out a fine spread of melons, rolls and pastries, and drinks for us. And, in the middle of the night, just after we ended our run, the Autonomous Udmurt Republic welcomed our relay into their territory by blocking the highway with 6 police cars for over an hour and greeting us with food, music and dancing.

Report from the Ural Mountains (where Europe meets Asia) – Sverdlosk Oblast, Russia – Sunday evening 26 July

From Kazan to the summit of the Ural Mountains, the welcome table has been set out for our estaffietta many times. Each of our five groups has been met at all hours of the day and night by welcoming committees, ranging from simple, short welcoming speeches to the musicians, singers and 6 GAI patrol cars that blocked the highway near Mozhga. We’ve been fed so many meals in the past several days that I’ve lost count; we’ve also sauned, banyaed and swam in numerous rivers and lakes. And, yes, we continue to run towards Omsk – mostly northeastward to Perm, the northernmost point on our relay, then southeastward over the summit of the Urals and then east towards our entry point into the blazing heat (for the past 4-6 weeks, at least) of the Asian continent.

Unfortunately, the timing for our group was bad for seeing the biggest cities on the west side of the Urals, and a lot of the scenery in between: we ran our two night shifts on Thursday night and Saturday morning. And today’s 6 AM to Noon shift found us passing through Perm in the dark at 4AM (we had driven through Izhevsk Friday evening at 11 PM). But yesterday we spent a peaceful day, resting in the quiet city of Ocher, located on a beautiful mountain lake. We showered in their 5th floor ice water shower, slept in their dormitory (obshezhitiye), ate excellent meals in their dining hall, swam in their lake, were taken on a tour of the city including our tour guide’s extensive agarod (vegetable garden – with fruit trees, berries and more), and ended our day with a sauna and meal at one of our host’s homes. This is work?

The terrain continues as gently rolling hills, with the road almost always on the highest point – offering those sweeping vistas that we’ve become accustomed to. We passed through pine forest between Mozhga and Izhevsk, and then into more open grassland, cattle grazing country (complete with Russian cowboys), and also more fields of grain. There is more and more fireweed in evidence now, and the full birch trees with large climbing branches are begining to give way to birch trees that more closely resemble those of Interior Alaska.

Our running continues to go well except the steady diet of running once each 30 hours is starting to take a small toll. Ace bandages are more in evidence, the calls for massage are more frequent, and a few runners are walking with tender limbs (but Jens didn’t see that big rock in the Kama River near Perm, and that accounts for his pronounced limp!). All in all, I’d say that we’re more than 95% healthy after nearly 17 days of running; pretty good for amateurs.

Aside from sleep deprivation, my only problem has been a sore right achilles. I’ve tried to run off the pavement on the road shoulders where ever possible. The pavement on Russian roads is almost always rough to very rough – even new pavement – and the shoulders are usually very soft or rough or nonexistant. And it seems the rougher the road, the faster the Russian drivers drive! So much for that – the adventure continues.

On the Yekaterinberg-Tyumen Highway – Tyumen Oblast, Russia – Monday PM 27 July

You would think that finding your way through and across Russia really wouldn’t be that much of a problem, given the immense size of Russia and the relatively low number of miles of improved roads. With the exception of the Moscow Oblast, you would probably be correct. However, finding your way through the larger cities along the route has not always been easy. Some of the roads we’ve travelled have not always had route numbers, especially now that we’re headed into the less populated areas of the country, and trying to follow them into, through and out of cities (like Izhevsk and Perm), or around them (like Kazan), has not always been easy.

The cities of Russia are filled with traffic circles (rotaries, like we see in our Eastern states), and sometimes the signing is not always that clear on which road to follow out of the rotary. After more than two weeks of this, we’ve found the best course is usually to ask local GAI officers for directions. And more often than not, they are extremely happy to lead you, at very high speed, on the shortest route through the city, with red lights flashing and traffic and pedestrians scattering. Do you think you could duplicate that service here? Well, this was the way we found our path across most of Perm yesterday morning, in the early dawn.

By 8 PM last evening, three of our vans were parked at the GAI post at the western entrance to the city of Yekaterinberg, waiting for our escort to our overnight lodging. The two eastbound lanes of the highway were choked with traffic on that hot (probably around 32°C/90°F) Sunday evening, as people were returning to the city from their weekends at their dachas. Traffic has to slow to 20 KPH (10-15 MPH) through those check points, and EVERYONE obeys those posted speed limits – no question. And the ever present GAI offficers, with their long, striped batons, carefully scrutinize each passing car looking for the right car to stop (usually a BMW or a Mercedes). Once a driver’s been stopped, the only thing left for the driver to do is to try to negotiate the lowest possible fine with the GAI officers.

Our overnight lodging turned out to be the Olympic Training Center of the Urals. An interesting structure, but one that offered only very basic and cramped lodging for it’s occupants. However, local pride in this center and it’s accomplishments was quite evident in the large color book about the Center, that we were given. In Russian, with some English, the book tells of the 42 Olympic Gold Medals won by competitors from this area (plus 41 Silver and Bronze Medals) – an enviable record. The young athletes in training during our stay appeared to be mostly biathletes and cyclists. Well, back to our estafietta.

Today was our first run in the heat, as we started at Noon (30-32°C) right in the center of Yekaterinberg in front of their main government building (like our state capital). I had decided to run first, not having any idea where we were to start our run. So it was a real thrill to run through the center of this large city, before the Noontime crowds (who were only mildly curious), with our police escorts halting everything in our path. The second half of my run was not nearly as glamorous: we wound our way over numerous on-ramps out onto the Yekaterinberg-Tyumen freeway and into the forest. The freeway was lined with vendors selling melons, and was full of trucks belching dark black, noxious fumes. And, for the first time, I found it necessary to drink water while I ran.

Freeway construction forced all traffic onto our side of the road for maybe 10 K, and our two local GAI escorts refused to allow any traffic to pass us. This created a monstrous traffic jam behind us. When we finally returned to 4-lane freeway, it took over 15 minutes for all the traffic to pass us. We completed our run this afternoon, in the 35°C+ (near 95°F) heat, running with 5 local runners from the city of Bogdanovich. A nice end to a long, hot afternoon.

But we still had a long drive ahead of us, nearly 250 K to our next lodging in the city of Tyumen. With most of us really tired, we’ve been switching drivers every 60-90 minutes. And, finally at 11 PM, we’re at the GAI post at the Tyumen granitza, looking for an escort to our overnight lodging.

Brief Report from Tyumen, Tyumen Oblast, Russia – late Tuesday afternoon 28 July

Getting close for us now: only 3 shifts left for us to run, and then the final run into Omsk with their runners. I can’t get over yesterday’s run, it’s one of my favorites: running from Yekaterinberg’s ornate central government building, at Noon, through the center of the city and out of town. Running on neat, tree-lined streets, with old buildings and monuments, and with lots of trees, traffic, trams and people: that made up for the disappointment of yet another large city that our group passed through with no time for sightseeing.

Surprisingly, we just returned from an guided (in English, by a former Intourist guide) bus tour of the city of Tyumen, Siberia’s oldest city. Known as the ‘Mother of Siberia’ and celebrating her 412th anniversary, Tyumen is the capital of Russia’s largest region, a region which has very large deposits of gas and oil. Situated on the Tura River, the city has churches belonging to more different religious groups than any other I’ve visited (excepting perhaps Moscow). Several beautiful old churches have been completely restored. The Znameniski Sirkov is one example, with it’s white and sky blue paint and brilliant gold domes, which looks very beautiful on the city skyline. Tyumen is also the birthplace of composer Irving Berlin.

It is hot in West Siberia. Many areas have been well over one month with no rain and temperatures in the 32°-40°C range (90°-105°F). It was reported to be 99°F in Omsk yesterday and Saturday’s marathon is shaping up to be a tough one. We’re lucky to have gotten in our last afternoon run yesterday, although its again 95°F in Tyumen, and at 5 PM we’re just headed out of town for our evening run – good luck!

Report from Ishim, Tyumen Oblast, Russia – Wednesday evening 29 July

We’re nearing the end of our estaffietta, and I never introduced the runners of Wagen Number 4. The person who makes all of the important decisions, in either German or English, that affect the safetly, health and welfare of the 5 of us in our van (and who leads the entire estaffietta), is Peter Loeffler from Hamburg.

Fastest runner of all, communicating in either German or English, rolling over roads rough and smooth in his speedy wheelchair (try disassembling it rapidly in a cold downpour and a crosswind, and stowing it on the roof of our van ……) is Rudy Jaksch from near Stutgart.

The man who was always on the roof of the van stowing the wheelchair (and using an ever increasing number of bungee cords to do it), or playing his Dutch rock tapes, or making a pit stop in the middle of his run, or speaking to us in one of his 5+ languages: Peter van den Dungen, veteran of the 1st Siberian Intl’ Marathon, from Amsterdam.

Our Russian runner, President of Club Victoria running club in Omsk, professor of electronics engineering, ultra marathoner, organizer of our enroute overnight accomodations, aggressive masseur, Pavel AI-YAI-YAI Fedosenko. Pavel always found the freshest produce at the roadside vendors and kept us limber with his wooden mallet; but he loved to mix a little German with his Russian when he talked with me, just enough to confuse me thoroughly.

And finally, the only non-European or non-Russian runner on the relay, the token North American, me, Dave Cowee from Fairbanks, Alaska; a person who feels extremely fortunate to be a part of this rather unique adventure. Aside from needing to have a locator beacon on his camera, and from usually running faster than our group leader would like, and from being pressed into service to translate Russian to English in the middle of the night (or day), he always liked to ask Peter ‘why?’.

We had a hot run in the evening heat last night. although by midnight temperatures had cooled well down into the lower 80’s. There were loads of people out swimming in the creeks and ponds along our route, or just picnicing in the woods next to the road. We stopped at a cafe for pepsi and coffee around 1 AM, after our run – as we had a very long drive to our next overnight (or rather overday stay) in the city of Ishim; a city that is located less than 100 K north of the border with Kazakstan. I drove from that cafe to the Ishim city granitza, arriving at 4:45 AM. There were a couple of local sportsmen at the GAI post, waiting to escort us to the local obshezhitie (dormitory).

After unloading, we parked our van inside the local stadium, about a mile away, as we were advised that this was the only safe course in Ishim. The stadium was also the site our showers (and sauna). By the time we had cleaned up, done some cold water laundry, and had a bite to eat, it was time for bed at 8 AM. Actually managed to sleep for about 5-6 hours. Did a little shopping in the late afternoon, but not much else; we watched several other teams arrive at our lodging, and shake their heads.

Our obshezhitie was located in the center courtyard area that lies between a large number of 8-floor apartment buildings. Located right next to us, was a brand new multistory brick building: no signs, no identifying marks, no nothing. I was very surprised to learn later that the building was a brand new Catholic church. I’m getting a massage tonight, with special attention to both of my two achilles; my feet are begining to feel a little bit beat up.

Report from Krasniy Yar, Omsk Oblast, Russia – Thursday evening 30 July

Our last evening on the road, and we’re all going to sleep in the auditorium of the grade school in the small city of Krasniy Yar – located downstream on the Irtish River, about 50 K northwest of Omsk. When we first saw our accomodations (we were the first group to arrive, just before Noon today) the small auditorium looked like an infirmary. The auditorium is filled, side-by-side and wall-to-wall, with at least 30 beds, all made up with fresh linen, and with pillows fluffed up and standing on end. Quite a sight.

But now in the early evening (8 PM), with the outside temperature in the 90’s, the temperature in the auditorium is easily above 100 and the air inside is motionless. A rather elaborate banquet has been promised for this evening, but so far, only two groups of runners are here. At noon, after our arrival, we were taken to the local public sauna for sauna and showers. After which everyone, except Pavel and I, did laundry or went to sleep – after being up most of the night. Pavel and I had an excellent lunch, in the executive dining room with the plant director, at the ‘chicken plant’ – home to over 5 million chickens. Then we slept.

Last evening’s run had been a tremendous frustration for me: following my massage in Ishim, I found myself unable to put much pressure at all on my right foot – the achilles was very tender. I had thought the pain would pass by the end of our run at 6 this morning. But it didn’t and I was forced to sit out my first run. I was really unhappy, but the consensus was that I shouldn’t run on it if I had any hopes of completing the marathon on Saturday.

We were met by one final mid-run welcoming committee, early this morning before the first light of dawn had reached into the night. They had set out a linen-covered table next to the road covered with local delicacies. Surprise after surprise.

It’s 8:30 PM now, and two more groups have just pulled in in front of the school, and I hear a rumor that the party is about to begin. There’s cold beer out in front and more than a few familiar faces from Omsk. Time to go see what’s happening.

Under an Overpass, Omsk Oblast, Russia – Friday afternoon 31 July

In one sense we’re light years beyond where we were a mere 16 hours ago; however in another, and more tangible sense, our estaffietta has advanced only about 30K down the highway from Krasniy Yar towards Omsk. In the meantime, Ernst has bought the only pair of sandals, in my size, from the produkti (merchandise store) in Krasniy Yar; Friday is womans day in Krasniy Yar’s public sauna; Peter ran our abbreviated 5AM-9AM shift largely with volunteers (or inductees); last evening’s banquet featured a local German accordianist and vast quantities of ASHA; and, it was so hot in our auditorium/sanitarium sleeping quarters, that everyone slept on top of their sheets.

Now, let’s put this all in perspective. Last evening a number of the top brass with SIM (the Siberian Intl’ Marathon Committee in Omsk), traveled out to Krasniy Yar to give us an advance welcome into their region. And it was a fine banquet:, held in the large dining room (cafeteria) of the Lyubinski Molochnokonserviy Kombinat – profitable (we’re told) producers of much of the canned and bulk milk consumed in the Omsk Oblast.

Our long banquet table was covered with linen table cloths and set out with platters of hors d’oeuvres – cold cuts and cheeses, excellent Russian garlic toast wedges, and salads. And of course, bottles of locally produced, and quite excellent, ASHA vodka (one of the Siberian Intl’ Marathon’s premier sponsors!). Many toasts were offered – everyone was eligible to offer (there were probably at least 40 at the banquet). This was followed by hot courses of stroganoff, fried potatoes with dill. Again, many toasts were offered. Fresh fruit was on the table, hot bowls of beef with dill were served, beer, kvas, juices; and more toasts were offered.

Then it was time for the accordianist – and could he ever play, and sing – both German and Russian folk songs. The sweat flew. Additional toasts were offered (between, but not during, the songs). Then the dancing began, and the sweat really flew. People who did not realize they could dance, danced; people who were formerly unable to dance, danced. The toasts were fewer now, as people were singing, while they danced. Finally, as Thursday was about to become Friday, tea and local fruit-sugar candies were served, unofficially signaling an approaching end to the festivities.

So it was back to that large, hot, densely-packed auditorium filled with sweaty dancers, who had more than enjoyed their banquet, as well as all the fluids that were provided. It was a long night. Teams came and teams went. Noisy at times (runners do snore), and quiet at other times – it was difficult to sleep in the opressive heat. By dawn’s very early light, the room had become extremely sweaty and sour.

By late morning, all five groups of our runners, our Omsk GAI escorts, a large group of our Krasniy Yar hosts and local officials, and seemingly every school-age child in Krasniy Yar – were gathered in front of the school, exchanging kind words, gifts, and autographs. Many of the children had been given books, about their area, and at a signal, they rushed forward and gave each one of us a book. Really neat. Then we were off, once again, en caravan, with police escort. Back out to the main highway, and the estaffietta resumed. That was several hours ago and now, the non-running vans are all parked in the shade of this overpass, on this blazing hot afternoon, waiting for the poor souls who are running in the heat to reach us. Then it’s on through the Omsk granitza and into the city proper, where we’re due to arrive at our hotel at 4 PM.

On the Sofa, Omsk, Omsk Oblast, Russia – late Friday night 31 July

Less than 9 hours to go before the start of the 9th Siberian International Marathon (SIM). Little did I know one year ago, that I would be back in Russia on the same sofa in Omsk, one year later, contemplating my 5:30 AM feeding of blini and preserves (cherry and raspberry). The turns that life takes – definitely not dull, boring and predictable!

Where have we been since last we met?

Well: the reason we were grouped out of the sun, under the overpass, was to await our oncoming runners. The overpass was in the middle of an elaborate interchange, and crossed over the Omsk-bound roadway. Unbeknownst to us, the GAI leading our runners had their own ideas on the best route through the interchange: they decided to lead the runners on the most direct route, down the upbound lanes, against traffic! Of course, traffic never poses a problem for the GAI. When most drivers sense a GAI car anywhere within a mile of them, they instinctively pull to the side of the roadway and wait. So oncoming traffic merely vanished at the sight of our several GAI patrol cars with their flashing lights. And, as we spotted those flashing lights, well ahead of us now, and across a field, we realized that we’d been taken again, waiting in the wrong spot.

We all drove ahead to the GAI post at the Omsk granitza and waited again, for their arrival (and passed the time by eating watermelon and ice cream). Our plan from here was to run to our hotel, arriving around 4 PM – then to run together as a group, the last several kilometers to the Music Theater. A welcoming ceremony had been planned for 5 PM (followed by the SIM Opening Ceremony in the theater at 6). My long awaited run across the large Irtysh River bridge and our triumphant entry into the center of Omsk, was drawing close. I had been testing my legs, and I felt I could run 3-4 K, if I took it easy.

We all drove ahead to the GAI post at the Omsk granitza and waited again, for their arrival (and passed the time by eating watermelon and ice cream). Our plan from here was to run to our hotel, arriving around 4 PM – then to run together as a group, the last several kilometers to the Music Theater. A welcoming ceremony had been planned for 5 PM (followed by the SIM Opening Ceremony in the theater at 6). My long awaited run across the large Irtysh River bridge and our triumphant entry into the center of Omsk, was drawing close. I had been testing my legs, and I felt I could run 3-4 K, if I took it easy.

As we passed through the suburbs of Omsk, Rudolph wheeled, along with a runner from Omsk and other runners from each of our 5 groups, who took turns running for a few miles each. As we neared the Irtysh River bridge, I hopped out of our van and joined the 4-5 other runners. But, much to my dismay, we ran right on past the bridge, and kept running south along the west side of the river. We all thought a mistake had been made, but we finally turned down a kilometer-long driveway, that led down through the trees towards the river, and to the unceremonious, although only temporary, termination of our estaffietta in a hotel parking lot!

But, wait, there’s more. The best parts were actually yet to come. Within 45 minutes, we’d driven across the bridge and through downtown to within about 2 K of the theater. At this point, all of us, except the 5 drivers, were out of our vans and in the street running together, and we did make a triumphant approach to the theater. Here we were greeted by a marching band and by most of the SIM Committee. And for many of us, our Omsk friends were waiting to greet us also – my hosts Valera, Tanya and Anya Ansiferov, and their friend Misha Simbalov, were among them.

A brief ceremony, honoring Peter Loeffler and the completion of the estaffietta, was held on the front steps of the theater. Then it was inside for the great music and entertainment production that constitutes the SIM Opening Ceremony. Following the opening musical number, the Master of Ceremonies spoke briefly (in Russian of course) and then began to read off a list of names and countries of origin – and it turned out to be our names, the 25 relay runners. Next thing we knew, we found ourselves on stage, in front of a couple of thousand cheering runners, families and friends – each of us wearing a huge, 2-foot diameter, thick cluster of oak leaves. Photographs, and more photographs. What a charge!

Later that evening, our pasta dinner at the babushka’s flat (Valera’s mother), was a little more low key. Joining my host family, Misha and me, were fellow relayers Peter van den Dungen from Amsterdam and Sasha Boiarkin from Moscow. Also with us were the wife and son of Dima Khodko, one of the founders of SIM: Luda and Vitia. It was a short, but relaxing evening. And now, as I try to fall asleep, throusands of thoughts are coursing through my mind – memories of last year’s marathon, memories of the past 3 weeks, and memories of my fateful massage of 2 nights ago! Jens has not yet fully recovered from his Kama River rock accident, and he and I had talked earlier today about limping together through 42.195 K. But, running this afternoon had felt not that bad, so, we shall see what we shall see, after blini in the morning.

Face Down On the Massage Table, Podgorodka village – Omsk Oblast, Russia – Sunday afternoon 2 August

All things come full circle. And now Anatoli, with his large, powerful hands, is literally pounding and sqeezing the remaining life out of me, as I lie motionless, unable to resist, on the same table that I visited once before, a year ago. And does this ever feel good. I’d been back and forth between the hot sauna and the ice cold shower several times and, following yesterday, I was ready for Anatoli.

Yesterday morning, we (Valera, Tanya and I) were all up and dressed and ready to go by 7:30. Sasha, along with Peter, walked over from his parent’s flat, and the five of us walked together the short distance down ulitsa Krasniy Pyt to the start area. Except for some scattered high clouds, the weather hadn’t changed, and you could smell the heat of the day coming. In the start area, we located Peter Loeffler and eventually found our running numbers. By the time we had officially checked in, race start was less than 10 minutes off. There were well over 1000 runners in the start area, for SIM starts both the Marathon and their 5 mile race at the same time.

Could I run the Marathon after my mid-week experiences? As I’d eaten my blini and preserves at 5:30 that morning, I’d decided to give it my best shot and go as far as I could. So, here I was, milling around in the crowd of runners, looking for familiar faces, when the gun went off! That caught most of us by surprise. I didn’t even have my watch reset. And, as I started to run, I had a flash of dejavu – back to the start of last year’s SIM: similar circumstances!

Under mostly clear skies and hot temperatures (33 C / 91 F, according to several runners), I ran the best I could. There was plently of water and cold tea available at the official water stops, located about every 5K. And there were many unofficial water stops in between! Everybody seemed to be taking full advantage of the fluids. I started running slowly, at just under a 6 minute / K pace (under 10 minute mile), just to see how it would go. Everything was fine for almost the first 10K, but then I gradually began to feel the right ankle; it never really hurt, but I was aware of it. But I just kept running.

At about that same time, near the 9K mark, Vitaly caught up with me and he and I ran the next 15-16K together. It helped to have someone to run with, and to talk with. By the 25K mark, we were on the second of the three loops in this mostly flat course. Trees along the roads offered some shade when you ran along the gutters, but there were also open areas with no protection from the relentless sun.

I continued to run all the way to near 36 K, and then finally had to walk with my cup of water for some minutes. I picked up a new partner along here, Arkady from Chelyabinsk, and he and I steadily worked our way to the finish line, crossing at just over the 4:08 mark (vs. 3:33 last year). I considered this to be an accomplishment, since I wasn’t even sure whether or not I’d be able to run, let alone finish; and my training over the past 4 weeks had not really been conducive to a decent marathon time.

About Jens: he ran, and he finished before I did (when our route took us past the finish area at about the 32K mark, Jens was already there and he shouted at me: “David! I have already finished!”), but I later learned that he was not able to run the entire course.

We spent a quiet afternoon and evening, following the marathon. The five of us walked around the city center (downtown) in the evening, looking for some excitement, but ended up fixing a big meal back at the babuska’s. And on Sunday morning, Peter van den Dungen and I were back in our van, driving out to Podgorodka Village to our picnic and sauna. So, here we are. There are more group activities planned before Tuesday morning, when most of the group will fly back through Moscow to Berlin and take the train on to Hamburg, Stutgart, Amsterdam or where ever. In my next report I’ll close out our estafietta activities.

At home at my Barhatovoy flat, Omsk Oblast, Russia – Tuesday evening 4 August

We were all up early this morning to drive Peter van den Dungen to the airport, for his flights back to Moscow and Berlin, and train to Amsterdam, and to bid farewell to all the rest of the departing relayers. Was on the run the rest of the day trying to bid farewell to Rudolph at the vokzal (railway station), but somehow missing his train; talking with marathon director Kostya Podbelski; and visiting (only in Russian for over an hour) with Volodya Sakarenio (one of our GAI escorts) and his daughter. I’m back at Valera and Tanya’s flat on Ulitsa Barhatovoy (Street) and I’ve just gotten off the phone with my ‘family’ in Kemerovo trying to arrange the details of my next journey. It’s difficult to organize my thoughts, but ……

After Podgorodka village, one big event remained on our calendar: presenting the letter from the Burgermeister of Hamburg to the Governor of Omsk Oblast. This was done at an elaborate press conference, on Monday morning in the oblast administration building. As part of the conference, we were introduced individually to the Governor and he presented each of us with a personal Certificate of Appreciation and a gift from the Omsk Oblast. No formal presentation was made of the five vans that we drove to Omsk, but three were donated to orphanages in the Omsk Oblast and two to the wheelchair running club in Omsk.

Following the press conference, we were all escorted into an adjoining room where an elaborate buffet of horsdeouveres had been laid out, including several varieties of toasting materials. The Governor, of course, proposed the first toast. And from that point on, it was free wheeling in the August heat in that third floor anteroom (air conditioning, not). Solid food disappeared rapidly, as glasses were raised on high. And in the end, some were observed chasing their tumblers of Omsk’s finest vodka, ASHA, with cookies and chocolates. With the champagne long gone, the cabinets finally drained of ASHA, and little but crumbs left on the long buffet table, we were carefully escorted down the elevator and out into the 90 F heat of the mid-day sun. We were on our own ……… for a few hours, at least.

One final gathering was held that evening, at a basement restaurant in the downtown area. Here we joined with all of our Omsk friends and enjoyed each other’s company one more time. What the restaurant lacked in quantity of food, in speed of service, and in spirit of the evening (can you imagine the Manager stopping us from singing, because we were singing too loudly – perhaps because we were singing in four or more different languages at the same time?), the exhuberant mood of the company more than made up for. I think that we took up singing in self defense, in our steam bath dining room, after we’d waited more than an hour for each successive course of our meal to be served; and they were running low on beer at that point (having already run out of ASHA). Oh well, we all made the best of a very enjoyable situation!

What a way to bring to a close an event like this. Peter v. and I had really had quite a day: following the press conference, we’d gone back to the babushka’s flat and Tanya had prepared a nice lunch for us. Then Valera, Tanya and Misha took us upstream in a boat on the Irtysh River for sun and a swim in uncrowded waters. With their ongoing heat wave, the water in the river was more like bathwater, but most enjoyable. Then it was on to the dinner party. And we finished off the evening in one of the many summer party tents set up in the city parks. Memorable.

Then to the airport this morning to see everyone off. Many farewells were spoken, and even more promises made of future rendezvous. And then most everyone was gone – except for our five Omsk runners, for Rudolph (leaving on the train for Moscow this afternoon), for Ernst Dyck (visiting in Omsk, and headed to Chelyabinsk before returning to Hamburg), and for me (visiting in Omsk, and headed to Kemerovo and Moscow before returning to Fairbanks). It was over.

Epilogue

My thoughts about what I’ve done can best be summarized by my memories of bits and pieces of things that happened to us over the past 4 weeks. And, as my memory brings forward additional events, I will surely add them to this list (it may never be completed).

  • The very warm welcomes that I received, from Peter and Cornelia when I first arrived Hamburg, and from each of the other relayers as we initially met;
  • The graciousness of Cornelia and Felix for feeding us (me and my five Russian friends) and tending to our needs while we were in Hamburg;
  • The gift packs for each of us, ‘For Emergency Use’, from Peter’s wife Molina;
  • Translating between Cornelia and our Omsk friends, at the Polish Consulate in Hamburg, as then completed their Visa applications;
  • Trying to sightsee anything and everything, as we drove slowly through Berlin with our police escort (I did see the Olympic Stadium);
  • Wanting desparately to take a picture of the massive wooden doors on the very old church (12th-13th century) in our first large Polish city, early on a Sunday morning, but not wanting to include the inebriated man who was passed out in front of the door;
  • Racing that tram across the Polish countryside, and into a city, and not being able to keep up with it;
  • Refreshments in more than one Russian sports complex Director’s office, during the breakfast hour;
  • Running down the center of the off ramp from Moscow’s Ring Freeway onto the Vladimir Highway, with Sergei and Volodya holding all the traffic behind us;
  • As we posed for our many pictures in Red Square, thinking, ‘am I really here?’;
  • Being upset at first, at the missed sightseeing opportunities, but then realizing that there would probably be more opportunities missed (Berlin, Minsk, Smolensk, Moscow, Izhevsk, Perm, Yekaterinburg,…..) than taken advantage of (Warsaw, Vladimir, Nizhniy Novgorod, Kazan, Tyumen). And I never did get to a post office in Belarus!;
  • That evening in Kazan, eating shashlik at the outdoor cafe and enjoying nighttime Tatarstan;
  • Also that evening, visiting with Anton, who spoke excellent English, and his friend, and exchanging gifts with him. Anton told us where to sightsee the next day and, when he came out with his dog to see us off the next morning, his dog promptly bit me. I apologized for trying to pat his dog, Anton was extremely embarassed and disappeared with his dog, our resident physician tended my wound, and then we were on the road and gone.
  • That huge oil refinery in Tatarstan, that kept appeearing and disappearing on the horizon like a mirage;
  • An afternoon in Ocher: driving through the forest to the farside of their lake for some beautiful views and private swimming; visiting the large and varied ahgaroad (garden) of our tour guide, and sampling most everything that was in bloom; and the sauna, meal and gift exchange at one of our host’s homes;
  • Being told by glavniy Peter (Peter pierviy, aka Peter Loeffler) on more than one occasion: ‘This is a relay, Dave; you don’t have to run it at 10K pace ……;
  • Other of Peter’s sayings: ‘while I’m busy doing thus and so, I want the rest of you to clean out the van and repack everything….. is that clear, rearrange and repack everything ……. repack everything more logically …….repack everything’; from David to Peter ‘Is that a direct order?’ and Peter to David ‘Consider that as a recommendation/a suggestion/a strong suggestion’;
  • Peter, on other occasions: to Pavel, in German – ‘Don’t you understand, don’t they understand’, then, to none in particular: ‘Then, where’s Ernst. He’ll have to translate. Find Ernst, and hurry. What do you mean he’s not here. Uh-oh. ………….. Well, then find Dave ……..’;
  • David, on other occasions to Peter: ‘Why are we staying in this city and not that city ………….?’;
  • Looking for two main monuments, along the highway, and being disappointed at not finding either one of them: the monument marking the division between Europe and Asia, and the monument marking the start of Siberia;
  • The crew of ladies painting the black and white stripes on the guardrail in the center of the freeway, east of Yekaterinburg – all wearing white smocks and bandanas on their heads, and each carrying her own brush and bucket of paint;
  • Finding more than one Russian hotel or dormitory with no showers and no hot water (if there was no hot water plumbed to the building, then there was no need for a shower). Despite the condition of the bathing and cleaning facilities (or the lack of them), the linen was always clean, and I almost always found the beds to be comfortable;
  • Rudolph’s Law – How, no matter where we stayed, Rudolph’s room always seemed to be on the top floor and, if there was a lift (elevator), usually ‘lift ne rabotieyet’, the lift was out of order. His wheelchair climbed and descended more irregular Russian stairs than we could count;
  • The absolutely incredible feeling when surrounded by children and youg people, in many Russian cities that we stayed in, who wanted autographs, or just wanted to practice their English, or who had small gifts they wanted to give to us, or just wanted to see if we could communicate in Russian with them. Because of all the little Alaska ‘things’ that I gave away on occasions like this, Peter took to calling me ‘Uncle Sam’.
  • Ten minutes before the start of the marathon, trying to get my running number from a lady whose only concern was wanting to exchange it for my Passport (which was miles away);
  • My continuing awe at the vastness of Russia – the number of miles we drove along Russian highways and we always seemed to be on the highest point of land, and able to see in all directions for miles (kilometers);
  • And the warmth and graciousness of the Russian people (and also those in Poland and Belarus before) who opened up their hearts and homes to welcome and feed us on our visit, and to speed us on our way;

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