WORLD RUN TRAINING CAMP 2003
Stage Race Kazan to St.Petersburg.
Russia, 11.th May to 29.th May.
This years training camp was the last oppotunity for mutual preparation and naturally we used some time looking over the route one more time. - there were plenty of that during the train voyage from St.Petersburg where Alexander lives to the start of the relay race: Kazan near the Ural Mountains.
Also we were invited to participate in a stage race from Kazan near the Ural Mountains to St.Petersburg. The race was this year devoted to the 300 year anniversary of St.PetersBurg.
The route itselves was of particular interest to us as it is the same as the one we'll use next year for the first part of the Russian World Run stage (only opposite direction). This allowed us to also check our contacts that we'll need next year for support and overnight accomodation.
For me personally it was also an interesting insight to Russian daily life and culture. And in my view this adds considerably to the cances of succes next year.
After arrival in the international airport in St.Petersburg we went to Alexanders appartment where we had 3 days before we would head East towards the race start.
The meeting with Alexander's family was my first experience with 'Russian hospitality'.
I think there is much difference between beeing a tourist or occational traveller and beeing personal guest. In the first case it can be difficult to get a true impression of the people that inhabits Russia.
But as personal guest in a Russian home it's quite another case. Not only at Alexander's but at any Russian family or home I visited during the camp, I noticed that it was allmost impossible to leave the table without beeing offered all the house could offer. Having traveled quite a bit through the years it's still rare to meet this kind of frindship.
Often there would be friendly intense discussions untill late night - I occurs to me that Russians are keen to use any given opputunity to discuss all aspects of a subject :-)
Surely there was some time to visit some of the world famous art-sights of Saint Petersburg. Mainly the "Hermitage Museum":
- My volenteer guide Natasja did her best in a splendid english to present the treasures and history of each of them. But one day really was not enough - perhaps not even a week would have been suficcient with a museum of this scale.
From St.Petersborg to Kazán
After some hectic days in P.-Burg it was time to depart.
The train voyage to the start took 27 hours so if we didn't understand that we had some considerable running to do we soon learned...
In the train we had compagny of the two other runners from St.Petersburg: Genadii and Valentin (called "the professor"). They are good friends of Alexander and ensured a good mood in somewhat crowded compartment.
Kazán - Start of Race
After long time in the train we finally reached Kazan - main city of the part of Russia named "Tartarstan".
At times the temperature in the train had reached 'Tropical rainforrest' so I think we were all pretty keen on exchanging train wheels for running shoes as favorite means of transportation.
On arrival we were met by the Kazan/Tartarstan team of runners and as most of them have done this race several years there were much catching up to do among the runners.
- From top left: 'The Professor', Rostem, Pavel (commandir), Alexander, Ildár, Genadii, Jesper, Leonid, Zakadad.
Alexander and I were invited to stay in the appartment of Leonid, where we experiensed again great hospitality. Leonid often participates in Russian Veteran athletics and is severeal times Russian Champion on 5000 and 10 000 meters.
- The race is started by the mayor of Kazan and we begin the long run towards St.Petersburg & the finish line; some 1500km west of us.
- On some of the stages we had compagny of a team of runners from Kazakstan. They had started 3 weeks earlier on their way towards P.-Burg and the aniversary.
- The runners from Kazakstan had their own orcestra !!
During the race I found out that the Russian version of 'relay race' more or less means that one runner carries the token of the relay (as usual) - but that the rest runs togheter with him. The shift usually just means that the token is passed to another runner in the group.
Therefore some of the stages became perhaps a bit longer than expected... and 1500km to St.Petersburg with this in mind seemed not quite as easy as expected.
- Well; the better the exercise !
Also it gave reason to some considerations as I had allready signed up for the Danish Championships on 100km - that was to take place 3 days after the finsh of the Training Camp and 4 days after the end of the stage race.
Well; I just had to run carefully and spare some energy to the championships.
It was nice to reach the finish of the first day ealy in the evening. Hidden in one of the numerous deep spruce forrest's were a small village where we were greeted by the mayor.
The group were handed the traditional large round bread with salt as it's custom with travellers.
I was surprised by the good english that was spoken in the village, and found out that the people in ways of culture and language originated far west of their present location.
During the years after WW-2 many smaller or lager groups sharing cultural identity were moved to other places within the Soviet Union. With this particular people it was the case, that they shared culture and language with the same lingual-groups af Finland and Hungary.
To me it was strange to meet people that strongly reminded me of the Finnish people so far from here. Below is a picture of the mayor and me and below one of the main russian rivers - Volga:
Several days later we reached the first large city, Nishinovgorod.
The city has approx. 3 mill. inhabitants and is among the larger city's in Russia. As I was soon to understand, most of the russian population lives in small villages in the seemingly endless fields and forrests of this large contry.
One who especially enjoyed Nishinovgorod was our 'maneager', Vitali, that was sent with the group from the Ministry of Sports & Culture in Kazan. Here he was able to reveal his affection for large motorcycles...:
indbyggere er bland de střrre byer i Rusland. Byen er meget sammensat med nogle meget fashionable bydele, men samtidig ogsĺ med dele, der tenderer slum.
Below I'll make a short portrait of the rest of the runners in the team. They were perfect examples of great friendship during the race, and quite strong runners as well. They were especially invited to this race and each of them had previous feats that made them stand out.
Besides Vitalii (picture above) the group consisted of:
- To the right.
Rostem is former Asian recordholder on the 6-day distance with a personal record of 836km set some 10 years ago in Odessa.
A very carismatic runner that perhaps was not the fastest but certainly has allmost endless endurence. Usually he would cheer on the runners and after long stages give long hugs to all members of the group.
As mentioned Alexander and I were Leonid's guests and enjoyed his good hospitality before the race. Amongst his many Russian championships in the veteran division his pride is to once have been "winter champion". With temperatures reaching well below -30 c that is easy to understand.
In the race he ran with great consistancy and discipline.
Zakadad was clearly the man that could allways set a good mood in the group and often he would run along singing loudly or telling long russian tales.
He had the nickname "the Yeti", perhaps partly because he enjoyed running barefooted in all sort of terrain - partly due to the vigorous gymnastic exercises which he made at any given oppotunity.
I slowly learned to stay well away during these gymnastics in order not to be commanded to make push-up's and other training.
But not all was jokes; Zakadad is as well an experiensed runner. For instance his 24-hour record stands at about 240km's.
Genadii was part of the St.Petersburg group and would often run for hours with the huge flag carring the city symbol.
He is a very emotional type of runner that would more often than not burst into a sprint at the finish of the days stage. With him and Zakadad I had many joyfull 'sprint-competetions' after many hours of running.
He is a great runner with a great spirit that I'll miss untill we meet again when Alexander and I pass thourgh Russia. It's seldom to meet runners that so clearly understand to make into running a celebration !
When asked about his running abilities Victor prefered to speak about his feats in the sport of "ice-swimming".
Each winter when the ice cover the sea he competes in competetion over both short and long distance ice-swimming. In 2000 he represented Russia in the Ice-swimming World Championships in Finland. Some years ago he took part in a long distance swimming near the North part of Kamtjatka. 114km in 3 C 'warm' water...
Yet he was surely also a capable ultrarunner. I can't remember seeing him tired at any time during the 2 weeks of heavy distance running.
- The Professor is writing the daily race-report.
Besides beeing a good ultrarunner, Valentin, is much of a thinker.
Often we had long and interesting discussions in the rest between the daily stages. We especially discusted the European impression of Russia and visa versa. He offered many interesting viewpoints, but I sometimes found myselves in lack of arguments. In my mind it's a problem that we in Western Europe has very litte information or focus on what goes on in Russia (both good and bad), which is a bit of a paradox considered the size of this contry - both in population, geography and economy.
This low level of information also gives reason to some misunderstandings. For example I expected to see a high amount of problems with crime as I had ofter heard this mentioned when there was news from Russia.
Yet I have seldom felt less reason to 'hold on to the money' while in the metro or other public areas. This might be due to the Soviet Union heritage as there still is a very high amount of discipline while in public areas. The downside of this is that one as mentioned never really get a true impression of the Russian cheerfullness and hospitality that contrasts the usual 'melancoly' unless a visit to their home is made.
Ildár & Ramil
Ilder and Ramil, father and son from Kazan.
Ildár works as ingeneiur and Ramil is in the last part of the medicine study. Ildar beeing a sesaoned ultrarunner had taken Ramil for this race as 'education' into the art of ultrarunning.
Ramil did good, allthough beeing maybe a bit tired in the last week and suffering from some knee-problems.
Still he was allways in good spirits and at any time ready to make a joke or see the humor in the moment.
Pavel was the group "commadir" - the leader of the group. Yet he also was the poet of the group. Often he would start the morning with declamating a poem about the performance of the group; carefully composed the evening before.
Besides keeping things together in the group he ofcouse did a strong job runing the daily distances. No short-cuts for the leader - as it should be !
- Besides the runners we also had good help from our driver, Tolja that followed the group with luggage, water and other supplies.
- At any given moment we had an escorte of a police car. Some of them having quite a long working day as we often would start at 8:00 am. and finish around 18:00 p.m.
I soon learned that poetry holds a big place in the minds of the russians (at least in the minds of their ultrarunners...)
When the road became a bit boring - for instance running absolute straight ahead for 4 hours - someone in the team was bound to begin an andenture into the russian poetry. Often it was Puskin that was quotet, and this poet clearly is the favorite of most people. To my surprisee Puskin has african ansestors as I could see from some of the old portraits. However I never found out the history behind this - how had his family come to Russia etc. But clearly he had made a huge impact on Russian poetry.
In the picture below the group has just reached a 'dry period' after having run in heavy rain all morning. Zakadad begins to sing one of his favorite celebration-songs "Missippi", while running barefotet !
- As ansestor of the Vikings my pale skin don't really agree with strong sun. Due to the lack of sun-block I had to use large amounts of toothpaste which proved to be perfect for the job. It also gave a nice smell of mint which anyways was better than the 'natural smell' at that point of time...
- A sleepy Leonid wake up the legs for an early morning stage.
- In turn we are interviewed by a russian radiostation.
- Most russians treasure any chance to bathe in the rivers, sea or lakes. When passing this river all runners stopped and immediately jumped out into the water..
- In the city Vladimir, I had the honour of bringing in the St.Petersburg flag. Vladimir is the 2.oldest of the russian cities.
- The Professor and I in front of a Viking statue at the city square in Vladimir.
- During the race we slept in various places. One time in a russian military settlement. Afterwards the captain went to inspect and greet the runners.
- The closer we came to St.Petersburg the more often we saw symbols and marks of memory from World War II. In these areas some of the worst battles of the entire war was fourght.
End of the Camp
After the last stage medals was presented to all runners that had completed the race. As often the case, speaches were held, and all runners obviously had their word to say. Unfortunately I still haven't quite learned this language good enough to understand all, but as Alexander says: "You will have good time for learning next year. No Problem.".
During the last days surely all runners were beginning to long for the finish and the reunion with their families. Two weeks can be long time when more or less out of contact with the outside world.
For my part I longed for the arrival at Alexanders appartment, where I allmost got the feeling of beeing a part of the family of Alexander, Olga (his wife), Tolja and Kolja (his two sons). To return to the appartment was allmost as the return to civilisation.
After a good bath and clean clothes we could place ourselves at a dinner table loaded with food; and we felt like kings :-)
The eating and telling tales went on to late in night - St.Petersburg lies in the high North wich means that during summer the sun hardly goes down.
Next day it was time to leave.
- The trainig camp was over for this year. Next time we'll meet will be in London, U.K.
- Speaking of stage races one have to mention the TransEurope Footrace. This race goes from Lisboa in Portugal to Moscow, Russia.
In about 2 weeks the runners will finally reach the finish. In my mind these men and women are true heroes. Last year I had the honour of competing with one of them, mr. Rober Wimmer from Germany, in the 2002 Fila-Eschollbrücken lřbet i Frankfurt.:
During the last weeks he has been in front, and it would really be a joy seeing this sympatic runner taking the podium. My best wishes to him and all the other runners !!
/Jesper. (by the way I had the joy of winning the Danish championships 4 days after.)
Sponsor's of the "Camp Russia 2003":