Sub-0, Babushka slalom and a Moose

Starting number with Frost
Starting number with Frost

21.1 km (Half Marathon)

Last run: the week previously

Only long run in the past month: 10 k

Last half marathon: March 2013

Yesterday, in sub zero degree temperatures and with a layer of frost on the ground, I headed to the north-eastern area of Moscow- a nature reserve called ‘Elk Island’. The trees were still clinging onto their last, brightly coloured leaves, and the white frost on the ground made everything seem surreal.

Walking to the starting line
Walking to the starting line

It was surreal. I made a snap decision the week before to sign up to a half marathon on nothing but my weekly 5 ks and my few exploratory runs as training. Crazy, some might (did) say.

Registration started at 9.30 even though the race wasn’t until 11.30, so I had quite a bit of time to jog around and warm up, explore the basic (but fantastic) facilities, and worry. I’m going to be honest, I worried a lot. Before I knew it though, I was on the starting line, still shivering in my long running tights, the ‘stulpen’ (Leg Warmers) the awesome Sigrid made me (thank you so much!), a long sleeved top, a tshirt, and a running jacket. And we were off!!

Birch trees in the Sunshine
Birch trees in the Sunshine

The course followed roads out into the park, through a majestic birch-tree wood where I fail to describe the beauty of the white, patterned tree stems, the frost on the ground and the coloured leaves. We were a small race, of 120 ish runners,  but we were obviously still a surprise to the grandmothers taking their Sunday stroll, who also obstinately refused to move, and caused the course to be a kind of swerving, slalom -style enterprise.

The ‘smallness’ of the race made it especially welcoming- in the UK and Germany the races I’ve run were usually upwards of 500, if not 1000 people, and the paths were cramped, organisation challenging and registration fees high. Here, for a mere 10 GBP, I had a hot changing facility (A tent with a heater, which, although I laughed when I first saw it, was lovely and warm), toilets (ok, portaloos- but some volunteers must have cleaned them every half an hour), and warm food and tea when I came in after two hours and twenty four minutes. In addition, the novelty of the race caused a great atmosphere- spectators and runners alike cheered each other on, grinned crazily or shouted words of encouragement.

The starting line: A small race, it felt so much more welcoming than races I have run in the past
The starting line: A small race, it felt so much more welcoming than races I have run in the past

And then, of course, to make the race even more exciting, and to permanently lodge it in my memory, around 12.5 km, the man who had just jogged past me started gesticulating wildly and pointing into the thicket/brush on the side of the path. When I got to where he had been I realised why- no four meters away from the edge of the road stood a GIGANTIC moose, munching happily on grass/reed/tree/whatever it eats, watching us pass it by, completely undisturbed. With a crown of antlers sitting squatly on its head, it was  a really fantastic thing to see.

In Moscow.

I still can’t believe it, and it was definitely made the animal sightings list far more exciting! A Moose!

Tired happy finisher
Tired happy finisher

Many thanks to all of the people who encouraged me, both during and before the race, the organizers who were truly FANTASTIC and put in lots of effort making sure that I understood everything, even with my language barrier, the volunteers who were super cheerful and my fellow racers who never seemed to stop smiling! It was a wonderful experience, and I am so happy to have taken part! 🙂

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