What It Takes To Run Across A Frozen Lake
Friday, 21 September 2012
From the September 2012 issue of Runner’s World
What drives a 48-year-old woman from Sydney to run 42.2 kilometres across a frozen lake in Russia?
Stephanie Campbell talks with Maybritt Prabl: a 48-year-old woman from Sydney who is the female winner of the 2012 Baikal Ice Marathon (3:50:11).
Was Baikal your first “ice” marathon?
No. The Polar Circle Marathon in Greenland in 2011 was the first marathon I did in snow and ice. The landscape was beautiful, with endless snow and ice, glaciers and mountains looming in the background. I thought, Wow, I have to do this. Despite the frosty conditions (it was minus 28 degrees Celsius) I ended up placing second in the women’s division, which gave me the bug. Straight away I started looking for other ice marathons to participate in, which is when I found Baikal in Siberia.
Describe to us, non ice-runners, what makes Baikal so special?
The marathon takes place on UNESCO World Heritage site Lake Baikal. It is the deepest, largest and oldest freshwater lake in the world. At the time of the year when the marathon is held in March, the surface is completely frozen. When you step on to that lake it really is like transitioning into another world. You look around and all you can see is white and snow until the horizon; it’s just the most spectacular place to be. The 42.195km course stretches from one side of the lake to the other over sheet ice and snow hummocks and is widely regarded as one of the toughest running events in the world.
Isn’t competing on a frozen lake dangerous?
It could have been if the organisers hadn’t done such a great job of preparing the event beforehand. The first one-and-a-half metres of the lake are solid ice but under that is free-flowing water. As the water moves the ice cracks in a process called “breathing” so the organisers had to mark out a course they knew would be safe ahead of time. In some sections there were cracks across the course three to thee-and-a-half metres long. For those they put down planks. There was also a really tricky section at the end of the course made of brash ice (ice that melts, congeals and then freezes again into odd shapes), which is very sharp, slippery and difficult to run on. The organisers had to grade a lot of that section to make it safer for the competitors.
How did you train for Baikal?
My preparation was similar to past marathons except this time I added training on soft sand during my long run on the weekend (20 to 30km) to simulate soft snow underfoot. Clothing was also different. I wore regular Gore-Tex running shoes with spikes underneath and around the soles to grip the ice and snow. To keep warm I wore four very thin thermal layers and an outer waterproof shell over the top, two pairs of gloves, a beanie and balaclava. Temperatures during the race varied from minus 14 to minus 4 degrees Celsius so it was important to keep warm. To help me acclimatise I arrived a few days before the marathon. It also helped me to shake off my jet lag and adjust to a new time zone.
What was the toughest part of the race?
Even though I never felt exhausted or tempted to give up, the last 10 kilometres was quite hard going. Early on in the race my watch had stopped as a result of the cold. Because of that I had no idea what pace I was running. About 30 of the 105 competitors had managed to charge away in front of me during the first leg so I also didn’t have a very good idea of where I was placed until I reached the last refresher station (35 kilometres). As I stopped briefly for a drink, the Russian attendants kept saying excitedly, “first woman, first woman”. That’s when I realised I was doing better than I had anticipated. With renewed energy I ran the remaining distance to cross the finish line. When I returned to Australia I discovered that I had set a women’s record for the event (by 4 minutes) and a world record. I am the fastest woman yet to complete a marathon on ice!
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