Why is this picture of runners in black and white, because it relates to a time in my past I was a member of Worldrunners, a running group who ran to spread the message of ending world hunger back in the early 90’s. When I joined the group I smoked 40 cigarettes a day and had not run for approximated 15 years since I left school. They were going to Moscow to run the Moscow Peace marathon, yes the 42 Kilometre jobbo, If one is going to put their foot in why not go the whole way.
I was at a party about a month later and I looked at the cigarette I was smoking put it out and declared that this will be the last smoke I ever have, on that day I gave up cigarettes and dope, i didn’t realise I was giving up the second but it was an added benefit. I thought it would be a good idea to run the melbourne marathon as I did not want to go all that way and appear like a dick not being able to do it. This meant I had to train through melbourne’s winter and back then it used to rain in Melbourne. I had a training partner named Gemma and when I didn’t answer the door two days in a row at 6 a.m. because it was pouring with rain she reamed me and we did the training it took to run from Frankston to Melbourme, every time I drive it i still shake my head that I used to be able to run that far. I ran it a second time when we got back into a headwind and driving rain just to prove marathon runners are a little bit crazy.
So off to Moscow we headed six months later not knowing a great deal about the country besides the fact that it was run by communists, this was the year before the wall came down. We nearly didn’t make the connecting flight in Narita Japan because the Toyko to Moscow flight was considered a domestic flight and we were waiting in International, a kind JAL official walked us through the lines that make Tullamarine’s look like it takes 5 minutes to check in. We arrived safely at Moscow to be told by our guide not to exchange too much money, the reason for this being he had a friend who gave you a better deal, the black market and Moscow mafia was rampant back then and I have heard it is still quite prominent to this day.
We had a few days to assimilate into Moscow lifestyle and visited the touristy sights the highlight being Gorky park where hundreds of circus performers did acrobatics all through the park. Come the day of the race we go down to the starting line to find out they were saying they did not have the Australian contingents entries. Linda, a wild Texan woman, part of the Worldrunners organisers would have none of this and we got to run. Moscow is a beautiful city with some amazing building and we set off along the river, being handed water by real life soldiers at the water stops. 35K in my knee decides to start popping out, and these two burly gentlemen says you can not come this far and not finish and carried me between them to the finish line, I gave one of them my runners as they were heaps better than what they were wearing and I had a spare pair.
We then went on our 30 days tour of the region, first stop was Tbilsi, capital of he federation Of Georgia. Tbisli is Georgian for warmth as it is located on a lot of hot springs and we all went off to experience the local fare which ended in us meeting our guide for the next few days as when we came out it was pitch black and the only place we could find that we recognised was Bar, they sold coffee and ice-cream as sale of alcohol to the public was banned. The two highlights of Tbilsi were the speech that a Georgian poet gave, we could not understand a word but were all in tears at the end and the underground clubs our new friend took us to. Georgian brandy is famous worldwide and they may not sell it but people certainly knew were to get it.
Next stop was Kiev, capital of Ukraine, they have a great tradition of having dancing in the public parks and we went there three nights in a row and danced with the locals, so much fun. We couldn’t work out why no body was swimming in the river until someone told us Kiev was downstream from Chernoybl, site of one of the worlds great nuclear disasters a few years before. e ran into the Australian youth rowing team in a park one day, its a small world. With the trouble between Russia and the Ukraine these days we were advised back then it was not wise to call Georgians or Ukrainians Russians, not much seems to have changed
Off to Leningrad, know known as St. Petersburg, this is where the two most memorable events of the trip occurred. We visited the Summer Palace, my main memory of this is not the half mile long stretch of solid gold statues that the Nazi’s pinched but the fountain of a duck, a dog, a hunter and the assistant blowing the horn with the cages that the people making the appropriates noise lived in. We were looking for Alex, a gold medallist athlete we had met in Moscow who ran an Athletic club and instead of finding him the hotel sent us to the ministry of sport. Linda, previously mentioned was not fussed at all and told them why we were there. We got a phone call telling us that we would be running down Nevetsky prospect the main thoroughfare at 5 pm that Friday. They had arranged to all. so the Minister for Sport, the mayor and about 20 people ran with us, the Australian Ambassador back in Moscow would not believe us until we showed him Photos, those things people used prior to smart phones.
The other thing that happened was the highlight of the trip for me. We had met Sergei, Lydia and Michael Jackson in a cafe, they wan’t to improve their English and worked out we were nor from Russia by our garish clothing. Lydia invited us to her place for dinner, spending precious money on the black market to buy us Western food so we felt at home, her toilet had been on the waiting list to fix the leak fir 10 months. We were due to catch the Leningrad to Moscow midnight express and Sergei was giving us a lift. We took off but seemed to be going the wrong way as we were going deeper and deeper into the High rise units that made up most of the accommodation in Leningrad. Sergei drove us to one of these unit blocks and gestured for us to wait. He came down 5 minutes later with his fiancee whom he said that he wanted her to meet us as she had given up hope and we proved that it still existed. It was getting awfully close to midnight and we arrived at the railway station 5 minutes after midnight. Miraculously the train was still there, good old Linda has convinced them to wait. AS the soldiers and officials approached the three of us Sergei stepped in and explained what had happened. We all got our photos taken with the Engine driver and the head of security in front of the train
The Berlin Wall came down the following year and we received a letter from Ivan, A Georgian teacher who slept on the verandah of his parent house with his wife and small child and who had organised a 2,000 people Worldrunners run the following year that he felt that actions like ours in coming to Russia had helped it happen. I don’t know if this was true but it was worth going to give lena, Sergei’s fiancee hope again.
namaste to next time, my friends