From Russia With Love

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xMemory Lane

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XXXXXBy Molly Childs

June – 1992

Would I have quit smoking 3 years ago on my 50th birthday if I had known it would lead to this?

Nicotine withdrawal is child’s play compared to the agony I am feeling now. Every muscle in my body is on fire. My back is killing me. I am certain each breath I take will be my last. I am much too old, lazy, ill trained and ugly to even think about running this marathon. Why in the #*&%* did I decide this was somehing I wanted to do?

Yes, It’s me again with my empowering self-talk as I run the International Peace Marathon in Moscow on June 6th, 1992. I saw the ad inside Texas Running. “Run the 1980 Olympic Marathon course, finish in the Olympic Stadium. Pre-race banquet in The Hall Of Mirrors catered by Paul Newman Foods. All proceeds will go to The children of Grenoble.”

I thought to myself, “This would be a trip!”

I arrived in Moscow at 3:30 p.m. bringing with me a nine hour jet lag and a roaring sinus headache triggered by a smoke filled plane and great expectations. I stayed in the home of an athlete. The father played soccer in the 1980 Olympics. A teen age son was the only member of the family that spoke English and was so fluent I was ashamed that I had learned so little Russian.

They wanted to know about my life in the USA and thought all Texans wore guns. They could not understand if I could afford to eat at McDonalds, why didn’t I eat there every day.

The next six days were spent sightseeing. The Kremlin, Red Square, Lenin’s Tomb, GUM department store, shopping on Arbabat street, and evening performances at the circus and ballet.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxRxxxxxxRed Square

The Friday night pre-race banquet was held in a small airless room in the basement of Olympic Stadium. Overcooked pasta and sauce straight out of the can. Absolutely delicious.

At that time restaurants had no menus. You ate what was available at the time.

Breakfast was bread, curds, cheese and on special days cucumbers.

Lunch was the big meal of the day starting with a cold fish salad, followed by soup, an unrecognizable hunk of meat, and cabbage. Dessert was a sinfully rich vanilla ice cream with very strong coffee or tea.

I prefer a vegetarian diet but after a few days I ate anything my sense of smell and taste buds could tolerate.

The marathon started at 4:00 P.M. It was hot and humid. The reported temperature was 30 Celsius which converts to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

I don’t know how many registered for the marathon or how many finished.

I did see barefoot runners, many in slippers or street shoes, some in costume, and one wearing only a loincloth, giving me another reason to wish I could run faster.

A truck unloaded Gatorade at mile six. Unfortunately, spectators carried it off by the case. Nothing else was available for the rest of the race.

I knew I was in trouble: the heat, not enough sleep, too much sightseeing, and the late start. I was exhausted before the start.

I ran as far as I could and started walking. A few miles later I saw two men double back, spraying a teenage girl with water. It was obvious she was having a rough time and they were her relatives or coaches.

I yelled out, “Me Too”! They obliged by taking water in their mouths, tilting their heads back sending through their teeth a fine mist that made me feel much better. I know it sounds gross, but I was grateful for this Russian version of a sprinkler system.

The younger man stayed with the girl and the older one, Bacnjinn, began to run with me. He spoke no English and the little Russian I spoke was soon expended.

Using facial expressions and hand gestures, we managed to communicate with each other.

I soon lost my second wind and began to walk. He began to play a game with me. we would run a certain number of lamp posts and then walk a certain number, according to the number of fingers he held up.

At times he would motion for me to go ahead and he would disappear, returning a short time later with a wet sponge and a little jam to place on my tongue.

When I would motion for him to go on, he would grin and stay by my side. We continued on until we reached the tree lined street that lead to the stadium.

Bacnjinn motioned that he was running ahead and quickly disappeared from my sight.

I have never felt so alone. You cannot imagine my surprise when I saw him running back toward me. I burst into tears. He grinned and took his place beside me escorting me into the stadium.

Thinking I was at the finish line, I gave it my last hurrah and ran as hard as I could… only to discover that I had to circle the track to finish.

My shoulders slumped as I began a slow walk. Even the cheering crowd could not energize me.

Bacnjinn shook his head. Pointing to me, he threw back his shoulders. Presenting his best championship stance, he began to run and so did I.

After we finished, he walked me to my bus and we exchanged shirts. It is now part of my marathon quilt. I found out later that Bacnjinn was the president of a running club in Moscow.

On Sunday, after a day of touring the cathedral city of Zargosky, I caught the midnight train to St. Petersburg.

Within minutes, four Russian soldiers joined me in my coach. We drank champagne (supplied by the soldiers) and munched on pretzels and cocoa-mallows (my treat).

Leaning back in my seat, listening to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” piped in over the loud speakers, laughing and joking with other passengers – I thought to myself, “I knew this would be a trip”.