Absolute Moscow Marathon

...or "Where are we?" or "Lost in Translation!" or "I'm Still Hungry!"

We were seduced by the race literature proclaiming the Absolute Moscow Marathon to be "one of the worlds' most picturesque marathon routes steeped with Russian history and tradition". Who wouldn't want to do this event? So, we entered the race, applied for our visas, obtained our medical certificates, booked the hotel and flights and off we went. Oh and we also did a bit of training.

The journey to Moscow via Munich went smoothly enough and we were very pleased to successfully navigate ourselves via express train and Metro from the airport to our hotel. Our first hurdle being that not a soul in Moscow spoke any English and we had just four words of Russian between us.

Our hotel, to the north of the city, was comfortable and conveniently situated above a Metro station and next to a number of restaurants. Despite this the second hurdle we encountered was nourishment. Portion sizes in those restaurants were minuscule and to be frank, we only had one decent meal the whole trip. Fortunately we had taken plenty of emergency supplies with us: cereal bars, porridge and nuts etc. all of which we devoured.

On Friday morning we did a recce of the journey to the start and the first few kilometres of the race route and it all looked promising. In the afternoon we took a tour of the Kremlin and Red Square which was extremely interesting. Security was on high alert as Vladimir was in town.

Early start on Saturday morning to pick up our race numbers conveniently situated a million miles from town in an industrial park. Fortunately the Metro system is very cheap and efficient. Unfortunately it is overcrowded and unpleasant. The people of Moscow live like dwarfs, underground, pushing and shoving through tunnel after tunnel. They don't speak, they don't smile and they hardly ever surface. The city is not designed for pedestrians or cyclists so, if you're not in a car, you are fated to be subterranean.

In the afternoon we attempted to go on a boat trip on the River Moskva and encountered hurdle number three, find a boat trip with an English audio guide. We paid our money having been assured there was an English audio guide on the boat. Within 30 seconds of boarding it became apparent that no such guide existed. We remonstrated vigorously with the sales person who admitted defeat and begrudgingly refunded our money – wouldn't you!

Early to bed on Saturday night, with rumbling stomachs, as we wondered what race day would bring.

Hurdle number four, the marathon. Sunday was grey, cold, wet and windy – just what we had dreamed of! The journey to the start went without a hitch but we found ourselves still in the toilet queue as the race started. No problem though because it took almost half an hour to get over the start line by which time we were frozen to the core. The route, mainly on long straight dual carriageways, was in no way picturesque. However, we did see the Kremlin wall and some golden domes in the distance. On the right day it could be a PB route but on this day icy rain lashed down and the wind gusted to such a degree that some barriers and kilometre markers were blown over. Carol had stomach trouble due to the hideous Moscow tap water necessitating a trip or two to the public loos (not recommended) and I had cramp in my right calf probably due to standing in the start pen for so long. For the last few miles of the race I could feel the air pollution affecting my lungs. We were very relieved to see the end and happy with our times considering the testing conditions. No post-race party for us, we hobbled back to the hotel and were in bed by 9pm.

Monday dawned bright and even colder as we took an excellent walking tour round the historical centre and as a reward for all our efforts, indulged in a chocolate lunch at the finest hotel in town. In the afternoon we overcame hurdle number five and finally, on our third attempt, secured tickets for the much admired armoury collection.

On Tuesday morning, keen to get some fresh air before travelling home, we set off to find a park. Hurdle number six, construction work. Much of the park was barriered off so finding a way in was challenging. However, we were not defeated and managed a full loop of monuments dedicated to war, death and destruction. Buoyed by our jolly walk we quickly packed and retraced our steps to the airport.

Overall the trip was an adventure we are glad we experienced but we are very happy to be back amongst friendly faces in smiley Manchester!

— Carol O'Hare and Steph Goodchild