The Baikal Ice Marathon – The Ultimate Winter Endurance Race

The Baikal Ice Marathon is one of the world’s toughest endurance challenges. Over the years, the one-of-a-kind event has seen participants from over 50 countries. These are athletes with a heart of steel – they race across a 42 kilometer course across the completely frozen surface of Baikal, the oldest and deepest freshwater lake on Earth. Every year, the Baikal Ice Marathon is held for a noble cause – the Preservation of Clean Water. This year its 10th edition took place on March 1.

Although the terrain for the marathon is predominantly flat, it is still considered to be one of the world’s 10 most challenging competitions because of the freezing Siberian weather. The cold northern winds and harsh, unpredictable climate is, in fact, the biggest challenge faced by runners. In past marathons conditions have varied in severity – from high winds and biting cold, to a sunny sky with almost no chills. The lake’s surface is another problem; at times it can be hard and uneven, covered in small hills of ice rubble. Geometric springs and seismic activity beneath the ice may weaken it to form holes.


Baikal Ice Marathon/Facebook

This has got to be one of the most unique race tracks in the world – like an ice skating rink! I wonder how the runners even manage to keep their grip without skidding every few miles. It certainly is a risky affair. Of course, a huge amount of preparation takes place before the marathon, including safety measures. A safe course is plotted by an assembled support team, headed by the Ice Captain. The team monitors the course closely – studying it through satellite images, assessing existing and potential cracks. The final course is laid out just before the race starts, to factor in any kind of movement in the ice. Six food and drink stations are set up at regular intervals, along with service teams and hovercrafts.


Baikal Ice Marathon/Facebook

On the day of the race, competitors assemble at the town of Listvyanka, which is the base camp for the race. From here, they are ferried across to the opposite shore of Baikal, to Tankhoy train station. Runners take part in the precautionary ritual of ‘vodka sprinkling’ – starting the race with a shot of vodka – in accordance with Russian tradition. This is believed to help pacify the spirits of the great lake. Then, the race begins.


Baikal Ice Marathon/Facebook

The marathon is a part of a larger winter games held on the lake, the ‘Winteriada’ Baikal Nordic Games Festival. It includes several other events like ice fishing, ice golf, ice safari expeditions, and extreme cross country skiing. Snow volleyball and football competitions are held as well.


Baikal Ice Marathon/Facebook

Lake Baikal is a UNESCO protected site, estimated to have formed 20 to 25 million years ago. It is extraordinarily deep at 1700 meters, and makes up for 90 percent of Russia’s drinking water. For the most part, the ice on the lake is over 1.5 meters thick – holding the weight of trucks and vehicles of up to 10 tons. The lake is a rich microcosm of unusual forms of freshwater flora and fauna. It is surrounded by a breathtaking landscape that has attracted visitors for decades now. The race might be long, cold and lonely, but imagine running a marathon with such picturesque surroundings for company – must be an amazing experience!


Baikal Ice Marathon/Facebook


 Sources: Baikal Marathon, 56th Parallel