You might be wondering – how did I find myself on the start line of an ice marathon across a frozen lake in Siberia?

A couple of weeks ago, this is the situation I was in – along with 200 fellow runners from over 20 countries, about to take on the challenge of traversing Lake Baikal in Russia on foot (www.baikal-marathon.org). Now, much as I have in common with my friends, for some reason I don’t have many who consider this kind of escapade a good use of their annual leave over, say, a beach holiday in Thailand. But by listing the challenge on Challenge Chum and then posting it to my Facebook page, I was able to find a chum to join me in the form of an old friend, Erik.

Whilst Russian ‘locals’ tended to opt for the shorter race package, most international competitors like Erik and I chose to arrive a few days earlier. This was a great opportunity to have a breather and get used to the climate after travelling across multiple timezones to Siberia, but also such a wonderful opportunity to meet some like-minded, and some utterly crazy, people!

One such was my roommate Jola, a 50-something Polish lady who described herself as my ‘Mamushka’ (a witty pun combining the Russian word for ‘Grandmother’ with ‘mama’). This lady was incredible – she has completed over 60 marathons or ultramarathons after only starting to run in her 40’s, and she finished the race an hour ahead of me! So much for being in the prime of my life – Jola totally schooled me!

The notoriously brutal Siberian climate smiled fondly on us on race day – a few days of snow provided some purchase underfoot, and a temperature of ‘only’ around -7c. Compared to the black ice, blizzards and -25c conditions of some previous events, we were relatively fortunate.

I ran the first half with two guys I had met earlier that week during the orientation package. Guido, Michael and I made good time to 21km, where Michael, who had entered the half marathon, bowed out, and Guido and I were staring down the barrel of another 21km. At this point, my inadequate training was beginning to show. Guido was very gentlemanly, but I knew that I was holding him back, so encouraged him to go ahead and get a better time. ‘Save yourself!’ I called after him dramatically. It was significantly harder alone, and as I’d slowed by an extra minute per kilometre, it felt significantly colder too.

But anyway, I plodded on, chatting to people I met en route, including a hilarious German running blogger dressed as a fairy. 5km from the end I knew I could make it. Lo and behold, eventually the shore of the lake came into view. I mean, it still took ages to get there, but it felt great to arrive!

If you’re thinking about pushing your comfort zone this year, I would encourage you to go for it! I don’t blame you if a Siberian Marathon isn’t for you, but find a challenge that suits you, find a chum, or just sign up!