Reaching out and exposing yourself to new experiences like I did in St. Petersburg, Russia is a valuable way to appreciate our world and travel is a splendid lever for grabbing these encounters. My path had combined running with travel, with the pair proving capable of generating serious synergy. For better or worse, however, this combination was making it difficult to get off the hamster wheel of long distance running.
Experiencing the Chicago Marathon taught me you had to “qualify” to participate in the Boston Marathon. I ran Chicago with my stepson Eric, who is a real sports nut and possesses vast knowledge around all things athletic. Relaxing in our hotel room after the race, Eric informed me that his finishing time would permit him to run Boston — if he were an 85-year old woman. Always striving to be a supportive parent, I counseled him to “be patient and get a sex change”.
Flash forward a bit and I turn fifty-five. On this occasion Eric informed qualifying time for Boston as a male in the 55-60 age group was 3:40. Even though time is not on my side, the threshold was not much of a stretch from the 3:43 I ran in Iceland a little over a year ago. In the same way that missing the four hour barrier by seconds had driven me to Reykjavik; the possibility of getting to experience a marquee event such as the Boston Marathon goaded me back into training.
As a travel fan the next matter was identifying the where. Laura had accompanied me to Iceland and she would guide this decision with a welcome serving of serendipity. Also a fan of opening herself to fresh experiences, Laura rents spare rooms in her house to long term visitors to the United States. I really enjoyed Leo, who has dual citizenship thanks to a Jordanian father and Russian mother. Leo’s permanent residence is Jordan, but during dinner he expressed delight over returning to St. Petersburg in Russia this summer for family time and a chance to enjoy White Nights.
White Nights? As it turns out, St. Petersburg is so far north the sun never truly sets over the weeks around summer solstice. The city is already stunning with its magnificent collection of stone palaces and bridges, but apparently even more spectacular when bathed in the lengthy twilight at this time of year. During White Nights there are a host of events encouraging the populace to step out late and relish this glimmering beauty. Intrigued by yet another example of our planet’s astonishing diversity, I was inspired to learn more.
Researching White Nights revealed they hold a marathon through the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia and it is a Boston qualifier! Sounds like the stars are aligning, so I checked out the web site for this run. Confess I was initially a bit put off by the premium assessed to foreigners. Registration for natives was 700 rubles, but they jack this up to 1,700 rubles if you are not a national. Fellow runners probably know it will cost you at least $125 to sign up for a marathon in the US and my offense at absorbing the mark-up quickly vanished once I calculated the conversion: 1,700 rubles was less than $25 US! I registered then and there, sealing my fate for travel and training in the upcoming months.
Serendipity may be contagious, but I am sticking to my theory that embracing life generates opportunities for unexpected pleasures. If you have been following this series you may recall Iceland was absent from my radar before asking my friend Ilse if she wanted to run with me in Norway. She declined because she was “running Reykjavik” and guided me to that vibrant destination. This time she would double down.
Because Ilse lives near Helsinki, which is near St. Petersburg, I invited her to run again. Again she declined. This time work was the obstacle, but Ilse works for Viking Cruises and suggested we visit her in Helsinki and jump aboard her ship when it ferried across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
Already fascinated by St. Petersburg, Russia I was blown away by this possible expansion. Aware of Helsinki’s reputation as the creative capital of cool, digging in revealed a bounty of treats to explore. Ditto for Tallinn, perhaps double. Only vaguely aware the capital of Estonia housed a charming old town, my jaw went for a free fall after gazing at a few pictures.
Everything crystallized as logistics were addressed. It was cheaper to fly into Helsinki, which is a three hour train ride from St. Petersburg. The true bonus here was learning all of the entry and customs tribulations were tended to during the train ride. Rather than standing in long lines after landing at the airport, we would be seated and progressing towards our destination while all the paperwork battles were being conquered.
Now it was a matter of learning about three new destinations and cultures, and planning expeditions to savor each one. Oh yeah, I guess I need to endure another round of marathon training too. Running around may be giving me the run around, but it has been an excellent run!