It takes a courageous runner to brave the race.
NER author Lindsay Starck (pictured left, walking the icy shore of Lake Superior) talks to NER editorial panel member Evgeniya Dame, sharing the story behind “Baikal” (NER 41.1) and its roots in the annual winter marathon across the largest and deepest lake in the world.
Evgeniya Dame: When I first read “Baikal” I couldn’t believe that its premise—a race across the frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia—was real. And yet it is! Could you talk more about the real-life marathon and how you went about the process of fictionalizing it?
Lindsay Starck: Yes! It feels so unbelievable. I remember reading the first few paragraphs of a news story about the marathon when I was standing in line at a coffee shop. I was so hypnotized by the video header, which showed a line of tiny runners trekking across an endless expanse of ice, that the barista had to call my name repeatedly. I’d never heard of this race, which has taken place annually since 2005 (when conditions permit) across the largest and deepest lake in the world. Baikal contains nearly a quarter of the earth’s fresh water, which is exceptionally clear; it’s ringed by mountains and is home to distinctive flora and fauna such as the famous Baikal seal; and it’s full of geothermic springs that bubble up, even in the winter, to melt holes in the ice. It takes a courageous runner to brave the race, and as I prepared to write this piece I sought out stories of those who had attempted it. I studied photos, videos, and written accounts, which is where I learned, for example, about the “hummocks” (ice rubble) that spackle the surface, the tents on the course, the hovercraft rescue-missions, and the perception of the lake as a living being.
ED: Have you ever run a marathon? What helped you get in the m