Moscow Marathon

My report for the club newsletter

I did manage to make this race in August, basically because I had the opportunity to travel to Moscow fairly cheaply. Despite taking three days to get there, by bus, I was surprised to manage a time of 3 hrs. 34 mins., which is not my best time, but is the best I have run for about 7 or 8 years - definitely faster than I have ever run at London.

The race itself is, to be truthful, quite low-key - there was no spectator support to speak of. The start was nominally in Red Square, although from the “other side” of St. Basil’s Cathedral. From there we went straight across the river, made a short loop (which actually offered the best views of the Kremlin you can get), before returning and then running two and a half laps up and down the Moscow River.

Despite claims by the Marathon Committee, the views overall were not too brilliant. Obviously you had the river, and Gorky park visible on the other bank, and also a huge new monument to Peter the Great, mid-river, as though Russia should be proud of a half-mad mass-murderer.

I did get lapped by the winner when he had one kilometer to go - quite amazing how fast he was actually going, but he was the only one who did lap me. What else is there to say ? - tea being served as an option at each water stop was a new one on me (quite refreshing actually); the cost of entry was 1000 roubles (20 pounds) which included a pasta party in the huge Hotel Russia (next door to the Kremlin), the hotel also being the base for the race itself. I’m not too sure how many runners took part, probably just into 4 figures.

More Detailed Information

The race is based at the Hotel Rossiya. This is an extremely large building, built from 1964, taking up a large part of the district of Zaradye. Formerly, Zaradye had a less than respectable image, and is represented in War and Peace as a fairly shady area.

Originally, the reconstruction which started before the war envisaged a Palace of Industry in this area, to complement the Palace of Soviets on the other side of the Kremlin, the effect being to dwarf the Kremlin between these two gigantic buildings.

Although the original plans for the area, including the later plans for the Hotel Rossiya, envisaged the total demolition of all the older buildings in the vicinity, today the Hotel is bounded on the North by several churches on Ulitsa Varkava, as well as the English Court. This was actually found in the basement of an apartment building during the demolition that did originally take place, but was itself saved from demolition when it was realised what it was (as well as by changing attitudes generally). The English Court had formerly served as a sort of English Embassy, being used by the Muscovy Company, established in the reign of Ivan the Terrible to conduct trade between England and Russia. The Company was kicked out of Russian in 1649, in protest against the seizure of power by Parliament and the execution of Charles 1.

Walls of Kitai Gorod, adjacent to the Rossiya Hotel To the east of the Hotel, there are sections of the original wall of Kitai Gorod, built in the 1530s. An icon of the Virgin used to 'protect' the Varkava Gate on this section of the Kitai Gorod wall. During the plague of 1771, the icon was kissed by the population under the belief that it would protect them from infection. When Archbishop Amvrosy realized it was having the opposite effect, he attempted to remove the icon but for his troubles, he was lynched in the Donskoy Monastery by a mob.

The start is on the Vasilievskaya Slope of 'Red Square' (i.e. the opposite side of St. Vasili's to the main body of Red Square). It was here that Mathias Rust landed his aircraft after flying here from Helsinki. It definitely seems more plausible that he could have landed here rather then on Red Square itself.

Spassky Tower St Vasili's was preceeded by a Trinity Church on the same spot. At that time there was a sort of ravine from behind the church down to the Moscow River. You are also adjacent to the Spassky Gate, once the main gate of the Kremlin, but now closed to visitors. The main body of the gate, like much of the Kremlin, was built by Italian architects, but the clock tower was added by the English architect, Christopher Galloway, in the 1640s. Ivan the Great Belltower

You head straight over the bridge onto a nameless island, which was formed at the end of the 18th. century by the construction of the Drainage Canal, dug to reduce the effects of the flooding of the river. You loop around the island. Obviously as you run along the river proper, you have a superb view of the Kremlin. The main building on the left of the Kremlin is the long Great Kremlin Palace, which actually only dates from the 19th. Century. To its right, you will see the Cathedral of the Annunciation, and the Ivan the Great Belltower. The Belltower was built by Ivan 3 (the Great) but the addition of an extra storey by Boris Godunov made this into the tallest building in the Kremlin at 81 meters, (and actually the whole of Moscow until 1707). The Russian name, Ivan Veliki, is a useful pointer for British people, who should answer questions about their origin with 'Velikobritannski'.

Once back on the other side of the river again, the race consists of two and a half laps up and down the Moskva River. I will just describe the first lap.

Pass the Hotel Russia on your left, and then a small white church, the Church of the Conception of St. Anna.

Almost 'next door' to the Hotel, so to speak, is the Foundling Home in its own extensive grounds. This was established by Catherine the Great to discourage infanticide and was built by the architect Karl Blank from 1764 to 1770 (assisted by Kazakov, who made great contributions to the architecture of the city, but then had the heart-breaking experience of seeing most of his life's work destroyed or damaged in the conflagration which consumed Moscow after Napoleon's occupation). It was one of the largest buildings erected in Russia in the eighteenth century - apparently about 13.000 children could be housed here. During the French Occupation, many were left behind, but survived the Occupation. It is now the Dzerzhinsky Artillery Academy.

The home was financed by a bank called the Opekunsky Soviet, which had its bases adjacent to the home. Apart from charging interest from loans, it also had a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of playing cards, received a cut from public concerts and plays, received a cut from the receipts from public baths, taxes on river traffic and the sale of ice for cellars.

On his first evening in Moscow, Napoleon had left the Kremlin and ridden as far as the Foundling Home. A few days later, he toured the City Center and reached the river at the same spot before riding back to the Kremlin in the opposite direction. He noted that the Foundling Home was one of the few buildings he could see that was undamaged by the fire. When Russian advance troops (or Cossacks, to be more precise) re-entered the city after the French had left, the only signs of life they encountered was at the Foundling Home - the bulk of the population had fled the city.

Going over the Yauza River, you pass directly in front of Kotelnicheskaya Apartments a Stalin Skyscraper, the Kotelnicheskaya Apartments - this was the first of seven Stalin Skyscrapers. It has 30 stories and was built in the early 1950s, using POWs and convicts.

The Skyscraper obscures the view of, and from, the Church of St. Nikita beyond the Yauza, which was mentioned in Solzhentisyn's The First Circle, although it was descibed as a heap of ruins. It has since been rebuilt in 1958-60 and has undergone further work since then - it is one of the few churches left with the distictives feature of churches built in the time of Boris Godunov.

The turing point is adjacent to the Novospasskiy Monastery This can lay claim, in a fashion, to be the oldest monastery in Moscow, dating back to the time of Yuri Dolgoruky, the 'founder' of the city. He founded the Spassky Monastery on the present-day site of the Danilov Monastery, which was transferred to the Kremlin in 1300 by Ivan 1. This was transferred by Ivan 3 to its present site in 1490, hence the name of Novospassky.

The monastery was destroyed by the Tartars, being rebuilt in the seventeenth century fortified with seven bastions (as one of the ring of similar fortified monasteries defending Moscow). After the Revolution it became a concentration camp, an orphanage, an NKVD archive and a furniture factory. Since 1991, it has been owned by the Orthodox church.

At the turning point, you are about a kilometer away from the Dubrovka Theater, scene of the takeover by Chechen rebels in 2002. That was the siege where President Putin says most of the hostages died not because of the effects of gas or because of the primitive attempts at emergency procedures, but because of the stress of being kept hostage for so long.

Notice, as you head back, the entrance to the Drainage canal, over on your left.

As you reach the Kremlin again, the first tower you meet is the Moskva River Tower (Beklemishev Tower) built by Marco Ruffo in 1487. It protects the South East which was apparently often the first part to be attacked by the Tartars. The tower was damaged by a French mine in 1812 as the French attempted to inflict severe damage on the Kremlin, prior to leaving (if the stories are to believed, this was foiled to a great extent by a timely downpour). This tower was also a scene of conflict during the Bolshevik Revolution, and was partly destroyed.

In 1773, the plans of Bazhenov were enacted when Catherine the Great officially started a major building program, which she then called off in 1775. By then the Tainitski Tower and the two Nameless Towers were demolished, and the entire wall between the Petrovskaya and Annunciation Tower taken down (i.e. the two towers inward of the corner towers). The wall and towers were rebuild faithfully by Bazhenov.

You then come to the re-built Church of the Savior. The original was built between 1838 and 1883, to commemorate victory over Napoleon, and involved the demolition of the Alekseevski Monastery. It is interesting to read in one or two books published prior to 1990 how ugly this church was considered to be. It was demolished under the Reconstruction Plans of the inter-war years to make way for a tall 'Palace of the Soviets' (as already mentioned). As in all events of this perod, it is hard to cut thru the chauvinism and assess what the real situation was - superficially, at least, the Church was demolished as part of a major plan, not because of any plan to attack religion (which needs to be done in other ways, while we are on the subject). What is definitely true is that a large part of the superstructure was destroyed to make anti-tank defenses and the like. The site ended up as an open-air swimming pool.

On the left, you see the ludicrous Monument to Peter the Great. According to the guidebooks, Russian even has a national holiday to Peter the Great (how far it is celebrated, I don't know). Suffice it to say, that any glorification of this evil despot is one of the more depressing aspects of the 'new' Russia. Quite apart from that, Peter also moved the capital to Petersburg, so why he should be celebrated in Moscow is anyone's guess. Incidenally the statue is kept under armed guard because of Socialist attempts to blow it up.

You can see Gorky Park on the other side of the river. In his book, Martin Cruz Smith has Arkady Renko chasing a suspect right across the frozen Moscow River from the park, to this side, where he manages to lose his man.