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No Visa

Smolensk Fortress Wall
Occasionally, it's been necessary to carry my passport when out running, but there was another time I should have and didn't.

In July and August of 1975, we were on a driving and camping trip behind the Iron Curtain in Europe.  The trip had taken a lot of organising with almost all campsites, compulsory currency exchanges and visas booked many months in advance.  Another couple, Kerry and Gerry, travelling in their own vehicle, joined us for journey through the USSR.  Kerry, a runner I had met while we were both in the Army doing our National Service, and I were entered the historic Enschede Marathon in The Netherlands at the end of August so were both keen to keep training while we travelled and frequently went for a run after our day’s driving and sightseeing.

Enschede Marathon mementos
For longer runs in the USSR, this was a challenge.  Maps were difficult to obtain (the Cold War was still raging and the Soviets just didn’t publish many maps) and frequently inaccurate when we did manage to get one.  We always had trouble locating the campgrounds because the sketch maps were simply wrong and couldn’t be trusted.  Nobody spoke English, and we didn’t speak any Russian, so asking for directions was problematic.  Runners were a rarity, and we didn’t see anybody else out running during our entire time behind the Iron Curtain.  The police were ubiquitous.

Unless there was an obvious running route from the campground, we tended to retrace our steps to the main road and then run out-and-back.  We didn’t want to end up being chased by farm dogs or finding ourselves somewhere we shouldn’t be.  On this particular day, after a lot of difficulty, we found our booked campground (they were few and far between) in a rural area on the northern outskirts of Smolensk (they were always waiting to check us in, and on a couple of occasions when we were late reaching our booked campgrounds, were quite upset about our late arrival).  After setting up camp, Kerry and I set out for an evening 20km run along the main road.  It wasn’t easy running as the road shoulder was rough and rocky and the road busy with noisy fume-belching trucks, but we had little choice.  After about 8km a car swept past us at high speed, braked in a cloud of dust and executed a speedy U-turn before pulling up right in front of us.  All four doors opened in unison and four guys in civilian clothing jumped out and waved us to stop.

Enschede Marathon 30km Feeding
Station (finished 91st in 2:59)
One of them started talking to us in Russian, which we didn’t understand at all.  The more it became obvious we couldn’t understand them, the more frustrated they became.  The temperature of the interrogation rose and soon they were all shouting at us.  It was very intimidating.  The only word we could grasp was “Visa”.  Of course, we hadn’t brought our Visas or passports with us on the run and were trying to get that point across.  I spoke a little German, which is understood by some people in western Russia, but this was of no use.

As it became apparent to them that we didn’t have our Visas with us, they began arguing amongst themselves.  My interpretation was that two of them wanted to take us to the police station and the other two just wanted to go home, or wherever.  After a few minutes of arguing, the “go home” faction won and they returned to their car, executed another dusty U-turn and raced away into the distance.  Bemused, and a little shaken, Kerry and I continued our run.

My right arch was more painful when I got up this morning, after yesterday's run with just the regular shoe insoles.  Fortunately, the new orthotic insoles I had ordered online arrived yesterday and they are much more suited to running than the previous orthotic insoles, weighing 100 grams less.  I used them for an easy 10km run this morning and they seemed to do the job.  I have some niggles and my calf muscles are tight after yesterday, but I think I'll be OK to run 10km at Trotters tomorrow morning and the 14km City to Surf Fun Run on Sunday.