Runners shrug off Siberian blizzard during ice marathon over lake

FILE PHOTO: People enjoy good weather on the Lake Baikal covered with ice near the Siberian village of Listvyanka, in Irkutsk region, Russia, March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo

LAKE BAIKAL, Russia (Reuters) - The frozen Siberian lake had been hit by a blizzard and blustery winds and there was thick snow underfoot, but these were relatively benign conditions for the extreme marathon runners competing there on Sunday.

Temperatures have in the past plunged as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius at the Ice Marathon over Russia's Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake where runners converge annually to run a full 26.2-mile marathon or a half marathon.

On a few occasions, cracks on the route's icy surface have opened up mid-race.

"The weather was actually really good today," said Denis Merenkov, 45, whose beard was caked in frost as he sipped on a hot drink after completing the half marathon.

"Two years ago it was much worse."

Spaced out over long distances in poor visibility, competitors are sometimes unable to see anyone in front of or behind them - and indeed little is visible at all beyond the white snow underfoot and the white falling from the sky.

Weather conditions can change quickly and organisers cap the number of competitors each year at a maximum of 132 so that, they say, they can ensure everyone's safety.

Runners travel from across the world to take part and this year the temperature hovered between -10 and -12 degrees Celsius.

"I love running, I love nature and I love extreme conditions and it's perfect," said Andrea Dablander from Austria who won the women's marathon.

"It was the perfect race, really."

Not everyone was so chipper at the finish line, though, and one man lay in the snow as someone tried to help him to his feet.

Despite the surreal spectacle and adverse weather, organisers seemed more surprised the competitors had actually made it to the start line with flight and travel restrictions in place to halt the spread of coronavirus.

"Despite the coronavirus, they all made it here - from 31 countries," Alexei Nikiforov said.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Ed Osmond)

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