How to lose 4 kg (8.8 pounds) and how to “draw” road marking with snot? Why is Coca-Cola more important than your own son? Is it tasty to eat pilaf with condensed milk and what is Rubicon really about?

A few years ago, when I came back from South Africa, where I participated in the legendary Comrades marathon and where I saw the incredible patriotic support of the millions of fans, I decided to organize an ultramarathon throughout my country as well. Thus, the Rubicon was born.

In the beginning, we ran through the eastern regions of Moldova, but the next year, we ran through the central regions. This year (2019), we had to run through the western regions, from Briceni to Giurgiulesti, in order to close the marathon cycle. As a runner, I must collect all western coats of arms, while running 150 km (93.2 miles). There was no hint of misery, untill…

The illness

Yes, I got ill. I caught a cold 10 days after I came back from Oymyakon race. Firstly, when I just returned, I was healthy, ruddy and cheerful, so I went to work. And there it began…

”Dima, we haven’t seen you in a while! We’ve missed you! Can we meet at 2 o’clock?”. “Dima, can we meet at 3 o’clock? We have so many questions”. “Sergeyevich, tomorrow you have two TV shows: a live stream in the morning, and an interview in the afternoon”. “Wait, padre, I have a one-on-one important question…”. “Dima, when will we have a talk about Lobster and Sonar?”. “You need to approve the drawing of wolf’s fur. The music for ‘Aripi’ is ready, let’s go listen”. “When are you going to finish the cartoon cut?”. “Which bus should we rent for Rubicon?”. “Do you like the new Votum design?”. “What price should be established for Oceanman participation?”. “When will the Achizitii raport be ready?”. “Can you pick the chair model for the conference room?”. “Should we place the Profi.md on the main page of 999.md?”. “Can we talk for a minute?”

a-a-a-ah! No, we can’t! Neither for a minute, nor for five seconds!

My face looked more angry and I became more irritable by midday, and by 6 p.m. I looked like a used mop, bleary-eyed and with only one desire: to run from all questions, crawl under the covers and black out. I fell asleep and I saw a dream that I was giving an interview to a TV channel:

– Dmitri, tell us, how do you feel after working as Simpals director six hours continuously? It is incredible, you didn’t have a crew of rescuers and doctors, just one-on-one with the managerial “tornado”. Until now, nobody has ever been able to work that long at such temperatures!

Fever. I woke up. The working stress has finished off my immune system after the Oymyakon race stress at -60 o C (-76 o F). I caught a cold. But in the morning I got up and went to work, to solve the “urgent” issues, because in a few days Rubicon will start and I will disappear again. Long story short, on that day, an army of viruses and bacteria took my weak system down, and the “mountain” of snotty napkins, next to my desk, was the source of discouraging thoughts about the upcoming race.

I could hardly imagine how would I be running the 150 km in this condition. But the thought of not being able to participate didn’t fit into my head. I, who has organized this race, who inspired all to participate, who ran two years in a row side by side with others, who collected all regional coats of arms, who waved the flags, would not show up?!

I felt sick, but that’s not a reason to back down! Because before offering someone a product, you must try it yourself! That is why I must run the Rubicon race. The only thing that was giving me hope to break free from these “snotty chains” was our new VIP-luxury-elite-deluxe transportation!

The camper truck

This year we will drive a supercar, the “Rubicart” – as we named it. It is a trailer with four beds, kitchen, fridge, WC and shower. The rent cons is not so expensive per person, if divided on the whole team. It was a really cozy trailer.

Our “mobile home” was already riding for a few hours on Moldovan roads. By this time, we have ran through Briceni and Edinet regions, and we enjoyed the VIP camper service. We decided we have the right to rent this luxurious trailer, because in the past years we had to ride on buses without seats and without space for stretching the legs. It was difficult to eat, sleep, dry clothes and simply ride. For this reason, we decided we deserve riding on a business class bus. The truth is that soon our “home” turned out into a pigpen: wet clothing was hung everywhere, table full of food of unknown origin, garbage bags on the floor and a smell like in a soldiers’ barrack after they have marched a few miles, with some scent of Augean horse barn and sulfur bathhouse.

Actually, we felt so good, because we could stretch our legs, which is so important during the Rubicon race. I took with me my old friends – Vadim, Andrey and another Andrey, two drivers and some millions of viruses, which were “travelling” in my body.

The cold was progressing slowly, but surely. I started coughing and in few hours my eyes were already teary:

-In the night – the cold was whispering – I will congest his nose, let him breathe through the mouth and dry his nose, like in a desert – I’ll have a good laugh in the morning!

It wasn’t fun, because I was shivering, then running, sweating a lot, freezing, warming up again, drinking some stuff, lying in bed, waking up and running again.

Nothing to laugh about. 50 km are behind me, but still there are two race days ahead. This was really demotivating me, because I didn’t have any energy left and I didn’t want to run anymore…

Self Pity

It seemed I got carried away with self pity. The thought of the hundreds of races I ran led me to the idea that this feeling must characterize amateur runners. Without it you will overdrive yourself worse than a horse in the race. If you don’t listen to this feeling, you’ll get all the possible injuries, you will overtrain and drop running, swimming, cycling and any other sport you might practice. Have compassion for yourself and take care of yourself, because your whole life is ahead of you, and there is so much more to achieve. If your achilles hurt, quit running for a couple of weeks and see a doctor. If you can’t lift up your arm, rest from swimming. If you can not force yourself to get out of bed in the morning, just drop it and stay home once a month!

You know, after actively practicing sports for 7 years, I understood that sport is not all that there is in life. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. There are more important things in life: family, kids and friends, who aren’t sharing the same interest in running cadence or sportswear. There should be time for creativity, travelling, parties, work, reading and, of course, watching TV. Maybe it’s weird to hear it from me, who ran 13,000 km (8,077.8 miles) and swam 1,000 km (621.3 miles), but I can assure you that sport has forever entered my life, though it will never be the most important.

Therefore, I listen to my body, in order to understand what it needs. But there should be a serious reason to continue running, even if the body and the brain “ask for mercy”. In Oymyakon I had this reason, but now…

The more, the merrier

Meanwhile, we were driving in the night. Maps and tea with lemon are on the table, and this picture reminds me of a front-line unit strategic planning. Soon, we will cover the last segment for today, Floresti region, and go to bed and sleep till the morning. We’re already feeling how we will stretch our exhausted legs… but instantly, the phone rang. It was the Rubicon logistic manager:

-Where are you? Our bus broke down. We need your help immediately!

It turned out that our old bus “capitulated”, its fuel pump didn’t survive this Rubicon season. Imagine this: Ungheni region, 5 in the morning, the engine doesn’t turn on, but the sportsmen not only want to warm up in the bus, but also need to make it in time to the startline of the next race stage.

The dawn is breaking and soon it’s going to be fun. 11 people from the bus need to prepare for the start in half an hour. Conversely, they are stuck with the broken bus 20 km away from the starline. It’s time to save the race! Our trailer turns around and we head to them on full speed. Panicking sportsmen have already crowded. We open the door on the move:

-Come on! Jump in! Hurry!

We turn around again and head full speed to the start. It felt crowded in the camper, because people were everywhere: on the armchairs, on the beds, in the hall and near the WC. Due to the high speed, we were reeling on notorious Moldovan roads just like cowboys on rodeo.
We are being late! The race starts in a minute!
Go faster!
We are also participating in this race segment, therefore, we start nervously dressing: some fall down, others try to pull their clothes from under someone else’s feet, stumble in dozens on sneakers, others shout out loud “Who’s seen my socks?”
We’ve already started, catch up the crowd! – someone called us by phone.

We caught up the Rubicon runners and started running behind the crowd with the flag. Our trailer headed to the finish line. We joyfully breathed out, gave a high-five to one another and the way we go!

At the finish line, we took in all those runners to warm up, because their bus was still dead. It felt warm and dry in the trailer. We were packed like sardines, but everybody were in a good mood, because we completed the level. We set the table with God sent food: crackers, jam, tea, cookies, and we celebrated our victory by the sound of wheels hitting the potholes, pits and cracks of the road.

We were not the only ones who took the runners in: all automobiles were “stuffed” with sportsmen from the broken bus. “Rubiconers” don’t abandon one another! By midnight, a new bus from Chisinau arrived, the athletes got in and they caught us up at the next level.

Athletes agreed on the idea that Rubicon ought to be tough. It’s so cool to overcome such situations! So, I subscribe to this statement. During the 3 Rubicon races, we had many challenging situation, but we coped successfully with each one of them. “We” meaning not just my team and I, but all runners… it’s hard to name someone in particular 🙂

Mishgan

On Saturday, another “Rubiconer” joined our friendly, stinky, dirty and tired team. It was my son, Mishka. I decided that it was better for him to spend 24 hours with real men in the camper, to eat some low quality food and to run periodically in the night, instead of just watching TV. He agreed

At first, Mishgan stormed in the trailer, then he found his place, took out all my coats of arms and started asking how he could gain some, too. I explained that receiving them involves running a lot and often.
I want in – he said.
Predictable answer, because I asked my wife to pack his sports gear:
Alright then, here is the plan. You run 2 km and receive one regional coat of arms. The condition is that you have to run with the crowd, you can’t stay behind, because you might get lost. Nobody is going to wait for you, it’s an adult race.

Agreed. Mishka started reading Deniska’s adventures, but the rest of us lied down for a nap.

We started running together from Leova. The sportsmen were greeting the boy and it seemed he liked it. It’s dark and quiet outside. All are awaiting. The bus, the runners and the pacemaker show up from the fog. We are starting off. We run side by side in the light of the searchlight of the bus. Mishka smiles and feels at ease, because we’re running down the hill. So, he ran his honest 2 km, by a 6:30 min/km tempo. He wanted to run more, but I suggested him to preserve energy.

He sighted with a slight disappointment and stopped at the side of the road. Our camper truck took him in. At the finish line of this stage, Mishka was joyfully waiting for me holding his coat of arms:
— Am I the little “Rubiconer” now?
— There are no little “Rubiconers”, I said, go home, I’ll come in a minute.

In a while I felt dizzy, for this reason I didn’t go straight to bed, but stood outside, came round and cooled down by my own sweat. I’m shivering, I can’t sleep, I’m sweating, my nose is running on bed, then down on it to the camper door, then to the pavement and transforms into “continuous diving strip” between sport and my health. It is a strip which can not be crossed.

1:30 in the morning, the alarm rings. I ignore it. It rings again.

Dad, wake up, we need to start running!
I opened my eyes:
We? You mean you want in?
Of course! Another coat of arms awaits!

I’m trying to find some dry clothes. I shouldn’t have thrown the thermal underwear on the floor yesterday before crawling in bed with my son. So it was lying there: still wet, cold and forgotten. “Lonely and tearful” thermal underwear.
So Mishka and I were standing in the middle of the night, in fog, somewhere at the border of Moldova, surrounded by shaking sportsmen, awaiting for the bus. There it is! In the dark night we could see two beams of light cutting through the fog. It looked like a surreal creature which points to the real path in the night.
“Rubiconers” are surprised to see a nine-year-old runner in this time of night. Mishgan gets a “dose” of respect, because everybody shakes his hand and wishes him “winged feet”. Mishka lights up with joy and pride.

This time, these 2 km felt harder for him: we were left behind the bus and he was feeling pain in the abdomen. But we continued running, until the smartwatch tracked 2 km. With a sense of relief, Mishka stopped on the side of the road and waved me goodbye.

The cabbage rolls

This stage was the hardest in the last 3 years. I was sweating abundantly regardless of the fact that I took off my jacket, it was +3 o C (37.4 o F). The night felt depressing, the Rubicon-FM moderators were asleep in the bus and nobody was there to support us. We all had to keep one tempo: you were not allowed to stop, rest, slow down, throw up, stay on the side of the road and get back in line again. Plus, there were so many kilometers to cover ahead.

I looked at the watch, it monitored 9.2 km, the finish is close… In a half an hour I looked again, it was 9.6 km! My goodness, what’s wrong with the space-time continuum?! The last point was the finish. In fact, it was its absence. According to the booklet, the segment distance was 12.5 km. But there was no finish line at 12.5 km, nor at 13.5 km. I was not the only one who suffered, there were other guys who had run 200 km. From the look of their faces it was clear that they didn’t want to run additional kilometers as a cool down.

I think that the thought which kept me through was that somewhere, at the finish line, my son awaits for me, holding another coat of arms. I’m running on “autopilot mode” in the flickering car lights, wiping my runny nose of my fists…

Finally, there they are: the bus, the registration car and my comfy “home”. I received the coat of arms, heard some vague explanation on bus repair and detour, but I was still slurping up my nose, when suddenly…

Guys, there are hot cabbage rolls! Who wants some?

“Cabbage rolls? In the middle of the night? And hot?” – my thoughts didn’t add up, but never mind. I saw when the guys opened the trunk and gave out portions of hot and tasty cabbage rolls to the cold and exhausted runners. Someone’s given me a portion and the world just stopped turning. It’s just me and them. Later I found out that some locals saw the running crowd, called some of their neighbours, asked them to bring some hot meals and sent them to us through the police crew.

Suddenly, I heard a word, which probably is the only word that my mind could perceive at the moment when I was “devouring” my food. It wasn’t the word “Fire!” or “You’ve won a billion!”. The phrase “Who’s child is playing on the motorway?” would not be able to distract me from eating my tasty and fresh rolls. But this word associates to my mind with the greatest pleasure, especially after such a tough race:

Coke! Who wants some Coca-Cola?

A minute later, I’m drinking the warm, sweet, bubbling “nectar”, which gives me hope that things can’t be any worse than they were today.

We give a hug to one another and crawl into our “mobile” beds. Sleep.

Meanwhile…

The runners are not the only ones who overcome Rubicon.  For the Sporter team, Rubicon starts long before the race itself. From Thursday to Sunday the team was working “25 hours” per day. There was no time for complaining, sleeping, eating and resting, because during Rubicon races force-majeure situations always arise. Someone made a joke saying that one Rubicon race can replace a degree in Logistics. Runners do not know much about what happens behind the scenes, which is good, actually. But I really want to talk about my team.

Rubicon FM. A bus with speakers is driving in front of the running crowd. We could hear the cheerful voices of our MCs, requested music and greetings from the internet audience.

So, the moderators in the bus haven’t slept 45 hours, to be able to encourage the ones who have no power left and who need support (especially when running up a hill). Their absence was very noticeable when they “knocked out” for a few hours 🙂

Operators. Anyone who was participating in the Rubicon organization knew they had not just to give all out, but give 258% out. Photo and video operators were running around just like the Moon around the Earth, while it goes around the Sun 🙂 I need to find out how many kilometers they had run around 🙂

Registration car – it was both a car in which the assistants registered every start and finish of each participant and an ambulance: “Guys, we need help!” – “We’re on our way!”. They were driving 100 km/h into the white fog, because there are 3 minutes till the next start and they have to make it in time to register all participants. They couldn’t be late, because everybody was waiting for the race to begin as it was scheduled.

Office. Rubicon means working not just somewhere out in the field. There were 10 people in the office who were working non-stop: some were streaming 59 hours and others processed the received photos and news.

Life is getting better

Sunday morning was a good morning. The illness “capitulated” and I was feeling better. But when Mishka wanted to get out of bed, he moaned:

A-a-a-ah! My legs!
His quadriceps were aching. Of course they hurt, because we ran down the hill, and people who didn’t train them feel heavy pain.

— Now you understand how we feel. – Vadim said.
We all have muscle ache. Now you are a real “Rubiconer”.
Then I’ll run the 3rd stage in Vulcanesti.

And Mishka ran. We wanted him to feel the true joy of crossing the finish line, so we decided he’d run with us the last two km before finish. We remembered the cabbage rolls from last night and decided to grill sausages for all “Rubiconers”.

So we’re running and thinking about the sausages, ketchup and coke which await for us at the finish. Yummy! We’re running down the hill again and Mishgan is not that excited anymore. After 1 km he felt pain in the abdomen and I could read suffering on his face. We slowed down, but didn’t stop. I noticed that it was difficult for him to run. But Mishka didn’t know one thing: he helped me a lot, because when your child is aching, you concentrate on his pain and forget about yours. Therefore, this stage was 2 km shorter. Thanks, Mishka!

We made it to the finish, we hugged and “devoured” the sausages. Miska is limping. It is difficult for a child to keep up with the grown-up running tempo. His legs muscles really hurt, but there is another stage to overcome. The last one. And we can’t miss it…

But the last Rubicon stage is…

The solidarity stage

It is about being solidary with all participants, who are tired and have no energy left, but who want to cross the finish line. For this reason, we run this segment in an all-comfortable tempo: it might be 7 min/km or 8 min/km and, if it’s the case, just walking. It is more important that nobody is left behind, or gives up, or quits. We shall finish all together and we won’t leave anyone behind. And that is the most amazing thing about finishing the race 🙂

We start waving the Rubicon flags. In the front line, the race leaders are running, and we are running behind them slowly (up on the hill we’re just walking), but surely. Everybody’s in a good mood – the hormones are doing their job – I could hear laughter, jokes and humming of the songs coming out of the speakers.

We will, we will rock you!

The song resounds on the street; dozens of exhausted runners are coming alive after a three-day race and are covering with their singing the kilowatt speakers. I got goosebumps, which “seem to jump of the body and run and sing alongside”. Mishka is running next to me, he doesn’t give up, but I can see that he’s struggling.

I can see the finish line, located just on the border of Moldova. The same knights in armour, who saw us off in the journey 3 years ago, are awaiting for us now. We feel overwhelmed, we shout, everybody forgot about their pain, fatigue, injuries and exhaustion. You couldn’t tell that this smiling, energetic and glowing group of athletes had run 100-200 km in the last few days.

We’re running through a hall of 40 flags of Moldovan regions. Each of these flags is connected to a story: one reminds of when I was almost dead, other reminds of when we had to push the bus and another reminds of the amazing way that the local mayor has  greeted us. During these 10 days of running, we met thousands of people, who were glad to see us. There were children and officials, pub crowd and sportsmen, students and policemen, grandmas with placinta and grandpas with wine. We saw sunrises and sunsets; we ran during the day, during the night, through snow, rain, fog, wind, cold and heat. Up and down, up and down on the hills of Moldova – the country that we love unconditionally, the country that we call Homeland.

We’re running under the arch and we’re hearing the applause of our supporters. We hug one another. Some are weeping. Somebody brought champagne and I could hear shouts and cheers. Hurray! We did it!

Mishka is also excited: he’s turning his head in all directions, grins widely and his eyes are glowing. I asked someone to bring coke. I gave him the big bottle of coke: he tried to jump for joy, but his legs disobeyed, so he opened the bottle and poured the “forbidden” beverage straight into his mouth.

At the finish, we’re going to refuel with fresh pilaf, pickles, condensed milk, mulled wine and redbull. Mishka is limping next to me, his legs are numb, but he’s in a good mood. He’s squeezing in his fist 4 coats of arms, which were hard to obtain.

Dad, I want to have all Moldovan coats of arms. When is the next race? – Next year, son.

Stories

In general, Rubicon is one big story made up of many other short stories. Each participant may retell you at least one, but I will retell you 7 of them, which we collected together 🙂 (because when you’re asleep, Rubicon goes on).

Story No. 1. Fireworks.

Some Rubicon stages were lying through Leova region, so, when we entered this region, our operators received a message that in honour of Rubicon, especially in honour of Pavel Mitiglo, there will be fireworks. After they just finished reading the message, the supporters launched fireworks in front of our bus. It was an unexpected surprise. About 100 m (109.3 yd) far there were approximately 50 supporters who were shouting “Pasha”. It was all happening in the night 🙂

Story No. 2. Protectors.

It happened when our bus got stuck and the cars couldn’t pull it out, so we had to find a tractor to do it. The two famous detectives – “Sherlock Mechin and Doctor Vasya” – started searching for a tractor at 3 in the morning. Using their intuition and a magnifying glass, they found the track of tractor’s protectors. Actually, at 3 a.m., in the middle of nowhere, it was the only way to find a tractor.

Story No. 3. Unicorns.

Somewhere in Ungheni region, we were driving by a “desperately” roaring vehicle. Next to it, a blue “iron horse” was stuck in mud on the side of the road. Without hesitation, we rolled up our sleeves and started pushing and pulling it out on the road.

Story No. 4. The Dog.

It is the second year of Rubicon, in which four-legged runners participate. Last year, the dog that we called Rubik, has run about 50 km through several stages. All sportsmen were already worn out, but Rubik was still running 🙂 This year, Rubik’s brother, Kubik, was running with us 🙂 Kubik has run about 30 km, but other deals made him turn back.

Story No. 5. Police.

The police did an excellent job! Bravo! The policemen had run all the Rubicon race! They were transmitting the flag to each other as a banner and they accomplished all 43 stages! Plus, they managed to protect us all this time 🙂 The next story is just about this.

Story No. 6. Teenagers.

At 2 a.m., on the highway we met a group of drunk and very young people. Probably they were coming from a “sommelier course”, but they were very happy to see us. They joined us in running. Due to lack of practice, they soon became tired and decided to rest in our open bus. Note, the bus doors should be open because there are the speakers and the photographer. The young people were extremely outraged because they were not allowed to ride in the bus and hit the photographer. The police had to “explain” to them that walking is better for health than riding.

Story No. 7. Supporters.

In Riscani and Glodeni regions, the athletes were welcomed with the traditional Kalach. In Cahul they brought some sandwiches with fresh cucumbers and salami. Also, they handed us a sack of apples. Sportsmen received honey, jam, coke and chocolates as a snack. We didn’t ask for it, people just wanted to support and help the “Rubiconers” 🙂

Bottom line

During 3 years, we have run through all regions of Moldova even in the worst climate conditions of our country. We ran through snow, frost, sleet and fog on awful roads. Our race time was 159 hours and 9 minutes, and we were able to cover over 1,500 km. This distance was as if we ran straight from Chisinau to Prague. 600 people pulled off quite a feat. They overcame their personal Rubicon.

The three-year Rubicon race (all stages) seemed tough to me: 465 km, 40 stages, 50 hours, 33,000 kcal, 4 kg of fat loss and a bucketful of sweat.

But it was worth it: dozens of friends and thousands of supporters, a few worn-out sneakers and several “dog-tired” muscle groups, pain and pleasure, overcoming weakness and victory. In short, a full package of all kinds of emotions. Now I can brag about the fact that I have been in all regions of Moldova!

At the party dedicated to the end of the three-year race, I found out that only 3 people went through all the stages, but I hope that next year there will be 10 times more finishers!

Now I can rest. I’ll hang all my coats of arms of Moldova on the wall and, some day, I’ll tell my grandchildren about this Rubicon adventure.

Rubicon  is not about one person.

Rubicon  is about one big family. It doesn’t matter who you are: athlete, organizer or just a supporter (many people were coming out to support the “Rubiconers”, even in the dark night!).

Rubicon  is not about the fitness, but it’s about testing yourself: what you have inside, how you can support others and how long you can keep on. Rubicon is about emotions.

Rubicon  is a small big life.

Next year we are planning to organize Rubicon beyond Moldovan borders. Well, we’ll tell you later about that…