My name is Gunars Akerbergs (sounds Scandinavian, but nothing of the kind). I am Latvian, living in my country Latvia since birthday (29th March 1947). I am married to my first wife for almost 29 years and there are no chances I will want to change the things.
I have worked in two important sports organizations since 1973. At first I was a somebody in Latvian Sports Committee. Since January 1992 I am employed by Latvian Football federation (never played football myself).
I started my favorite sports athletics as distance walker. During my junior age I combined daily work in a factory with studies at Latvian University therefore I had hardly a chance to make a good race walker. In 1968 I switched over to running. It was faster and the style of runner is not so funny as fast walking. I ran my first marathon at the age of 22 in 1969. At that time the distance was not popular in Latvia. I finished the year 2002 with 231 marathons. If you add 14 ultramarathons, you get quite an impressive number.
During the almost four decades of running I have developed my skill and habits which do not require a company. For 4 years I was a general secretary of a club in Riga (Latvian Running Center). I quit the post and also the club itself three months ago. The club consists of over a 120 members, mostly grown-ups and veterans who still like competition races.
Running is quite popular in Latvia. Around 200 races are organized annually, but I am not interested in short distances. My favorite is marathon (the Latvian race calendar provides only three marathons therefore I travel to neighboring countries).
I try to run every day. Actually since my last serious injury (fell on ice covered road) nine years ago I have not missed a single day. I combine my morning race with running to my office. In the evening I run home adding a few more kilometres. I have never been fond of high mileage (highest ever was 715 kilometers in some January many years ago). You can calculate my average per day yourselves: in 2002 I covered 5676 kilometers. Highest mileage per year was in 1995 with 6722 kilometers. Since 1963 (40 years) I have covered over 180.000 kilometers.
I do not like company and I do not need it. I am smart enough to do it all alone. I wonder if anybody will join me at 4:50 in the morning. Not even my dog, an English cockerspaniel. My morning starts at 4:30 and instead of breakfast before running I take out my dog for a 10 minutes walk. When I was younger I made longer workouts. Sometimes my morning race was 20-25-30 kilometers without any breakfast. The reader should not accept it. I have my habits and rules. You keep to your own. Ok?
I try to run the same workout course or vary it slightly. In winter, when we have snow on the streets, I know that my route will be more or less fit for running. I don't change the traditional route also in other periods of year. I do not like to run in the forest which is close to the place I live. I am a marathon runner and I do not like to watch my step (uneven surface of forest paths).
We have different climate in Latvia. Some guys do not run when it is too cold. I do not pay attention to the minus degrees (I do, but only to put on third pair of pants, fourth or fifth sweatshirt). I never wear wind and rainproof suits. The body surface must get rid of extra evaporations.
I have some records as to running in cold weather. Latvia is no Siberia, therefore -30 Celsius degrees is a rare case but Latvian -30 is harder than Siberian -30 due to moist surrounding. I will remember the two dates perfectly well: on 30th December 1979 there were -30 degrees Celsius and I went out to run 10 kilometers. On the next morning, 31st December, it was exactly -31 degrees and I went out to run my 10 kilometers. In the 1980s we used to travel to Leningrad to a winter marathon in January. One year the organizers, to avoid cancellation of the 42 kilometers race, took a decision a couple of hours before the race to cut the distance to 30 kilometers because the temperature was -32 degrees Celsius.
During my career I have missed running on many days (injuries, army service, etc.) but I did not run because of special weather conditions only twice. The first occasion was at my mother's place near the sea. It was almost a hurricane, the sea was roaring. With the intention to run I went out of the house in the dark hours of a November morning. When I saw within a few minutes several trees falling broken by the storm across the road I got scared and went back. The second time, simultaneous cold and rain had covered all surfaces which should be used for running - asphalt, grass - with ice. It was pure ice everywhere. I went back, took off my training suits and dressed for work.
Another record. I have finished all my marathon races. Once I got my Achilles tendon broken during the marathon - and I finished the race - it was less painful to run than to walk the remaining three kilometres.
I can talk a lot about running but I wonder if I am interesting enough to be listened to. You see, when I run, I run. Oh, yes. There is some time for thoughts during morning races. But I do not even think of wearing some silly headphones which would substitute bird songs, dog bark, approaching cars, even the "slush slush" under your feet in wet snow. Why should I carry such gear? A blind person needs a walking stick. Why should a runner hold a water bottle (is it a walking stick?) during a one hour race in winter time when you have to think of freezing hands? Why should I bother about reflective clothes if there is hardly a car at five in the morning and I run along the pedestrian sidewalk? You read it in numerous books written by ex stars and running magazines. I stopped reading them many years ago. I only look for some statistics, interesting facts but now Internet supplies me with all I need.
I am a statistician of marathon. Therefore I like to keep records of my running matters. My personal best in marathon is 2:37.42. Nothing special. But for me everything about my marathons, and running in general, is special. I even try to register kilometres I have run with this or that particular pair of shoes. It is a fun to realize that the shoes have taken you along 5000-8000-10000 kilometres. I do not keep more than 3-4 pairs for current activities. But I have kept one particular pair for competiing in marathons. By now I have run over 50 races and they are still in good condition for a race. I know I will not have blisters or pain with this pair.
I have run 114 marathons in Latvia and 117 marathons abroad: Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Germany (inclunding Berlin), United States of America (Boston, New York), United Kingdom (London), Sweden (Stockholm), Finland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Luxembourg. I have finished many marathons with tears in my eyes (positive emotions): New York 2001, Boston. The bigger the crowd, the better. But smaller races are also nice (I like to run Polish marathons with 100-1000 runners and friendly non-runners who will praise you for you efforts). I have liked almost each of my marathon races. Let it be like that. My favorite race was, is and will be a 42 kilometres 195 metres without a particular name.
You will meet more men than women running in Latvia. Most of people run either in the morning or after office hours. If you see somebody running in the center of Riga at midday, be sure, he is a foreigner. I was not astonished to meet the previous U.S.A. Ambassador during the lunch time race in the heart of Riga. I appreciated that even though his style was not that of an experienced runner. For an American it is normal. At present we have a U.S.A. Ambassador who is an active marathon runner (last autumn he took part in the inaugural "Daugavpils Marathon" and finished a few minutes ahead of me; we are of the same age). Great!
There are no religious activities, cultural activities or philosophies that might affect running in my country. Perhaps, you do not run in cemeteries. You do not run without shorts. You are impolite to those who ask you a cigarette when you run. Sometimes I throw a stone at a car which makes silly signals (normally I miss). Problems of dogs? Well, yes. Our dogs are not educated in many cases. But I have only two bad experiences with dogs.
Latvian races are quite ordinary. Modest fees, modest awards, no souvenirs. Series of races are popular. In this case there are no awards for the separate race. Winners are determined after the series (4-8-10 or even more different races) are over. Charity is not popular. The Latvian runners calculate: "What do I receive for my entry fee?" (2-3 U.S. dollars). I always tell them: "You buy emotions for this sum".
I will remind you of my favorite quotation: "Running is a gift I give myself every day" (Arthur Blank, "Runner's World").
Run The Planet would like to thank Gunars Akerbergs from Latvia for taking part in the Planeteer Spotlight.