Apr. 18, 2008 -- The mother was having a difficult delivery. Her sixth child would not come out and, in rural Russia in the 1970s, cesarean births were not an option.
The doctor turned to the mother and told her, "You have five children, I think it is better we lose this one, so those five children will still have a mother." The mother panicked, and began pushing with a newfound power. Then, legs first, the child appeared. The Doctor squeezed hard on the mother's stomach, calling "Don't blame me if she has puffy cheeks, the baby can always wear a headscarf!"
She was born to be a fighter and, on Patriots' Day last year, Lidiya Grigoryeva realized at 37 kilometers she was going to prove to others, at the world's most historic and prestigious marathon, Boston, that she was also a champion. "I thought to myself, 'okay I can win this,' " she remembers. "I noticed Jelena (Prokopcuka) was no longer able to respond, but I thought, 'let's wait until 40-K.' "
Coming down Boylston, running 26 miles in probably the worst weather ever recorded at a marathon, Grigoryeva opened her lips and thanked God. "I thanked God because I did not have it easy. Firstly, I did not want to be in Boston as I had heard the course was tough. I wanted to be in London on a flat course, but they would not accept me. Then I said I would run for free in London as I had a bet where I'd get $20,000 from a friend if I ran sub 2:22, but London would not even give me a race number. (The flip side of the bet: if she lost, she'd have to run 10-K dressed only in a diaper in her hometown). I had even had problems getting a (shoe) sponsor. So it was a way to show people I am a good runner."
Did the Boston victory change her life? "Not really, I bought a car, not a new one, it's three years old. There is a national television program that everyone watches in Russia and it was announced that I had won, so a few people from my hometown told me they'd heard my name mentioned, but nothing more than that."
Grigoryeva does admit, though, to now feeling a heightened level of responsibility when coming to races as the defending Boston Champion, "Yes, as an athlete, it does come with responsibility when you come to a race as a Boston Marathon champion."
The other problem with "responsibility" is that it sometimes does not allow her to plan her own life.
"When I was younger, I grew up thinking I would be doing something with sewing, and staying at home. Life is not like that!" She smiles.
Usually at this time each year, Grigoryeva is asked to go to Japan. "Every year before, I have been picked to run the Ekiden for Russia at that time so I had to be in Japan." As she explains, that's what happens if you are a female who has clocked 31:09 for the 10-K on the Japanese roads and have a track PR of 30:32 for the same distance.
Healthiest Chocolate for Runners There is also the pressure to compete at certain race distances at events, like the Olympics, let's say. The Russian federation has hinted that as the winner of the 2007 Boston Marathon, Grigoryeva would make a prime candidate for this summer's marathon in Beijing -- something Lidiya would rather not do.
"I would prefer to run the 10,000; it is less work, and the marathon takes a lot of preparation," she laughs, and goes on to explain that to get into track shape for her is much easier than to get ready for a marathon. Plus, her only championship medal to date comes from the 2006 European Championships where she was the 10,000m bronze medal winner.
Although Grigoryeva competed at the Sydney Olympics, she did not really "get serious" with her athletics career until 2002. "After the birth of my daughter, then I started to train hard," she explains. "I thought about the responsibility of motherhood, and was afraid of pushing my body hard before I had given birth to a child."
Then, upon the urging of her sister, Irina Timofeyeva, who was four years her senior, she picked up the pace. "Earlier at school, she had also encouraged me and introduced me to a coach, but I did not like the coach." A nice twist: Lidiya won the 2005 Paris Marathon and, following in her footsteps, Irina won the event in 2006.
Grigoryeva's training for Boston 2008 began on January 10, jumping up to 110 to 125 miles per week. The plan, which is based on a progressive long run, a medium long (75 percent of that long run), and two speed sessions per week involves training in three different countries, Turkey, the USA, and Russia.
Because of inclement weather, and an offer from the state, she joined 20 other athletes to train in Turkey during January; "perfect weather, it was very nice to be running in 15 degrees celsius!" (59 degrees Fahrenheit). The next phase was a visit to America to get checked out by the Madison avenue-based physio, Gary P. Guerriero. "My back is very tight, not an injury, but after running maybe in Boston last year and the preparations of hard downhill running I feel very sore there, so we have been working with massage," she explains. And then, to get some warm weather training down in Gainesville, Florida, a U.S. hotbed for Russian athletes.
Most of Grigoryeva's running is done alone, in forests or on the open road. "I like this time, and I love to do the training. I have a good sense of pace, I know my body well. If I am out training, I don't need to know splits, I can feel if I am on pace or not," she observes. "When I am out running, I often try to think about form, if I can run with better form."
I ask Lidiya if she ever thinks about her earlier life, and if the hardships she endured push her on to harder training? "The days were hard. When I was four, my father left and I would be a herder for the neighbor's geese to earn money. Yes, maybe this is why I am able to squeeze everything out of myself when I am racing. It was difficult times."
Healthiest Chocolate for Runners So what are the talents that took her to first place in Boston, what does she think her running strengths are? "I can run for a long time and keep a low pulse of 130 beats when running at 4:00 per kilometer. Maintaining a high speed, for instance, in an interval session like 3x5,000m, is what I find hard. High mileage for me is easy."
And will there be any adjustments to the Boston plan this year? "I am changing slightly at trying to build more speed, and an ability to hold a high pace in those types of intervals mentioned. Last year, I did a run of 15-K uphill, then turned and ran 15-K downhill, and the last few kilometers felt very tough, so I would try and pick up the pace to mimic the finish of the marathon. Also what helped was the lousy weather; that is the weather I had been training in all winter.
And if that is the hard work, then what about the grit? Where does the drive that takes this slight Russian lady who sits quietly sipping a beer and thoughtfully answering questions with a shy smile to a wonder woman who is headed to Boston to try and retain her title?
"I think my drive comes from self-belief, good race preparation, and then the drive? Yes, you can say my family. For my family, it is a big sacrifice for me to be running. If I commit to a race, it means the whole family lives around that event; that is what makes me give all. Each place I fight for because each place matters."
Her day begins at a leisurely pace; her husband, who is also her coach, rises at eight to make the breakfast for their daughter Victoria. Valery himself was a runner and his 2:19 is a goal Lidiya would like to aim for. She believes "2:15 is unrealistic for me. I think a man will break 2:00 before a woman breaks Paula's record!" However, more than a time, her prime goal is an Olympic medal, "That's what I would really like," she sighs.
Lidiya gets up typically around 9:30 a.m. and takes a cup of tea and a biscuit, then relaxes for 30 minutes before heading out for the training run. Showering and a lunch of soup, pilimini (like ravioli), or even crab meat salad and then she rests before tending to housework, and maybe reading with her daughter. Then it is time for the second day's training run, more house jobs, a light dinner, often chicken, and then early to bed. "A very quiet life!" she concedes.
Family life is intrinsically important for Lidiya, who married her teenage sweetheart Valery. "I don't want to be known as a fast runner. When I was younger growing up, it often took a stick from my mother to get me home, but nowadays it is the opposite. I don't like to go out, I like our home to be quiet. It brings less stress living this way, and that is what I like." She does not like to travel either. "I am much happier when training at home, that is the problem of racing; I have to leave." Her manager, Andrey Baranov who runs the Spartanik Running School comments, "I suggested to Lidiya to take a season out of athletics, but she said if she does she'll never start running again."
Healthiest Chocolate for Runners There is a pause, the food has all been eaten, the restaurant is closing up, but Grigoryeva still has something she wants to say, "For me each marathon is difficult. I don't want to beat myself on the chest and say I am a great marathoner just because I have won Paris, Los Angeles, or Boston. No. Instead, each run I just learn a bit more." Grigoryeva has come a long way from a simple goose girl in the small village of Smitcha, Russia, and many have a feeling she will keep on running to far greater things.