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By David Monti
(c) 2008 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

LONDON (10-Apr) -- Nearly 40, Lyudmila Petrova isn't expected to win Sunday's Flora London Marathon.  A mother of two teenagers and the former Russian record holder for the marathon, she never imagined she would still be running competitively at this age.

"I would probably have stepped out of the runner and learn English and be a sports manager," she said today in an interview, alternating between Russian and English with the help of a translator.

But on July 7, 2005, a Thursday, just past 7:00 a.m., her life was changed forever.  Her husband, Sergey Petrov, was driving a new car he had bought in the United States from the port in Helsinki to Cheboksary where he and Petrova lived.  As he neared the end of the multi-day, 1000 mile drive (he was only about 150 miles from home) he lost control of the car, crashing into the car in front of him at a high rate of speed.

"I don't know exactly what happened, but he probably fell asleep," Petrova recalled.  "The car was totally destroyed."

At 39 years-old, Sergey Petrov was dead, leaving Lyudmila a widow at 36.  Her pain was unbearable, but she had two daughters and a mother-in-law to tell.  That was almost as hard.

"The children were not together when the accident happened," she explained.  "I called the children and told them to sit at home and don't go anywhere."

She told her oldest daughter, Inna, first.  She was 15, and was already old enough to guess the worst.  "She saw because I cried," said Petrova.  Inna told her not to tell her younger sister, Alexandra, who was only 12.

"Two people we were afraid to tell were Sergey's mother, because she has a weak heart, and Alexandra," said Petrova welling up.  "We bought some time and got a doctor to send to Sergey's mother (first)," she added.

She eventually told Alexandra, but Petrova's struggle was only beginning.  She needed to return to competition quickly to earn money for her family, as she was now the sole breadwinner.  She trained for the ING New York City Marathon in November.  Cutting her hair very short and wearing a black uniform to mourn Sergey, she nonetheless finished sixth.

"Losing Sergey, he was a big part in my training, my confidence," she said.  "Everything is on my shoulders.  I became the man and woman for my family."

Remarkably, Petrova found a new inner strength.  At London in 2006, while Deena Kastor was scorching the course on her way to a 2:19:36 victory, Petrova, 37, ran in a trailing pack with her compatriot Galina Bogomolova, and four other women.  Running smart, she broke away from that group to finish second in what was then the Russian record, 2:21:29, a remarkable time given her age.  It was a performance born of necessity.

"I didn't want to go out faster than 1:12," said Petrova.  "I wasn't thinking about trying to stay with Deena."

While not at the very top of the marathon game today, Petrova is decidedly still IN the game.  Her heart still aches for Sergey, a man she says she didn't fully appreciate when he was alive.

"Sergey was very strong family man, but I didn't understand that at the time," she said.  "I have him in my prayers. I ask Sergey to keep an eye on the children to be healthy and help me in the marathon."

On Sunday, she'll face the likes of World Marathon Majors title holders like Gete Wami and Berhane Adere of Ethiopia.  Driven by Sergey's memory and the essential need to take care of her family, she's not sure when she can retire from competitive running.

"Right now, I have the responsibility to my children," she said.  "One or two years more."

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