On Saturday I skid my first Euroloppet marathon – Biela Stopa in Slovakia. Euroloppet is a series of long-distance skiing races. Unlike in Wordloppet, all of their member marathons take place in Europe. I achieved my Wordloppet Master title (you have to ski 10 different member marathons, at least one of them outside Europe) in 2007. At the end of the last year I decided I will also go for the “smaller brother” title of Euroloppet – Euroloppet Master. To achieve that I need to complete 8 different Euroloppet races in less than 10 years. Biela Stopa in Slovakia was my first marathon in achieving this feat.
We went there with my father, having both registered to the main distance – 45 km freestyle. Friday morning 3:30 AM my alarm clock rings, 20 minutes later my father picks me up and we start driving to Tallinn airport. Morning flight to Stockholm and from there to Vienna where we pick up the rental car and I start driving towards Slovakia and Kremnica – the nearest place to the marathon. It makes sense to fly to Vienna instead of slovakian capital Bratislava, since the flight connections are much better and the it is only 65 km from Vienna airport to Bratislava.
The next morning the start is at 10. 7 AM wakeup call, at 8:30 AM we take an organized bus from Kremnica to the starting place – Skalka and we have plenty of time to dress in Skalka Gym building and do a 10 minute warmup before the race. When we went to the starting corridors, this was a pleasent surprise – Euroloppet passport holders (such as me and my father) can start from the second starting group, just behind the elite skiers. In a pretty narrow track the starting position makes a whole lot of the difference. In Tartu Marathon some people pay 50-100 euros extra just to get a better starting place.
The gun goes, I get a pretty good start while my father gets stuck behind someone slower and that is the last time I see him before the finish. The first kilometers the track goes up and down and at 6th kilometre the first longer downhill starts. The beginning of the downhill is serpentine-like and very technical and to my surprise I see that slovaks are pretty lousy in their downhill technique. I slalom between the fallen guys and the ones who brake continously for the whole descent and manage to avoid bumping into them and falling. I would think that since I started from the front of the pack, at this level the people would know how to descent, but that’s clearly not the case. It makes me scared to think what is going to happen when the pack gets into this very narrow downhill section. Sure enough, at finish I learn from my father that there were 30+ people piles on the road (including him since there was literally no space to avoid hitting the pile).
The track goes some 6-7 km only downhill (probably the quickest 5k I ever skid), losing 300 meters in altitude and then start going up and down continuously for several kilometers and then we start raising again to the ski stadium. Man, this is an uphill allright. In Tartu Marathon we have “Harimägi” that raises some 50 meters. Well, this ascent here alone is 6 (six) times Harimägi. And several times the overall ascent in the whole Tartu Marathon.
Nevertheless, I feel quite fresh and take over tens of people at the uphill part. When we get back to the stadium, there is one very steep uphill part before the stadium and there I feel for the first time that I’m getting a bit tired. At stadium we have skid 25 kilometers, I’m on 60th place and now the new downhill section start again. Downhill section is pleasent, again some 5 kilometers long with very fast parts. When we start some uphill parts again, after a few kilometers I feel for the first time that my leg muscles are hinting for the cramps. Arms/shoulders/upper body is allright, but the very same leg muscles that cramped in Tartu Triatlon last year are not good at all. I slow down a bit to avoid actually getting the cramps. I just remember the Tartu Triatlon experience a bit too vividly. Other skiers start overtaking me, but that’s allright. There are only a few of them anyway.
There’s no flat part in this race. Not single 100 meters of flat. Nothing. Nada. At the end of the ascent there is a descent. Or another ascent. So every time I go downhill I know that there’s bound to be an uphill section pretty soon. Damn. Luckily the final 5 kilometers these parts even each other out. I make it to the finish in 2:51:01 and 73rd place. Lost 34% to the winner. My father gets there in 3:14 and 140th place. There are 284 finishers alltogether.
In the finish I happen to talk with a local guy who proudly tells me that this is the hardest Euroloppet race. His trainer has told him that and he has skid a couple of them himself. What was your time, I ask. It turns out that the guy skid the shorter distance, 25 km. I don’t even have to ask him why. The long race is just too difficult and takes probably a bit too long time to recover from even the young skiers like himself. In fact, the shorter distance has 5 times more participants – something I’ve never seen before. In all of the Wordloppet marathons I’ve participated (13 overall), the long distance has always had several times more participants than the shorter one.
Although the track is very hard, I totally suggest it. The breathtaking mountain views you see at places and very good organization make this a pleasant competition to participate in. Also, slovaks are very hospitable, the food is good and the roads are in very good quality. Beware that you start from the front of the pack though, since it is very narrow.
Euroloppet – one down, seven to go.