Euroloppet 2/8: Apkart Alaukstam (Latvia)

The track

The track

Yesterday I skid my second Euroloppet marathon – Apkart Alaukstam in Latvia. Apkart Alaukstam is a 42 km race where you ski two laps around Alauksta lake in free style. By the way, if you are wondering why there are so many 42 km races in Euroloppet, Estoloppet and other, then the reason is simple – the organisers have been inspired by the marathon distance in running. Obviously, it is much easier to ski 42 km than to run the same distance, so ski marathon organisers try to get back by giving impossible-to-pronounce names to marathons – Jizerska Padesatka, Birkebeinerrennet, Bieg Piastow just to name a few. Apkart Alaukstam is so far my favorite in this list.

Alarm clock was set to 4:50 AM this time, but I was awake long before that. A certain 4-month old somebody had decided that no way should we go to sleep earlier than 1 AM and wake up later than 4 AM. I drove to Saverna, where I picked up the other member of the team “Antalainen & son” and starter heading towards Latvia and Vecpiebalga.

Latvian roads were better than expected and we made it there well before the 9:30 starting time. We ate a bit, took the numbers and tried skis. Ten minutes before the scheduled starting time the starting corridors were suspiciously empty. In fact the only people there besides us were couple of other estonians. Then we learned from organisers that the start had been postponed for half an hour.

Back to the car we went, ate some more and then came back 10 minutes before start. Again a nice second-group start (thanks, Euroloppet). As the gun went off and I started on full speed (you have to get to as good position as possible at start), I did not feel too good at all. The sleeplessness and lack of training showed, I guess. I had not trained once after Biela Stopa the week before. This week we were choosing the next batch of Gamefounders and I worked well into the midnight each day, so there literally was no chance for me to find the couple of hours to go to ski.

Team "Antalainen & son"

Team “Antalainen & son” a few minutes before start

Nevertheless, I still gave my best and hoped that I’d find some good rythym to settle to. By 5th kilometre I was alone. There was a group I was not able to catch 100 meters in front of me, and a similar group the same distance behind me. The next 8k I skid alone. A single skier passed me, but his glide was so much better than mine and I decided not to follow. Approximately at 13-14km another guy passed me and I followed him. It was a headwind-part of the race so I was able to have some needed rest behind him. 4-5km later, just before the end of the first lap I suddenly started to feel good. The tiredness was gone.

Just as a week before, I finished the first lap on 60th place. Unlike in Slovakia though, this time I was convinced that I would improve my position on the second lap. And this I started to do. I could see some skiers few hundred meters in front of me and started to pull closer.

The “problem” with track so flat and easy as Apkart’s is that you might ski better than the person in front of you, but it would still take ages for you to get them. Only where there were some minor uphill parts I could get to them more rapidly – at the uphill the differences in strength/stamina show. Just to give you the idea how flat the course was – while last week in Biela Stopa, the heigth difference (the difference between the highest and lowest point of the track) was 350 meters, then here it was exactly ten times less – 35 meters.

Nevertheless I was able to catch a few people here and there. At the longest uphill part of the course 4 km before the end I overtook a fellow estonian – our PRO-cyclist Erki Pütsep. Judging from his face, he had been overoptimistic on the first lap.

We were still in tandem with the same guy, he making the tempo majority of the time. At the final kilometer I felt enough strength to overtake him, too, but I considered this unsportsmanlike and let him finish just before me. At finish we chatted a bit, it turned out that the guy was from Lithuania and had skid Tartu Marathon 3:28 and 290th place last year. Not bad at all.

apkart_3At the end of the race my feeling was really good. The only regret was that there was not a third lap for me to improve my position even more. My final time was 2:07:30 (winner 1:47:28) and place was 52nd out of 220 finishers. For the second week in the row I was the best estonian. My father, having made a very good race himself came in some 5 minutes later on 75th place overall and 4th in the age group.

After we made it to the finish and collected the stamps to our Euroloppet passports we started heading back to Estonia. The quality of the Latvian roads had deteriorated considerably during the race since the ice that had filled and leveled the holes in the road had melted. Nevertheless we made it back to my parents place by 3 PM. A lunch and a sauna and then I made it back home. By the time I got back home it was less than 12 hours since I’d left.

Apkart Alaukstam is a nice quick marathon to go to and probably one of the easiest in the Euroloppet series. This brings my Euroloppet count to 2 and this is it for this year. Looking at my schedule to come, there is no way I could find the time to go to my third Euroloppet marathon this year. I will continue the series in 2014.

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