Euroloppet 3/8: La Sgambeda (Italy)

photo-9The new skiing season has just begun. Even though there is no snow in Estonia (apart from the 1.7km previous-year-snow ski track in Otepää), I decided to make an early start to the season by registering to the first Euroloppet ski Marathon of 2013/2014 – La Sgambeda in Livigno, Italy.

My father had already registered to the marathon a month before and he was going with his friends for a bit longer while I was looking for quick weekend trip. Luckily, Martin was also interested in participation so I wasn’t going alone.

On Friday afternoon I flew from Tallinn to Milan through Helsinki and while I was waiting for Martin to arrive Milan (he flew in from Vilnius) I picked up the rental car. As soon as Martin arrived we started driving towards Valtellina. Since Livigno is almost a 4-hour drive from Milan, I had booked our first night accommodation in between to get a decent night of sleep.

Dinner@Agricultura La Singela

Dinner@Agricultura La Singela

We arrived at our accommodation, Agriturismo La Singela a bit before midnight and luckily the hostess was very kind and agreed to bring us some food even though the kitchen was already closed. The dinner was delicious with a lot of great local food and our mood was great.

The next morning we had a quick breakfast and an early start towards Livigno. A drive through a bit of Switzerland and over the mountain and we made it to Livigno well before midday. There we met with my father and his friends, picked up our starting bibs and walked around in town.

In the evening we had dinner together with Paul Bragiel, my co-founder in Gamefounders. If you don’t know Paul’s story yet, then he is an entrepreneur/investor turned pro-skier 8-months ago with a single goal of fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming an Olympian. So he is training twice per day and was now in Livigno to add some mid-range mountain training to his regime. He does have a couple of months left to qualify, but is still off the target for several minutes.

Paul and Martin

Paul and Martin

Paul’s story has been and is a great inspiration to a lot of people. He has been on the cover of Wall Street Journal and been interviewed about the case by media from lots of countries (including Techcrunch and also Postimees in Estonia). I believe he has already inspired a lot of people to start working towards their dreams and goals and will continue to do so no matter if he succeeds or not in his journey. Paul tells us that just before he started his training regime he had a trial go and it took him 3 hours (!) to finish 10k in classic style. Now it takes him a bit more than 40 minutes – this already shows a spectacular improvement.

younger and older generation

younger and older generation

The next morning we meet my father at the start and we all go to our respective starting corridores. My start is from the 2nd starting group (thanks again, Euroloppet!) and as the reporter announces “1 minute to the start” I put my Endomondo to count 60 seconds and start tying my pole handles. Then suddenly, barely 15 seconds after the 1-minute announcement the gun goes and everybody starts skiing. I struggle to finish tying the handles and then…

I forget.

I forget that this is only the second time I’m on my skis this season, I forget that this marathon takes place in 1800m range where there is much less oxygen in the air and I’m far from being acclimatized, I forget about everything. I start skiing like there’s no tomorrow and I’m totally breathless already after 3km when the uphill part of the course starts. Luckily I get to my senses by that time and slow down quite a bit. Other skiers start to pass me from both sides, but this is ok since I started from quite the front anyway.

The weather is really nice, the sun is shining and the glide of my skis is quite good compared to the other skiers. Once again my father has done great job with waxing. On downhill sections of the course I pass a few skiers, both due to the better glide as well as better downhill technique. It is still strange that even in Italy there are a lot of skiers who are afraid of rather easy descents.

photo-8The track consists of two 21 km laps. On the second lap I try to enjoy skiing as much as possible, even though the race is still a lot of struggle. My main problem is that my body is not used to skiing yet and starting a ski-season with a marathon really puts it into a test. Finally I get to the finish in 2 hours, 19 minutes and two seconds, a pretty decent time considering the situation. There are a lot of pro-skiers participating and the winner, double Olympic champion Petter Northug finishes in 1:33:33. Therefore I lose him to a bit less than 50%, timewise. Even though my losses to the winner in the last couple of years have been in the range of 20-40%, I have to consider the current result very satisfactory as this is basically the first time on skis this year and with a proper training I could cut of 10-15 minutes off the time for sure (in Apkart Alaukstam last year I skid the same distance 12 minutes faster and lost less than 19% to the winner).

Finish!

Finish!

In pretty much every marathon out there, a 50% loss to the winner would earn you a spot in the first quarter of the skiers (for example in Vasaloppet, everybody losing less than 50% to the winner will receive a medal and 15-20% of the skiers do that usually). Not here. I finish in the second half of the pack – 417th out of 699 finishers. It is pretty clear why – it takes a pretty good athlete to participate in a marathon in the middle of December in mid-range mountains. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Euroloppet I myself would not have done it.

Ater the finish I meet Martin who has finished a shorter course, get washed, receive the stamp to the Euroloppet passport and then meet my father and his friends. My father has made another great race, coming to the finish just 10 minutes after me with a solid 2:29:34. Not bad at all for a 57-year old!

We have lunch and start driving towards Milan. Four and half hours laterwe check in a hotel, have dinner and return the rental car. Another Euroloppet race done.

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