Euroloppet: (Marxa Beret) & Vuokatti Hiihto

IMG_0005_2This year I had planned 2 Euroloppet Marathons: Marxa Beret and Vuokatti Hiihto. Marxa Beret is the largest ski marathon in Spain, it takes place at the end of January/beginning of February in north Spain near the Andorra’s and French border. Vuokatti Hiihto takes place in northern Finland mid/late March.

Marxa Beret

DSC_0046To Marxa Beret there we four of us going: myself, my father, Matti and Martin. We first flew to Barcelona, had lunch on a sailboat and then drove couple of hours to the north to our hotel some 10k from the start. There was a lot of snow in the mountains and often we would see cars totally covered with snow.

 

The day before the competition we went out to see the start, the tracks and make a short training. It was snowing rather heavily and the track was almost non-existant, what worried us the most was that there was more than twice the amount of snowfall forecasted to the next day (the competition day) and for me it was not clear at all that the competition would take place the next day.

 

DSC_0036We spent the evening waxing the skis for some five hours. This is the thing I hate about classic style skiing – the waxing. To be honest I don’t understand why people would ski classic at all – it’s slower and it takes so much time to prepare the skis and even then you can get it very wrong; then you need different skis and poles…but I digress here.

 

Our car in the morning

Our car in the morning

The next morning as we woke up, the view outside did not look good at all. It was snowing so heavily that you basically could not see anything. It seemed that it had snowed that heavily for the whole night. Sure enough, as I went to get the skis, the owner of the hotel told me that there was news in the radio about the competition being cancelled. We still went to get dresses and started driving towards the start uphill, but soon enough there was police on the road not letting us through. Apparently the mountain roads were filled with snow and closed.

On the road to Androrra

On the road to Androrra

Nice. We quickly went back to hotel, packed our things and started driving towards Andorra (#55) so that we could at least do some skiing there. The route to Andorra was very picturesque with very nice views. We did get there on time, but as we put our ski chains on the tires again, one of the chains broke and it was clear that we could not make it high enough on the mountains to be able to ski. So, we checked in hotel and made a tour in the centre and did some shopping. In the evening I went to a small run on top of the hill overlooking the city.

The next day we did some more sightseeing and shopping, packed and drove back to Barcelona. it was a nice trip but would have been even better had we had the chance to participate in the competition!

Vuokatti Hiihto
Sometime in November Erik called me and invited me to go to Vuokatti with him. I said yes. Vuokatti is at northern Finland so we had two flights: from Tallinn to Helsinki followed by the transfer to Kajaani. From Kajaani there is a bus that takes you to Vuokatti 30km away. We stayed at Sport Hotel, about 50m from the start so it was very comfortable.
DSC00492Prior to Vuokatti I was not able to train too much. Sure, I had plans, but then life happened and then climate change happened and so it was that before Vuokatti Hiihto I was only able to ski 70 km, half of it in December and the other half in January. Knowing my lack of training I opted to relatively short 45km freestyle distance, thinking I would take it easy and enjoy the ride.
Erik at start

Erik at start

On Saturday morning at 9 Erik started on 120 km distance (prior to the race he had skid 1200 km this season) and I took some time to relax before by 11am start. Just 5-6 minutes before the start I exited my room and went to the start. The front rows were all taken, but I figured that it didn’t matter since the track seemed quite wide and I was not going to race, right?!

Wrong.
Me at start

Me at start

As soon as I put my skis down and smelled the snow and the kind wax odour of the skis and saw all the other athletes warming up I knew. I knew that there was no way I would not try to give my best in this competition. I just can’t take it easy at a competition.

 

So, as the race started I rushed to gain some ground. Very soon did I find out that I was wrong on the other point also – it was only the starting corridor that was very wide, in fact, just a hundred meters down the track was wide enough for only two skiers. This meant that it was quite soon that the bottleneck developed and it took me around 1,5 minutes just to cross the startline. But once I did I started looking for ways to gain ground. I would ski at the side of the track to get ahead and I would double pole to pass other competitors. Inside I knew that this pushing was going to cost me later on, but, what the hell. I gained quite a lot of ground and at some point the track was quite empty and I could ski at my own pace. The weather was sunny, but it was very windy and this made the race  harder. The track itself was also quite tough: the total vertical ascent for the 45km was more than 500m, perhaps twice as much as in Tartu Maraton for example.

Just before the halfway people would start passing me. My legs and arms were not feeling that good, obviously for the reason that they weren’t used to make these moves. And the uphills started getting harder and harder. I had skipped a few service points, but from then on I made sure to get sportsdrink/water and maybe raisins from each of the following service points. Then around halfway the hardest part of the track began – pretty much constant uphill to the highest point of the track. More and more people overtook me. But the worst was still coming. Then, 10km to go, the inevitable happened. In Estonian we call it “getting the hammer” or “getting the panel” and there are other very colourful phrases to describe the feeling you get when your glycogen reserves are depleted and every part of your body starts to hurt. You know if you’ve ever felt this feeling. The thing you need to do is to get energy asap and then wait for the feeling to go away. My problem was, I had nothing to eat with me (I did not intend to race, after all) and the next service point was full 3 km away. There was really nothing I could do about it. My pace slowed down close to walking with the sole objective of getting to the service station. People passed me from my left and right. At one point there was a guy with cotton hoody passing me, his back all soaked in sweat. I did not remember when anyone not knowing a thing about sports apparel passed me on a competition before, but it didn’t even matter – I had to get to the final service point.

I got a different medal though

I got a different medal though

After something that seemed like an hour I did. There I made a longer stop. For the next 7-8 minutes I would just stand there, eat raisins and pickles (that was all they had there), drink water and sports drink and think about my life. Finally I was ready to go and left the station.

The last seven kilometres were not that hard, mainly due to the reason that the service station was at the highest point of the track and it was mostly downhill from there. I still took it easy and tried to enjoy the race. Finally I got to the finish in 2:52, perhaps the slowest competitive 45km in years. Just as a comparison – in 2011 I raced in Poland a track with perhaps only slightly easier difficulty level and finished the 50km distance in 2:24…

But there I was and another Euroloppet race was done. I got my medal from the finish, went to my room, washed, ate a bit and then went to see around a bit. Erik would finish a couple of hours later with an excellent time for 120km – 7:34. In the evening we went to sauna and quite early called it a day.

The Next Day

The Next Day

The next morning we woke up at 6am, had breakfast at 7 and around 9 went to have a short skiride. We skid with easy pace to the same service station where I had eaten all their raisins the previous day and then some more. The weather was nice, there was no wind and my legs and arms felt like new. We finished the 16km ride with faster average pace than my competition the previous day and I started to love skiing again.

Quick shower, lunch and back to the airport. By the evening I was back at home with yet another Euroloppet race “under my belt”.
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