...10 minutes to start and I am sitting in a dented car, 5k from the start, waiting for a police officer to complete an accident report before we can even begin to head to the start and then skate 50k at -10F...
How did I get here? I was in Germany for a trade show and some Madshus meetings. These ended the day before Konig Ludwig Lauf, a 50k Worldloppet race. It is run on Saturday freestyle and classic on Sunday. Classic is the main event. With the flight schedules, I was able to race on Saturday before flying out on Sunday.
Despite my training lacking many multi-hour workouts or many intervals, I decided to enter the full 50k distance. I figured it would hurt and I wouldn't have a record time, but I would have skied the "real deal".
Saturday started with a 6:45 pickup from our hotel. A K2/Madshus Germany colleague was working the race and picked us up on the way. We were staying about 45 minutes away, so hadn't caught the race vibe. It was COLD Saturday morning. Robert's car thermometer read -23.5c / -10f as we pulled into the start area. I was glad I had packed my windproof long underwear, balaclava and lobster mitts! While it didn't feel as cold as it would in Seattle due to the lower humidity, it did suck the heat out of you. We drove straight to the start (nice to have a pass!) and unloaded a 10'x 20' Madshus tent and started to set this up. Lines were already forming at the Toko and Fischer tents for their wax service. We were getting quite the sweet deal - we were going to ski on next year's skis... and a tech from HWK (a german wax company) who regularly waxes for the Austrian team was going to wax our skis!
At 8am, with an hour to start, we decided to find someplace warm, then return with 15 minutes to start. After driving into Oberammergau, we found the race headquarters and expo closed... So we started to drive around the small village looking for a bakery or coffee shop. Driving down a very narrow street, we saw a garbage truck coming and pulled as close as we could to the snowbank and stopped to let him by. I couldn't believe the truck would fit on the other side of us...but he kept moving. It was going to be tight. The cab passed us - OK so far...but then, the truck clipped our rearview mirror...and the rear of the tall truck gave several strong bumps along the left side of our small car. Ugh. 30 minutes and miles away from the start...and we are calling the police... Good thing I didn't have high expectations for this race. If I had trained all fall for this race, I would have been pretty anxious. Instead, we stuck with our friend and offered our moral support... and tried to get ourselves ready for the race. As we waited I decided I would ski with my warmups over my race suit. Long underwear and lycra isn't enough for these temps. I put on my boots, pinned my Honey Stinger's to my bib, put that on, crayoned dermatone lip balm all over my face as thickly as I could (it was all we had, but very glad we had it!), and found a place to carry my ID, phone and some money. 20 minutes to start: the police are on the scene and our colleague is taking pictures.
10 minutes to start: the police give us the accident report and we leave.
5 minutes to start: we pull into the parking lot at the starting area. There are at least 1500 people in the starting area with skis on... and we are still in the car without skis or poles.
Thanks to our pass, we are able to pull to within 10 meters of the start area. We jump out and grab skis and poles. My colleagues aren't as ready as I am...but there isn't much I can do. I say "good luck", pull the ski ties off my skis and start running toward the chute. Chutes are numbered - corresponding to bib numbers. I find mine, run in, find a spot, put on my skis... hoping the gun won't go off before I have my gear on... strap on my poles...then I can look around. I am on row #3. Wow! Bang! Bang! Bang! Several cannons go off and we are moving. I haven't been on skis in a week in a half, it is -10F and I am starting a 50K.
With such a good start position, I didn't stress about trying to go out very fast. Several people went down around me as we crossed a road and the trail bumped a bit. I felt icicles occasionally falling out of my nostrils. Yes - it is cold! Getting my ski legs slowly, the trail narrows down. We are in a wide open valley surrounded by some beautiful mountains and the occasional castle or large monastery. Pretty cool! Then, at about 2k, the trail narrows from ~20 meters wide to ~6 meters wide. Immediately, we are going single file. Wow - glad I am so far up... this will be a major logjam in a minute or two.
In the woods I notice that I can't get my right ski flat. I figure that since I put my boots on in the car, my orthotic is in wrong...What to do... I pull over, letting about a hundred people by, while I take off my boot, remove the orthotic, try not to put my sock in the snow, put the orthotic back in, put on the boot...and start up again. OK, better... now let's get racing... Pretty soon I see a sign saying 10K... 34 minutes - not bad. If I can hold this, I should be under 3 hours...now I have a goal.
The trail in the woods is narrow, occasionally with a sharp corner - think Viking Loop or slightly narrower. When it is in the open it is wider, like the road at Cabin Creek. Overall, pretty narrow for a loppet race. The snow is cold, but firmly packed. I am amazed how fast my skis are! They are a little squirrely, but rockets. These are "Regular-Soft" skis... in hindsight, I should have asked the tech to wax my Hard Packed skis that I had carried from the USA. Whatever... they are fast! I have to concentrate on body position and pressuring the edge, but when I do, these skis glide a long way and fast! When I let them run on the downhills they accelerate and I pass a bunch of people. Cool!
About every 8k there is a feed station. The people are handing out dixie cups filled with a warm sports drink. It is great to have such large cups of liquid - with just one I figured I took in ~5 oz. This would help me break down the gels I had.
20k... ~35-36 minutes for that one.
Now at the far end of the valley and the course is hilly. One longer climb. Not very steep, but I can't see the top and there is a big chain of people... I try to keep the pace up the hill, not knowing when it will end. Just over the hill is a long descent marked at the top with a warning sign. I decide to let the skis run and I am calling "passing on your left", "passing on your right"... OK - quick jog right and left - give the guy on my left some room so he doesn't hit that tree with the gymnastics mats tied to it. Out in the open and still gliding...
30k - it should be mostly flat now. The 23k course has joined in and now we are passing very slow skiers. There are also some tourists skiing the wrong direction on the course. Got to be watchful. Occassionally you see the hot shot classic skier out testing skis for Sunday's race. It is a surprising amount of fray to be skiing through.
... signs...Finish=Left. 50k=right. ??? What? I go right... I didn't see this on the race map. We are now going the opposite direction of the finish. We'll have to loop back to the left, climbing this big hill I am seeing - not too psyched about that...my legs are not looking forward to climbing. Finally I recognize the course. I figure out that we will loop to the right and stay on the flat. OK. I am skiing with one guy drafting behind me. When he pulls through, the pace picks up. Nice to have a draft! We are getting close to 40k - I need another feed. I am now in front and grab for my gel, trying to give him room, but keep moving. He comes around slowly and says something in Germany. I get my gel down and try to get back on... too late. Keep pushing, try to get him... 40k... 2:36...I am going to have to push hard to get under 3 hours... and hope for some descent. For the next 5k I can see the guy ahead so I keep focusing there and push.
Road crossing - we must be only a few k from the finish. OK, I am tired, but I can handle this. ...uh - the trail turns again...5k sign. Ugh. I am thinking that a 40 or 45k race would have been good. Now I am skiing by myself, just trying to keep moving towards the finish. A couple guys pass me fast - I can't get on. Where did they come from? Another guy passes me fast... then he is 15 meters ahead and trips on his own pole...down! Keep moving. I look at my watch...2:56... where is that 1k sign????
49k - we are on a path next to the river. Where is that finish?... a guy I recognize passes me... We are within 500m and there is a sign "Dangerous Crossing". The trail narrows, goes under a roadway, turns 90-degrees, crosses a pedestrian bridge and then onto what is probably a running track in the summer. Man - glad I am not in a huge pack for this! Over the bridge - HUGE inflated Red Bull archway... that isn't the finish... try to get this guy! We are in the lanes... I am thinking of the finishing sprint at SuperTour in Winthrop... push... I get past him and stick my foot out to make sure. ... 3:04. 116th place.
In the gym nearby there is food... I see first aid walking with some people in blankets. I see a medivac helicopter land... Woah... that is scary. OK, I am tired, but OK. I don't need medical attention, just food. Find dry clothes... oh wait - ours are at the expo... Reece and I have to venture outside and hunt through town in our ski boots and wet race clothes to find it... Attempting to jog in this state sucks... Got to keep moving to stay warm. My legs are heavy. But need to do this now before I start to get cold...
We found our clothes, food and our friends. With some additional help we made it back to our hotel then started the trainride to the Munich airport. Unfortunately I wasn't able to connect with Martin Rosvall. He stayed in Austria on Saturday to prepare for Sunday's race. He would have a good one the next day. I am looking forward to hearing his report. Remember that tricky crossing just before the finish... during Sunday's classic race there must have been a big pack there because 17 guys finished within 10 seconds!
So now, 48-hours later, I am home in the US, mostly recovered. Two spots on my cheeks are burned from the cold. While I am not too proud of my time, given all the circumstances, I am content with that. I am motivated to go well under 3 next year! I'll have to do more distance and interval training... It is a beautiful course. Hopefully I can find time to check out some of those castles.