|from 12,000 feet up!|
The weather prior to this year’s ESM was a mixed bag…several days of gorgeous blue sky, followed by clouds, snow, rain, warm temps, and even wind. The forecast was changing so rapidly that the only certainty was that the temperatures would be relatively warm. Race day forecast suggested a mix of snow and a headwind….but the clear skies that greeted us early on race morning clearly proved this forecast was incorrect. The temperatures remained in the low 20s, with a slight headwind. I was very happy with the weather and I arrived at the start area early enough to establish decent ski placement. This year my strategy was to stay away from the middle of the huge pack and ski closer to the left side of the course. I figured this way I would have more flexibility and fewer people to deal with, at least on one side of me. In past races I always noticed guys off to the left doing lots of “passing” during those early km’s. Today I was hoping to be one of those guys.
|race course, before the action|
When the gun fired, I immediately found that the conditions were not what I expected. The surface was rock hard, and a bit icy….I found that double-poling was the most comfortable thing to do at the time, even though surprisingly there was room to skate fairly quickly after the gun. I soon realized double poling wasn’t fast enough, but with the slick conditions I was struggling to skate efficiently. I decided to mix skating and double poling as much as possible until I was comfortable with the conditions. I was losing ground on the skiers around me but noticed that on the left of me, there was less traffic, as I’d hoped, and opportunities to move ahead presented themselves. However, I quickly found out that the left side of the trail was 100% ice in many places, and this actually made things very slow as I clambered to stay stable. I was really fighting to ski efficiently and found that the ice was too much to handle. However, moving to my right wasn’t going to happen – there were too many people, entirely too focused, and all of us moving at roughly the same speed. I remembered having to deal with this in places last year, too, but it was much worse this year. My skis were all over the place. I noticed a larger number of skier tumbles than years previous. Fortunately, they were all happening off to my right and far enough away so as not to impact me.
At about 6km I somehow lost my balance and dropped down hard on the icy trail. I don’t know what happened but I do know I had visions of last year, as people whizzed by at an alarming rate. Falling early in the ESM is something you most definitely want to avoid, since you lose so many places, so quickly, and you have to make them all up before the course narrows into the hills and woods just outside of St Moritz. I scrambled to my feet and the solid skiers around me managed to avoid me perfectly. Nobody cussing or yelling, just a bunch of more capable skiers avoiding another wreck. I was dismayed and angry at myself but realized maybe I just needed to pick up and recalibrate a little. I was able to work my way into the remaining pack and the better snow off to my right, but realized I had really lost a lot of ground. The next several kms were damage control as I just tried to avoid any further wrecks.
After the first feed station, 10kms in, the trail opens up a bit and provides opportunities to push hard before the first pinch point, just before St. Moritz. I worked hard in this area but it was so fast that the time flew by way too quickly, and everyone was skiing at virtually the same speed so little ground could be made up here. After a slow ascent up the steepest hill of the course, followed by a super-fast and hairy downhill, I entered St Moritz with determination to crawl back into a good position. However I hit some very soft, dirty, sugary snow just prior to a road crossing and my skis seized up….and I went down again. It was harder to get up in the soft stuff and I realized many others before me had dropped in the same area, and were continuing to drop…contributing to the softness of the snow. No wonder the crowds were unusually big at this particular location this year….it was like a trap! I scrambled to my feet and continued, on through the woods and along one of the nicest parts of the race course. Soon I was in Pontresina and halfway through the race. The snow was definitely changing and the skiers were now beginning to form the traditional “single file” lines as the flats and open km’s approached. At 30km I stopped for a feed at the family cheering section, and my wife rewarded me with an additional boost!
That was fun. The rest of the race was relatively uneventful and seemed to go by very quickly.
The weather, once again, was nearly perfect for the ESM. As I stood at the finish area waiting for the rest of friends and family to finish their races, I observed some of the other skiers crossing the line.
Of course, those in costume or “creative” clothing tend to stand out (including the guys in the “blow up” Strongman outfits), but I was particularly interested in an incredibly large number of very exceptional people. As these people finished, they checked their blood for sugar levels; another skier was blind, another was missing a limb, and still another was without legs and completed the race on a “sit ski”.
My own father, at nearly 80 years old, finished this race faster than years’ previous. This year there were only 20 skiers, of the 12,500 participants, that were older than he. All this considering 15 years ago, he had quadruple bypass surgery (which left him with an inability to run), and the doctors told him at that time that he had “10 years left”. So much for that! Then my uncle, at 79 years of age and with a newly charged pacemaker, finished his race.
|Tony's dad on the right, uncle on the left|
Observing these people successfully accomplish their extraordinary challenges is a gentle reminder of how profoundly fortunate we are to be able to do what we do, the way we do it.