It’s time for me to hold my hand up. While the amusing things my beloved has done, said and lost would fill several volumes, I’m not entirely incident-free. There, I’ve admitted it.
In an earlier post, I mentioned we’d taken part in our first cross-country ski marathon in the Engadin in 1990 and to prepare for the event had signed up for a week’s pre-race training with the cross-country ski school in Pontresina.
We had done this on the recommendation of one of my beloved’s Swiss work colleagues who took part in the event every year. He also advised that we’d need a few days to acclimatise to the altitude. We were glad we’d followed his advice. Not only did we have a very sympathetic ski coach but also we were with a nice group of people, all of whom were virgin marathoners.
It seems apt to mention all this as 2018 will be the marathon’s 50th anniversary and I can see from its website that while the route is unchanged, much has improved over the intervening years since my maiden attempt in 1990.
The first few days of the cross-country skiing programme laid the foundation for our Thursday trial-run on the course, during which our ski coach attempted to improve our technique and impart words of wisdom. My beloved and I were the only Brits and quite obviously the least experienced skiers. However, our years slogging around Seefeld’s many undulating tracks stood us in good stead. We may have been slower on the flat but we could hold our own on the ascents and were markedly superior, and much faster, on the descents. Though that may partly have been due to our superior body-weights!
When we were out skiing with the group, I typically brought up the rear. This is largely because I hate having people skiing on my tail but mainly because I like to go at my own pace. The exception was on the descents where I wanted to be out in front of my fellow pupils who either weren’t as fast or as agile as me. I’m a bit of a demon descender.
The day of the trial run dawned fair and we were up early at the start on the frozen lake in Maloja. The ski coach had advised us to take our time, familiarise ourselves with the course and we’d all see one another at the finish. A few of the group decided they would only ski as far as Pontresina (mid-way) and the coach suggested I might like to do the same. I know he had concerns that I wouldn’t be able to complete the course but I assured him I would see him at the finish. Once I set my mind on something, there’s no stopping me.
I set off on my own, intent on enjoying the day out. The start is icy and it’s advisable just to put your skis in the tracks and propel yourself along using your sticks. Of course, I saw no point in going hell for leather, I would save that for the race on Sunday.
As you can see from the profile above, the course is largely flat but there’s a steepish climb before St Moritz where the snow tends to get churned up so it’s trickier than it might otherwise be to ascend, followed by a wonderful swift descent into St Moritz before a climb up into the forest.
The descent from the forest back into Pontresina starts with a twisting narrow, track through the trees, where the tree trunks are covered in mattresses – not sure whether this is to protect the trees, or the skiers? It’s a popular spot for spectators during the race as there are usually plenty of fallers here. The snow is generally quite soft so it’s rare anyone ever injures themselves but fallers tend to set off a domino affect behind them.
I stopped in Pontresina for a drink and a quick bite to eat before setting off for the finish in S-chanf. In the penultimate town I took a wrong turn and had to double back on myself before finally reaching the deserted finish line. Where the hell was everybody? I reasoned they’d probably gotten cold waiting for me and had taken the minibus back to Pontresina.
I skied to the railway station, bought my ticket and, because I had a bit of a wait, rang the ski school to let them know I was on my way back. Remember this was way before mobile phones. The woman who answered the phone was almost hyperventilating. She told me that they’d been concerned I’d gotten lost and were on the verge of contacting the police! Holy Moly!
It wasn’t until the next day I heard the full story of my feared disappearance. Apparently, everyone else had decided to stop at the ski school in Suoz, the self-same one I’d skied past twice because I’d taken a wrong turn. I wouldn’t mind but in a bright red, all-in-one ski outfit I was easy to spot. What’s more, the group had sat outside, in the sunshine, slaking their thirsts while waiting for me.
When I was a no-show, my beloved had joked: “Don’t worry she’ll eventually turn up and, if she doesn’t, she’s well insured!” His attempt at humour – never his strong suit – fell flat with the Swiss-German coach and group who clearly decided my beloved was akin to a wife-beater.
The ski coach organised the group into search parties and was asking anyone and everyone whether they’d seen an English woman in an all red outfit in difficulties. Finally, they decided to get the bus back to Pontresina where the ski coach was going to report me as “missing” to the police! Luckily, that didn’t happen otherwise I’d be even more notorious than “The English woman who got lost.”
Now, of course, I wasn’t lost merely misguided and misinformed. However, the upside was that for the rest of the vacation, and indeed subsequent vacations in Pontresina, everyone was very solicitous. However, my story doesn’t end here. Oh no, there’s still race day to come.