Things I’ve done: race day

Having successfully completed the Engadin Marathon trial-run, Friday and Saturday were spent preparing our skis with the right waxes, stretching our aching limbs to aid recovery and indulging in a spot of carbo-loading. After my beloved’s faux humour, everyone was very solicitous towards me, carry my skis, making sure there was room for me at the table, giving me a helping hand so I didn’t slip on the icy paths and so on. Frankly, it made a nice change from being ignored/taken for granted by my beloved.

2018 Engadin Marathon Map

The Engadin marathon starts at 08:30 for the elite racers however there’s a tendancy for everyone to turn up far too early for the start. We were there at 06:30 to brave the elements and the very, very long queues for the facilities. I see from the event’s website, they now provide heated tents for people to wait in, but (sadly) not back in 1990. As newbies, my beloved and I were at the back of pretty much everyone and, like the London marathon, it took a while just to get over the start line though no one was wearing fancy dress.

While waiting for the start, I realised I had drunk too much hot tea staving off the morning chill which meant I needed yet another comfort break. I took an executive decision. I wouldn’t ski back to the facilities at the start but would have a pit stop at the first set of facilities, because there were bound to be portaloos en route? Wrong! I note from the profile map above that there are now facilities along the course but (sadly) there weren’t any back in 1990. However, there were tons of spectators with their video cameras. A fear of featuring on someone’s home video kept me glued to the track rather than seeking out a tree or some bushes for a much-needed pit stop.

I consoled myself with the thought that I’d stop for a comfort break in one of the many villages on the route but I soon discovered it was well nigh impossible to leave the track. With an already overfull bladder, I moderated my intake at the feed stations where the biggest hazards were rolling paper cups, soggy snow from dropped liquids and volunteers encouraging you to drink Rivella – revolting!

As one of the race’s tail-end Charlies, I had plenty of time to take in the raucous support from the spectators lining the spectacularly scenic route which helped take my mind off my more pressing need. Finally, about three-quarters of the way into the race, I reached one of the villages (La Punt) where there was a small restaurant right next to the tracks. I threw down my skis and legged it to the toilets. There was a long queue for the ladies but no one waiting for the gents. Who cared? Not me, I rushed in. What a relief!

Needless to stay without that pressing matter my skiing much improved and I sped toward the finish. As I approached the line, I listened to the announcer. I was just ahead of the oldest person in the race, an 86 year old woman, a local. I positively raced across the line to beat her by a full minute – result!

This was my maiden attempt and I went on to improve my time subsequently, particularly once I learnt the skating technique. My best ever time for 42km is just over three hours while the winner – usually a professional ski racer – takes 76-78 minutes! I’ve never taken part in any other ski marathons  largely because so many are even longer and I fear I might need an overnight stop.

 

Things I’ve done: gotten lost

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.

Start of Engadin Marathon on frozen lake in Maloja

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.

2018 Engadin Marathon Map

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.

St Moritz

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!

Pontresina

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.