17th February 2013
As usual before a race I tend to detect little pains in my body and I noticed a nagging little ache in my knee. I rubbed in a bit of Ibruprufen gel and packed a few pills in case it played up. Last night we were shown by Svarte how to race wax our skis. This involved stripping the old wax off with a paraffin like liquid and sanding the grip area with some 80 grit sandpaper. The glide wax was applied hot in blobs then smoothed with a hot iron and once hardened most was scraped off again. A final addition of liquid speed gel was applied to make the skis super slippery. The temperature was predicted to be minus 10 and rising to minus 4 so a very sticky grip wax was applied to the grip area and heated with the iron. Then two more layers of cooler temperature wax were applied and cold smoothed and finally a liquid grip wax was added. This took a good few hours. Waxing is neither an art or a science according to Svarte but a religion!
Our taxi arrived to take us to the start. Embarrassingly the “English” contingent were announced to all. We signed in, got our bibs, grabbed a coffee and headed up the hill to the start line. Charlotte was in for a chance but statistically Grit and I didn’t really stand a chance of finishing in day light and that probably meant we would get timed out (hence we were the only ones carrying rucksacks with sandwiches, water, belay jackets and torches!).
The start banner was raised and off we went. Cleverly we started at the back and I was the last over the start line. Soon the main fleet of skiers were leaving us behind and it wasn’t long before they were out of sight – and that included Charlotte. We plodded on and were thrilled to see number 116 around the next bend. The early part of the race was quite hilly. I felt that I had mastered some of the techniques (in a naff amateur way) including the diagonal stride and double poling. Even the double pole kick was doing ok and I have always loved going uphill. My problem has always been going downhill with cross country skis. I feel pretty much at the mercy of the tracks. It wasn’t great news when we reached the prow of a hill that looked like it was going to be very fast indeed. I suppose most of the racers would love it, but not me. So off I pushed and accelerated to a speed well in excess of my skill level and eventually the inevitable happened and I crashed. Sadly it wasn’t a nice soft crash but a rock hard one and I realised I had done something not good to my arm. It really hurt and I thought that just 4 km in I would have to pull out. However, I found that if I left my right arm dangling I could make some progress with just my left pole. So Grit and I carried on even slower than usual. At 10 km we got to the first drink station and hobbled on. The countryside was truly beautiful and with fine weather it made a great day out.
Then an amazing thing happened. We saw 116 in the distance and started to catch up. Finally we overtook our first racer! Very late we arrived at the second drinks station at about 18 km. They were keen that we stopped but after some persuasion we managed to get clearance to continue. Now here is a funny thing. You would have thought it was not possible to get lost on a cross country ski marathon because you simply follow the tracks. Grit called out “Do you recognise this?”. As it happened I didn’t I didn’t so we continued. Then I saw the unmistakeable sign of my old ski tracks – going straight into the soft snow at a sharp corner. We were doing a loop! There wasn’t much option but to continue. Now my arm was seriously hurting and without my second pole I would occasionally fall causing a shriek of pain. We plodded on into the evening and eventually the organisers ski-doo arrived behind us clearing the track. It was harder now because the beautiful tracks had been destroyed with ski-doos out on their Sunday runs. The organiser seemed happy to slowly hang on behind as we picked off the miles. With about three kilometres to go to our third drink station I fell right onto my arm again and the pain was pretty bad. I decided to call it a day. We had made a good go of it ad you can’t do better than your best. The kind ski-doo driver got us into his trailer and we sadly made the last few kilometres under power.
Now, we thought we were arriving at the third drinks station at 28 km and I was surprised the see Charlotte there. I asked her how she got there and indignantly replied “by skis!”. We had arrived at the finish but seemed to have missed the 10km loop around Olle’s track but added our own loop.
We had a grand reception by the kind and very patient organisers but I soon realised my hand and shoulder were badly swollen. Svarte kindly drove us to the hospital were the x-rays showed I had fractured my humorous. Now I am dosed up with pain killers, my arm in a sling on my way to Stockholm, having said our sad farewells to Charlotte and Svarte who had been our amazing hosts for the week.