Saturday, January 14, 2012

The 50 kilometers long nightmare (Or how I managed to go 50 kilometers in 6h43m)

Winter is here! We have snow all over and the ski season has begun. Although it must be said that winter came a little bit late this year, we didn't have snow until well into December.
So, after New year's celebrations (which I spent sick in bed) we packed up our skis and traveled to the Czech Republic to participate in a 50 kilometers race: Jizerska 50.
We have read about it and we have prepared ourselves for a really nice race. Well, racing is a way to say it, I'm not racing to win I just do it because it is fun to participate.
We were keeping an eye to the weather on Bedrichov (the little in the Czech Republic where the race happens) to be sure to bring the proper equipment. All the way up to New year the weather was perfect, around -5C and new snow coming all the time. The week before the race, the temperatures went up to 0 and warmer and there was even rain. If you have ever done cross country skiing you know that those temperatures are the worst case situation because the snow melts and then freezes again but this time as ice.
We left for Prague on Friday 6th and we arrived without problems. We were lucky to meet a couple of acquaintances that gave us a free ride to the place of the race. Unfortunately Mona got sick so she had to spend the rest of the weekend in bed in the hotel. Next day I went to Liberec to pick my starting bib and my time measuring chip and to hear the gossip about the proper waxing for the skis. Once back in the hotel I busied myself preparing my skis for a scary 0C race. On Sunday I followed a group of swedes going to the race and got to the start line in good time to make the final preparations.
A little bit before 9:15 I was on the slopes and that was when I realized that I had no grip at all. I mean, none. My skis just glided without any friction! I had to go my first kilometer fish bone style until I reached a place where people were trying to wax their skis. I managed to get some wax from a guy, and my intention was to get enough grip to go the other 4 kilometers to the first waxing service. Skis rewaxed I was able to go the four kilometers and reach the waxing service. To my surprise the guys at the waxing service asked me if I had wax for my skis. When I told them that I didn't have they told me they didn't have wax either... Dear race organizers, the whole point of a waxing service is to help people with waxing problems, make sure you have wax on the first place.
I continued going with my skis having a weird feeling of having the wrong wax that provided too much grip and no glide at all, but it was better than having no grip at all. Specially since the next 5 kilometers were up hill. Once I reached the top (around 1h30m), I realized that the wax had frozen and I was literally going on top of ice. From the top then it came a long down hill of about 3 kilometers, which was a nightmare because there were no tracks at all. It was pure ice and I had to use a lot of strength to keep my skis on the slope. People were falling left and right and I myself came in close contact with the slopes a couple of times. I managed to get down, but once there my skis were completely useless. I didn't have grip, I didn't have glide and there were still about 35 kilometers to go. By this time I had seen enough people leaving the race, but I decided to keep going because I wanted to get the stamp that will eventually enable me to get the Worldloppet medal and hopefully become the first south american to get such medal.
I tried double poleing, but that didn't work because there were no tracks on the slopes. Dear race organizers, I don't expect that you manage to use the same resources that swedes use for Vasalopet or norwegians for Birkebeiner, but having the machines redoing the tracks a couple of times during the race will simplify things a lot for everybody.
At around 3 hours I eventually got to Smedava. I had heard about it because it is a famous up hill on this race. It is incredibly steep and it is long. So, as you might imagine, having no grip at all this was no fun. I'm not joking when I say that most people took off their skis because they went faster by foot than by skiing (FIS rules say that removing your skis other than to rewax them is forbidden, but I guess at that point people just wanted to survive and being disqualified was not a big concern). Being the one I am, I held on to my skis and climbed the hill using twice as much time as I should have. But I did it following the regulations!
From there on there was some flat terrain on the top and then a long down hill, that again was more than a nightmare. It was just ice, no tracks and a lot of people. By this time we were all tired so people were falling a lot. When I finally reached the end of the down hill, there was yet another up hill (although much milder than the one from Smedava) and the final down to the finish line. By the time I reached the finish line, it was dark and people were getting worried about the people still on the tracks.
All things considered, I learned a lot from this race. Skiing can be a hell if the weather is not right. Not only when is too cold (I've been in races were the temperatures were around -24C), but when is too warm too. I should consider getting myself some Zero skis, which are specially designed for this kind of weather. And of course, next time don't trust the organizers and their waxing services. Take your own wax and equipment!
The odysee didn't stop there. The next day we went to Prague and took our flight back. Our flight was Prague - Munich, Munich - Oslo. The first flight was delayed, so we were stuck at the airport in Prague. When we finally arrived to Munich, _WE_ reached our next plane but our lugagge didn't. Lufthansa said, no problems we'll deliver it to your door. And so they did next day, except that my skis were damaged beyond repair :-( Now I'm waiting for the insurance company to tell me that they are going to pay for my skis before buying new ones. Luckily I had bought new skis as a Xmas present to myself, so it is not that important now.

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