Now for something completely different… Phil Humphries took part in a Swiss marathon with a difference and managed a very credible time and finish position. While new to this type of event, Phil had a great experience. You can read his report and see his photos below:
Phil said: “On Sunday 13th March I took part in the 43rd annual Engadine Ski-marathon in Switzerland. This is a cross-country ski race on snow across a standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles (or 42 km). The race is part of a ski race world series, of which most races are longer than marathon distance (90km is the longest), so this is one of the shortest. In the week preceding the race as part of a group holiday I picked up some valuable extra instruction to hone my skiing technique and also got to do a reccy of the route. Doing a reccy of the route was handy for identifying the various pinch points and ups & downs on the course, including the notorious ‘mattress alley’ where the course winds it’s way down hill through trees protected by orange crash-mats. Here the slope gradually gets steeper and steeper culminating in a sharp bend which on race day has strategically positioned TV cameras and commentary box coincidentally just at the point where the most crashes are! During the week before the race the weather was glorious – warm sunny days and cloudless skies, but still with plenty of snow on the ground to play in. However for the day of the race we had cold cross-winds and wet snowfall! After a 5.45am start from the hotel, two bus journeys and numerous toilet stops our group turned up at the start and tried to keep warm. Since we were all novice first-time ski-racers we were positioned in the mass start well behind the elite racers and experienced skiers. Despite there being around 12,000 skiers the start was well organised as was the whole race. Everyone had a coloured bib with their name on and attached timing chip. The first few miles were across wide frozen lakes which allowed the field to thin out before the course narrowed into the forest. Even so there was queuing up some of the hills where speed was reduced to crawling pace. I negotiated mattress alley without miss-hap without getting kebabed or splatted into an orange mattress despite having to ski over numerous broken ski poles and around the odd horizontal skier. After the hilly bits the second half was essentially an easy long very slightly down-hill route with some minor hills just before the finish. However I still managed to hit the deck a couple of times while trying over-ambitious overtaking manoeuvres!. There were refreshment stations every 5 miles or so serving bananas, cake-things and a variety of hot soup, warm or cold energy drinks and even ice-tea. The race was well supported with alpine-horns, a tuba player, lots of cow bell and shouts of hup hup hup ! from enthusiastic crowds along the course. I finished in one piece in 3 hours 57 mins – about half way down the field and well ahead of the 6 hour time limit, which I was very chuffed about. Note for comparison the winner finished in 1hr 39 mins and first lady in 1hr 48 mins!
The whole thing was a wonderful experience and I discovered to my joy that a relative novice can ski a marathon in a reasonable time without having thighs like Chris Hoy and the triceps of an orang-utan. In fact I reckon a ski marathon is equally as enjoyable and as a whole is probably less taxing on the body than running a marathon.