They’re done, it’s all over! With one final race last weekend, I wrapped up my longest race season so far, with my longest race so far. Going into this race I was pretty nervous about even being able to finish, given how tough the distance is psychologically, and I rarely do training sessions with 50km of skiing, nor races over 15km. Fortunately the race was moved from its original location in Garmisch, where the Kaltenbrunn course is famous for being brutally tough, to Bodenmais, a resort town in the Bavarian Forest, up near the Czech border east of Munich.
The first consequence of moving the race was that it was no longer an internationally-sanctioned FIS race, which meant I wasn’t going to be allowed to start, for a whole host of bureaucratic reasons that only Germans could possibly understand. Fortunately, my coach made a few phone calls, and a guest class was created, in which I would be the only entrant. That suited me just fine. We headed off on Friday morning in the van, listening to the following music on the Bayern 3 radio station, as the solar eclipse happened:
Fortunately I remembered the technique for pinhole cameras, and was able to view the eclipse in all its glory, as a 3mm wide crescent moon projected onto my hand.
Anyway, it was off to the hotel and then to the race loop, which was actually in pretty good condition, despite the fact it was 12 degrees and the start/finish area had meltwater flowing through the snow. They had a 10km loop set up, which was basically uphill for the first 1.8km, gaining 100m elevation, then moderately flat and undulating with only one steep hill for the rest of the loop. As courses for a 50km race go, it’s about what I’d hoped for. We headed back down the mountain and went out for Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake), then to dinner, which took the form of an enormous and delicious buffet. I justified my overeating as fuelling up for the race.
Race day came and I was pretty relaxed, given there was nothing actually riding on this race, except potential exhaustion. The course was nice and firm for the first lap, and I popped into a group of 4 skiers, and found a pretty comfortable rhythm up the first hill. Unfortunately my skis were not up to the task and were very slow, even on the icier snow at the start of the race, and going over the top of the first hill the others were easily able to get into a tuck and get away from me, and no amount of double poling could keep me in contact with the group. I don’t think it was a problem with my wax, given the rest of the Bavarian Ski Team had exactly the same stuff on, so I can only conclude it was my skis. Anyway, the realisation dawned on me that I’d be spending the next 2.5 hours essentially skiing by myself, but I managed to get into a nice rhythm and focus on ticking off those laps. It’s actually quite an interesting exercise trying to stay focused in such a long and lonely race, which basically involves trying to think about your technique and the upcoming terrain, and trying not to think ‘why the hell am I doing this’, or singing the last song you heard in the start area over and over again in your head. I managed to get into a bit of a ‘zone’, and the race didn’t end up feeling like it went on for THAT long.
By lap 3 the course was getting very soft in many places, my skis were getting extremely slow, and there was the odd bit of grass poking through the tracks. I had ample opportunities to take drinks during the race, and most of the drinks had sugar and sometimes caffeine in them, which kept me going. Thanks to everyone from Bavaria (Lucia, Sabine, Christian, Michi etc.), plus a couple of others (Nadine), for standing out on the track for so long, and always being there with a bottle! During the race I also drank Coke for perhaps the first time in about 6 years, and it was so refreshing and energising I even drank some with my dinner that night. This is definitely the first time in my life I’ve ever liked cola.
On the final lap, safe in the knowledge that I hadn’t been lapped (small win for Nick!), I caught sight of another racer, and managed to reel him in and overtake him, which gave me a bit of extra motivation to finish strong. ‘Finishing strong’ also meant doing a pretty vigorous stride up the last hill, which was perhaps too vigorous, as I felt my right groin cramp up pretty badly. I had enough upper body strength to double pole over the top of the hill, but was pretty concerned by the gentle downhill into the finish, which was by this point more water than snow. I managed to stay on my feet, reached the finish, then stood there for a couple of minutes, exhausted, leaning on my poles, and trying to get my groin to loosen enough that I could actually walk away and get changed. I was completely spent, happy to have finished, and had managed 17th place out of 20 starters, since 2 others hadn’t managed the distance. I was definitely a long way back, but given my skis it wasn’t a disgraceful result.
Back to the hotel, it was time for a sleep, a soak in the hotel pool, another gigantic buffet dinner, and the German Cup prize-giving ceremony in an place called the JOSKA Glass Paradise, a monument to Bavarian kitsch. The beer was € 2.50 for a (metric) pint, which is cheaper than it would be getting it warm in a bottle from Dan Murphy’s in Australia. Germany: where the alcohol is cheap, people drink heaps, yet they manage not to get violent and threatening and start assaulting other people when they’re drunk, at least much less than Australians do.
Basically the entire German Ski Team, some of the coaches, and one random Australian guy then headed out to a nightclub about 30km away, next to a highway in a valley in the middle of nowhere. Much fun was had, and if you want to know the story of the return journey, send me a Facebook message, because I definitely don’t want to write it on a public page…
So there you have it, that’s the end of the race season for this year. I am staying in Germany until mid-June, continuing to train, but also have found myself a job! I’m planning on putting up a little season summary in the next few days, as well as ‘things Germans do better (or worse) than Australians’, so don’t say goodbye to me yet. I am still doing training on snow, although there is a heap of rain on the way, which might finish us off, and I’m already back on the bike and looking forward to some summer(-ish) training.