Normally people think of the arrival of winter as a question of time: you just watch the days tick over as it gets colder and colder until we get to a point where we decide it’s cold enough to be winter, or we just wait for a specific date. Others will think of it geographically: it may already be wintry close to the north/south pole, and you wait for the northward/southward march of the next season. Here in the Allgäu, the season changes are particularly visible, especially if you look up and observe small changes in the high mountains. Winter starts up on the peaks, and slowly extends down to the valley. Let me elaborate, and tell a bit about my training in the last seven weeks.
I arrived in Southern Germany on August 26th, to a magnificent view of green mountains, green valleys and blue skies. It was also hot, at least by German standards. 30 degrees in the day made for slightly difficult but still pleasant training conditions, as well as a pretty warm apartment, as they don’t really do air conditioning here. I tried to include a swim during or after each training session, either in a river, alpine lake, or under a waterfall. I decided that I actually do like summer; or rather I decided that it’s only Australian summer I dislike. It was also perfect for mountain climbing, and I went a bit crazy trying to do as many adventures as possible before the weather changed.
Highlights were the climb of the 2592m ‘King of the Allgäu’, the Hochvogel, a 60km double pole rollerski, and a swim in the still-slightly-chilly Unterer Gaisalpsee after a climb of the 1957m high Rubihorn. On the Rubihorn we could hear the beautiful tones of alphorn players a few hundred metres away on the next mountain, creating a magical alpine atmosphere.
After a week of warm paradise, on exactly the first day of (meteorological) autumn, September 1st, summer ended and it started raining. A mere 4 days later the mountain summits got their first snow. Once that melted, the vibrant green up on the mountain tops changed a little. This also meant training shifted a gear, getting a little more focused and including more rollerskiing and intervals. The end of summer also means the start of the most important festival in the year in the Allgäu, called Viehscheid (Almabtrieb in other regions), where the cows are brought down from their summer pastures high in the mountains and given back to their owners in the valleys. Each town has its day for the Viehscheid, and it attracts thousands of tourists and locals. If there were no accidents during the summer up on the ‘alm’, the cows are decorated and a few of them are given elaborate floral crowns. Because this is Bavaria, beer is naturally served, by the litre, and people dance on tables in a giant tent into the night.
Every couple of days, a new cold front comes through, and the snowline is a little lower each time. Winter descends a little bit further, and then retreats back up the hill as the sun comes out again. Eventually, there is a first training session that takes us into the snow, this time on the 1783m high Grünten.
The next day, we headed off to Oberhof, for the Zentrale Leistungskontrolle (ZLK). This translates to ‘central performance test’, and includes all the cross country racers in Germany, from U16s up to senior athletes, whether on the national team or racing at state or club level. The three races in three days are valid for German Cup points, thus the winter ski competition extends into the preseason.
The first day was a 10km cross-country run, or rather 9.3km. My coach Markus Hofmann had set me 36 minutes as a challenge time, partially because that was his best time as an athlete. Of the four laps, my first one was quite strong, my second one was OK, I got a stitch in my third one and slowed a bit, then increased the pace in my last lap, getting a time of 36:20. This put me in 13th place out of 37 senior and U20 men, which I was extremely happy with.
The next day I was contending with legs that really really wanted a rest, so the skate sprint rollerski was not the most pleasant experience, to put it mildly. I felt like I was dragging two lead weights around the course, and even the warmup was kind of painful. Unlike rollerski races in Australia where it is partly a test of who has the fastest skis, in Germany they give everyone identical rollerskis, which also happened to be kind of slow and heavy. The extra power required to get these skis to move was exactly what my poor legs didn’t have, and after doing the time trial and two (non-knock-out) heats, I withdrew, to concentrate on the following day.
Sunday was a Berglauf (uphill run), of 3.8km and 280 vertical metres. It was a mass start which made it extra exciting and painful, and while my run didn’t go quite as well as two days before, I once again got 13th (of 38). I headed back to the Allgäu happy with my progress and extra pumped for winter. The drive home with one of the ski association buses had a bit of extra responsibility attached, as I shared the drive with the coach and had four U18s sitting in the back rows of the van while we tore along the autobahn at 180km/h, entirely legally of course.
Back to my rather laboured seasonal structure, and by October the leaves are changing. Extra interest is added to the landscape by the beautiful reds, oranges, yellows and browns of autumn leaves. I know we also have autumn in Melbourne, but I’ve never experienced anything as beautiful as here.
Harry Stobie, a friend from school and uni, came to visit for a few days, and I took advantage of a break in my training to lead him up the highest mountain in the Allgäu, the 2657m high Großer Krottenkopf. Kudos should go to Harry for making it up and down the rocky slopes in a pair of very flimsy Nike shoes. Here we got to experience the autumn colour of the grass: still kind of green but with a definite yellow tint.
I also managed my longest ride of the year, 187km of incredible roads through Austria and Germany. I did nearly freeze while riding up the Lech valley: temperatures of about 0 degrees, bike shorts and only a thermal top and bike jersey as a top layer made it difficult for me to change gears, let alone feel my toes.
I’m writing this on the first day the snow reached our village and the valley. I’m now concerned that I haven’t yet put my winter tyres on, but I’ll get away with it. It definitely makes for some beautiful views while training, although very cold roads don’t let our sharp pole tips dig in very well while rollerskiing. Seeing snow settling in the village (elevation 820m) definitely raises the excitement, and it’s only a month until I’ll be hopefully on snow in the Italian village of Livigno. In the meantime the rest of my group is up on the Dachstein Glacier, but considering I’ve just done two months on snow I probably don’t need the extra snow time, so am doing a ridiculous amount of rollerskiing, 237km in a week, instead.
I also went to Oktoberfest in Munich (slightly disappointing) and visited Jacqui Allen in Freiburg, Black Forest, and did a day trip over to Alsace, France (extremely beautiful and very satisfying). Some snaps…
Thanks to Strava, all my training sessions can be overlaid onto a single map. This is everything I’ve done in the region since I got to Germany 11 months ago today.