New member Madeline Fallon’s account of her trip with London Region Nordic Ski Club to the Koenig Ludwig Lauf, Oberammergau, Germany from 4-8th February 2010 [edited version].
In search of a cross country skiing adventure
Six years ago I fell in love with cross country skiing after just a couple of days pottering about by myself on flat terrain. I knew I wanted to do more but having two children meant a six-year snowless gap.
I like to set myself yearly challenges. Now more than ever, I needed a challenge that would motivate me to get fit, loose weight and give me something look forward to.
I’d read about Worldloppet cross country ski marathons on the LRNSC website and the whole idea appealed to me. To my delight the Club had trips planned so I emailed Paddy Field and signed up eight months prior to the Konig Ludwig Lauf trip.
Finding time for exercise with small children is hard but the race gave me the push I needed. In the summer of 2009 I took up Nordic Walking on the nearby Suffolk Coast and heaths, did lots of cycling, installed a cross trainer in the lounge and started my exercise regime 3-5 times per week.
The adventure begins
I love the whole process of getting ready for mini adventures, researching best kit, and booking flights and trains. For ten years I hadn’t travelled by myself nor had I flown for six years. So even flying to Germany and catching three different trains on my own was a challenge. It was also quite refreshing to have thinking and reading time en route!
After leaving home at 4 am on Thursday I arrived without a hitch by mid afternoon the same day at the small station in Oberammergau. I couldn’t believe it after the long journey - there was Paddy Field’s friendly face waiting for me on the platform.
Arrangements were made to meet up with the rest of the group for dinner later. We walked in the snow and ice (I loved the night hike aspect) to a restaurant famous for its ‘in-house’ magician. The atmosphere was fantastic and I listened to everyone’s stories of the day and previous trips/races abroad. They were extremely friendly and interested in my reasons for attempting to do the race with very little experience!
Trepidation starts here
On Friday Paddy and Hilary took half of the group to the middle section of the race course. This was it, would I remember how to cross country ski once or would I fall flat on my face?
Pleasant surprise quickly gave way to the realisation that I lacked lots of technique. Thankfully we started off on a long flat, straight stretch, then Paddy and Hilary took me to practice up and down a few hills. It was apparent that my previous experience had been on more level tracks and I was awful on the hills.
Hilary patiently reminded me of the herringbone technique to get uphill but I fell a few times and then snowploughed to control the descents, again feeling out of control. After a few repititions I made some progress! We skied back to the restaurant for tasty German soup and hot drinks, meeting up with Jeanine, Peter and Bernard who had skied further up the course.
Time for race registration
Queuing up to register for my 21km classic race after having had just two hours of shuffling and falling on the snow was very exciting, but I was knackered!
It was also quite surreal but I was determined that I could do the race. I trotted off to get my Worldloppet passport just to reinforce my long term commitment!
Back at the hotel with my bag of goodies I went through the procedure of race numbers and ankle tags etc (all very exciting for someone who has never competively raced since school!) I studied the race map and having skied a big chunk of the middle section, was reassured to know that I could do ‘that bit’.
A fantastic Italian restaurant with scrumptious pizza and pasta dishes plus a few glasses of wine and beer was the choice for dinner. Everyone was buzzing after registration. Three quarters of the group were racing the next day, so discussions focussed on times and conditions as it had started to snow heavily.
Building ski technique and experience
Paddy, Hilary, Amanda and Bernard were racing the 21km FT in the morning. Debbie, Peter and I met for breakfast in the quiet pre-race atmosphere then went to watch the start. We wished everyone good luck then the gun went setting off the colourful wave of people – amazing!
Moving round the corner to the first big hill at about 1km we managed to see most of our group and cheered them on. As they disappeared into the woods we jumped on the tracks and started to practice again – I couldn’t believe that we were allowed on the track on race day
We calculated that we had just under an hour before the 42km racers came round again. Peter and Debbie helped me with techniques (and confidence) to go up and down the hills in this section. It included a big downhill where I got halfway before losing control and falling/sliding on my face. Three Red Cross men stationed at the bottom of this ‘treacherous hill’ quickly picked me up, much to the amusement of the others who said that they had never been picked up!
Going to the finish I really struggled to keep up with Peter and kept sliding all over the place but I realised that I had learnt a few more balance techniques. Also, having skied on parts of the beginning, middle and end of the course, I felt more confident in my mental and physical ability to do my race.
Sunday – my first cross country ski race
This was the classic race day with the 42km in the morning and the 21km in the afternoon – perfect - I had the morning to compose myself.
As Bernard and Dominic headed for the long race, others rested or prepared their skis for the afternoon. I organised my race bib and clothing then went for a two-hour brisk walk around quiet Oberammergau to occupy my mind and warm up ready for the race.
The snow stopped and the sun came out in perfect timing for the afternoon race. I felt a strange mixture of nerves, excitement and some inner calmness (I’m sure it was survival kicking in!). I also thought that if I didn’t make the finish it would still be a great experience. Hilary was horrified when I admitted this later saying she wouldn’t have let me give up. I quickly discovered that wasn’t an option anyway, you had to keep going, no one was going to collect me from halfway round the course!
In the firing line!
In the starting pen I positioned myself near the back, as I obviously didn’t want to hold anyone up! The gun went off and we merged forwards. Hilary had said that she would kindly ski with me as she had raced the previous day. I couldn’t have done it without her. Mentally we said that we would treat the race as a 21km lesson, which I think really helped me.
After 0.5 km I was already tired, having doubled poled up the long incline at the start - how on earth was I going to do 21km! Hilary and I set little distance targets. I just wanted to survive the big up and downhills then get through the ‘unknown’ forest stretch to where I knew I could just keep going, having skied it the previous day.
I loved the forest runs but the steep hills were a struggle and I fell. (I didn’t get picked up this time, think the Red Cross guys just laughed, I smiled nicely!) My next target was the 9.5km drinks stop (mentally nearly halfway). Hilary quite rightly wouldn’t let me stop for long. I drank some hot orange energy drink that tasted nice but was a big mistake, leaving me with a really dry mouth. Hilary had warned me and luckily she had a bottle of warm water which is absolutely perfect for skiing.
We then just kept going, clocking off all the kilometer markers and I started to develop a bit of technique. The last 2 km were hard but all of a sudden we arrived! I was mortified that the classic tracks had all but disappeared, as I didn’t want to fall through the finishing line. Amanda, Dominic with baby Zara, and Paddy all cheered me on - it felt amazing to get through the finish with all their support.
I had my photos taken and collected my badge (I was really hoping for a little medal!) I gulped down 2 glasses of Coke (I don’t normally drink it) and ate lots of dates. I felt euphoric and so pleased with myself.
It was the best challenge and adventure, made so much more pleasurable by meeting such a fantastic, enthusiastic and supportive group of people. Thank you all, I couldn’t have done it without you.