A lot of my other challenges are based around running and cycling, so as soon as I came across this challenge and saw that skiing was involved I was hooked. Admittedly, I then had to go and Google what cross country skiing really entails. It turns out it’s pretty much as you’d expect. It means donning lycra and skiing up and down hill for 26.2 miles across snowy Switzerland from St Moritz to S-Chanf. With zero cross country skiing experience, what could possibly go wrong…
A massive 13,000 people take part in the ski marathon each year so when we arrived in sunny St Moritz on Saturday morning there were already loads of people wandering around the event village. They all looked as though they knew exactly what they were doing, which was definitely more than I could say for us. Sarah and I decided we should probably have a practise go before the big day on Sunday. Not a bad idea, given I’d only ever ‘roller skied’ in Hyde Park before.
We found a flat patch of ground and nervously put our skis on. Luckily for me Sarah has been cross-country a couple of times so was able to show me what to do, but quite frankly it was pretty much blind leading the blind!
As it happens, cross-country skis are quite different to normal skis and after 10 minutes I was already questioning whether this was a completely mad thing to do (I’ve since discovered it was) and whether I would actually make it 26 miles. I really struggled to get the motion right and make any headway at all. Meanwhile Swiss pros moseyed on past making it look completely effortless. Brilliant.
After an hour, we packed up and headed into St Moritz to grab some lunch! How hard could it be anyway? You know what they say; ignorance is bliss.
When my alarm went at 6.50am on Sunday morning the sun was shining and I was feeling pretty excited about the day ahead. It was very cool arriving on the start line at the edge of a frozen lake with the sun rising over the mountains.
In true Swiss style it was all very organised but I was still amazed by the sheer number of people and skis everywhere. There wasn’t much hanging about, we made our way to our starting pen and at 9.11 we were off. I say ‘we were off‘ like I shot off into the distance but to be honest I was so slow it was more of a crawl as I inched across the start line! Sadly, I lost Sarah after about a minute, there were too many people to try and stick together and she was much quicker than me anyway.
I took it very slowly, mainly because I hadn’t really worked out how to go any faster, I had zero technique and felt like a flailing Bambi on ice. Flocks of people flooded past me making it look frustratingly easy, whilst I was using every muscle in my body just to stay upright. How the hell was I going to cover 26 miles!
Skiing over the lake was amazing, the scenery was beautiful and after just over an hour I hit the first pit stop where I was met by lots of spectators, Sam and Nick included. It was a massive relief to hear their encouragement and find out I’d made it 12k….phew, only 30 to go!
As I carried on I started thinking about what ‘normal people’ would be doing with their Sunday mornings. Probably not this. Who else in their right mind would take on a marathon having cross-country skied for a total of 1 hour?
I tried to master some technique by catching a glimpse of what other people were doing as they scooted past. On 3 occasions it completely backfired as my lack of concentration meant I toppled over my skis and face planted in to the snow. Smooth.
I think that was also the point when 4 skiers dressed head to toe as Smurfs (the kind you’re likely to see at Freshers week) effortlessly cruised past me. Naturally, they were dragging a sledge carrying a large papier mache toadstool decorated with flowers in terracotta pots.
After crossing the lakes the course wound through a forest. It was a lot less flat than the lake; in fact it was very hilly. Now, if you’re any good at cross country skiing you actually skate up the hills, I gave it a go but pretty quickly resorted to putting my skis in a V shape and walking up using my poles to push.
The end of the forest section was the halfway point. Plenty of people finished here as they’d quite sensibly opted for the half marathon. I was momentarily tempted to do the same but luckily I pulled myself back together and whizzed (read: waddled) past the half marathon sign in the direction of the full marathon finish. I noticed it had taken me 3 hours to get to this point and we were due to be on a flight home that evening. Nothing like a bit of added time pressure to get you going!
Throughout the course there were hundreds of spectators ringing cowbells and shouting ‘heja, heja, heja’. Don’t ask me what it means. Presumably something encouraging! I saw Sam and Nick following suit with the locals at the 30k mark. I scoffed some jelly sweets, glugged some water and pressed on to the finish. The Smurfs were clearly taking longer breaks than I was as I seemed to catch them up at the food stops before they overtook me again en route.
By now I ached all over and was starting to get blisters on my hands. I broke the last 10k down in to small chunks, taking each kilometre at a time. I sang to myself and kept telling myself I was nearly there. Slowly but surely, the kilometres crept passed and with 1k to the finish I turned the corner onto a very slushed up, narrow downhill section.
I was knackered and couldn’t wait to get to the end so I employed my previous tactic of pointing downhill and hoping for the best. Thankfully my legs and balance held out and I made it round the final bend and over the finish line to be greeted by a cheering Sam, Nick and Sarah (who had already finished).
I picked up my medal and met up with the others. Job done. Challenge complete.
Sadly we didn’t have time to hang around and bask in the glory. We jumped in the car and headed back to Zurich airport catching out flight with minutes to spare. It was an awesome experience and I actually really enjoyed the skiing. Although in hindsight doing just 1 hours practise was a little ambitious!