Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Engadin Ski Marathon

A change is as good as a rest, or something like that. With the clock on this injury of mine now up to 10 weeks it was time for a change of scene and a visit to my summer training haunt of St Moritz in the middle of winter to take in the annual Ski Marathon. A 42km cross country ski race which takes in much of the route use by the 27km Engadiner Sommerlauf which I've used as part of my marathon build ups. Given that I can't ski and still have some aches and pains spectating was the most I was up for but what a sight.

There are 11,000 athletes starting in waves and the speed at the front is impressive. Under 1hour 40 for the leaders. There are two types of skiing. Classic and freestyle, which is in effect skating on skis and is much the quicker method. With the arms also working hard to provide power I can see why these guys have routinely produced VO2 max readings in the 90s - they are using more muscle than runners and as we know the lungs are not the limiting factor in oxygen uptake in athletes.

We were spectating at Punt Murgal at the bottom of the Muottas Murgal mountain. The mountain has a hotel on the top at about 2400m and the truly hard core marathon runners sleep there and train in the valley below during the day. Its a strategy that doesn't seem to have done Viktor Rothlin any harm the last few summers. We were at the top of a short but steep incline and the momentum of the leaders was such that they were able to skate up and over the top with ease. In fact the lead groups were just like a big city marathon. With a lead vehicle and camera bikes (well snowcats) and the TV helicopter up above. The whole thing was very well organised and the pre-event expo was treasure trove of skis, boots and all kinds of go faster wax, gel, glasses etc.

Running on snow has been fun. The paths in the forest which I'm used to blasting along in summer are well maintained and the snow is compacted so it is much like running off road in winter in the UK. There is some nice give under foot without disappearing up to your waist in powder. In fact even cranking up the pace to threshold was no problem under foot. And whether it was the change of scenery or surface my aching leg seemed to be much better and i'm finally through the hour mark again and able to do some drills. I'm hoping that the remaining discomfort is simply a legacy of relative inactivity since xmas and will soon shift as I get some more drills and strides into my programme.

While this length of layoff is far from ideal I suppose there are a couple of good things to come from it. For the first month or so I was sleeping like I was in hard marathon training and gradually I've been sleeping less as my body has recovered. I guess 5 years hard training with only routine breaks after marathons had led to a lot of cumulative fatigue. I also noticed a whole number of aches and pains start to emerge and regular massage has helped to get my body moving well again. And finally I have been able to pay much more attention than usual to conditioning work to the point of also starting a regular pilates class. And I really felt the benefit doing my drills yesterday. So much more control and power. Hopefully all this means that when i'm restored to full training there are a good few years racing left in my legs !

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