Pushing the Limits

The day before I flew to India, I thought it is a good idea to do some sports. And, by accident, it was winter. Even if the season did not really deserve that name, it was winter. And what is my most favorite sport in winter? Right, cross-country skiing. Running around on small and light skis with very light sticks. That’s it and this is what it had to be on that Sunday.

Now I am not really living in an cross-country skiing area. You go and life where your job requires you to go. In that area the people have already issues spelling “cross-country skiing”. Snow is a word triggering fear and panic. Since in the rare cases of snow, the traffic isn’t prepared for that at all, and neither are the people. So what to do as a supporter of the white gold? (No, I do not talk about salt!) Yep, following the snow. Going into the mountains.

In addition I am a fan of cross-country skiing events, competitions. I like the atmosphere. Many cross-country skiing fans in one place. And most importantly,  the race and the people along the track, cheering for every skier passing, your number and the official touch, all this makes it nearly impossible to quit during the race.

20160214_064209 (Small)So the plan was to get up early and to go by car. Something between 350km and 400km to reach that place in Austria. And early means early. I got up at 3:30am and left my place at 4am, sharp. It was dark and rainy and the streets almost empty. A couple hours later the sun was slowly rising above the mountains. And this has been the moment I realized again, why I got up that early. What a beautiful morning.

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical if I really could make it. The guys I met there before the race appeared really fit. Most of them looked like they train every day on ski. And what did I do? I have been on ski three times this winter. And I have to say I am working in an IT company on a desk. Yes, desk. Sitting around all day. And this job occupies most of my time. A switch into a new company last year reduced my training time dramatically in addition.  So it was, what it was.  The first two times on ski this winter have been training rounds, 22km each. This was the limit, especially the first time. Not a single meter more would have been possible. I was much fitter the year before. But hey, that’s a beginning. The third time on ski had been a race, 37km. Also here I scratched my limit. The only thing preventing me from collapsing was my pride 😉

Now, here I was, surrounded by athletes, fourth time on ski, after a long drive by car, without breakfast. But hey, I felt great, I was there and I was going to do something stupid, running a 46km race. Awesome feeling. Especially close to the starting time. I love the atmosphere in the start box. Everybody is excited, eager to start, motivated, and fit. Well, almost everybody 😉

20160214_094806 (Small)They play those motivational songs, like Queens “We are the champions”  or “Eye of the tiger” from Survivor. This creates a wave which carries you forward. The minutes are counted down over speakers. Five minutes left, three, two, one minute. The countdown switches to seconds. Three, two, one, start! And the crowd starts to move, everybody is pushing forward, several hundred skiers, on a huge wave of excitement. This feeling can not be described. That’s why I am here.

The first few kilometers you have to be very careful and considerate. People are fighting for every gap and every possibility to overtake. But there is not much space because of all the skiers. And especially for skating you need some space. So it happens quite often that somebody crosses other skis, sticks break and people fall suddenly because of that. It is okay if this happens left or right, but it is not if the guy in front of you decides to go down into the snow. Remember, people will jump into every gap you leave in front of you, hence you don’t leave any gap. But this means you take away your chance to react if the guy in front of you crashes. Thrilling 😉

But after some kilometers this sorts out and you try to follow somebody with a similar speed to yours to avoid the exposure to the wind. Might not sound like a big deal, but every grain you waste on the first kilometers, will make you suffer in the end. I have learned this the hard way. But hey, that’s fun. But this time I had an almost accident. We went downhill and it was a fast and steep passage, with a hard turn at the end. The guy in front of me was about 10 meters away. I came down with a group of other guys next to me. Now the guy in front crashed within the turn of a sudden. I couldn’t sidestep to the left because there has been somebody. The only chance I had was to take the inner side of the turn to avoid crashing into the poor guy on the ground. But I was way to fast already there. And then I got to know the reason why this guy fell, ice. Interestingly time seems to pass in slow motion in such moments. I clearly remember how I evaluated the different options I had, how I realized the ice and took this into my analysis and adjusted the plan. I even remember speaking out loud “holy sh..”. I couldn’t finish the second word and I remember I said this in English and not in my mother language and I was puzzled about that as well, since it appeared illogical to me in that moment. And all this happened within the fraction of a second. Fascinating. But hey, I managed to pass the fallen guy on the inside of the turn, despite speed and ice. I touched him slightly, but I didn’t fall and most importantly, I didn’t crash into him. This was very close and pumps adrenaline into your body, which had already an overdose before. You feel very alive in this moment.

The kilometer pass and the excitement normalizes and vanishes slowly, together with your strength and your motivation. The field of skiers is pulled apart and there is no rush anymore. Everybody is trying to find his own rhythm. So did I. After the majority of the field turned away on the shorter 27km round, it becomes almost empty on the track. The guy in front of me is about 100m away and I don’t think I can close the gap. The two guys behind me are about 50m away. So my goal is to keep them behind me. One problem at a time. And the track becomes long and looooooooonger. Body parts start to complain about the strain. Over time more body parts join the chant of pain. You legs and arms and back try to tell you that this is not a good idea what you are doing here. Little later even your brain switches sides and asks you: “What the hell are you doing!”. And almost as a third person I can observe me discussing with my brain:

  • Me: “Hey, this is your favorite sport, this is fun.”
  • Brain: “Well, it is supposed to be fun! But it is not anymore.”
  • Me: “Come on, we can do it!”
  • Brain: “Have you even considered your poor training situation?”
  • Me: “Why should I do such a thing?”
  • Brain: “How about not to collapse here?”
  • Legs: “Yes, yes, please. Let’s collapse here. This will give us such a relief.”
  • Me: “Shut up legs and move! And know what, last year I made it too and there are doctors here.”
  • Brain: facepalm

20160214_082711 (Small)So you go on nonetheless. Your entire body tries to convince you to give up, except your ego. Your ego simply does not allow you to stop. And that’s the reason you keep moving. You are here to finish that damn race. You didn’t get up at 3:30am to give up here that easily. No way! Never! So you move on. And then you see the first signs indicating the near finish. A sign telling me “5km to go”. And you move on, “2km to go”. You can hear already the announcer talking in the stadium. “1km to go”, you can see the finish line already and you summon the last grains you have in you and you speed up. 500m straight and of course you try finishing with style and speed. 100m, and you can hear your name over the stadium speakers since you have been announced as the next finisher. Cheering people at each side and then you cross the finishing line, lifting both arms up in the air. And you did it. You completed 46km on ski. You really did it, even if you had doubts you could. Everything hurts, but you did it.

  • Me: “See brain, we did!”
  • Brain: “Yeah yeah, be proud as long as it lasts, our immune system just collapsed.”
  • Me: “Nah, shut up, who cares, we did it! And we did it in less than three hours!”
  • Brain: facepalms again

But hey, this feeling when crossing this finish line is simply great. Actually I feel happy and alive in this moment. Very happy and alive. And I am realizing, this is why I am doing this.

Little later I realized something else, I have to drive back home. So this day I went about 800km, and 46 of them by ski. I spend about 8h on the road, but all this is worth this feeling. The feeling when you cross the finish line, the feeling that you achieved something big. Something you did not even yourself believe that you can do it. This is life!