Feeling your Limits

I think it’s not a secret that I like cross-country skiing. You know, that sport, on ski, very thin ski to be precise. And there are sticks too, very thin ones of course. Two skis and two sticks, attached to the ends of your limbs. You get the idea.

It is fun to ski through snowy forests and snow covered mountains, enjoying the peace and the silence out there. Mind-blowing experience, winter wonderland. Very grounding and relaxing. So far so good, if there wouldn’t be this thing called ego. Combined with a little need of adventures and a grain of restlessness. This is the recipee for pain and failure, but it feels so awfully good.

So what happend? I am as I am and need those skiing challenges. I wanna know if I can. And when I can, I wanna know if I can more. Natural path to disaster. So I decided some time back to participate cross-country skiing races, marathons. And doing this for a couple of times, you need a bigger challenge. Hence I tried my first 60km race, little more than a marathon, almost 1,5 marathons. Which shouldn’t be a problem if you are trained sufficiently. But guess, I was not. The little jogging here and then wasn’t enough, but hey, I had to try. So I did.

And of course the distance is not challenging enough. So the weather decided to give me a second challenge. And then my stupidity a third, since I didn’t check the profile of the track in advance. About 850m difference in altitude to climb turned out to be a lot and translated into many and steep hills. But so what, it had to be done. Hence my motivation before the race was great. Hey, finally real snow. Finally doing what you love to do. But this attitude changed soon. It was snowing heavily and it shouldn’t really stop entire day. Minutes before the start I learned that there is a time limit of 7 hours. If you did not finish within 7 hours, you are disqualified. Such a shame. Anyway, can’t be that difficult I thought.

There had been signs every kilometer, counting down from 60 to zero. So you start motivated with about 200 other crazy people, surprisingly fit crazy people, even many professionals. Anyway, you run and you enjoy it. But for some reasons the signs keep showing a 5 as first digit. The first 10km appear like endless. And you start to realize, this is going to be fun. Finally the first sign with a 4 in front. Motivating, even if it says 49km to go. And you keep going. The field of skiiers thins out. Soon you are running alone. You can see some people in some distance in front of you, and some behind you. Now it becomes your race, your rythm, your pace, your challenge.

Your muscles start to hurt and your body tries to tell you that he doesn’t like that exercise. And then you see the next sign, 42km to go. Just a number, until you realize: “Wait a minute, this is still a freaking marathon to go!”. Everything hurts already here. And then you are sure, this is going to hurt. And it did, later. You are climbing steep hills, you are trying to survive steep downhill passages without falling, you are crossing forests and fields. And it keeps snowing. Not only snowing, there is storm, a real snow storm, a blizzard. You can’t see more than 10m, the snowflakes hurt your eyes. You can’t see the track anymore. There is no track anymore, it is covered with fresh snow already. Everything is white. It’s difficult to evaluate if it is flat, or uphill, or downhill, or if you are even still on the right track. If you are lucky you can follow another skiier. If you are not, you have to find your own way.

And skiing is exhausting. Without track you have to push through the fresh snow. The snow makes you very slow and you need way more strength than under usual conditions. The wind adds on that extra effort. Soon you’ll run out of power. But luckily there is some food every 10km. Warm tea and soup, some cake. You take a minute to drink something warm, grab a piece of cake, push it into your mouth and with a mumbled “mmmthank mmyou” you’ll continue your endeavor. The snowstorm swallows you and within some meters you are alone again, pushing forward, kilometer by kilometer. And this goes on and on. You work down the thirties and you feel happy to see the first twenties on the signs. Although 29 means actually little less than half of the distance still to go.

Your body parts start telling you: “Bad, bad idea. Very bad idea.” You ignore them and they respond with pain. Little later you start asking yourself: “Why the hell did I do this again?”. After that you tell yourself that you will never ever do this again. Your body applauses to that decision. And finally, the twenties are gone, there is a 1 as first digit. But still 19km to go. The fun is gone and you have to convice your body for every single step. You become slower and slower and then you feel that you are running low on sugar. You need something to eat, but you do not know when the next food point comes. I looked terrible, at least I think so, since some skiier offered me a power bar, which I happily accepted. It helped me to the next food point where I refilled with 4 cups of tea and even more pieces of cake. I met another skier there and he was worried that we will not make it in time. Then I realized I was moving already 5,5h and there had been only 90 minutes left for the remaining 15km and I got to know that we had to climb a bigger mountain on the last kilometers.

Well, I came that far, I’ll finish that thing. So I gathered all the remaining power I had and climed that damn mointain as there will not be a tomorrow. The last think I want is to miss the deadline by a couple of minutes. So I put all in I had. My legs cramped, my lung screamed and my muscles were empty. Anyway, step by step forward. And then, single digit kilometer signs! Single digit! Amazing. I just wasn’t sure if I should be happy about the 9 or worried. But you can’t think clearly then anymore, you just move on. The fear to be a couple of minutes too late and to get disqualified pushes you forward. You battle the kilometers down, one by one. You see the sign with the three, then the two, finally one and you can see the finish line. This finish line in front of you activates your last reserves and you speed up to finish gracefully. Well, more or less,as graceful as possible. And then you cross this finish line. What an amazing feeling. The clock shows still a six in front. You made it in time and you are happy that you finished that beast.

You can’t bend down anymore to open your skis, but somehow you manage. The real pain came later, when your body starts to realize what happened and presents you the bill for your crime. Three dark blue toe nails, muscle pain where you never expected it, ligaments and joints protest es well. But know what, it was worth it, every single painful kilometer was worth it! And even if I never ever wanted to do this again, I am thinking already about the next race one week later. I am what I am, and I am happy about that. A little crazy, but happy that I am able to do such things. Yay!