I have always wanted to visit Finland. My parents enjoyed traveling there in their youth and my family has kept in touch with friends there, but I had never had the chance to visit. I could have stayed to watch more races at the World Championships in Sweden but I decided that I’d rather be racing myself, so I registered for the 50km skate Finlandia-Hiihto – my first 50km skate race ever.
I arrived in Stockholm late at night, I found a pub to eat in and caught a few hours of sleep in a hotel. In the morning I woke early and walked 15 minutes (along with my massive ski bag) down to the docks and boarded the MS Viking Grace. I really enjoyed the 12hr ferry journey across the gulf of Bothnia – much more enjoyable than airline travel.
We docked in Turku where Paivi and Erkki met me at the dock and gave me an excellent introduction to the Finnish sauna and gave me a wonderful dinner. The next morning they gave me a quick tour of their town (Turku castle is one of the oldest buildings in Finland) and delivered me to the bus station in the nick of time. The bus journey was about 3 hours to Lahti where Paivi’s sister Merja met me and helped me pick up my race bib the night before the race. I was also joined by my good friend Peter O’Connor – he has an amazing ability to show up places at the last minute, to find skis, and to complete 50km races without training. We are making a bit of a tradition of this after skiing the Jizerska50 together in the Czech Republic in 2011.
Lahti will be hosting the 2017 World Championships so it was special to be visiting directly after coming from the current World Champs in Falun. I know the crowds and organisation for 2017 will be excellent, if all goes well I may even be there racing!
The 50km skate race had about 1100 starters, I was starting in the A wave, but unfortunately did not position myself close enough to the front of the start corral. Before the race about 3cm of sloppy, heavy, wet snow fell. Though the race trails were wide enough there was only a narrow single lane where skiers had packed down the snow making it fast. The fresh snow along the sides of this lane made passing nearly impossible.
Small clusters of skiers formed and I needed to pass them to ski faster. Passing each group of skiers required keeping my skis parallel and double pole sprinting for about 20 seconds to pass a small group. Without exaggeration the effort I needed to put into each one of these sprints was equal to the double poling I did in the classic sprint in Falun – not something you want to be doing in a 50km race!
I made steady progress through the race moving from about 135th to 75th overall. I took advantage of the race organised drink stations about 5 times, but only grabbed a piece of banana and a biscuit once – amazingly I didn’t hit the wall and actually kept accelerating through the whole 50kms! I was very happy to have completed my first 50km skate race with ease – I look forward to more in the future.