There are two ways to go to the city of Mora in Sweden, the easy way and the hard way.
The easy way is to take a SWISS flight to Stockholm and then continue by car, bus or train directly to Mora. The hard way is to take the same flight and the same car or train but get off in the small Swedish town of Sälen and then ski the remaining 90 kilometers to Mora during “Vasaloppet”. This is the world’s longest cross-country ski race which takes place the first Sunday in March every year.
This time I'm going to try the hard way.
Preparations started as early as last spring when I applied to be one of the 15,800 participants in this year’s race. From that day it has, quite literally, been an uphill race. Jogging uphill, roller skiing uphill and doing the x-trainer exercises in the "uphill" program-mode, everything to make sure my body gets the most out of the training for the race.
Not that I aim to beat the record time of 3 hours, 38 minutes and some odd seconds, but the target is set at 7-8 hours and that is one long workout.
Of course it depends quite a lot on the quality of the tracks and how quickly you get past the first hill, things that can make or break your effort to achieve your personal goal.
After setting off over a starting area that is 1.5 km long and 25 tracks wide, all skiers are forced into a steep climb 2 km long and 6 tracks across. This is not the toughest part on the course, but the one that can take a really long time if you get caught in the last couple of starting groups. After that it’s full speed ahead to the first of seven “pit-stops” where fruit, food, sport drinks and the famous blueberry soup are served in massive amounts.
Someone told me the soup is so good that you can stay in the “pit-stops” for a really long time, making your finish-time fall short of your personal goal. If I go beyond my 8 hours I can always blame the soup!
For some, Vasaloppet is a one-off challenge of a lifetime, for others it’s a world stage in cross country skiing. But for everyone there’s the glory of crossing the finish line under the banner of the Vasaloppet motto, “I fädrens spår – för framtids segrar“, which translates into “In the footsteps of our forefathers for the victories of tomorrow.”
I’m not really sure I will be able to fully comprehend the meaning of the phrase until I have passed underneath it, having conquered the longest ski-race in the world. A year of preparations, both mental and physical, is soon to come together into one single performance. I guess I’ll know in a couple of weeks if it paid off. Until then I’ll keep on working out and preparing myself mentally, sometimes “interrupted” by a SWISS-flight to one of our European destinations. Luckily those trips are much faster than the Vasaloppet, or as it says on the back of my skiing outfit – “With SWISS I would’ve already been at my destination...”