Skarverennet 2009

26 Apr

Finsh area with Hallingskarvet in the background

Half-participated in the annual 38km Skarverennet ski race. The Skarverennet is the traditional end of the ski season event after which everyone turns to warm weather occupations.

I was not one of the 12,220 official contenders. I took a train to the Finse rail station start point that arrived at 12:23. The latest start time for competitors was 11:45. That was all intentional. I don’t like skiing in crowds.

Out of Finse the first stretch of the race goes rather brutally uphill:


Skarverennet race profile

It was hot and slushy and I was a bit intimidated by the high-mountain scenery. Almost everyone in the small group of people who got off the train with me passed me. My dream of finishing in about 3 hours crumbled at this point and I even thought about turning back.

Still, the funny thing I noticed at this above timber-line level was that there were few heartbreak hills. In this wide-open landscape, what you saw is what you got. I saw the top and eventually arrived there. And when I got there everyone ahead of me was taking a break.

The race runs along the Hallingskarvet mountain chain whose high cliff face is to your left the whole way. Most of the race is at about  1350 meters (4430 feet). That’s not high as mountains go on a world scale, but it nevertheless does have some impact on a cardiovascular level.

After the first stretch I was skating mostly alone, having to my surprise got ahead of my roadmates from the train. Nevertheless the track had been hacked to bits by the thousands who had passed ahead of me. On the upside, I had had my skis professionally prepped by Milsluker’n Sport and they were amazingly fast and slippery. In some spots I was still getting good glide despite the poor conditions.

I wasn’t alone for long. Coming to the first drink station at about 12km I ran smack into a wall of plump arses in lycra. Nature had done its work sorting out the strong, the weak and the bottom heavy. I had come to the wheezing, red-faced back of the peleton of official contenders. In their defense, I must say this was also the good time gang that had been stopping regularly to eat, drink (not just water) and socialize. I continued on weaving through all of that.

Arriving at the halfway mark my time was 2 hours and nine minutes. Unhappy though I was with my progress, I decided to adjust my goal, step up my pace, and aim for a sub 4 hour finish. I decided I had to be reasonable with my expectations since conditions were indeed difficult: slushy snow, track hacked to bits and a moderate headwind.

By the time I reached km22, I was skating in a massive crowd. Since freestyle needs more lateral space than classic technique, I ended up relegated to the rough margins of the trail. However, a trail grooming machine then made a pass, cutting fresh new tracksets that drew the classic techique skiers out from the middle of the trail. I reclaimed that zone with a couple other skaters and finally sampled a finely groomed path. Ahhhh! what relief compared to the bumps and slashes I’d been battling over!

At km32 the race was basically over. It went all downhill from there. Literally and metaphorically. The downside of my superbly prepped skis was that I could not just put myself into a trackset and coast. I kept creeping up on those ahead of me and had to continually reduce my speed or change lanes. It was  stressful too because it was the first time skiing with Norwegians that I saw people falling over everywhere. In their defense, some of them were surely drunk.

I finally coasted across the finish line. A woman in a traditional Norwegian bunad dress handed me a Skarverennet pin from her basket. I decided it was easier to keep it than to explain I wasn’t a participant. I battled through the crowd, got to the side and looked at the time on my cell-phone: 3 hours and 55 minutes.

All things considered, I guess I can’t be unhappy. I don’t know if I’ll compete officially next year. If I do, I’ll definitely start as early as I can. But in any event, I’m glad I did it this year.


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