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eload Marathon Series - Marcialonga: Charge of the Bisons.
By:  Karl Saidla   (2006/02/02)


Thank you to our Marathon Article Series sponsor, e load, who provides XC Ottawa athletes with what we believe is the best sport and electrolyte replacement drink available. Check it out at www.eload.net.

The following is taken from an article by Claudio Gregori, from Gazetta dello Sport, Dec. 28, 2005.

I am a bison. One of those that hurt and get hurt,...moo and moan, gasp and vomit, that wear themselves out but obstinately go on towards the corral of sacrifice...The bison is Roland. He fights his cruel Iliad. His heart beating wildly, the cappucino coming up, the wrong wax, new shoes, his best friend disapearing. But the bison goes. He goes up the Val di Fassa...And in Molina, after 63km, sharp like a knife, there is the ascent of Aqua: Terrible. It strips the flesh from bones, it devours. Lifeless eyes, blisters, cramps, the skis that rebel after a thousand insults. The race is agony. Until the finish line appears like a mirage. When the last breath is just enough to whisper on the phone: "It was great".

It would be hard to sum up the Marcialonga from our perspective better than was done above by Claudio Gregori. It certainly was, as he goes on to describe it, "an epic event". From waking up at 5:30 am, to testing (and guessing) wax and skis in the dark at 6:30, to the opera music that announces the start at 8:15, right to the unique and cruel uphill finish in the village of Cavalese, this race was like no other.

The Marcialonga is a mostly flat 70km classic race in the Dolomites of Italy. Roughly 5000 people ski the full 70km distance. The course is laid out along the bottom of a spectacular valley and goes through numerous small towns full of very enthusiastic spectators that go so far as to cheer for each competitor by name, which they manage by checking their start lists about every five seconds.

For Megan and myself (not to mention my father, Tony, and my brother, Martin), this was our first, so to speak, "kick at the can" in a major international double-poling style marathon. The weather conditions (- 0.5 at the start with a mix of sugary snow and glazed tracks, increasing to about plus 6 by the finish) made waxing and picking skis very challenging. While we didn't get it quite right, it seemed that not many people did. In our case, we underestimated how warm it would get, leaving us with slightly slow skis for the second half of the race, despite having not very much grip in the first half. It could, however, have been much worse.

Both of us struggled, to a degree, in the earlier (mostly gradual uphill) section of the race. I did not have enough grip and Megan was stuck in chaos of the first thousand skiers. At about 20km things started to go better for both of us. At this point our skis were as good or better than the people around us. Regular gulps of E LOAD kept our energy levels high. Both of us made up quite a few positions between the 20 and 50 km points.

At about 55 kms the struggle began in earnest. Not only had we double poled for 2.5-3hours already, but our skis were getting slower by the minute. Still, with only 15kms left we pushed hard and managed to limit our losses. Both of us opted to put on more grip wax at the bottom of the infamous 2.5km climb to the finish in Cavalese, which turned out to be the right thing to do. This allowed us, with seizing arms, stomachs and backs, to drag ourselves up the final hill to the finish. (Little did I know that the top woman was catching me all the way. Luckily she didn't quite get by me at the finish and I triumphed by 1 second).

Overall we were reasonably pleased with our performances. More importantly, however, we were incredibly pleased with the experience as a whole. We highly recommend a trip to the Marcialonga.

Thank you to our Marathon Article Series sponsor, e load, who provides XC Ottawa athletes with what we believe is the best sport and electrolyte replacement drink available. Check it out at www.eload.net.

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