I've done the Engadin Ski Marathon for the last three years, and although I'm certainly not the future of British Nordic skiing, these are my tips if you're thinking of doing it...
- Enter the event - that way there's less of an excuse not to do it!
- If you're first timers, you might be encouraged to enter Classic style - but ignore this advice! Classic is slow, a groin breaker and a blister breeding ground. Skating is faster, more rhythmical, far more pleasing and while it requires you to be a bit fitter to get the most out of it, it is what 95% of people taking part in the event do.
- I'd recommend staying in S-Chanf, which is at the end of the Marathon course and makes for a very easy end to the event.
- Go out on the Wednesday night before the race on the Sunday.
- Be sure to take cross-country skiing lessons for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening on Thursday and Friday. All these lessons may seem like overkill, but bearing in mind that your first two-three hours might be spent on your backside, four lessons is probably the minimum you'll need to prepare you for a 42km race!.
- On the day of the race, leave S-Chanf just before 6am and drive up the valley as far as you can towards the start. Take the bus from here to the start. Drop off your skis at the start to make sure you have a good spot and then walk to nearest bar and settle in for hot chocolates. It's very cold up at this end of the valley - a few years ago, it was minus 25 with wind-chill! Head down to the start half an hour before your start time and join in the atmosphere.
- Once you've finished in S-Chanf, you now have the joy of a short walk to your bed rather than joining the thousands of others who will now have to queue for trains and buses.
What sort of preparation should you be doing?
It's worth getting fit for the race. Bicycling, brisk walking, running or cross training are fine if you can't practice on the real thing. Expect to take anything from three to five hours to complete the course when planning your training. I have plenty of friends who have done it without doing any training at all, going at a leisurely pace. So don't worry too much if you haven't got time.
If you're feeling keen, there is a growing interest in roller skiing, which will give you a much needed head start and may even mean that you can arrive on the Thursday evening instead. It looks uncomfortable (as with much of this sport) but is actually surprisingly fun. The guy who runs it is called Iain Ballentine.
Techie stuff can be hired there. Regarding clothes, I'd race in light trekking trousers, a thin thermal top, a headband and a sleeveless fleece. You can still take lots of warm clothes to the start, and with typical Swiss efficiency, the organisers wing it down to the finish for you in a fleet of Swiss Army trucks.
Don't lose heart
Grannies and grandpas complete it every year. To help convince you of my recommendation to head out on the Wednesday evening, a friend of mine who runs marathons in less than three hours rocked up a couple of years ago on the Friday evening, allowing just one day's worth of lessons and relying on his fitness to see him through. On the race day, he reached the half marathon finish in 4Â½ hours with two broken toes. By contrast, grannies and grandpas of nearly 90 complete it every year in not much more than three hours through good technique alone!
For more information on competing in the Engadin Ski Marathon, contact Original Travel.