From Zero to Hero, a Real Time Experiment: Can You Train For a Ski Marathon in 10 Days? — Day 1

Julia Schneemann | LaughsLaughs
Some scrapes from crashes but spirits remain high. | Picture: Julia Schneemann

When your son and nephew decide to compete in an endurance race in a sport they have never tried before, you can do one of two things: try to talk them out of it, or fully get behind it. I chose the latter and on top of that, I decided it would be a great idea for an amusing article, irrespective of the outcome of their endeavor. This could be dumb and dumber or an inspirational journey or neither of those, but I invite you to join me on the journey.

A few weeks ago in a casual conversation with my nephew, Till, I mentioned to him that the Engadin Ski Marathon would be held when he was coming to visit me in Switzerland for a week of alpine skiing. One thing lead to another and before you knew it, both he and my teenage son, Wolf, were signed up, to compete in a cross-country race through the valley near our house, leaving them only 10 days to train. The one catch: neither of them has ever cross-country skied.

”What do I choose? Skating or classic?” — “Just pick skating, you’ll figure it out!”

The Engadin Ski Marathon is a 26 miles (42km) long cross-country race in the Engadin valley in Switzerland. The town of St. Moritz with ski resorts Coviglia and Corvatsch is located in this valley. The race is the largest cross-country skiing event in Switzerland and the second largest in the world. It attracts around 14,000 participants from over 60 nations each year. The race goes from Maloja across the frozen lakes and past picturesque villages through the entire Upper Engadin valley and ends in the town of S-Chanf.

Learning cross country
Till’s first time on cross-country skis. | Picture: Julia Schneemann

Day 1: Arrival

Till wrapped up his final Physics exam at university, threw his bike and alpine skis in his grandparent’s car, and made the 500-mile (800km) trip from his university in northern Germany to Switzerland. We drove straight to the cross-country rental shop in town, while Wolf ran during his lunch break down from school to meet us, and we got the two kitted out with some skating cross-country skis.

The coach for the day was yours truly. The slight hiccup: I am an entirely Covid-pandemic-self-taught cross-country skier and my teaching track record only features my husband, who broke his thumb on his first attempt. He never returned. But our intentions were noble and our spirits were high and off we went. We started with how to put on and take off cross-country skis and started the first drills without poles. Then we moved onto the poles and did some laps of the beginner’s track. After just a couple of crashes, we decided to head off on the first training run. Wolf had to return to school but Till and I ventured out from Zuoz to La Punt.

After 1.25 miles (2km) my nephew’s binding broke. We tried to jerry-rig it but instead we had to head back to the rental place to have it fixed. Till set off anew. Zuoz to La Punt is a four-mile return loop, so in total that makes a first training day of 6.5 miles. Unfortunately, some injuries were sustained but the spirit remained high. All superficial scrapes.

Day 1: Training Summary

Distance: 6.5 miles (10.4 km)

Pace: 8:06 Minute/Mile (5:09 Minute/km)

Elevation Gain: 60m

Damage: 1 broken binding, superficial scrapes

Lessons learned: Wear gloves!

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