Marcialonga in Val di Fiemme, Italy
Pre race day: 27th Janurary 2024
Pre-race day has proven to be a challenging and adventurous part of each event. On this occasion my final destination (all going well!) was Predazzo, Italy. To get there I would be travelling on a variety of trains and buses, all of which I hoped would interconnect.
As I travelled, the scenery was becoming more barren and there were lots of orchards where I imagined crops would grow in the warmer months. Roads were narrow and after climbing a big hill the bus started traversing a slope on one side a large valley! We were in Val di Fiemme. Various small villages were dotted throughout the valley with the Dolomite Mountains in full view. Colourful buildings, cute windows, cobbled streets and lots of people on bicycles were some of the things that stood out as we drove through the villages. It was a very unexpected sight as the bus rolled into Cavalese, the location of bib pick up and the finish line-tomorrow. In my mind I related it to a spring day in an alpine ski area! Music playing, sun shining and lots of people walking around town with skis or chatting and eating outside with their skis next to them. But there were sunglasses and hats on tables instead of helmets and goggles and everyone was carrying cross country skis! It was like a big cross country skiing party and it wasn’t even race day yet! I had never seen anything like it but I was totally here for it!
Compared to travel by air or rail, taking local buses almost always feels like a major step up in terms of difficulty. All was going smoothly until the last bus of the day, from Cavalese to Predazzo where I was staying. For an unknown reason, the bus decided to stop far earlier than expected and I was left standing in a random place, bag on my back and a bag in each hand. I thought the positive was I could see some of Predazzo as I walked to the accommodation. Interestingly almost every single shop in the town was closed but my mind was totally fixated on the strip of white snow going right down the middle of the street through the town centre in an otherwise snow-less scene. There were gaps in this “snow path” where they still had some roads open to cars. I then saw a groomer and its little side-kick mini digger working together to use push piles of snow out along the snow path to extend it. Further along I saw a big truck pull up and dump another pile. What an operation! I was shocked and amazed. Again, I had never seen anything like it!
It wasn’t long though before I started struggling with this unexpected walk to the accommodation. It was warm and the bags I was carrying were heavy. I found myself stopping every 100m or so to rest. I walked most of the way beside the snow trail and realised tomorrow I would be skiing past very close to the accommodation. Surely I won’t be tempted to call it a day early! I walked into the accommodation with a bit of a huff and a puff and plonked down on the first seat I could see! Ah I was so happy to be there! I saw the Canadian couple, Chantal and Yves whom I met at the Dolomitenlauf last weekend. It was so nice to see familiar faces, reconnect and catch up on what we had both been up to the past week. We shared lots of laughs!!
Race day: 28th January 2024
I have never been part of such a large event with so many people, over 7000 competitors all together. I was wide eyed and soaking it all up from the get go! Everything worked like clockwork and that is full credit to the organisers. It was really nice to have Chantal’s company at the start area and it was special to be able to reconnect with other fellow skiers whom I met last weekend and even at Snow Farm on the other side of the world.
It was unexpectedly cold at the start area. It was a staggered start and we waited in groups of about 500 in separate “pens” before jogging our skis to the start line and taking off. A very efficient and necessary system but everyone looked cold! Some kind person beside me let me stand shoulder to shoulder to help keep warm! While in this waiting pen I really felt like I was embarking into the unknown and couldn’t help feeling nervous about the challenge ahead, 70km classic technique from Moena to Cavalese. I was nervous about the cold, the grip/waxing on my skis and mostly concerned whether or not I could manage the distance and make it before the cut off times.
I was so glad to get going, warm up quickly and realise my skin skis were performing brilliantly! Skin skis might not be as fast as waxable skis but they are so user friendly for a waxing novice like myself! I started in the last wave and it was very crowded for the first 10km. We were moving slowly and it was difficult moving through people. I didn’t mind the slow pace but it did make me more concerned about the various cut off times throughout the course. After 10km we were spreading out and I was able to easily move through people. I slotted in behind a man and we were going stride for stride. It was such a cool feeling and I followed him as he changed tracks to pass people. It was one of those times when you feel your diagonal stride is making you fly! I could hear someone right behind me also taking advantage of the man’s great pace and stride in front. It was like we were a well-oiled squad out on the tracks for morning training. 100% awesome!
At about the 19km mark we skied through the town of Canazei. I saw every dress up imaginable, funky musical instruments I had never seen before, lots of people, dancing, the whole works. Canazei marked the first cut off point and highest elevation of the race, meaning it was mostly downhill from here. From Canazei the race took on a level of enjoyment I did not expect!! It was nice to turn around and head in the direction of the finish and know it was mostly a gradual downhill to the end. I think the biggest thing was I relaxed as I realised I was going at a pace sufficient to make the cut off times.
We skied down beside the river back through the trees and various villages in the valley. The scenery was stunning and skiing through the towns was exhilarating! Music, people cheering all around and buildings so close you could almost touch them. I was beginning to understand why this race was so popular. I wanted to get to the finish but also didn’t want it to end! We didn’t have our name on our bib but some people had a start list and were very quickly finding my number and calling out my name as I skied past. In Italian Alice sounds like Aliiche. I would hear “ALIICHE” “ALIICHE” “ BRAVO ALIICHE!”. The atmosphere was awesome and I truly enjoyed every moment.
The steep downhills were certainly memorable! You can probably imagine what they were like after 7000 people had skied down them. After lots of pizza action, the fresh snow had been pushed to the sides leaving an ice chute with no grip whatsoever to navigate down. It was carnage and total chaos and many people would sensibly take their skis off and walk down! There was often a first aid person standing at the top ready to respond! Sometimes when approaching these downhill sections, skiers bunched together again into a slow moving line as people took off their skis, crashed or were hesitant to go. It was funny as it was like we were about to ski a half pipe or free ride and everyone was taking a moment to come up with the best line before “dropping in”. It was a little confronting but I was determined to try! The normally trusty pizza was not reliable and I thought stay low, stay forward and hope for the best. To my total shock I made it down them all on my skis. But across the day I did fall A LOT!! Falling is a common occurrence for me, but today was next level. I “ate the snow” more than 15 times and it was mostly on flat sections where the classic tracks were non-existent. I was glad though when skiers behind me managed to stay upright and avoid my body and skis spread across the trail. A pile-up is never ideal!
After a lot of gradual downhill and double polling I made it to…the final climb. They call it the Witch’s Wall and for good reason. It’s steep and there is a maximum gradient of 20%. But If I had to choose one highlight of the day this section would be it! Compared to double poling I feel much stronger at diagonal stride. I had energy so I thought I would try to keep a little hop in my step and sort of jog up. I found a rhythm and the cheering of hundreds, probably thousands of people urged me on. They saw me jogging and really got behind me! “ALIICHE” “ALIICHE” “ALIICHE”. A person who I had met at work in Seefeld surprisingly appeared and ran beside me for 100m or so. About 300m to the finish line the announcer must have seen me and he was cheering for ALIICHE from Nuova Zelanda! The cheers urged me on and I found myself picking up the pace to the finish line in the centre of Cavalese. I can’t even describe the atmosphere! It was electric and totally unforgettable.
After the finish line, it was a legit Marcialonga-style cross country skiing party! Fireworks, music, food and drink stalls, the whole works. So awesome! I never knew cross country skiing to come with this vibe.
The whole event couldn’t have been more enjoyable and it still amazes me to think about how much work the organising committee must put into allowing 7000+ people to ski such an iconic race and for it to run so smoothly. Travelling is great but I am also excited to go back to base in Seefeld and the familiar work routine. Unfortunately the events in Germany and France have been cancelled but I will back from Estonia mid-February!