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The mysterious forest in Lahti, Finland




Time in Finland before the race:

 

Travelling between Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland was easy. It's less than 100km between the two capital cities across the Gulf of Finland via ferry. There are plans for an undersea rail tunnel, which would be twice the length of the English Channel tunnel. 

 




I felt fortunate to have some days to experience Finland before the race. A kind family in Paimio, eastern Finland offered to host me. It was a quick trip to Paimio from Helsinki via Turku using the efficient Finnish public transport network. 

 

My first impressions of Finland were of a modern, spacious country …. very spacious! I went for a walk around Paimio the next morning and was impressed by the wide walking/cycle paths, wide roads, and modern houses with large backyards. There was something different which I couldn’t put my finger on until I realized there were no fences or marked boundaries between people’s homes. That was it! My host told me that in Finland generally they don’t have a fence or hedge acting as a boundary around their home. How bizarre!? Although I thought it gave off a very friendly vibe and contributed largely to the spacious feeling of the place. The many many automatic doors were another thing making the country feel very modern.

 




I spent my two days in Paimio relaxing and going skiing to keep the body moving. In Paimio they have the Paippi Indoor Ski Tunnel which was a very novel and exciting experience. It was a fantastic facility! To my delight the ski tunnel had turns, uphills, downhills, and I really enjoyed it! There were lots of people getting amongst the action and it was fun seeing the same people every few minutes as we all skied around the loop multiple times. Of course, it doesn’t compare to skiing outside but when the conditions outside are poor or in summer, these ski tunnels must really come into their own.  Paimio also had outdoor ski trails which I was able to explore and use to ski from where I was staying to the ski tunnel and back. I could almost ski door to door which I thought was totally awesome.



 

I also spent a morning in Helsinki where the highlight was going to a community run sauna beside the sea. It was so close to the water, and I could warm up in the sauna before running and easing my body into the icy cold sea. Thrilling! 




 




The afternoon before race day I travelled to Lahti and visited the Ski Museum. This museum was amazing with lots of interactive activities such as a ski jumping stimulator, laser rifles and various games. I also enjoyed looking around the exhibitions and seeing the clothing, equipment and photos of skiing in Lahti and wider Finland over many many years. Being from New Zealand, it was incredible to read about such a rich ski culture and long history.




 

Race day: 24th February 2024




 

Two words I would use to describe the whole Finlandia Hiihto event would be “smooth” and “peaceful”.

 

The race was 62km classic, starting and finishing at the Ski Jumping Stadium in Lahti. Having the race start and finish in the same place (walking distance from the center of Lahti) made logistics incredibly simple. Public transport was efficient and very comfortable, and the whole event felt very hassle free. The race-start was absolutely textbook, the easiest race-start thus far. 




 

After climbing out of the ski stadium, we entered a large, majestic forest which is part of the Salpausselkä Geopark. Because of its ecological, historical and cultural significance, the Salpausselkä Geopark is part of the UNESCO Global Geopark Network.The 62km loop was mostly in the forest and every so often would break out into an open plain. There looked to be a fantastic network of trails in the forest, and I could understand why Lahti is such a cross country ski hub in Finland. Part of the course went through areas of the Salpausselkä Geopark only accessible during the event, and I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to ski through such unique and special terrain. 


It was a beautiful and very peaceful forest and the low fog, and large rocks added to the mysterious vibe. The weather was cloudy but for me this seemed like the perfect scenario and represented the very best of the weather I have experienced during my very short stay in Finland! 


 

The course consisted of many uphill and downhills and was rarely “flat”. I really enjoyed the variety in the elevation profile. For me it was well suited to my favorite diagonal stride and I certainly soaked it up!

 

During the middle section of the race, it was mostly two classic tracks wide, but by that point, everyone was well into their flow, and it never seemed to be an issue. I thought the downhills were one of the best parts of the course. The classic tracks held together so well and almost all downhills had the perfect gradient and corner allowing me to stay in the tracks with control and a sense of thrill. I thought they were 100% awesome and often found myself smiling as I held the “tuck”. 

 

At about the 30km mark I noticed someone close behind me. I could hear us going stride for stride and I increased my pace, which I began to feel was unsustainable.  After a further 10km, I looked behind to see there were now five of us in procession. I really enjoyed the company and did not want to lose the momentum. The “classic train” was enjoyable at the time but I paid for it later. In the last 20km my pace slowed and I became mostly focused on getting to the finish line.




 

When the crazy-high ski jump tower emerged from the fog in all its glory, I was over the moon. I knew I was almost there! Some downhill, a surprising steep uphill and another fun downhill later and I was skiing past the stadium seats and into the finish line! Such a unique and incredible place to finish. It really felt like I got a small taste and experience of the long and special ski culture and history in Lahti.

 

After the finish I took a beeline to the Sauna for the ultimate recovery! For the women, the event had booked out the Sauna and changing room in the nearby Lahti Swimming Hall. Every sauna experience has been different so far, but this one was next level. It’s hard to describe but some words that come to mind are “no-fuss”, “chatty” and “endorphins”. 





 

 

Summary:

 

For me this was a really relaxing event, all because of how well the race was run and its hassle-free nature. The highlights were the feeling of culture and history while skiing in the Salpausselkä Geopark, and finishing at the bottom of the Lahti Ski Jump! The exclusive and “oh so good” sauna at the end of the race was the cherry on top!



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