Monday, April 2, 2012

The Arctic Circle Race (and World Champs)

The Arctic Circle Race
                       World Championships

This is probably one of my most exciting updates I have ever written!

I left Canada at the end of February after training and racing there for 3 months. I arrived in Munich with no problems whatsoever, and made it to my accommodation with no worries. How nice it is when things go right! My father arrived 2 days later, and we proceeded to prepare for the first competition of the 2012 biathlon World Champs- the 7.5km sprint. It was slightly strange, but great, to have my father yelling out corrections to me on the range- and we only had a few domestics during the 10 days. Success!
Figure 1- The crowd in Ruhpolding

The sprint race went well- I hit 9/10 and skied as well as I could. Conditions were tough! It was +15 with very deep wet snow, but I rolled my sleeves up and worked on my tan, so I feel as though I benefitted. After a few days more training, it was the 15km Individual. Conditions were slightly better, but not much. I had amazing skis in this race, which were waxed by the Greenland Waxman. My first shooting I hit all 5 and left the range in a great position…then I started missing. I missed 5 in total, but had an amazing ski. I felt so happy and thoroughly enjoyed the entire race- potentially one of my most enjoyable competitions in my career. Here is a link to a Youtube video of my racing:

From World Championships and the 2 IBU cups I did in Canmore, I have qualified for a Wild Card position on the World Cup circuit next season, and qualified for World Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. Yahoo!

After World Championships, I had no plans. I huffed and ha’ed for a while, and then decided to go to Oslo to get in some classic skiing. My good friend from Greenland, Uiloq, and I had a great week running and skiing and enjoying the very warm weather! I left on the 17th of March and went to Copenhagen for 3 days to visit with my cousin Andrew who I had not seen in 16 years! I was thrilled to be able to fit that in. After a few touristy days, I was dropped off at the airport to catch my flight to Greenland.

The Arctic Circle Race

Greenland- What a place! The houses, the scenery, the people, everything is just amazing. You may wonder why I was in Greenland? Well, there is this race which has been dubbed the ‘hardest cross-country ski race in the world’ and for some reason I decided to do it. It is a 3-day, 160km cross-country ski race, with camping overnight. And I was in Greenland to do it- Oh dear.

We arrived in Sisimiut on an Air Greenland little pencil plane, and were transferred in a rickety bus to our accommodations. I was quite relieved as I just got on the plane not knowing what was really going on- but it all worked out and I was doubled up in a room with a nice woman from America, Leslie. The first two days we had time to train and prep our skis- which I think some of the racers got a kick out of my attempt to prep classic skis- one shortfall of being a biathlete, dang!

The night before the race, we were all given our emergency bags with a whistle, bivy bag and emergency blanket, as well as maps of the course. You never know when the weather will change in Greenland, I guess! March 23rd came around very quickly, and before I knew it, we were standing on the start line. Wholly man, I cannot believe I am doing this- was essentially the thought running through my mind. There were 139 starters, all ready for the next 3 days of pain.  3-2-1 and we were off. The whole town was there cheering, so they made a 1.2km track that circled back past the crowd, which entailed climbing up and skiing down a small downhill ski hill. Murphy’s law, I fell on that first downhill in front of everyone- ah, not a good start!
The first day was 56km of absolutely amazing scenery. The landscape was amazing and the weather was perfect. It also entailed climbing 1300m, including up another very big downhill ski hill, and then down it on our little classic cross-country skis. It was quite the experience. I could not believe I made it to the finish line alive!

After a pasta/pesto/sausage dinner and a night out in the tent, we all met once again on the start line in the middle of the Greenlandic tundra. Once again around the 12.4km lake, and then we were off to climb over a Col, and ski right down to the ocean. It was amazingly beautiful. The light was very flat this day, which made the downhill’s extra exciting….or treacherous in many peoples minds. The aid stations were my saviors, with happy cheering volunteers offering bits of chocolate chip bread, chocolate, and hot sport drink. I thought I was really quick at these stations, until I found out a lot of the girls didn’t even stop at them! Ah, my fear of hitting-the-wall got me this time! After the 48km day, we were treated to some traditional grub by the local fisherman- Dried fish, delicious warm crab legs, dried musk ox, and a bit of whale skin and blubber! I’m not sure what they see in the whale skin, but the crab legs were delicious ;)
Now, in my mind I thought the last day would be the easiest because your heading home. I was wrong. It was the hardest. It was 54km of complete pain, close to mentally and physically collapsing, and a lot of hoping and inner self-motivational speeches. The hills during this race were so long, and so steep, many athletes took their skis off- uphill’s and downhill’s. I had it in my mind that taking your skis off was a kind of cheating- but I wish I wasn’t so stubborn! Those hills were complete killers!  After 54km, and another day of 1300m of climbing, I saw the finish line. For some reason, myself and another man from Greenland always finished the race together, but never actually skied together during the race. So when I looked behind me about 500m from the finish line, I was so delighted to see he was close behind. We once again, for the 3rd time, finished the race together. It was really amazing.

The feeling of finishing the Arctic Circle Race is nothing I have ever felt before. The joy you feel at that moment is amazing- the emotions one has at actually having completed this inconceivable race were overwhelming, and many people admitted to at some point in the race looking around and getting slightly emotional. This race is something special- and I feel so honoured to have been apart of it, and finished it, albeit half alive. I ended up 5th woman, and 3rd in the 18-29 category.

I have to thank Peter Evaldsen for helping to organize this trip, and the Arctic Circle Race sponsors for making it all possible. I hope to actually train for it one year, and come back as a stronger classic skier one year, and really go for it!

After sleeping a night on a metal bench in the Copenhagen airport, I am now in London visiting another cousin who I have not seen in 16 years. I fly back to Canada on April 1st to finish off working ski patrol at Lake Louise ski field. There are some new exciting possibilities coming up which I will keep you up to date with if they happen!

Thanks for an amazing season everyone. It was short- but absolutely one of the best I have had.

Take care, have fun and smile!

Sarah Murphy

NORMA ammunition