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Engadine ski marathon - Yolanda Carslaw, Engadine
Monday March 12, 2012 - Email this article to a friend

After Pippa Middleton gave cross-country skiing a surprise injection of interest and publicity, the sport's most famous race has taken place in Switzerland. PlanetSKI reporter, Yolanda Carslaw, was there.

More than 11,000 langlaufers set off on the Engadine Marathon, which follows a 42km track across frozen lakes, through pine-forest and among villages in the Engadine valley in Graubunden canton in the south-east of the country.

At less than half the length of the Vasaloppet in Sweden, which Prince William's sister- and brother-in-law raced earlier this month, and with fewer participants, the Engadine marathon is a more manageable prospect for people of ordinary build and fitness.

This, along with its location in a historic and scenic wintersports district, gives it wide appeal: this year it drew 43 nationalities - from Slovaks to Greeks to Japanese.

Swiss are the most numerous, followed by Germans, Italians, Norwegians and Austrians, and then Brits, with 139 racers this year.

While the Vasaloppet is raced classic style only, Switzerland's largest cross-country race is open to all - with more langlaufers opting for skating style.

And they're off...And they're off...the classic technique












The skating techniqueThe skating technique












Other limits are few: FIS racers can take part, and there's certainly no upper age limit: the oldest racer this year was born in 1919.

Surprisingly in this good snow year, organisers were worried about cover on the track, whose altitude ranges from 1,820m to 1,670m.

One local lamented that this season's storms, approaching from the north, had turned to wind by the time they arrived. Some parts indeed look wind-blown and recent high temperatures have depleted cover further, but we found excellent conditions for downhill skiing, especially on Corvatsch.

When snow fell on Monday and temperatures dropped, it was a relief.

"For the organising committee, the 20cm we had earlier in the week was like white gold," the organisers admitted on the eve of the race.

11,314 racers set off in five waves, between 8.30am and 9.30am, starting with 'elite' classes, followed by 'main' and then 'general'.

The temperature at the start was minus-six and there was a head-wind.

Taking into account, traffic, roundabouts and the many pedestrian crossings (pedestrians definitely have right of way in this part of Switzerland), it would almost take as long to drive from start to finish - near S-chanf, north-east of St Moritz - as it took the winning skaters.

Roman Furger, a 21-year-old from Schattdorf in canton Uri, travelled at an average speed of 27.7kph to cross the line - in a photo-finish - two-tenths of a second ahead of the runner-up, in 1 hour 31 minutes and 21.1 seconds.

One of the youngest winners in the race's 44-year history, Furger was not a hot favourite.

"This has been a dream since I was a child," he said. "From St Moritz onwards I had heavy legs, so I just stayed behind some guys and tried to recover.

That worked, and since I was in the leading group I thought I might as well push as I might be placed. But I never thought I could win. It felt like a long way to the finish - especially with the head-wind. Curdin fought hard, and I was just lucky to get my binding over the finish line first. It's unbelievable!"

The female winner, Anouk Favre Picon, a member of the French langlauf team, was taking part for the first time.

In her mid-20s, she trains on the rolling tracks at Pontarlier, her home town, and is bound for a World Cup race in Sweden next.

"When I saw the track yesterday when driving by car, it looked so long, but today, I was in St Moritz before I even realised it," she said. "I broke a pole just after the first big lake but luckily I got a new one straight away as I was on the side of the pack. The hard bit came 5km before the finish when the other girls were suddenly pretty close and I had to push really hard."

Engadine ski marathonEngadine ski marathon












The winners were presented with ibex antlers, plus flowers, a silver cup and a cheque, by Barbara Janom Steiner, president of the cantonal government.

"I'm so impressed by the speed of the leaders, and how they sprinted across the line. Most of all I'm impressed by how motivated all the racers are, to battle over every kilometre, with smiles on their faces, and how the public encourages them over the line," Steiner said

"I'm proud to have this race in the Graubunden, and proud that in its history we've had nearly half a million happy finishers."

Engadine ski marathonThe winners












Antlers as prizeAntlers as prize












Second in the women's class was Seraina Boner from Davos, and third was a three-times winner, Natascia Leonardi Cortesi from Poschiavo, aged 41, who leads langlauf tours all over the world with the specialist

The third-placed man was Cristian Zorzi, 40, from Italy.

The best Brit, Alan Eason from Kent, in his early 40s, came 317th.

Some raced in fancy dress: we spotted a kilt (not on a Scotsman), tweeds (on an Englishman), a nun and a priest, a couple of tutus and various wacky headgear.

There are 16 racers who have skied every one of the 44 marathons since 1969 (it was cancelled just once, in 1991, due to a warm spell).

This year, 78 per cent of participants were men; the average age for men was 45 and for women 39.

For the first time this year, the night-sprint, which is held on the Friday before the main event, took place in St Moritz.

Other events held around the marathon are a 'marathon church service' on Saturday evening and a party after the race, in a sports hall in the finish area, from 1pm to 8pm.

It was, once again, a race to remember.

The participants medalThe participants medal












And here are PlanetSKI's tips for a fun marathon:

Get as fit as you can - run, rollerski, cycle, do circuits or exercise classes.

Arrive a few days beforehand to practise.

Even if you think you can do it, have a lesson on technique which, according to one regular British racer, is 50 per cent of the game. Try the school at the Langlauf Centre at Pontresina, which organises group lessons.

There are plenty of rental skis and boots; cost is about SF150 for five days, hiring from the Langlauf Centre.

Avoid alcohol at least the day before the race and drink lots of water.

Get to the start of the race using the special buses laid on for competitors - there's no car parking there.

During the race, you can refuel with energy bars, bananas and Rivella at five 'service stops', more of them during the second half of the course.

Find and maintain a rhythm, and pace yourself.

Just because St Moritz is nearby, you don't have to spend a fortune, as there are places to stay in villages on or very near the track, such as Silvaplana, Samedan, Bever, Sils, Maloja and S-Chanf, where a double costs as little as 60 Swiss francs a night.

There are also hostels in St Moritz and Pontresina, and a caravan park, near Muottas Muragl.

For the spirit of the mountains

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