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Traveling Michiganders
The 2003 Finlandia Hiihto, a Travel Friendly Race
March 12, 2003 - By Mark Madorski
 

When Mark's not flying around the world racing the Worldloppet, you'll find him cruising around the trails of Independence Oaks County Park near Clarkston, MI.

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"...After the first 30 kms, I looked at my watch and said, 1/3rd done. This was a fine piece of information until it hit me that I still had 60 kms to go and I had never skied 60 strait kms before let alone the 90 I was trying to do here. How should I feel? Who knows?..." 
 - Read Mark's
At Sweden’s 2002 Vasaloppet story - not to be missed!

I recently traveled to Lahti, Finland, where I competed in the 30th anniversary edition of the Finlandia Hiihto. This 60 kilometer, classic race, is Finland's entry into the Worldloppet series of races. It starts on the outskirts of the city of Lahti and traverses the Finnish countryside to the town of Hollola before returning to Lahti.

The race both starts and finishes in the massive Lahti Nordic Ski Stadium, which sits in the shadows of 3 spectacular ski jumps (quite the impressive sight). This venue has been used for 5 Nordic Skiing World Championships. The race starts in waves that are staggered 10 minutes apart and the first kilometer is a steep uphill climb out of the stadium. After 2 or 3 additional significant ups, the race levels off into what would best be described as a rolling course. There are, however, several key herringbone climbs located at strategically painful places in the course. Two of the worst are at kilometer 56 and 57. After over 4 hours of hitting it hard, my quads (and much of the rest of me for that matter) began to seriously rebel when they encountered these hills. I finished in 4 hours 36 minutes and placed 890th. This put me around the top 80th percentile overall. Greg Worsnop finished around 140th overall when he did this race a couple of years ago and this might be the highest finish ever recorded by a Michigan Cup skier in a Worldloppet race outside North America.

Race day was beautiful (around 28 F) and large groups of people lined the course at various points cheering us on. The race, while quite long, would definitely be enjoyable for most Michigan Cup skiers. Volunteers were extremely friendly and the race was very well run. One of the nicest participation medals I have ever seen was awarded to each finisher who made the cutoff time.

What stood out most for me about the race however, was how easy the logistics of it were. First, Helsinki, like all the Scandinavian capitals, is quite easy and quite inexpensive to get to from Metro Detroit, especially in the winter. (Detroit - Amsterdam 7 hours, Amsterdam - Helsinki 3 hours, $550 roundtrip) Once you clear customs, you literally walk out of the airport doors and catch a bus for Lahti right at the curb. It's a little over an hour bus ride to Lahti and a bus leaves nearly every hour. The entire trip took me less time then it takes to drive to the Birkie.

If you make this trip I highly recommend staying at the Comfort Hotel Lahti for several reasons. First it's right around the corner from the bus station so you don't need a car or a taxi to get to it. Second the rates are pretty reasonable (about $60 a night for a single) and third it's located less then a kilometer from the start and finish in the ski stadium. This not only makes race day very convenient but it also gives you easy access to the 100 plus kilometers of groomed trails (35 kms are lighted) in the days before and after the race. Reservations can be requested online at the Finlandia Hiihto site when registering for the race.

I also recommend spending a few days in Helsinki on your way home. Helsinki has a much different feel to it from other Scandinavian cities. It's one part Scandinavia, one part Eastern Europe, one part Russia (and a little bit of the UP). It's a very modern city but it also has some incredible Art Nouveau architecture and churches that look like they belong in 18th century Moscow. There are also well groomed ski trails right in the city. You can take the metro to go skiing! 

A word of caution, however, about dining in Finland. If you happen to like anchovies and against all your better judgment, decide to order them on a pizza in Finland (I did), chances are you won't get anchovies. Rather you'll probably get chunks of herring about the size of your fist that smell like they just came off the chum line from the movie "Jaws". Herring is as close to a staple as you get in Finland and it's actually pretty good, just not on pizza.

Happy Ski Travels

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