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Tartu Maraton


Fri, Mar  3, 2006 - By Howard Feit

Hello everyone--Greetings from Tartu, Estonia the day after the Tartu Marathon, a 63 km Worldloppet classic technique ski race. Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

It was the easiest start I ever had for a ski race. We stayed at a hotel in Otepää that was 100 meters from the ski stadium where the race started. For two days before the race my companions Dieter, Carol and I practiced in very hard, fast tracks. I was looking forward to setting a new personal best for km per hour in a ski marathon given that the course is relatively easy rolling terrain and the downhills were amazingly fast in a hard, glazed track. But it was not to be. The night before the race it snowed about 2 to 4 inches with a temperature of -3 C. There was no time left to re-groom before the race started.

Approximately four thousand penguins lined up in the ski stadium to march from Otepää to Elva. The gun went off and it took about five minutes to reach the start line. Even though they had chip timing, your total time included the time to reach the start line. Since everybody started at the same time, the congestion was terrible. There was a helicopter above and an ultralite plane also circling above us. I was thinking that if they crash into each other there are going to be a lot of casualties.

The beautiful glazed tracks were gone. In fact there was no track at all. When we got to the first uphill, the penguins in front of me were herring boning up a hill that I had zoomed up in the tracks the previous day. It was then that this penguin realized it was going to be a long day.

On the way, they fed us blueberry soup, bread with salt sprinkled on it, bouillon which was awful, and bananas. This penguin requires Gatorade or the European equivalent and I never found it. They kept offering me tea which I did not need. Today, Carole told me that the yellow stuff that they called tea was in fact a hot sports drink.

Dieter was coping with the bad track conditions better than I was. However, at about the 35 km mark some kid stepped in front of him when he was going down a fast hill. There was a chain collision and Dieter broke both of his beloved, ultralite, expensive Infinity poles. He skied a few km without poles to the next service point and was given loaners. Despite this mishap, he managed to finish about thirty minutes before me; Carole finished about ten minutes before me and I came into the finish at 6:48. Before the race I was sure that I could have easily skied it in less than 6 hours on the fast tracks that Mother Nature erased.

My memory of this race will be the lines of skiers herring boning up the hills. Waddling from side to side, they looked just like the penguins in the movie "The March of the Penguins."

Tonight we are in Tartu, tomorrow Tallin, Estonia. Then we leave for Sweden to do the 90 km Vasa. There better be good tracks or it will turn into a death march. I had about 10 km left in me yesterday before I would have bonked. By the way, Rezac won with a time of 3:04. My usual formula to predict my time which is to double the winning time failed.

Best wishes to all my fellow penguins,

Howard Feit