On September 10, 2017 the Engadin Inline Marathon, a 42 km (26.09 mile) distance race, took place in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Located in the eastern Swiss Alps, the landscape of Engadin is very beautiful. In fact, the Swiss Skate Tour promotes this race as “The most beautiful marathon in the world.” On the route you will find two lakes surrounded by majestic mountains. This race is the 6th stage of the Swiss Skate Tour circuit, as well as, the European Championship for the masters division. Throughout the duration of the event the weather proved to by quite difficult. The temperature dropped to nearly zero degrees and it snowed during the race, causing the asphalt to become wet from the snow melting once it hit the road. I hope to compete in this race again in good weather.
I was one of nearly 400 racers from 25 nations competing this year. Before I tell you how my race went and what I felt during the race and it’s conditions I will let you know a bit about myself.
My name is Abramo, I am a 34-year-old Italian living in Verona, Italy. I bought my first pair of speed skates at the end of 2009 when I was 26-years-old. In 2010 I took part in my first race, a marathon in my hometown of Verona. Since then I have participated in 8 marathons including the Berlin Inline Marathon and the European Championships in Dijon, France. I have also competed in two 24 Hours of Le Mans races, four World Cup races of Inline Downhill, one of which was also the World Championships. I am not a skating champion, I usually place in the middle of the rankings, but I enjoy taking part in as many races as possible, while always trying my best!
Back to the race in Switzerland…
It’s Friday and raining in St. Moritz. I am pretty depressed about the potential storm conditions for Saturdays race. Thinking of skating a marathon on wet asphalt is giving me a headache. I know wet roads will provide poor traction when pushing and I am already wearing scars from a fall from the previous Sunday.
I spend the night having dinner with a group of competitors from Australia and the United States. I head off to bed and keep hearing the sounds of heavy rainfall outside. I wake up at 4am and no longer hear any rain. I go back to bed relieved that although the asphalt may be wet, it hopefully won’t be raining anymore the next day. When the alarm clock wakes me back up at 6am, I look out the window to check the weather conditions. Well there was a reason I could no longer hear the rain when I woke up the first time, the rainfall had turned into snowfall. Discouraged about today's race I began swearing up a storm in my room.
It is cold, really cold and the snow is falling. We stand on the start line for only a few minutes, but it is a very unnerving feeling waiting for the race start when it is 1 ° Celsius outside and all anyone could think of is how not to freeze. Finally, we're off! Since everyone is very close together during your first pushes, you have to look at the ground to see where others are moving, so you can create your own rhythm in the open spaces. I am instantly surprised at how much grip I have and how amazing the asphalt is in Switzerland. It is still not like skating on a dry road, but this surface, although soaked, still has traction. For the first few miles, adrenaline makes me almost forget about how cold it really is outside.
I try to find a group that is skating at a speed that I can keep up with. In marathons it is very important to stay in the wake of someone else to keep a pace, just like in cycling. About ten feet ahead of me, at least three people in the group I am trying to catch up with fall down together. They begin to crawl on the ground and I have to make a split decision about what direction to go to avoid hitting them. I stay very close to the guardrail on the right side, while one of the unfortunate skaters continues to slide on the ground and is about to run into me. It’s too late for me to change my trajectory. For a split second, I close my eyes, I can’t breathe and luckily he passes me by without contact.
The race was going well for me until I reached the notorious descent. This race is famous for a 800 meter (0.5 mile) downhill section that scares a lot of skaters so the event organizers laid down a carpet on the side of the road that can be used to descent less quickly. Without even pushing you are reaching speeds of 50 kmph (32mph) down the wet mountain road. Between the speed and extreme cold, the force of the snow pelting against my face is painful and feels like being constantly poked with needles. This descent caused serious problems for many skaters. People started to freeze and had to be treated for hypothermia. I too am starting to feel the effects of the cold and can no longer feel my arms and hands. I try to move them to get the blood flowing but can’t. It took me over 10 seconds to even close my hands.
Not having any other options I continue with the race as the audience on the side lines applaud me and encourage me to keep going. I am alone again until I find another skater at my level to pace behind. I start seeing ambulances on the side of the road, at least a dozen competitors are taken to the hospital suffering from hypothermia. Some people, including distinguished names in the racing world, gave up due to exhaustion and retreated to the side of the road. At this point I bend over, with my arms crossed and my hands put under my armpits to attempt to stay warm.
Finally I see the sign indicating that there are 2km (1.24 miles) left to the finish line. The exhaustion is starting to hit me. I am now alone, tired, my brain can no longer control my movements and my body is only functioning off muscle memory. I see the finish line, this cold hell I’ve endured is about to end! A photographer urges me to raise my arms on the finish line for a photo, I can! Just crossing the line feels like I’ve won the race. Finishing this I’ve become my own hero.
After the race people begin to huddle in a nearby lodge for warmth. I am so exhausted that they have to tow me there with a motorcycle. It is Ironic I could skate a 42km (26.09 mile) marathon and yet am no longer able to skate 100 meters (0.06 miles) to the lodge. Suffering from fatigue I need to be helped up a small step to enter the room. I begin to have tremors that I have never experienced before. I try to take off my wet clothes but am unable to control my movements.
I am scared. Orderlies pass out thermal blankets and hot cups of tea to warm our hands. My hands are shaking so badly that I cannot even hold my glass. It falls out of my hands and the tea spills all over the floor. I look around the room and I see others in my condition, if not worse. It takes me atleast half an hour before my body starts to recover and I am finally able to put some dry cloths on, what a great relief this is.
I ended up placing 15th in my division, almost 20 minutes behind the winner. This is not a great result, but I am just happy I finished. To have completed a race under such harsh conditions has changed something in me. I will never forget this European Championship. I must thank the club I belong to, Scaligero Rollerclub, especially Stefano Bertasini, for helping me experience this event. Also thanks to the Australian Skateroo group for keeping me company!
I am Abramo, hello everyone!
Story by Abramo Abrams Arcozzi
Translated from Italian and Edited by Jan Eric Welch
Photography by Frank Depping & Klaus Hestkjær Carstensen
Video Courtesy of The Swiss Skate Tour
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