by Ivana Kralova, Josef Kral
Josef and I come from the Czech Republic where the cross-country skiing is still popular as a weekend family activity. Even we as children participated in family expeditions but then came the study and work. Cross country skiing has become somewhat forgotten for us. Ten years ago we moved to Sweden for professional reasons and quickly found out that winters in northern Sweden are really long and rich in snow. We gradually began to dust off the almost forgotten experiences of our youth.
Then suddenly something happened what changed our lives from basis. In 2009, I celebrated my 40th birthday and as a gift from my best friend I got entry for Tjejvasan
(30 km cross country race in the final part of Vasaloppet track, only for women). I was relatively untrained at that time so I could not imagine that I should pass 30 km on skis. However, I took the whole thing very seriously and began to train and put up with the idea of my participation. What motivated me was that she had promised to participate too, of course. Several months passed and she started to make excuses – not enough time, no training possibilities etc. Finally, she decided not to take part in the race. I panicked a bit and made the same decision. Nevertheless, training was in full swing and most important was that my husband Josef successively joined me and we started to train more and more together. Gradually, as is customary with us, he began to take initiative and finally became the initiator and “general manager” of the whole ski circus we did every winter since that time. It was him who found out on the internet that there is something like Worldloppet and one day he came with a suggestion – we could become a Silver Master in 2011. In the first moment his idea sounded completely unfeasible and crazy to me, but because I actually like crazy ideas sometimes, there was nothing to solve.
And we made it! I was incredibly proud of myself, of both of us. I had no idea that Josef had already prepared new plans. Almost simultaneously with the silver medal, he presented me a new project: Gold Master 2012. This time, I hesitated. Can I handle it? I was remembering how respectfully I looked up to the skiers who picked up their bibs for the long races while I held in hands my bib for only “silver race” and said to myself “These are the skiers who run the marathons, the real ones”. However as I wrote, I like life challenges and so I overcame my fear and the “gold season” was approved. The first “gold race” in my life was Jizerska Padesatka 2012. For those who attended, I need not explain anything. I finished. Josef, “the best husband in the world” as he is called by Boris, skied or rather walked beside me patiently whole seven and three quarters of an hour and supported me mentally as best he could. I admit there were some moments when I really wanted to give up. I was absolutely convinced that the Gold Master is just an unrealistic dream and that I took too big bite this time. Fortunately these uncomfortable feelings disappeared soon as well as fatigue from the first marathon and we successfully completed season 2012 and received a new medal, this time the gold one. At that time we were both clearly decided that we want to continue skiing. Josef was of course once again a step ahead.
Plan for 2013? Another Gold Master, Global Worldloppet Skier (GWLS) and to make matters worse, add five silver races! You get five “double events light”. This is called a challenge. And how did it go?
Based on the last year experience I did not have just the best feelings at the start of JIZERSKA PADESATKA but the weather was perfect and after a few initial kilometres I left all my worries behind. What is a little problem with this race is that it takes place in our native country, soon after the Christmas and New Year. For us who live outside the Czech Republic and thus visit our relatives and close only rarely, it means that for about two weeks before the start of the season we eat too much various Christmas and New Year goodies and some training cannot even be discussed. The days after Jizerska Padesatka we said goodbye to our families and continued by car to Austria.
I like the local conditions as well as the whole atmosphere, houses and people in Obertilliach. This year’s DOLOMITENLAUF track was more hilly and we had a little problem with grip wax. There was a service station approximately on the 20th kilometer, before the biggest climb. I decided to use their help. When I saw the TOKO-serviceman applying thick layers of wax far ahead of my grip zone, it was clear that remaining 22 km would not be easy. The climb was quite OK. However, the descent and back along the creek to the stadium was a really unpleasant period of the race. The skis could not glide anymore. It was a great lesson for the following races. You can withstand poor grip, but not bad glide.
We continued to Italy. I enjoyed MARCIALONGA more than last year. Last year, in addition to respect for long 70 kilometers I had got a “sweet” experience. Around the middle of the race I fell and two energy gels ruptured in my pockets. The gluey liquid ran almost all over my body during the remaining 35 km. I told myself no more gels in my pockets. Since then, refreshment for both of us is purely Josef´s task. To be honest, just like many other tasks – where to stay, how to get there, how to register for the races (especially Marcialonga 2013), where to collect the bibs, when is the start, what is the altitude profile of the race etc. I only need to get to the finish. Sometimes this mission is incredibly difficult.
Then we drove from Italy to Zurich in Switzerland and flew to Japan. I was not so pleased by this adventure. The race is a free technique event, and believe me or not, we both tried to skate for the first time last year. Josef is more talented than me so it was not so complicated for him to learn the basics and understand the movement and synchronization. For me, the free technique represents a struggle for survival rather than graceful movements. So the 50 km free technique race on the track as the one in SAPPORO SKI MARATHON was a big challenge. But since the intention was, among other things, to become a Global Worldloppet Skier, there was no other choice. We met Minoru at the start and he promised to wait for us at the finish. I warned him that he would not be able to wait so long time in such cold and windy conditions. He was there. In a long blue coat he resisted the weather until the end.
The return to Europe was smooth too. This year’s LA TRANSJURASSIENNE 50 km CT was a very pleasant race. After all, Boris mentioned our feelings in his race report.
Journey to Estonia was long. However, we enjoyed the ferries, good food and plenty of sleep. TARTU MARATHON itself was even better than I expected. As a result of lack of experience with the start procedure, we remained a bit closed on the inside, where it did not move at all, and after a few minutes we found out we stayed almost last from all over the start field. We were not disgusted by this and could enjoy continuation of the race quite a lot.
During the coming week we tried to relax as much as possible and prepare mentally and physically for one of the heaviest items of this year’s program. The plan consisted of: FINLANDIA-HIIHTO 50 km CT on Saturday, subsequent transfer to Sweden and Vasaloppet – öppet spår (open track) on Monday. Moreover, it was necessary to ski the Hiihto race with relatively brisk pace to be able to take the Saturday night ferry to Stockholm. I’m such a man that the time pressure does not affect me completely well sometimes. And this was also the case in Finland. Nevertheless, we reached the ferry in time.
VASALOPPET – ÖPPET SPÅR was such a little prestigious race. We live in Sweden where everything revolves around nothing but Vasaloppet. Nothing else counts. Josef accuses me sometimes that I rejoice too little in the finish and he actually is right. I still feel like a complete beginner and mostly focus on avoiding collisions and getting to the finish. After our first journey from Sälen to Mora I really felt genuine pleasure. Our original plan for this year’s season ended by these 90 km.
Later we decided to participate also in BIEG PIASTOW, Engadin Marathon and to complete our GWLS season in Russia. Unfortunately, we also had to start working between the weekends, so it was a bit more difficult to keep focus on these remaining races. In Poland, I suddenly felt terribly tired and I was just glad that we could finish both races.
I mismanaged ENGADIN SKI MARATHON from a tactical point of view. We arrived to Switzerland on Friday evening after a week at work. Whole Saturday I was not fine. On Sunday we entered our starting field exactly at the moment when our group started. Positive was that we did not have to struggle with anyone. We went totally alone for a while. Unfortunately, I got a wrong idea that I quickly had to catch up the group in front of us. It forced me to go faster than I was able to. After 5 km my legs began to hurt. After 10 km I knew that the speed was too high and this pace would not be acceptable for the remaining 30 km. The rest of the race was only about getting slowly and carefully to the finish.
The highlight of the season was the trip to Russia. For Czech citizens living in Sweden, obtaining visas for entry to Russian Federation was a bit complicated procedure. On Thursday evening we landed at the airport in Moscow, where we had a car rental reservation. After half an hour discussion at the counter it became clear that our contract simply could not be found and no reserve car was available. They promised us a substitute car in two hours. This car had punctured front tire…fortunately, we found out it before leaving the garage. Finally, we left the airport in substitute car No. 2. It was late at night when we drove 350 km on a bit “tired” road to Rybinsk in the dark and heavy snowfall. The snowfall continued during Friday and the night before the main race 50 km FT. It was clear from the very beginning of the DEMINO SKI MARATHON that we would be wading through the deep soft snow all the way. I am not good at skating. In good condition I can maintain a reasonable speed, but on this soft ground, I sometimes could not even move forward. All my admiration and thanks belongs to Josef, who shared all this torment again as always by my side. We finished the second last, in addition, Josef got a cold and sinusitis. Luckily, the conditions were much better during 25 km CT race on Sunday. In summary, it was a pleasant experience.
So this was our season 2013. Already looking forward to next year. I have a huge responsibility. Since Josef´s times are actually my times, I have to make him sweat more.