For a trip halfway around the world, ostensibly to do a 50-kilometer ski marathon, these skiers have relatively little concern for how they’ll do in the race.
A handful of central Kenai Peninsula cross-country skiers will make a cross-global trek to the Czech Republic this winter to compete in the Jizerská padesátka 50-K ski marathon on Jan. 11. Some will stay and ski the Dolomitenlauf on Jan. 18, a 60-K freestyle ski race in Austria. Both are part of the Worldloppet Ski Federation, a series of 14 cross-country ski marathons in 14 countries.
The trip is centered around participating in the prestigious and grueling marathons, yet the skiing doesn’t rate particularly high on the list of reasons why people are going.
“For me, it’s just kind of secondary. I’ve never really done any traveling outside the U.S. It’s just kind of a good opportunity, a good vehicle to travel and experience some good things,” said Pete Sprague, who’s skiing the Jizerská.
“I’m just doing this to do it and we’ll see how it goes. I’ll feel good if I just cross the finish line, and if I don’t cross the finish line, that’s OK. I’m in Europe — life is still good,” said Sarah Riley, who’s doing the Jizerská and Dolomitenlauf.
Sprague, 58, has skied the 50-K freestyle Tour of Anchorage ski race several times, and has run nine marathons in his life, so he’s not concerned with the Jizerská distance, he said. He’s not as practiced with classic skiing, since he usually only does it when it’s particularly cold, but he’s not changing up his regular winter skiing pursuits to train for the race.
“I don’t want to focus on the race, I just want to focus on the experience,” he said. “I’ve never been outside of North America, so I’m just looking forward to seeing a different part of the world and just using my passport a little bit. That’s going to be focus of the trip.”
It will be a quick trip for Sprague, sandwiched in between meetings of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, of which he is a member. He’s never missed a meeting and doesn’t want to start now, so he’s just going for the Jizerská and coming back. But he expects to see his fellow Soldotna-area skiers before he leaves.
“We’ll meet up at least for the race, probably for a beer afterward,” he said. “The Czech Republic is supposed to have good beer, so I may stop for one or two over there.”
He’s also looking forward to seeing Prague, which he’s heard is spectacular.
“And it’s almost spelled like my last name,” he said.
Riley, 31, has done a lot more traveling, but a lot less skiing than Sprague. She’s been through Europe and Japan, although this will be her first trip to the Czech Republic and Austria. It will also be her first long-distance race of any kind.
“I don’t know what I’m doing. I mean I do, I know how to ski, it’s just a bit more than I was thinking it was,” she said.
Riley grew up in Minnesota classic skiing with her mother, and learned to freestyle ski on her high school ski team. She skied a little in her last quarter of college and has kept her gear with her since, including when she moved to the Kenai Peninsula six years ago. But the longest ski race she’s done was in high school, probably about 5 kilometers.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I’m in good shape.’ I don’t know if I am, we’ll see. All I know is I’m in the fifth wave and I may or may not make it,” she said. “I’m not planning on going all out, just pace myself and do what I can to keep up with the pace.”
She’s been running and increasing the distances she skis to get ready for January.
“Once I warm up I feel like I can be out there for quite a while. I’ve been enjoying it. I haven’t been sore afterward. Actually, it’s been really enjoyable,” she said.
The 60-K Dolomitenlauf course is relatively flat, so Riley isn’t too worried about that. The Jizerská, on the other hand, has a 750-meter climb spread over 5 kilometers in the first part of the race.
“I’m a little concerned about that. Since it’s classic, if my wax isn’t right I’m going to be in a world of hurt,” she said.
Even if that’s what happens, Riley’s world of hurt will be tempered by the fact that she’s in a new part of the world.
“I like to travel, so I figured this would be something else to do besides going to a city and seeing the sights, and you get to meet people with similar interests. That’s the most fun of traveling, finding people on same track as you and hanging out,” she said.
That sounds about right to Sprague, as well.
“I’m just racing to experience it all, or skiing to experience it all,” he said.