Philipp the Race Reporter at Sapporo Skimarathon

Philipp was a former pro-skier of the Austrian National team, later a member of the Skimarathon Team Austria & now he is the Worldloppet Race Reporter. This season he is travelling around the world, to the different Worldloppet races on a mission: He wants to become a Worldloppet Master. While he is doing that, he is showing you the “inside” of the Worldloppet marathons. 

Worldloppet Race Reporter on a mission in Japan

After competing in his home country, Austria, at the Dolomitenlauf, the Worldloppet Race Reporter Philipp had to travel around the whole globe, in order to follow his mission of becoming a Worldloppet Master in 2019. This weekend he checked out the Sapporo Skimarathon & this is his report:

The difference between my season start and my next Worldloppet could not have been any bigger. From a clam little mountain village to a city with a population of 2 million. Instead of a casual 3-hour car ride I spent half a day on a plane. I have never been further away from home, but I have only heard good things about the 1972 winter Olympics host city and was excited to see for myself. Once in Sapporo navigation was easy. English signage, free city Wi-Fi and some research beforehand gave me no hard time finding my way.

First the tourist program

My first day I spent like a tourist without skis – visit the most important sightseeing attractions, eat local food and test local cold beverages. Again, I had no troubles finding my way and Japanese are very friendly and eager to help.

The most striking was how clean the city is. I did not see a single cigarette end or a paper dancing in the wind. Winter was having a cold grip on the city. Snow, icy roads, cold winds and blue sky made me look forward to my first time on the race track. And of course, the Sapporo Dome. The imposing structure was familiar from the Football Worlds 2002 and the Skiing Worlds in 2007 and is the venue of the Sapporo Skimarathon.

With the subway to the race venue

One of my highlights was taking the subway to the venue. Usually one must rent a car or wait for a shuttle, I think the subway is an easy and cool way to travel to a cross country race.

Friday was my first day on skis and Sapporo tracks delivered. The sun was out and the track showed its teeth for the first time.
Bone dry snow and cold temperatures definitely made the uphill parts not easier.

The landscape was different as coniferous forest is not as dominant as in Europe. The leafless trees allowed the sun to sparkle through the branches. The course profile was different to the European races I had been to. The up and downhills are shorter and steeper in Japan and the track included many turns, like a snake finding its way through the forest. One big 50km loop through a conservation area and similar to the 1972 Olympic tracks was on the menu for Sunday and worth a stamp in my passport.

I was very impressed by the effort of the organising committee. Translators for Russian, German and English were present at the registration. Speaking of impressed, I love the Japanese cuisine. It feels a bit like I have just been eating way too much. Sapporo is famous for Ramen noodles, sea food, fish and chocolate. And of course, the oldest Japanese beer brand. Just like in Lienz at the Dolomitenlauf I had no problems with carbo-loading.

Sapporo Skimarathon – definitely a tough race

Finally race day! Jetlag was still hitting me and the night was fairly short but I felt ready and was looking forward to tackle the tough track.

I had heard that the last third of the race is really tough and I should save some more energy than usual for the final. Good advice, I wish I would have paid more attention, especially because of the 1150 meters elevation on 50 km. Soon after the gun went I found myself in the 10 men leading group. After another step on the pedal at around 15km in the race, the leading group consisted of 4 skiers and me. I was feeling strong and tried to hang onto the group. When the later winner increased the pace again at 22km I had to take it down a notch and decided to ski my own pace. With the first 4 insight and a solid advantage to the next group, I started the second half of the race. Out of nowhere, I hit it. The infamous wall. I don’t know what happened but with 15k to go I started cramping and felt more like walking. The last kilometres seemed like taking forever and I felt like walking through hell. But I kept walking and somehow made it to the finish line. I have never been happier to cross the line and I consider this as my toughest race ever. Exhausted but satisfied I collected my 6thpassport stamp.

Overall Sapporo has been truly amazing. Big cultural differences and impressions but just like all my previous Worldloppets the organisation has been perfect. The tracks, venue and the city itself are definitely worth a trip!

My next stop will be Gatineau Loppet until then, make cross country skiing great again and don’t forget…to ski around the world!

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