Andrew Johnson and Marshall Greene recently returned from Switzerland, where they placed 31st and 34th, respectively, in the Engadin Ski marathon. The Engadin, a 42km skate race, is a Worldloppet which is part of the FIS Marathon Cup series and therefore draws a very competitive field. This year’s winner was the Vancouver Olympic 15m skate champion, Dario Cologna, from Switzerland.
Johnson, former Olympian and U.S. Ski team member, now competes for Steinbock Racing out of Park City, Utah. He was the winner of this year’s Marquette, Michigan Noquemenon Ski Marathon.
Greene races for XC Oregon, out of Bend, Oregon. He recently took third in the Boulder Mountain Tour and is soon looking to defend his 4-time title at Bend’s coveted Pole-Peddle-Paddle event.
What made you decide to race the Engadin? Anyone else from the U.S. over there with you?
AJ: Zack Simons and I had the opportunity to go. The Engadin is such a great race – and the largest skate race in the world – so it was hard to pass up. Unfortunately Zack got sick and was unable to race. The Engadin Valley is essentially the motherland of the Steinbock, so it was nice to get over there and rep’ the Goat.
MG: I raced the Engadin last year and had a great time. The Engadin Valley is a beautiful place with a huge network of ski trails. I knew that I’d be racing the OPA cups the weekend before and really wanted to give the Engadin another go.
I met Andrew and Zach Simons at the Engadin after being with the American crew at the La Feclaz OPAs. Unfortunately Zach got sick in the two days leading up to the race and didn’t end up starting. Felice Bietzel, an Australian who has been skiing with XC Oregon for a number of years, also joined us.
Have you competed in a Wordloppet race before (besides American Birkie)?
AJ: I raced the Marcialonga several years ago when it was a World Cup. But that’s about it…
MG: Of course I’ve done the American Birkie and as I mentioned before, the Engadin last year. A couple of years ago I started the Norwegian Birkie but that was the year that high winds forced the cancellation of it mid-race, so I haven’t actually finished that one.
What were conditions like, were they a factor in racing? Any tough parts to the course, or was it relatively mild?
MG: Beautiful crisp day with fairly dry, abrasive snow. Conditions probably didn’t affect the race too much. The course is fairly flat except for one set of uphills that crest at about the halfway point of the race. Frequently the elite pack splits up at this climb (last year I got gapped here and I finally chased back to the leaders after 6km of skiing with one other guy)
AJ: Conditions were basically perfect. Cold, fast snow, and sunny skies with just a bit of headwind. Very typical Engadin conditions. The course is very mild – lots of flat and slightly downhill terrain, reminiscent of the Boulder Mountain Tour. There’s about 5 kilometers of rolling climbing starting at about 15 K, and some more rolling climbs in the last few K’s.
It looked like there was a huge pack that raced together and the finish was very close – How did the race play out: where did the top racers make their moves?
AJ: As always, there was a pack of several hundred racers for the first 12 K or so, going across the lakes. Over the one big climb on the course the pack was whittled down a little, and the second half of the race saw a lead pack of about 35. With about 4 K to go, the pace ramped up pretty significantly and the pack broke up some more. I didn’t have much left at that point and lost a bunch of time in the last few kilometers.
MG: The first 10km were actually fairly relaxed with not very many crashes or broken poles, considering the size of the elite field. Because of the width of the trail and since no one wants to lead for long, the pack is constantly being reshuffled like a bike peloton. So staying towards the front requires some vigilance. When the climbing starts at around 15km, the race truly begins.
After losing the lead pack on the climb last year, I made sure to position myself closer to the front of the group, in hopes that I would stay in front of the split. As expected, as soon as we hit the first pitch the effort went up a lot. Everyone was skiing hard and I was definitely near my limit by about 2/3 of the way up the 3km of climbing. I was still in around 25th at this point but was well within sight of the leaders and feeling pretty good about where I was. Glancing back, there were only about 5 people behind me before a gap was starting to form. Unfortunately, right about that time the leaders relaxed quite a bit, slowing the pace, and allowing the front group to grow quite a bit.
From there the pace was steady but never too hard. I crashed once trying to move up by skating through the classic tracks (guess I deserved that) but easily re-joined the group of 40ish leaders. I correctly assumed that we would take it fairly easy until about 5km to go when there is one short climb followed by some 30 second rollers. Even though I felt decent across the flats, as soon as we hit those rollers, I knew I was done for. My legs had nothing left and I quickly watched the leaders ski away, leaving a trail of individuals just struggling to finish. It’s a testament to the winners finishing speed that I managed to lose 2 minutes from 4.5km to the finish after skiing with the leaders for the first 38km.
You had a fantastic result – were you feeling in top form the whole race?
AJ: I felt OK. The nature of the Engadin is that it’s generally not too hard to hang with the leaders til the last few K’s. There are several rolling climbs in the last 4 K’s and my lackluster training of the past few months became rather apparent at that point.
MG: I felt like my race was actually only average for me. At the mid-point, I was definitely expecting better based on how I was feeling. I just had nothing left when the going got hard.
Did anything wild happen: were there any crashes, broken equipment, swearing and yelling, other drama? Anything else unusual?
AJ: It’s the Engadin, so there’s always crashes and broken equipment. Nothing happened to me though, and the lead pack skiers are generally pretty respectful.
MG: The first half of the race I actually was struck by how un-exciting the race was. Not many crashes or broken poles. As I said, I crashed once which didn’t really affect my race except that it knocked my water bottle out of its holster so maybe I didn’t feed as much as would have been ideal.
One thing that was cool that helped several racers was that one of the snowmobiles following the lead pack had spare poles with them. So if you broke one, the snowmobile would drive up beside you and swap with you until you found the right size.
Was there a great party afterward?
AJ: I think so…
MG: We had a good time that evening post race, but we stayed in the small town of Samedan (as opposed to St. Moritz) so we didn’t really find any big celebrations.
Are you racing anything else while you are over there – what is next?
AJ: Nope. Came straight home – got too much to do! Hoping to get over to the Gold Rush at the end of the month.
MG: In terms of serious ski racing, I’m pretty much done. Considering doing the Gold Rush and I’ll probably do The Great Nordeen here in Bend. Other than that, it’s time to start thinking about the Pole, Pedal, Paddle.