Thousands of Cross-Country Skiing Enthusiasts Participate in Sweden’s 100th Vasa Run

Thousands of Cross-Country Skiing Enthusiasts Participate in Sweden’s 100th Vasa Run

The unique sound of 16,000 cross-country skiers starting their journey at the same time is a testament to the magnitude of the Wasa Run in Sweden. The moment when 16,000 pairs of ski poles stick into the snow, and 16,000 pairs of skis begin to glide, creates a special energy required by the participants who have a daunting 90 kilometers ahead of them. They have a maximum of twelve hours to complete the task, with the fastest people reaching their destination after 3.5 to 4.5 hours, depending on the weather. The Vasaloppet, or the Wasa Run as it is known in Sweden, is the largest cross-country skiing race in the world. This year, on March 3, it will be held for the 100th time.

Among the top runners is Thomas Bing from Bad Salzungen in Thuringia, who is participating in the elite group and aims to finish among the top 15. Bing, who is Germany’s best ski marathon runner, understands the pressure and energy that comes with the Wasa Run. According to him, the significance of the race is huge, and if there is any event where a good result can make a difference, it’s the Wasalauf. But achieving a good result is no easy feat.

16 000

runners participate in the 90-kilometer race in Sweden every year.

Competition is fierce and the weather also plays a crucial role. Some years it is extremely cold with temperatures plunging to minus 15 degrees, while other years the snow turns slushy due to rain or continuous snowfall. Peter Schlickenrieder, the national cross-country skiing coach who ran the Wasalauf in 2015, explains that the condition of the snow can significantly impact the race. Properly adjusting to the conditions and waxing the skis are essential parts of the race.

Besides having the right equipment, runners need to be in good physical condition and have a lot of patience. The starting field is approximately 600 meters long, with around 50 cross-country ski trails lined up side by side. The route becomes narrow shortly after the start and leads up a steep climb, causing a traffic jam due to the high number of participants. Broken ski poles in the snow are a common sight and it can take up to an hour for the runners at the back to pass this bottleneck, with the clock ticking relentlessly.

Advice for recreational runners from a professional

Thomas Bing suggests that recreational runners should remain calm. Losing a few minutes in the initial traffic jam doesn’t matter because everyone gets stuck in it. Only the elite are not stuck in the jam as they run in the front, enjoying the best cross-country trails depending on the weather. As more people go through the trails, the tracks become less visible. Amateur runners at the end might have to run over long distances without cross-country ski trails.

While the focus is on the winner, the mass of amateur athletes is what makes the Wasalauf special. It’s a nice tradition that the last person is accompanied to the finish by a torch runner and celebrated by the spectators. The achievements of those who take twice or three times as long as the elite cannot be underestimated. The Wasalauf pushes you to your limits, not just physically but also mentally. It’s considered the Ironman of cross-country skiers and a unique experience.

Carsten Albrecht from Zingst on the Baltic Sea participated in this unique experience in 2019. He grew up in the Harz Mountains and learned cross-country skiing there. The Wasalauf was always a goal for him. When he was 55, he decided to take part in the race and began training intensively. Despite the lack of snow on the Baltic Sea, he trained on roller skis. He finished the race in 07:58:01 hours, thinking he would never do it again. However, the Wasa fever didn’t let him go and he plans to compete for the fifth time at the age of 60 in 2024.

Sven Kaltofen from Sayda in Saxony also aimed to participate in the Wasalauf when he was a teenager. He first participated in 2000 and plans to complete the legendary 90 kilometers for the 25th time in 2024. His aim is to complete 30 Wasa runs in total. Despite participating multiple times, he finds it exciting to see how he fares each time. His fastest time was 04:59:09 hours, but he has also taken just over seven hours to finish the race.

Only one German has won so far

For participants like Carsten Albrecht and Sven Kaltofen, it’s the overall experience that creates the Wasa feeling. The atmosphere and the large number of participants are part of what makes the race so special. They travel to Sweden a few days before the race to get more practice on the cross-country ski trails. Kaltofen covers between 500 and 1000 kilometers in preparation, but due to the lack of snow, it was only around 100 kilometers this winter.

Along the route, enthusiastic spectators hand out chocolate and fruit. Helpers at seven refreshment stations serve the famous blueberry soup, dry rolls, broth, and energy drinks. The Wasalauf is a major event, with 3,500 volunteers working to ensure its smooth operation.

Axel Teichmann, a former world-class cross-country skier, also plans to participate in the Wasalauf for the first time, ten years after his time as a competitive athlete. He hopes that his fitness will be enough to get him from the starting point to the finish line. For him, the result is not the main focus.

Gerd-Dietmar Klause from Vogtland is the only German to have won the Wasalauf. In 1975, he finished the race in 4:20:22 hours. He considers it a “small sensation” that he remains the only German winner 49 years later.

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