Saturday, March 12, 2011

Inga-Låmi (warning: i get a little babbly)

Today marked my triumphant return to ski racing, which has been mourning my absence for the last 18 years. Hard to believe my last ski race was when I was 5 years old, but it's true. . .

The Inga-Låmi ski race was held in Lillehammer today, and is Norway's largest women-only ski race, with generally around 4,000 women competing. There are two distances, 15km and 30km, both classic style. I opted for the slightly shorter 15km route.

The Inga-Låmi is the female version of the Birkebeiner ski race*, which I wrote about on August 28. Briefly, Inga was the single mother to Norway's infant King Håkon, who gave birth to her son in 1205 after his father, King Håkon Sverresson, had already died. The Birkebeiner ski, running and bike races commemorate the trip that the birkebeiner loyalists skied in 1206, as they rescued the infant King Håkon from the bad guys. Presumably, Inga skied much of the route along with the loyalists, because what mother would trust a bunch of cross-country skiers with her only child? The Inga-Låmi race was started in 1993 in order to celebrate and recognize Inga's role in Norwegian history. Want a not so brief history? Try here.

As I said, I haven't been in a cross country ski race for a number of years, the last time when I was a senior in high school. And since I had just learned to ski that year (joined the team, then learned to ski, in that order), I really only remember participating in one race. I've skied more this season than I've skied in probably the last 5 years combined, what with working full time, pregnancy, young baby, long drives to trails and shitty snow conditions. So, let's see this year: no job, not pregnant, child in nursery school, walk 3 minutes to the trails and best snow conditions EVER. I really have no excuse, other than sheer laziness and sometimes feeling like "I've had my fill of skiing for the year" (a feeling that could get me shot in Norway if I were to utter it out loud in March).

Erik waxing at the start.
So the day before the race, I decided to "race" the Inga-Låmi, if only for the cultural experience of skiing with 2,509 other Norwegian women. Turns out it was really fun.

While my race didn't begin until 11am, Erik had been volunteered (as part of his Lillehammer Ski Club duty) to wax skis at the race starting at 7:30am (the 30km race started at 9am). He reported being so busy that at one point each of the 30 waxers had 15 women in line, prompting Erik's table-mate to ask, "don't any women wax their own skis?" Other women, when asked by Erik what wax they currently had on their skis, would shrug and say, "whatever was on for last year's race," indicating that they hadn't skied since. . . last year's race.

This was, in part, why I felt comfortable deciding to do this race the night before. For many women, for most of the women I dare say, this was not a Race. This was an well-organized, popular ski tur. 

I walked to the race from our house, pushing Greta in her jogging stroller, feeling very norsk walking to a ski race, with my kiddo's own mini-skis sticking out of the stroller pocket. I arrived about 20 minutes before the race, found Erik frantically waxing a few skis, changed into ski boots, stripped off a few layers of clothing as the temps were quickly rising to high-20s (F), and decided to run to the porta-pottys.

Rookie mistake! I missed my 11am wave start (the first of the 15km timed-racers), and unnskyld-ed "sorry" my way towards the front of several hundred women waiting for their 11:10, 11:20, 11:30 start. A little unsure of what I should do, and who or how to even ask, I just told an official at the front, "Jeg er klokka 11!" (I'm 11 o'clock!) and since it was by then 11:05. . . I took off. . . by myself. Probably looking like a complete dork.

I had been getting a little nervous that morning as I gathered things together for the race, but then I thought, "what's the worse that could happen?" Aside from breaking a leg (highly unlikely), it was really just sheer exhaustion, and what's so bad about that? And I didn't think it was really all that possible in just a 15km race. So, my goal was to have fun and not be afraid to get a little tired; and about mid-way through the race I added a goal of "not falling".

Dumb. Shortly after that thought crossed my mind, I headed down a steep hill, gaining speed. I was also gaining on the woman in front of me, yet not able to move to either the left or the right due to other skiers. I attempted to snowplow, not terribly easy with one ski in a set track, and as soon as possible moved to the left-most track once it was clear, but didn't quite make it cleaning into the tracks, and crashed into the snow bank, a clearly American English expletive escaping my lips. I wanted to declare as I hopped back up, "Sorry, but I'm American! I don't know what the hell I'm doing!" Thankfully, I managed to avoid any other skiers, quite unlike another woman I saw 10 minutes later, who took out two women--one on either side of her--as she grabbed them to stabilize herself, heading down a hill.

By 13km I was feeling a little wobbly, hoping I could stay upright on the few short downhills we had left, because I wasn't sure I could correct and catch myself should I start to fall again. I pulled it off, and also managed to sprint to the finish, which I'm sure was a very impressive sight. . . 46 minutes after the race had been won. One hour, 29 minutes. 75th out of 160 in my age group. Not too shabby considering that at the beginning of the ski season I didn't even recognize my classic skis as being my own.

This kid's already so Euro: When told Mamma was going
to be in a ski race today, Greta asked, "On TV?"
Because every kid watches ski-racing on Saturday
mornings with their Pappas, right?
It was one of the more beautiful late winter days we've had--bright blue sunny skies--and Erik announced when I was finished "in all my years of ski racing, 99% of the races did not have weather like this." Next weekend is the Birkebeiner, a race in which Greta announced, "the pappas put the numbers on their legs and ski and the mammas stay home with the kids." We then decided that actually the mammas don't stay home, "they go to the race and hi-ya, hi-ya** the pappas."

So, sign me up for next year. It was great fun. And if I do it for 10 years, I get a cool statue of Inga herself.

* Yes, women are allowed to compete in the Birkebeiner races.

**Hi-ya! Hi-ya! is the most popular of Norwegian race chants, and is actually
used as a verb, as I was once asked--in English--"Did you hi-ya for Norway or USA?"

August 28


  1. Hei, thank you for interesting information!!! No i know more about Inga Lami and know why in the restaurant where i work were so many many people. Crazy funny days!
    You are very brave, quickly you will transformate yourselv to norsk. Lyke till!!!!
    MVH Anzela

  2. Congrats on your first Norwegian ski race! :D I have also crashed in front of lots of people and mentioned that I was American as I pulled myself together. ;) That was actually at Birkebeineren two years ago haha. We go every year to heia på Lars' dad.

  3. Oops! I'll correct my spelling of "heia"!!!
    Maybe I"ll see you tomorrow, then?