Whistler's Szocs completes 90-km Vasaloppet 

Swedish cross-country race part of skier's 10-year goal

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - SWEDE SUCCESS Amanda Szocs, left, after completing the Vasaloppet in Sweden.
  • Photo submitted
  • SWEDE SUCCESS Amanda Szocs, left, after completing the Vasaloppet in Sweden.

Amanda Szocs is well on her way to becoming a Worldloppet Master, and she recently achieved a childhood dream to get well on her way.

On Feb. 29, Szocs completed the Vasaloppet in Sweden, a 90-kilometre race from Sälen to Mora in the western part of the country.

Szocs finished the course in nine hours, 43 minutes and 38 seconds (9:43:38), finishing 781st in a contest with 15,800 entries, making it the world's largest loppet both by distance and participation.

"I spent so much time preparing myself just to be able to complete 90 kms pain-free on cross-country skis. I went into it at first thinking this is going to be a race, and as soon as the clock started, I realized I know now this is not a race," she said. "As soon as you get past 10,000 people on cross-country skis, it turns into a different event altogether."

Szocs, whose husband and daughter travelled with her to Sweden, was overwhelmed when she finally made it across the line.

"They put the medal around my neck and I just burst into tears," she said. "It sounds kind of funny, but I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I stayed on my feet and I made it today.'"

Szocs described the Swedish trails as being fairly similar to the rolling terrain found in northern Ontario, meaning the local sites had her more than ready for what awaited her in Scandinavia.

"In some ways, my training in Whistler had me overprepared," she said. "We have such a challenging facility up at Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan, so I showed up and I was pretty much ready to ski just about anything.

"This was pretty mellow terrain—lots of flats, which I wasn't used to."

Entering the contest is part of a larger push on Szocs' part to become a Worldloppet Master, which racers can achieve by taking part in series races in 10 different countries, including one on a different continent. Szocs started the chase in 2017 in St. Moritz, Switzerland with Engadin, then went to Japan for the Sapporo International Ski Marathon in 2018, and completed Italy's Marcialonga last year. She was planning to return to Engadin last year, but it was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns.

Those other races Szocs completed were in the 50- to 60-km ranges, so the Vasaloppet was a bigger challenge for Szocs than the others.

"After 50 kms, it all starts to kind of feel the same. It goes from a physical game to a mental game," she said. "Your body feels pretty similar from 50 kms to 90 kms.

"I think that might be it for me in terms of length," she added with a laugh.

Szocs said she took to trail running to get ready for the contest, entering Gary Robbins' Coast Mountain Trail Series races, Comfortably Numb and the Valley to Peak in addition to spending hours in the gym. All the while, she found herself more closely connected with her home community, discovering that everyone strives to push one another, leading to improvement for all.

"The interesting part about this whole thing wasn't the race itself. It was really the preparation to get ready for the race," she said. "So many things happened because of this. I ended up meeting people in the community that I had seen for years but never really knew that well. All of a sudden, I started running with different people, strength training with different people and doing all sorts of different events."

A significant challenge to Szocs is just being able to register, especially considering the registration times aren't generally convenient for North Americans. It's a necessary evil, though, as the Vasaloppet, for example, sold out in seven minutes.

"I often find myself waking up in the wee hours trying to get into these races," she said. "It's always exciting when you find out you got in."

In the past events, Szocs was accompanied by her daughter, Zada, before it turned into a full family excursion this year. She said that in addition to the race, she tries to soak in as much of the country as possible while there.

"It's been fun to try to tie in a cultural piece. We'll find ourselves at different art galleries or trying to figure out what the food's all about," she said. "This time, we really indulged in local dishes, the Swedish meatballs. We went into Stockholm and checked it out. It's so beautiful."

Next year, Szocs hopes to stay closer to home as she will try to register for the Canadian stop on the tour, the Gatineau Loppet in Quebec. Conveniently, Canada is also hosting next year's Masters World Cup in Canmore, Alta. Further in the future, Szocs will attempt to qualify for the American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin, and would love to race the Merino Muster in New Zealand.

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