It’s anything but a leisurely skate on the frozen water of Sylvan Lake.
For others it’s just that but the bottom line for all is to have fun.
Skaters from around Alberta, B.C., Ontario, Quebec and even some from the United States are expected to gather for the annual speed skating marathon which gets going with a 50 km race Feb. 22nd followed by a 100 km race Saturday as well as a 25 km youth race.
“This is the 10th time it has been organized,” explained Henrik Helmig, president of the Foothills Marathon Speed Skating Association.
If the weather cooperates organizers can expect upwards of 100 skaters to tackle the various races along with a 100 km tour on Sunday which anyone can join in for whatever length they feel comfortable doing.
The 5 km loop is scraped out of the snow and ice on the lake which is then flooded with three to four inches of water to level things out.
“Then after that we take a zamboni and smooth everything out and then after that we go with the hot water and put a nice layer on there,” he said.
Being out in the open on a lake means the skaters are at the mercy of the elements so there might be a temperature at which the skaters will not race.
“Yeah, we always say that,” laughed Helmig. “But I guess if it was -25C with a wind chill we probably will cancel. If we feel it’s not safe we will cancel.”
Something new for the spectators and racers are a series of sprints which go all three days starting at noon.
“They call it Korteban, a 160-metre sprint,” he said. “Just fun races, kind of drag racing on ice.”
Most of the skaters who show up for the event are those who are trying to challenge themselves by tackling such a huge test of endurance but there are a few hard core racers who show up for the competition, he said.
“It’s more just to skate and have fun, just to do it and I think most people are looking for that,” said Helmig. “We invite everyone to come out and try it.”
If you do have it in your mind to step up and take this on be prepared to spend a little time doing it.
“I know the fast ones do the 100 kilometre race in just over three and a half hours and the slower ones just over six hours I guess.”
The president doesn’t just sit back and watch over the races. He gets right onto the ice for the thrill of rising up to the challenge.
“I really like the endurance. To me it gives the most satisfaction racing that long.”
He says racers face both physical and mental barriers when racing such lengths.
“Usually about the half way point you think I’m never going to make it,” he said. “I’ve done it a few times so I know that’s what is going to happen.
“All of us skate in a group and we all have that at some point but not at the same time and we just pull each other through it.”
He says it really helps motivate you to finish when you see and hear the spectators cheering you on, shouting words of encouragement.
“When you come by the finish line and you hear them you think, yeah I can do one more lap,” he said.
There is also a 24-hour relay slated for Feb. 17th starting at 2 p.m. and then wrapping up on Family Day.
Teams of four will have members skate for an hour then rest for two hours and all money raised will go to the Children’s Wish Foundation.