Update March 1, 2007
It has to be said that when Team Wombat eventually reconvened at a Sapporo Youth Hostel in February 2007 after an unforgivably long hiatus, it was not an intimidating sight. Andrew Circosta had spent so long on the bike that his biceps were not dissimilar in size or shape to Skippy's. Peter Malcolm had grown soft and domesticated in his time away from the race course. Ronan Magaharan had undergone ankle surgery at the start of January, missing the trip altogether. My own VO2 max was now, in every way, inferior to that of a Christmas ham. The new recruit, Paul Circosta (Andrew's prettier, yet altogether more sinister brother), was in good shape…for lawn bowls. I don't like to bandy the term 'national disgrace' about, but let's just say that I didn't enter the team in the 2007 Sapporo Ski Marathon under false names for no good reason.
Team Wombat recruits another member
Not wanting to undercook our preparation, while at the same time recognising the months of preparation that elite athletes require, I arrived in Sapporo with the Circosta boys exactly seven days before the marathon. Unfortunately for us, Hokkaido was having a terrible snow year, forcing us to train for the first week on a patently inadequate snow cover of only 3.5m. Fuelled by a strict diet of pork, cabbage and butter buns (our hostel room can never again be occupied by humans) our training progressed well. We returned to the charming Takino Snow World, our old training haunt from '06, where we shared their extensive trail network with a couple of toothless pensioners and the sound of our own anguished cries as those same pensioners smashed us to bits during our interval sessions. There's a show on UK TV at the moment called 'Fat Camp' - it features the ritual humiliation of a bunch of ill-advised porkers for the benefit of the voyeuristically inclined. I now know how they feel. Luckily for Circa and myself, the residual trauma from the 2006 Sapporo marathon was still vivid enough to make pushing through the 'fat barrier' that little bit easier.
Throughout the first week, evenings were spent relaxing in the hostel bath-tub (Malcs never did locate his swimmers), roaming the streets and subways of Sapporo and wondering why 7-piece electro-funk bands with pink keyboard axes have largely faded from view
I hear you asking - why?
We were lucky enough to coordinate our visit with the 58th Sapporo Snow Festival - a seriously impressive spectacle featuring such attractions as a 4/5 scale version of the Thai Imperial Palace constructed completely out of snow by no less than 3000 people with very cold fingers. No wonder Japan is approaching full employment.
Two days out from the race and the course was opened for training. Inspection revealed that it was still 50km long and covered in a foot of fresh snow. Not exactly an intelligent choice for the first ski race of the season, but then, Team Wombat have never been known for their collective intelligence. The team made a brief appearance at the welcome party on the day before the race before retiring back to the hostel to attempt suicide. Unfortunately, Circa had substituted my bottle of sleeping tablets for 'No-Doze' and I was dismayed to wake up on race morning with nothing more than an elevated pulse. Another foot of overnight snow had consigned the race to the death march that it was always destined to be. Bizarrely, the lead pack was having a rostered day off for the first half of the race, resulting in Andrew Circosta and myself spending the majority of the first 20km on the front (I swear the guys behind kept laughing and saying 'stupid aussie' in Japanese). Employing a trick taught to me by Nick Grimmer, I took the pack's willingness for me to lead as an invitation to slow the race down to a pace that would not have been out of place in a nordic walking exercise video. Apparently I overdid things a little bit (as Grimmer was also known to do), because at the 25km mark someone behind me cracked and booked me a one-way ticket to hurt country. The second half of the race was, predictably, highly unpleasant. Amazingly, Team Wombat had a vastly improved showing on 2006 - I hauled my carcass to 5th, Andrew Circosta placed 11th despite hitting the wall with 10km remaining and Peter Malcolm placed a creditable 20th (more creditable considering that he had to be carted from the finish line in a wheelchair). Paul Circosta broke a pole near the start of the 25km event and cruised around sans pole. Michaela Malcolm (Peter's sister) flew the flag for the Australian women, placing 26th in the women's 50km event
Malcs claims compartment syndrome. I claim he's just lazy.
I won't provide details of Team Wombat's second week in Hokkaido post-race (contempt of court prevents me from doing so), needless to say it involved equal measures of powder-skiing, 'shopping' (Sapporo's most famous product is beer…) and a complete absence of training.
As the brains of the operation, I got to wear the only helmet.
And just like that, Team Wombat was gone. They say that the greatest trick that Team Wombat ever pulled was convincing the world they didn't exist…
[Note - here you can find the earlier Mock reports from 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, and Sapporo 2006]
Now that's magic! Andrew Mock gives Japan the thubs up.