Travelling with Lucie
World championships in wife racing
On contemplating the male brain and on how I understand men.
Part of my brain is male. I champion men against feminists from all over the world. I love motor bikes, engines, high mountains and deep diving. I don´t tell my husband what to do and how to do it. I love a hand of cards, I like the taste of beer and rum. Yet for all that I am a sucker. Yeah – and I fell for it.
My husband and I turned up at the World Wife Racing Championships on the spur of the moment and without any pre-conception but clear on one point: our one and only aim was to complete the race as the historically first Czech competing pair without disgracing our Czech Republic here in Finland. That was it. Just finish the race which means running with your wife carried any which way possible as long as she doesn´t touch the ground. I swallowed my husband´s ploy hook line and sinker and remained cool – this was going to be child´s play. My husband was going to run 300 metres carrying me, I was going to hang on tight and together we were going to overcome two wooden barriers and a (fairly deep) water trough. Somehow we were going to clamber out of that gutter and as for those 300 metres … well, at worst you can walk the rest. Our first “doubles” world championships. Solo, my husband has taken part in about ten, coming away with all sorts of titles including two silver medals as world champion in sumo (which is more than one gold medal, right?). So I had nothing to fear. As for me, all I have is a couple of regional races and a few national championships … but we´ll make it! Of course we´ll make it. Nothing to it. We´d shaken on it. We had never trained for this, our goal was just to finish the race. At the World Wife Racing Championships you take off in pairs. In other words, two couples against each other. Not as an elimination process but running against the clock. The grandstand in the Finnish town of Sonka is going crazy, it´s summer, there are hundreds of people watching. “Nothing to it,” I keep saying to myself. “All we have to do is just finish the race.”
A fairly sporty looking couple steps up to the starting line, accompanied by a wolf in a wolf pelt with a bushy tail, carrying Little Red Riding Hood. I stop worrying, especially when after these two pairs the starting area is gradually taken over by a couple of male and female green elves, Darth Vader with a captive princess and some sportingly attired couples, followed in their turn by Mr and Ms Obelix and a group of Smurfs all daubed in blue. My husband is full of smiles, two more couples and then it´s our turn. It´s going to be a breeze. Main thing, reach the finish line. In front of us on the starting line tower two sporty couples, disgustingly a-bristle with muscle. So what, you can´t go picking your forerunners. We´ve been allotted No. 19, my husband keeps looking out for No. 18 while repeating our magic mantra: “We just have to finish.” And then it happens. Even I, with my half male brain - in other words partly capable of envisaging a man´s reaction - freeze in amazement. Our rivals are approaching the starting line: she is minute, he barely topping 165 cm. I catch my husband´s eye and know that we are en route to catastrophe: in the middle of Finland, in no-man´s land, in a tiny town which you would simply never plan to visit because it has nothing to offer, in a place where nobody knows us yet everything is wrong. My husband´s eyes are bloodshot and the comfort blanket of our resolution – our resolution to complete the race – goes out the window. My two-metre tall Jaroslav looks down from his heights upon this miniature man with his slender nymph and utters the definitive, politically incorrect line which I had been dreading: “We´re not going to let ourselves be outrun by this sh..ty dwarf.”
Actually, this whole trip belongs into the “bizarre” category. Roughly a fortnight before the championships my husband turned up full of smiles, saying: “You´ve got to watch this!” And so I had to sit through some TV coverage of last year´s championship. We didn´t even have to take a look at each other. The phrase: “Let´s go!” was immediately embedded in both our minds. What followed, happened in a flash: plane tickets booked on the internet, car rental, Friday take off after work and a late night arrival in Helsinki. 6 foot tall Jaroslav hired a tiny Smart and we drove through the night. Our plan to stop-over en route during the night without prior reservation ran into a problem: in July all of Finland goes on holiday, there are tons of music festivals and the best thing to do is to take a tent and sleeping bag along with you. We had neither. Morning in Sonka after a bone-breaking trip in the car was a reward. The air was full of fragrant smells, the small provincial town was waking up for its great moment of fame and I was stumbling around the race area in a stupor. I couldn´t help but think of Milos Forman. Yes, he would have been happy here. Yes, this was “The Fireman´s Ball” in its most essential, crystalline Finnish version. The area surrounding the local school sports hall and its athletic running track had been taken over by a national pilgrimage. The Mayor had issued his orders and anyone from the town itself or the surrounding villages who could do something special lost no time in answering the call.
Local artist Karri is carving statues of bears and owls with his chainsaw, Jukka and Pekka are frying grundle because they have by far the best recipe. Next to the stalls stands the local Schrammel band playing so out of key that Miloš Forman would have died laughing. Close by stands a collection of historic automobiles, including tractors and buses, truly the grandfathers of their species. I can hear the local mc calling out our starting number and find myself trembling. Do I want to photograph – or do I want to run? This travel punk is made to measure for Heart Core! There´s a crowd of people gathering at the starting line. The Schrammel band drowns out the canned music from the loudspeakers as well as the mc´s shouting. There are film crews all over the place and two rather special characters have taken up position at the water trough: a first aid diver and a bearded accordion player who very soon will be adding his instrument´s dark timbre to the dramas as they unfold at the ditch full of water. We collect our starting bib … well, and the rest you already know.