Sunday, 18 March 2012

Norwegian Junior Nationals

The relay on the biggest climb, im in about 7th on the left
The chaos as the lead group enters the stadium (im back right)
Holmenkollen, sporting the new minimalistic snow fashion
struggling on deep in the second half on the 20k
Me in 3rd place during the relay

The norwegian junior nationals this year where being held in Holmenkollen in Oslo. The home of cross country skiing. Its like inviting teenagers to play rugby at Murrayfield or twickenham, tennis at Wimbledon, football at Wembley or cricket at Lords. Of course this was set up to be a fantastic championships. Apart from the fact it was several degrees above freezing and there was minimal snow.
In the days before the competition the tracks had been closed and unprepared to try and preserve what little snow was left. On the final day before racing began a small 3 hour window was opened when we could use the track. The conditions where awful... deep deep sugary snow, incredibly lose stuff the slides and slops about as you ski. I tested my skis, and did a lap of the 5k loop to be used over the weekend.
We stayed at the Holmenkollen Park Hotel. Its a pretty fancy hotel right beside the tracks. It cut travel time and was pretty handy to just walk 5min and be at the stadium. I judge hotels on a few basic criteria: internet, food, room size, ability to sleep well in the room and how friendly the staff are. This hotel was pretty much nearly an epic fail. The only hotel that has been worse was for the Otepa world cup last year, where we basically didnt eat for a week.
They had internet here, the food was eatable (just), room size normal, ability to sleep was poor as we were above the service entrance, and the staff where the most horrible people i have ever met.
It all started with us arriving before our rooms were ready. We went up and asked every 15mins if our rooms were ready. They weren't and the reception staff got pretty annoyed with us. Then the first meal. A waiter refused to take our plates away because we hadn't finished all the food on them. Fair enough... if the food was edible. It happened to be fruit salad. Except it was stiff frozen. I explained to the waiter that it was still frozen and thats why we hadnt eaten it, but he was having none of it and told be i was wrong.
The next meal wasn't much better. They had no control over the dining room and installed a retarded queueing system, requiring people to criss cross through the queue in order to collect essential items such as a drink. They also hadn't really realized that there were well over 100 skier staying here and all of us were going to eat at the same time. So after waiting for what seemed like eternity to get any food there wasn't actually anywhere for you to sit. They blocked of half the dining area for other groups and got angry with people for trying to go there. It led to many funny situations. Firstly someone sat on the floor, other went and sat out in reception and then there was the awkwardness as a single 50 something year old wax tech was ushered to sit at a spare seat with 15 or 16 year old girls, and the vice versa. This was all because of one idiotic waiter who refused to let us sit in another half of the dining room.
For skiers in Norway it is tradition to eat 4 meals a day, breakfast, lunch, early dinner and the "kveldsmat" (evening food) which is pretty much the same stuff as breakfast. So one evening i came down to eat my Kveldsmat. I tried to sit at the table next to all the others. It had reserved on it, just like the one the others had. The waiter rushed over and said i couldnt sit here. I explained i was with the group. He said they had booked the table and so could sit here but i couldnt. All the other tables had reserved on them or had people sitting at them. I tried another table and he came rushing over again and turned me away. So i tried a third table... again i was told to go away. Eventually after standing in a half empty dining room for 5min with a bowl of cereal in one had and a glass of juice in the other, some people stood up and i got on their table along with some of the others who had also been waiting for while now.
So enough with how bad Holmenkollen Park hotels staff are and onto the racing....
20k classic, individual start. I had been looking forward to this race all season, i like the course, and i had done a good 15k test race on it earlier this month. The conditions where dreadful. The morning fog had just lifted as i started my race, and the course now baked in warm sunshine with the temp way above 0 degrees. My first 10k went well and i sat in 4th place according to my splits i was getting on the track. My last 10k was awful. There wasnt any classic track in any of the uphills, just thick slop. The skis were slowing as they picked up dirt and i was struggling. The main problem was that i have pretty much never trained herringbone run, the technique used when a hill gets too steep or there aren't any classic tracks up hill. With back to back hill of herringbone and wadding through thick slop my legs, race plan and power all went down the drain. I had a pretty good first 10k so i held on for a 7th place. Anything inside the top 10 is good in norway. So i was happy i held on for a top 10. And had it been any normal norges cup weekend i would have been thrilled. But this was the national championships... i wanted something better, or at least to beat my best result so far this year (6th).
I thought about the next day. Andrew Musgrave had, 2 years previously, been 7th over the 20k classic distance and then went on to win the 10k skate the following day. So statistically for british skiers at Junior NM i was guaranteed a win?? right?
I thought the 20k was hard, but the skate race was even harder. We were the last age group out, and the tracks were insanely soft. I skied ok and felt good, but every up hill i just sank into the soft sludge and ground my was slowly to the top. I finished 14th. This is, so far, my worst distance result this season. It says something to be disappointed when you finish outside the top 10. Many people came up to me and congratulated me... i didnt really understand why... i wanted to be in the top 10, but with a slightly bad day and conditions against me i had no chance. Last year 14th was my best result, i was amazingly happy with that... its weird how things change in a year.
That evening was the prize giving and live entertainment in the Oslo Town hall. With all the big wigs present and the mayor of oslo. It confirmed to me that Norwegians do not understand when and how to use english swear words. Apparently it is ok for for someone to sing something including "f*** you all, motherf***ers" in front of the mayor of Oslo. I cant imagine Boris being too impressed with that.... or on the other hand he might challenge them to a round of whiff whaff, or maybe a madison in the veledrome or bendy bus driving.
After quite possibly the best prize giving evening i have been too i awoke today for the relay. 4 x 5km. As i race in Norway for Geilo IL, which lies in the Buskerud area i would be going for the Buskerud area team. I was doing the first leg for the first team. All legs had been changed to skate instead of 2 classic and 2 skate, as there wasnt really enough snow left for a classic track. I arrived to the stadium to hear the wonderful sound of skis scraping across ice. It had frozen overnight and the tracks where (directly translated) stone hard. Finally my perfect conditions. Hard ice where i could use my power and long leavers. The start was insanely fast and i settled in near the front. The foot never lifted of the gas and everybody fought to stay with the leaders who took it in turn to attack. We quickly completed the first 2.5k and i made a move up to 3rd with a bit of luck and some clear snow. On the last hill i ended up a bit blocked in a back to 10th. In the stadium i made it up to 6th. But with the first 20 teams coming in within 10 seconds position was irrelevant, i was less than a second behind the leaders. I handed over to our second leg guy after i picked him out of the sunlit mist. We skied to our rank and finished 8th. My leg was insanely fast, with a 9min 47 second 5k time. On a hard 5k, that is normally at around 13min this was crazy. It was sprinting all on as hard as i could, just holding the tails of the guy in front. It was fun, and i felt good, so i know the form is at least on the way up, or doing pretty well. So im looking forward to a good end to the season.
Im now back in Geilo, where there is a little bit more snow, but not much.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The last month of my life

After italy we made the travel to Turkey with an overnight stay in Munich on route. Unfortunately i had become ill just before traveled, as had the other Andrew. So we were in our own hotel room, a different buss and sat away from the others on the plane.
We got to Turkey quite late. The language barrier quickly became apparent, as good food was a nightmare. I couldnt be arsed waiting around trying to order food through a translator, so i just went to bed.
I was ill for a few more days, but things stated to sort them selves out. Meals became buffets, and we had been into town to stock up on snacks and bottled water as the tap water was undrinkable.
Eventually the day before the sprint i got out of the hotel at 2500m down to the stadium at 1800m. Skiing felt pretty horrific. I only did about an hours session and i was wrecked afterwards.
The next day i felt a bit better, so decided to start the sprint. We got on our bus at 8am to take us on the hour long journey to the stadium. After the first or second set of traffic lights the bus started making some pretty strange sounds and going pretty slowly. We creaked up over some hills and eventually conked out. Stuck beside the road at -25C waiting for a new bus. This was not the funnest half hour of my life. Fortunately the bus schedule was allowing for disappointment and the bus had really left over an hour too early. We got to the stadium in a new bus, and spent the next hour trying to warm back up to normal. But even by the time i raced i wasnt fully warmed up from waiting at a road side.
The race went ok considering the illness. 25th on the prologue and 29th overall, i went out in the quarterfinal.
On the way home, thankfully, we got a warm buss that didnt break down. Smog lingered in the valley, the mind doesnt realise how high you are as the mountains reach even higher, giving the impression you are down in a deep valley. The valley was pretty wide and extensive. There was nothing. The odd farm, villages made up of shakey brick buildings and elaborate mosques, with nothing but a snow covered dirt track leading to them. Occasionally a junction on the highway, a petrol station and a few abandoned broken down cars. But really it was a whole load of nothingness. As we approach the outskirts of Erzrum you start to feel civilization again, army barracks, heavily guarded with machine gun outposts, some small shops advertising kebabs and the traffic flow increases from occasional lorry to quite a few cars and buses. I asked our attache/translator why Erzrum was here. There was no industry as far as i could tell. But it mainly started as a place people would stay as they traveled from Asia to Europe.
We drive through the center of the town. Its like any other normal city. Rich parts and poor parts. Although there were quite a few buildings with parts of their second or third floor missing. Most of the city seemed to be made up of blocks of flats. There were mosques, with high towers, calling people to prayer. We drove out of the city again, up a steep road towards the Alpine ski center. Here there are a handful of hotels all the teams where staying in. Most of them pretty posh, apparently most of the customers are rich Russians on holiday. As we get out of the bus we can look back down onto the city and see a black, grey cloud hanging over the valley and the snow tarnished brown. Up here the air was thin and dry, but clean.
The next day was a training day. The buses ran on time and didnt break down. In the afternoon one of the attaches taught us to play 3 ball billiards in the hotel basement. I ate a lot. The food was nice. We had been worried about the food as we had heard stories from last year when the world uni games were held here. Many people had become ill and blamed the food. We on the other hand had great food. Chicken and rice nearly every day for lunch and dinner, but it tasted good.
The 10k classic the following day went awfully. I learned a lot from that day. Mostly that racing at altitude hurts. After the first lap i felt good and pretty strong, as i entered my second lap a wave of lactate acid hit me, my lungs burned and i struggled my way round to complete the race.
I was disappointed. Now i just wanted to get the last race done and out of the way. Try and do better than i had in the 10k. Unfortunately i had to wait another day. This was a day of nearly no training, only a 30min light ski. And 2 hours sitting a bus to be able to do this.
The final day of competition. The 20k skiathlon mass start. 10k classic followed by 10k skate with a ski change in the middle. I started well and found a nice pace behind two swedes on the classic leg. I came into the change in around 30th position. People where dying fast. The altitude hit people and the slowed to walking pace. I picked it up, got better and better, felt stronger and stronger. On the last lap i lay just off the back of a group fighting for positions between 19th and 27th. I just wasnt close enough to the front. On the last final big climb everything went to pieces. I kicked in to close the gap, the front kicked in to kill of the others. The front of the group was gone and i ended up behind a Swedish guy for the second time in the race. I ended up out sprinting him for 25th place. On ok result. The 10k was awful and it felt great to be on the way back up so quickly after that.
The U23s had a final day of competition after us. So myself, callum and katy had a day Alpine skiing. Our Accreditation got us a free lift pass and rental for the day being only £10 it seemed a waste not to go. It was a pretty fun day and there was some nice skiing. It was only my second time on Alpine skis since i was 5. But it was still fun to give it a blast.
That evening we flew to Istanbul. To an airport on the Asian plate. Then we drove in a minibuss full of ski bags and all the wax kit and our bags at insane speeds, over taking, undertaking, slaloming our way to the European plate and our hotel. We got a quick meal at the bar before a good nights sleep.
Andrew and i had a late flight the next day, so we just chilled at the hotel before going to the airport. At the check in there was a little confusion as they started to try and charge us for our skis and excess weight. We assured them we had payed and they were going on for free. I have no idea if we had or hadnt. But Andrew was pretty adamant they were going on this plane and it was nto going to cost us anything more. They called their manager and kindly accepted.
I made it to Oslo later that evening, flying via Riga. I took a train to the center of Oslo where Erik met me. I stayed the night with Erik and his flat mate √ėyvind. It was fun to catch up, i hadnt seen Erik since before Christmas.
The next day via a complicated process involving trains, cars and lots of planning i got to Holmenkollen for the start of a training camp with NTG. In two weeks the Norwegian Nationals are going to be held here. So we were training here for a bit to check out the trails. It was warm. Really warm. Foggy, really foggy. We had an easy skate ski and headed down to our accommodation at Bogstad camping. We stayed in some pretty basic cabins.
I was feeling pretty good, so although i didnt have it in the plan, i joined in a 15k classic time trial with the other the next day. It went pretty well. I felt good and certainly skied a lot better than i had there the previous year.
The final day in Oslo was really warm and sunny. With temps up at plus 14C and the sun shining it should have been a good ski trip. But i managed to fall and break my pole. It was now 10cm shorter than it should be, and then the wax started to go. We realised we were a long way away from the bus with not very long to get back on time. So i ended up going 20k with one and a half poles at pretty much max speed just to get back.
After that we came back to Geilo. It was great to come back, to clean clothes and my own place. Its been warm here to, with the snow going fast. Mostly just ice on the tracks now and huge bald patches appearing. The conditions are much more like what you would expect at the end of April not the end of February. But skiing in the sun is always a nice change from the darkness of winter.

I will add some photos later.
all for now