Monday, 31 March 2014

NM Team Sprint and 50K

My build up for the last weekend of the Norwegian National Champs had gone quite well. With the races being a 50k skate and a team sprint classic, I had split my training mostly between double poling and long skate intervals. I wasn't sure what to expect from the weekend. I felt my form was ok going into the weekend, but at this stage of the season form seems to go and come with in the space of a day. Some days I feel tired, unmotivated and sluggish skiing and other days I feel like I could probably have beaten Legkov in the Olympic 50k. 

Some readers of the blog may remember one day, many years ago, towards the end of February. Whilst skiing in the clash a horrendous incident occurred which has scarred me for the rest of my life. I returned from a morning of skiing to the hut at the old biathlon range. Like everybody else, I dived into my packed lunch box, but on initial inspection I realised something was off. My chocolate was missing! The small, precious bar of chocolate I had carefully packed had been taken. Stolen from me. As I stared in disbelief at my packed lunch box a smiling Andy Cox walked past. He never confirmed it was him at the time, but he did explain that I had the name "Andrew" on my packed lunch box and his name was Andrew, therefore everything in my lunch box was his. Finally, last week, 14 years later, Andy admitted that he was indeed the one who stole my chocolate. But I wasn't to worry, it was a challenge for him just to eat it as he doesn't actually like chocolate. 
Andy and his wife Fiona were spending two weeks skiing at Nordseter, just outside Lillehammer. They invited Muzzy and Me up for dinner with them. Shortly after that Muzzy headed back to Trondheim but I was invited up for dinner twice more. Fiona is a fantastic cook! And it has made it easier for me to forget about the chocolate situation. I can now say it is behind us, and I am able to move on. 

After having been fuelled up with Fiona's cooking I headed to Gålå early on Friday morning. I was racing the team sprint with Fredrik, my house mate and club team mate. We were doing the race for a bit of fun, we knew we didn't really have a chance of making the final. But it would be good training for the 50k the day after for me. And it was also a chance for me to experiment with the team sprint event. I've never been able to complete a team sprint before friday. After the Olympic team sprint I was sort of forced into explaining why not and now it has become pretty common knowledge. I have a tachycardia heart condition that reacts to adrenalin. That means I almost never train like a team sprint event is raced. Never going max then stopping and going max effort again. Normally I train at lower levels for longer and build up to max effort at the end. So doing a team sprint is somewhat unusual for me and this time I wanted to experiment with the pacing and see if I could actually manage to finish. I did manage to finish. I skied with the pack for the first lap. Then Fredrik got dropped by the pack and I just focussed on picking up the back markers on both my 2nd and 3rd lap. I double poled the whole thing on skate skis. We tried to get a kick wax pair working as well. But getting grip was challenging, and by the time we got grip the skis had so much klister on they were going to loose huge amounts of time on any flat or downhill. Double poling worked well though. After the first lap I was on my own pretty much, so I had 4 lanes to chose from and used all 4 to my advantage and all 3 lane changes between them. Classic sprint has got to a stage that it is pretty much skating as much as possible without being caught. There are fine lines, and grey areas. If you want to go fast you are going to have to push every one of them to the limit. In an individual sprint 1 second can spread well over 10 places. So if you gain a 1/4 of a second with a slick lane change on an uphill, it can make the difference between going through or not. We weren't disqualified on friday, so I guess we pushed the grey areas just the right amount.  

A 50k is all in all a pretty miserable affair. Who in their right mind would do that to themselves? Nobody makes us do it, yet we turned up and raced anyway so I guess there must be some sort of enjoyment in it somewhere.  50ks tend to be run at the end of the season in warm conditions. And Saturday was no different. With temperatures at +10, the course on the edge of the tree line and the clear sky allowing the strong sun to reflect off the snow, it was actually like going to the beach on the mediterranean, taking out a big sun bed made of mirror, pouring cooking oil over it and lying on it for 2 hours. All of this in the middle of the day in the middle of July... that might give you some sort of idea of what it was like on Saturday.
I raced in a t shirt, and my race suit trousers rolled up into shorts, a sweatband and no gloves. No gloves was glorious at the time, but my hands have payed the price. After about 10k I started to notice I had blisters. After about 20k I knew the blisters had popped. By 25k there was no skin left when the blisters had been. At 30k a mixture of sweat and blood was pouring from my hands. By 40k the sores had dried up. By 45k there were now new blisters forming in the same spots. And by 50k they had popped open. 
The race went surprisingly ok for me. I felt ok, not quite good enough to beat Legkov... but near enough.  The start was quite fast and tried to get into a good group working well. On the second lap the race started to splinter and I ended up not in the main chase group but somewhere between the 1st and 2nd chase group. I ended up using a lot of energy to make the group in front. I made it in, then got dropped with in a k. Then I made it back over again and stayed there for 2 laps or so. I used a lot of energy early on to make the group and in the long run I would have been better waiting for the group behind. At 35k I got he first warning that I was on the edge of my limits. At 40k I cracked completely. I was with the group that went on to fight for 5th place and be just over 2min behind the winner. I ended up in 35th and 7min behind the winner. The last lap was miserable, I was absolutely covered in coke and sports drink from the drink stations. I was sun burnt, dehydrated and borderline delirious. Everybody and their granddad seemed to be overtaking me. I made it to the finish. I am actually quite happy with the race. I don't think the result tells the whole story. I pushed really hard early on and showed signs of what I can do when I'm in great shape and feeling good. That I didn't last the distance isn't a disaster, it's not often I do a 50k and it certainly isn't my focus. In my opinion it is better to try and hang on to the best guys as long as I can. 

Next week I'm going to end my season with the Troll Ski Marathon. A 95k race up in the mountains outside Lillehammer. There the sole aim is just to finish. It's good training and a good experience. Hopefully the weather will be nice and a little cooler than at Gålå this weekend. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The End is Nigh

The season is nearing its end, and indeed in some places the snow has gone, or never even arrived. I have 3 weeks left until my last race, but up at Sjusjøen there is an insane amount of snow, so I won't be surprised if I keep skiing until June this year.
My plan had been to do the Birkebeiner on saturday, but as you probably know by now, it was cancelled. The Birke is a ski race that every skier just has to do. It's a race so full of tradition, a race that  will test the ability of any skier. Because both the elites and the "average Joe" can compete against one another it provides a unique opportunity of what the Norwegians call skiglede. Literally ski happiness.
This year there was very little happiness to be found. I got up at 4am after having had an awful nights sleep. I was meant to be the only one staying at my house that night. I went to bed at 9:30 as I knew i had to get up at 4. But at 11 I was woken up by the sound of someone in the house. I was 99% sure we were being burgled, so I jumped out of bed and sprung into fight mode. Fling back my bedroom door making karate type sounds, I was greeted by Thomas, my house mate, saying "hello, didn't mean to wake you." He had come back for the night, unplanned, and had been moving his bags in from the car.
After that I never really got back to sleep... I was still in fight mode. Just with the duvet and the sheets.
At 4am, I once again jumped out of bed and flung on my race kit before picking up my bag getting in the car and heading to Håkons Hall to take the bus to Rena and the start of the race.
I ate my breakfast on the bus. 8 slices of bread with peanut butter, 2 cargo loading jellies, 2 bananas and some energy juice. I was very definitely not going bonk and have no energy left for this race. I got to Rena, picked up my start number and payed 1200 kronner for it. By chance I bumped into fredrik as I came out of the race office. His mum had sorted out waking my skis for me. Fredrik tells me that every time she waxes he has amazing skis, so I had asked her to do mine for Birken. We headed for the shuttle busses, but got told the race was delayed an our and to head back to the race office to keep warm. This is when the rumours started to fly. Firstly that the race was canceled, and they only delayed it to keep people there and buying stuff at the coffee shot and ski shop. Then we bumped into a friend of Fredrik's from school. He was working for swix and told us he was 99% sure the race was cancelled. Nobody from swix, who run the spare pole and waxing service had been allowed out on the course and now there wasn't enough time to get them there in time for the delayed start.
The next rumour we heard was that the mens elite start went at the same time as the womens, and not 30min after. But seeing as the shuttle busses had been called off there was now several thousand people  waiting on very few shuttle busses. As me a fredrik were racing in the men elite class we pushed our way to the front of the bus queue and forced our way on the first shuttle bus when they started running again. Everybody got on. Maybe about 100 people on a 50 seater bus. Then we all got told to get off again. The race had been cancelled.
Fredrik, his brother Joakim and myself all decided to try and ski over to Lillehammer anyway. Their parents drove our kit bags round in the car. It worked out well, it was actually quite a nice day. Comparable to a "normal" day on cairngorm, alpine skiing. There was 5k or so on top of one of the mountains where it wasn't really fun to be there, but I wouldn't have said it was dangerous. We skied over half hard in 3:48. I did have a few stops but felt good most of the way.
Seeing as the race was canceled I've managed to recover much quicker and get back into a good training routine. Next on the cards for me is Norwegian Nationals teamsprint and 50k. The week after I'm going to do the 95k troll ski Marathon. I was once promoted as the longest 1 day international ski race. But I believe this year there was actually a 100k race in Oslo! I read somewhere that next year the troll ski will be 120k! So i'm happy to do it while it is still only 95k! "only"
I've managed to get my hands on some Telemark ski kit. So after troll ski i plan on utilising that, either up the road at the Hafjell alpine centre or maybe some back country touring. I'm looking forward to it. Although i've alpine skied a fair bit, ive not done much telemarking, so it will be a new challenge and a break from the norms of spring xc skiing.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Last Week Or So

So after the Olympics I had a brief, flying visit back home to Huntly. I was home for 2 nights and about 36 hours. Just long enough to sort some kit out, go for a rollerski session and have a home cooked meal. Last wednesday I flew out to Helsinki for the Lahit world cup last weekend. We had a rather comical check in for the flight to Lahti. As I was checking in on a SAS flight I looked over to the BA counter. There I saw my bags I had lost on the way home from Sochi. I went over asked about the bags. According to the BA staff at Aberdeen they had no idea who's bags they were and they were trying to get rid of them for the last 2 days. Reunited with my clothes and the teams wax boxes we then checked in a whole bunch more bags than we had planned. And then right before I was about to go through security my ski bag and the team ski bag with the test skis turned up of the luggage reclaim band.  So we went back to check in and added two ski bags to the list. Talk about good timing. Poor Posy, whose ski bag came on the flight after mine and so by the time we had left the airport, her bag took another 4 days to catch up with her.
Anyway we made it to Lahti. There really wasn't much snow in Lahti. Only a thin ribbon of snow on the ski tracks. And even then calling it snow was a big of an exaggeration. This season has been an awful snow year throughout Europe. And Lahti has not been exempt from that. The tracks where a thick layer of ice with a tick layer of sugar like snow sitting on top. The sugar moved about and gave way when you kicked or pushed on the snow.
I had two good training sessions with Kåre on the thursday and friday. Kåre was there coaching us for the weekend, and he helped out filming and looking at technique for the two sessions. On Saturday there was a skate sprint race on the plan. For me it would be my last sprint race of the season and I wanted to go out on a high note and take some more world cup points. I ended up 51st, 1,17 seconds from the top 30 and world cup points. I felt i skied quite well, but found the loose sugar snow tricky and lost time where I normally wouldn't. The sprint was so short that any mistake is punishable with a big jump down the results list. There is nowhere to make back any time lost from a mistake. I was reasonable happy with the result. I wasn't actually that far behind, no further than normal and I was around the people I normally am on the results list.
The following day was a skate 15k, time trial start. It was a pretty bad race for. I started ok... and finished ok... but the 14k in the middle was pretty bad. So safe to say I have some work to do before next year.
I travled back to Lillehammer on monday. It's nice to be home, have my own bed, more than just a suitcase of clothes and it's nice to cook my own meals again. I have been doing a course with the OU this year, and it is meant to be finished by monday. Considering it started in October and I first looked at it on Sunday night, I have quite a job ahead of me to get it finished. Partly because of that I have decided to give the drammen and oslo world cups a miss. I'm also just looking forward to being able to train back in Lillehammer and not have the stress of racing this week.
I plan to return to racing next weekend for the Birkebeiner, 2 weeks after that the Norwegian champs 50k and the week after that the troll ski marathon. Hopefully they will go to plan and I can do some ok races at the end of the season. We'll see.