Monday, 23 June 2014

Sognefjell 2014

Summer is well and truly here. The longest day is now behind us and the nights are fair drawing in. Summer for me means a lot of training. This year I’ve made a few adjustments to my training in order to accommodate for more and hopefully better training. My hard weeks are going to be harder and my easier weeks easier. Hopefully I will get more recovery and be able to push myself harder in the hard weeks and train at a higher standard.
I’ve just finished my first big block of training for the year and today I’m enjoying a rest day from the comfort of my sofa with the world cup on the TV later.  I spent 10 days training on the west coast of Norway. First of all I was on a camp with my Norwegian club, Bækkelagets SK, for 5 days. Then I joined up with the British team for a 5 day camp.
With Bækkelagets we rented out a sports hall in the small coastal town of Skjolden. We slept in the sports hall and ate in the café upstairs in the sports center. They made us 4 meals a day, breakfast, lunch, dinner and “evening food”. I must admit I was skeptical about sharing a sports hall with 12 other people and everyone actually being able to sleep. But it worked out pretty well. All the others had brought airbeds that rival the quality of my bed at home. In fact some of them were bigger and probably more comfortable than my bed. I don’t have an airbed so I got Fredrik to bring me a camping mattress but found a strength or yoga mat in the cupboard of the games hall that was better.  The only problem with the games hall was when Anti – doping turned for me up at 6.30 in the morning and put all the lights on waking everybody up. I felt a bit bad having everybody woken up, and at breakfast I thought everybody was going to shout at me. But turns out people were more interested and intrigued that angry at me. And some of the juniors hadn’t even noticed the lights had been turned on.
The plan for the camp looked pretty good. A lot of training, with one session a day dry land training down in Skjolden and one session skiing on the trails on Sognefjell on the semi permanent snow field. (I think that is its proper geographical name; it’s not a glacier at least).  We had a couple of 6 hour training days and couple of hard sessions. The camp has been running for quite a few years, but this was my first time there with them. It is only my second year in the club and last year I was away at the time of the camp. The hard sessions have become traditions, with record times and distances. The first hard session was meant to be a triathlon with a 60m swim, 3,5k run and 11k classic rollerski, mostly double poling. However on the day it was deemed too cold to swim and then run about outside, so it became a duathlon. 
The run was mostly flat up a gravel track beside a river going inland from the fjord, so slightly up on the way out and slightly down on the way back. I lost about 30 seconds to Sigurd and Jakob on the run. The classic was similar to the run. Up a small road on the other side of the river then back the same way. I caught Jakob early on but never got up to Sigurd. He beat me by a few minutes. Seeing as the swim was cancelled there was no records to be beaten, but there was a more important competition going on. Fredrik and his brother Joakim are about the most competitive brothers you can get. From who can win at ping pong to who can eat the most at dinner, everything becomes a competition. Joakim is the coach for the 15 to 16 year old group in Bækkelagets. He joined in for the duathlon and managed to beat Fredrik. He didn’t say anything about it, or rub it in too much. He just had the look of satisfaction on his face for the rest of the day.
The second hard session was a 5x8min interval with 2min breaks on skate rollerskis. We started at the bottom of the Sognefjell mountain pass, at Fortun, at a height of 45m. The pass, northern Europe’s highest, goes all the way to 1,400m. The first part of the climb is between 8 and 10% and is a pretty relentless switchback road snaking up the side of a cliff. After warming up we set off on the first interval. I got into a good rhythm with Sigurd and Jakob. Fredrik and Joakim are focusing a little more on long distance races such as the birkiebeiner. The long distance races almost all go in classic, so they were classicing the session. They pulled away from us and we could see them up the road a head of us. My goal for the session was the double dance or skate 2 the whole way. It is sort of like over gearing on a bike. Staying in the big ring all the way up a climb. By doing that I have to focus on changing my tempo to adapt to the changes in the road, as I can’t change technique or gear.
The first section in the trees passed quite quickly, and the last part of the session felt like I was being fried by the sun with pretty much no shade on offer. On the 4th interval Jakob pulled away from Sigurd and I. I tried to get back across to him at the end of the interval but quickly realized I wasn’t going to make it. I kept up with Sigurd on the last interval and we got about 50m further up the road than he did last year, so we were keeping an ok pace. In the end Jakob had actually put about 30 to 45 seconds into us, and set a new record for furthest up the hill. We stopped at about 700m, a height gain of roughly 650m in 40min. Once again Joakim had won the Vister brother interval battle. Whilst Fredrik looked disgusted with himself in the bus on the way down, Joakim sat there grinning, life was clearly quite good for him.
In between the hard sessions we had long easy ski sessions on the mountain. The weather for the first 2 days was quite bad, with rain and wind. But after that the weather perked up and we could ski in just our shorts and work on our suntans as we skied. I got a bit of useful technique work done, and some pretty cool pictures from Eirik, the club coach.  Peter Northug was also training on the mountain, which lead to everyone fancying themselves as a comedian and giving their best drunk driving and lost drivers license jokes. Christopher also skied a lap behind Northug, of which he was extremely proud… he had managed to keep up even if it meant it made him so tired he had to quit the session early.
We also had our very own world cup final. Eirik had a broken toe and Christopher had a bad hip. Somehow they both ended up on the same team. My team. The other teamblog june beat us something like 30 – 17 and I ended up having to run around a lot as everyone on my team couldn’t run.
Everyone from the club was heading home after 5 days. The British team was having its annual Sognefjell camp the 5 days after, so I extended my camp to 10 days to be with them. We had also invited Gjøran Tefre to join us for the camp to get a bit more matching during training and entertainment out of training.
Between organizing the camp and it taking place I got things sorted to join Team Synnefjell, a private ski team in Norway. There 9 athletes on the team and a new coach for this season, Frank Heggebø. Frank has coached Andrew Musgrave and is well known to the British system, so it made sense to join Team Synnefjell and start working with them. They also had a camp at Sognefjell the same time as the British camp, so we ran a lot of sessions together.
With the British team we live at Sognefjellshytta, at the top of the mountain pass. That way the skiing is on the doorstep and we can ski 2 sessions a day without the stress of driving up and down a mountain pass to get to training. The cabin at the top is remote and a little cut off. It is expensive; there are only communal toilets and showers, only one tv, and internet that is so temperamental that by the time you have loaded the live cricket scores Sri-lanka have lost another 2 wickets. Far from luxury living. But the food is normally ok. 5 meals a day, breakfast at 7.30, cooked lunch at 11.30, seconds lunch at 3, dinner at 6.30 and evening food at 9.30. None of this matters however. At Sognefjell you are there to do a job, you are there to train and train a lot. The last 2 years my week at Sognefjell has been my biggest training week of the year. Hours, hours, hours, technique, technique, technique and more technique work. This year I trained 53 hours in 2 weeks or 42 hours in the 10 days I was there. (2 of those days were half days so we can call in 42 hours in 9 days).
It is rarely in the year that we get time on snow without pressure. Without the next race, or the fact we only want to ski for an hour looming over us. At sognefjell there is nothing to worry about. Not even small things… you can’t go and stream the next episode of game of thrones so you may as well ski for another hour. You can do technique drills. You can do them again, and again. Then you can work on what you have been doing wrong for the last year. Work on just that. Nothing else. Keep doing the right technique to get it ingrained, again and again. There is no reason to stop early, you aren’t resting up for a race and there is no pressure to get everything perfect straight away. A lot of what I did a Sognefjell was working out what isn’t quite clicking at the moment, so I can take it away and work on it over the summer.
We did a lot of film work to help with this. I reviewed the film with our coaches and with Gjøran so we could help each other and see what each other does well and if there is something new we can incorporate to our training.
We had two hard sessions. A 6x10min skate and a 3x10min classic session. My form is starting to feel a lot better now. I’m keeping up on the hard sessions, which is always a good sign. We had a couple of speed sessions as well. Both of which I managed to fall over in. My first fall was in an uphill at low speed. My second was in a high speed corned after a tangle with Runar. Whoever is to blame for it, the result is the same… I fell over. Falling in shorts on rough summer snow is not fun. The snow acts like sandpaper and rips at your skin as your slide across it. I had a couple of sleepless nights after, but the “ice rash” is settling down now.
This week I’m taking it a bit easier after such a hard training period. Today was a rest day, but from tomorrow I’ll be back into some easy training. I’m spending the week in Lillehammer. There aren’t many people here as most of the skiers are away on camps or at home for the summer. I’m going to be back in Scotland for July. Andrew Musgrave has invited some friends over to Scotland to train again this year. I’m going to train with them for a week and there is also a national team camp at then end of the month. So it will be a busy period with even more training. I’m looking forward to it.
My next Team Synnefjell camp isn’t before August. So I’ve got a bit of spare time to train on my own as well. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


I went home to Scotland for a couple of weeks to spend some time with the family, go to a physio appointment with the Scottish Institute of Sports physio who supports the xc ski team, and of course take part in the Ming Midsummer Endurance event.
The first week I was at home I trained quite a bit. After being ill I wanted to get two solid weeks of training done before I got into the rhythm of my summer training, doing easy, medium and then hard weeks. It worked out well and I was starting to feel a bit better when I was training. I rounded off the week with a 4 hour, 68k classic roller ski. For those of you who know the area, I started in Huntly, went out the Dufftown road, through glass to the Cabrach. Over the Cabrach to Rhynie. Then down the main road to Gartly, before going over the hill road to Drumblade. And in the Banff road back to Huntly. I felt pretty good but I was struggling by the time I got to Rhynie, and thankfully the corner shop was open and I could get a quick bite to eat and fill up my drinks belt.
My second week at home was much easier. I didn't train much and spent time with the family. We went biking together as my parents are planning on doing the Ride The North cycle from Inverness to Aberdeen. I ran up Ben Venue with my sister, and got caught out in one the many peat bogs. On the surface it didn't look as deep as it was. But I quickly found out that it went up to my thigh.
Between all this I managed to squeeze in a trip to Glasgow to see Kelly who is the physio that supports us throughout the year. I've had problems with my lower legs when I run. I've had them on and off for quite a number of years and sometimes it creeps into hurting when I'm skiing as well. So we were looking at that and looking at what the underlying cause is. Hopefully it is on the mend and I can get on with training how I need to.
I also had a trip to the sports science lab in Stirling to do a Vo2 max test. The night before I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Lenzie. They took me out to an all you can eat Indian buffet. I quite like indian food and the lack of it in Norway has made me come to enjoy it even more on the rare occasions i get to eat some. However I perhaps over ate at the buffet, or at least I ate a lot! I don't really recommend it the night before a Vo2 max test. And I probably won't do it again.
Unfortunately the machine that reads the air I breath and exhale during the Vo2 max test was broken. So I didn't get to do it. I did a level 3 lactate test instead.
At the end of my second week at home I did the annual Ming the Merciless midsummer madness endurance duathlon event.... I'm not 100% sure on what the actual title is but I covered all possibilities there. The event is put on by volunteers as a fundraiser for BNDS, the organisation that runs the British Nordic Ski Team on behalf of BSS the governing body. The event consists of a 14 mile (22km) run on small roads, through fields and on forest tracks, before a transition and a 30mile (50km) road bike.
I felt ok on the run and got into a good rhythm at the front with a guy from a running club in Aberdeen. On the first real uphill I started to pull away, before we regrouped on the following long flat section. On the second long uphill section he pulled away from me and I couldn't keep up. By the end of the out and back section to the top of the course (the top of muckle black hill)  he had gained about 30 seconds on me. On the way back down I took a gel and had a good drink as the weather was so warm. I got the the bottom of the out and back section to be told by someone that I was in the lead as the leader had gone the wrong way, back where he had come from and not onto the rest of the loop. I kept going the correct way thinking he would quickly realise and catch me up again. But he never did.
It turns out that a whole bunch of people including the guy from Aberdeen had run the wrong way for several miles. They missed a turning on a fast decent. It was sign posted with 2 different signposts, and quite clear. But then I have run the loop several times and new exactly where I was going. I made it back to the start in 1:34. My record is 1.28, and the course record is about 1.24 or something like that. I felt ok but It's clear my form is not as good as it has been at this time of year in the past. I spent about 4 or 5min in transition, eating, drinking and changing into bike gear.
My bike training for the last 30months consists of 1.30 on the veledrome last year and 2hours with my mum the week before Ming. So my bike legs were far from ideal. I took it fairly easy on the way out into the head wind. But on the way back i started to push the pace a little bit, but in all honestly i didn't really have any energy to push the pace. At the finish there is always a fantastic array of cakes and home bakes. They are the best thing about ming. I proceeded to stuff my face with cakes... My diet starts tomorrow.
For the first time I got to lift the Ming trophy. It was much heavier than I expected but it was quite an honour. The trophy is a spray painted burnt out strimmer. There are 6 miles of running through grass fields. And one year while out strimming the route Rick's strimmer caught fire. He ran home to get a bucket of water to put it out... and so the ming trophy was born.
Ming is probably the biggest fundraising event for BNDS, and HUGE thanks has to go to everybody involved in the event. From the organisers, to the people who set the course, to the marshals (who hand out jelly babies), to the time keepers, and most importantly the people who bake the cakes!
The evening after Ming there is always a Celidh as well. I was quite tired after the event but i still managed to get up and shake a few moves ;).
On sunday I came back to Norway. I'm here in Lillehammer until tomorrow morning when I go on a training camp with my norwegian club. We are going to Skjolden on the west side of the sognefjellet mountain pass. The plan is to have one session a day dry land training down in Skjolden and one session snow skiing on the mountain at sognefjellet. Right after that camp is finished I'll go up to sognefjellet for 5 days with the British team with 2 sessions a day on snow.
The weather in Norway has been extremely hot. Yesterday I rollerskied for few hours before i headed to the gym in the afternoon. Today I ran with Thomas, my house mate, for a couple of hours. Living in the north sea region it is not often you get to train in just shorts and without a top. If it is warm enough often I start with a t shirt before I get to hot, or at least take a top with me for if it starts to rain. But today when i headed out to the garage to pick up my running shoes I realised there was no point. The thermometer was showing 20 degrees at 8am and by the time we started running at 9.30 it was already in the high 20's. Stupidly I didn't check the UV forecast until I got home, and now I have a sunburnt back. The UV forecast here for Lillehammer is severe at the moment. It is only recommended to spend 30min outside at a time. At sognefjell it is extreme with the recommended time being 5 to 15min outside and avoid outdoors between 12 and 3pm. I've made sure I've packed sun block and a lot of it.
This afternoon it was just way to hot to sit outside, but by this evening it was ok to eat outside again. I spent the afternoon getting skis ready for sognefjell. In a wooden garage, sweating like mad... it felt more like trying to sort my skis out in a sauna. Normally I wax in there with a big down jacket on it's so cold.
I have to say it is quite enjoyable to get a proper summer. It's not often it happens to me, so hopefully the nice weather will continue and I will remember to use sun block as long as it does.