Monday, 17 November 2014

5 More Days!!

November in Scandinavia gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “fifty shades of grey”. There is actually at least 50 different shades of grey. And even things that I know must be coloured are grey. Take a pine tree for example. Everybody knows they are green. But in November in Scandinavia they are grey. In fact the only thing that is remotely colourful is the Slovenian team ski suit. Even that looks duller and greyer than normal.

After training with Team Synnfjell in Beitostølen I got a bit ill for a few days. I took 2 days off training and had two easy training days before I got back into it. This year the snow has been pretty late in coming. I know there has been skiing on natural snow as early as the 1st of October at Sjusjøen.  But here we are this year on the 17th of November and there is only skiing on a 3,3km loop of dirty manmade snow at Natrudstilen. The first day I skied at the track it wasn’t great conditions. Since then they worked quite hard to get the track in a better shape. They put out a bit more snow and they had people go round and pick up stones and take out the dirtiest snow. It has also snowed a few cm’s, which has helped.

At the weekend Natrudstilen was hosting the Norwegian Biathlon opening weekend. They had a sprint on the Saturday and a mass start on the Sunday. This meant the track was out of commission for most of the weekend. I had to change my training round a bit but I managed to ski on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night after the races and official training. For my morning sessions I ran and did strength work.

It was great to have winter sports back on the TV. This was the first weekend this season that I’ve watched NRK’s winter sports production. I pretty much watched continuous sport for 4 hours. Alpine, biathlon and speed skating were all being shown. Of course next week cross country skiing will be added to the list as the Norwegian opening weekend races in Beitostølen kick off. 

I’m planning on racing at Beitostølen, and so now I have less than a week until my season starts. The off season seems to have gone by so fast, but I think I have done everything I needed to. At least I hope I have as it is too late now. Today was my last of “volume “ training day. After Beitostølen I have 5 back-to-back race weekends. So it’s going to be a long time before I can put in a training period like I’ve just finished. When there is such a short gap between races there isn’t time to train as much as recovery is more important. Instead of going out for long session, I’ll do short easy sessions where I focus on having high quality. So now I might do a 2hour ski with 45min of technique work with a coach. But between races I might only do an hour, but still have the same technique work.

The period of training I’ve just finished has been pretty good. After I got over the slight hiccough of being a little bit ill, everything has gone to plan. I’ve had two really good hard sessions and a really good speed session. I’d like to think I’m in good shape and ready for the season. But I I’ve been in this position before. Having done some amazing hard sessions the week before the first races and then gone really slowly in the races.  In all honesty, no matter what anyone says or what any test results say, nobody has a bloody clue what is going to happen on Friday. It’s racing and results sheets that count. A fact I’m fully aware of and so I’m not thinking too much about what training I’ve done and how training has been going. Because ultimately that doesn’t mean anything. Due to the lack of snow and the fact there is only a 3.3k competition look available, I’ve done a lot more running that usual for this time of year. I’m not really sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It is probably good that I don’t try and do all my easy sessions on such a hard loop, and I’ve kept the variation in my training up for longer than normal.  But on the flip side I’ve had fewer ski sessions than normal. It will be interesting to see how or if it affects the first few races of the season. At least everyone is in the same boat. There isn’t really much snow anywhere.

The British team has rented a cabin for the last week or so up at Sjusjøen. I’ve taken the opportunity to live with them, and it saves me having to drive 30min to ski everyday. It’s only Posy and me here and my dad is here coaching. On Wednesday they are heading over to Bruksvallarna for the Swedish opening. On Thursday I’m headed to Beitostølen.

Because of the way the season calendar is set up I’ve had to make some decisions about which races to go to and which events to target. If I just went for it and did every race in the 5 weeks before Christmas It would be 15 races in 31! Almost a race every second day! That is a bit much and getting enough recovery would be nearly impossible. So I’ve had to cut some races out. I’ve tried to cut out races evenly so I still get a good balance of distances and techniques. So at Beitostølen I’m only racing on Saturday and Sunday, the 15k skate and the classic sprint.  I’m not sure what to expect in the races but that’s normal for the first weekend. Hopefully it go ok, and I’ll get a good run through before some more important races later in the year.

Today I picked up my new Team Synnfjell clothing for the winter. So watch out for the orange a white race suits. I didn’t choose the colour way, but it definitely stands out!.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Ham and Mustard

I spent last week on a training camp with Team Synnfjell in Beitostølen. There hasn't been that much early snow in Norway but Beitostølen was one of the few places with prepared ski trails. They had a 3k track that slowly grew to 4k by the end of the week. Up in the mountains there was a 5k track, but the weather was so miserable up there that it was pretty much unusable. I'm not going to lie. I've had better weeks skiing. In fact this week probably ranks up there amongst my ultimate worst weeks skiing. They had the snow cannons on all week trying to prepare more snow to make the loop longer and trying to get the stadium ready for the first competition of the year. It was about -1 or 2 the entire week and it was really humid with freezing fog/rain. It must have only just been cold and dry enough to make snow. So imagine it is a cold frosty morning. You go outside and you turn the garden hose on, plug it into the sprinkler and dance about under the sprinkler for 2hours. Repeat that twice daily and you'll start to feel how I felt all last week. On top of that about 5 million people turned up on Friday to ski on the snow. Skiing in a continuous line while having fake rain sprayed over you isn't exactly my idea of fun. Apart from this it was actually pretty good. We had some pretty good high quality sessions and got some good technique work done.
My technique work is going pretty well and I'm getting used to skiing on snow again. Especially in classic. I feel I'm back to where I was at my best (technically) last year and then some. Skating has taken a little bit of extra work and I'm not quite there yet. But a few more weeks and I'm sure it will begin to come together. In previous years I've really struggled with my classic technique and skating has gone pretty well. I'm now probably suffering from having over neglected my skating and focussed on classic a bit too much in the past. However I looked up some videos from when I was at my best last year and compared them to how I was last week, I don't think I'm too far behind that it's going to be impossible to get back there.
We had 3 good hard sessions on snow during the camp. The first was a test race. The conditions were extremely slow. It took 45min for a 15k! I've done 15k's in under 33min before! So it was a pretty hard session, but I think it was useful and worth it to get a good, continuous hard effort in before the season. I ended up second but quite a long way back. Hard to tell if that's good or bad as everyone was on different skis and the conditions were so extreme. But I'd rather be 2nd a bit back that last and hours behind.
The second hard session was a "sprintervall" with Team Oslofjord. We skied 3 loops but split the loop up into sections with roughly a 3min working part and 2min break. There were 2 efforts and 2 breaks on each loop. We raced the efforts as hard as we could sustain. I was really good for the first 4 efforts. But the last 2 I was knackered and skied horrifically slowly. The last hard session was a bit new for me. We did 3x10min threshold (sustainable pace), and the 10min with 30sec on and 30sec off. The last 10min was pretty tough, but good for technique work going at high speed and as hard as we good.
We stayed in some apartments and self catered which was pretty good. Whilst trying to get inventive with my lunch I found we had some mustard and rediscovered ham and mustard sandwiches. After that I pretty much only ate ham and mustard for breakfast, after training lunch and pre training lunch. It seemed to take off as we went through a whole squeezy bottle of mustard.
Other than the usual problems of having 9 boys live together for a week, everything with the team seems to be going quite well. Even Frank managed to train over 10 hours last week, in his bid to take the Tour de Ski title up Alp Germis. Although now he seems to be getting ahead of himself and going for the Tour de Ski and world champs double.
The British Biathlon team were also in Beito for a training camp before their selection races next week. I went round for a cup of coffee with them and had a good catch up. They seem to be doing well, hopefully they'll go fast in the winter.
The camp ended yesterday, but unfortunately I woke up with a bit of a sore throat and had to come home without training yesterday. I slept most of yesterday, and today I seem to be feeling better. Fingers crossed I've escaped without getting proper ill and I can train again tomorrow.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Val Senales and Back to Norway

The second half of my altitude camp went pretty well. Most morning we skied up on the Grawand glacier at the top of the Val Senales valley. In the afternoons we drove down to Naturno to rollerski or ran down in the valley at the Hotel in Maso Corto.
For the first few days the snow on the glacier was pretty awful. Bizarrely it was both the worst and the best summer/off season snow skiing I've ever had. Because there was so little snow, fewer alpine ski runs were open so there was more space on the glacier for xc skiing. The total length of the lap was almost 9k with some good varied terrain. So it was pretty good. On the other hand, it was only sheet ice. It was black glacier ice with a thin layer of what I would call crushed ice on top. It made classic skiing nearly impossible as any wax you did have on your skis was gone after a few km's. Skate skiing was ok, but it was quite challenging to ski technically well on the ice.
After a few days of this it snowed. And when it snows in Val Senales it really snows. The mountain was closed for a few days and we resorted to rollerskiing down in the valley. Weirdly, although snowing up the mountain it was dry down in the valley much to my delight. I hate rollerskiing in the rain when it's cold. Fortunately this year I seem to have avoided the almost annual rollerski at 0 degrees and sleeting horizontally in your face session.
After the snow storm the conditions on the glacier were perfect. The snow on the glacier is always extremely dry. Even if it was a sunny day and only 1 or 2 degrees bellow freezing we were waxing with green (cold) waxes. It is one of the few times early in the season when I know I will be guaranteed  cold conditions. So I took the opportunity to test some cold skis. In skate this was easy. I got a new set of cold skis from Fischer in the autumn, it took me about 30 seconds of skiing on them to realise they were better than my old ones. For classic it took a little more testing. I have some quite good pairs of cold skis and I was unable to choose one over the other, so hopefully we'll get some cold weather before Christmas this year and get some more testing done.
Apart from ski testing the glacier sessions were used for technique work. Rollerski technique almost directly translates to ski technique, but not quite. So the sessions were focused on getting used to skiing on snow again and working on the technique stuff I have been working on all summer. But now translating that over to being on skis and snow, not rollerskis and tarmac. We had Kåre with us to help out with technique. It's always good fun to have Kåre along and he certainly got his moneys worth from the hotel by eating his body weight in cake each evening. I don't understand where he puts it. Each night he would get a plate of cake from the buffet, it would be stacked full with a large slice of every cake.
I had quite a few good hard sessions as well. The glacier is at 3200m, far to high to train hard, so all my hard sessions were on rollerskis or running down the valley where there is actually the odd molecule of oxygen. Last year we did a test race up the road towards the hotel, I repeated the test again this year and had a slightly better time. So things are looking good for the season.
The first week at Val Senales was quite a tough training week. With getting to cable car up to the glacier each morning and driving down the valley in the evening, I didn't really have any spare time. On top of that we had a physio, Kelly, with us for a few days. I was either sleeping, eating, on route to or from  training, training or being beaten up by Kelly. It was pretty full on and after a week of hard training I needed a good rest day. There isn't really all that much to do in Maso Corto, so me and Posy played a bit of cards. We played slam. Posy is quite good at slam, but only because she cheats. I even have video evidence of her cheating (It's not on this computer so can't put it up on the blog). She clearly throws a card wildly into the air and "slams" a "pile" before the thrown card has even left her hand. On top of that the thrown card didn't even land on the pile it was meant to. She maintained that this was legal and that she had won the hand, refusing to replay the point, despite the video evidence. I spent the first few hands being destroyed and loosing epically. I decided the only way I could win would be if I also lowered my self to "Oyne house rules". I appreciate that I may have ruined my integrity by doing this, and I should have stuck to usual high standards of card playing rules. But after I had accepted the new (wrong) rules things quickly began to change and I won a few hands, thus providing proof that Posy was indeed cheating.
Towards the end of the camp I started to ease back the training so that when I got back to Norway I'd be ready to train hard, and get in some good hard sessions on snow. I flew back to Norway on Saturday with a rather eventful journey due to fog at Frankfurt airport. I delay from Innsbruck, a missed connection, further delays and missing a train all lead me to have to take the night train. But the train wasn't running so it was "bus for train". I ended up getting home at 1am on sunday, far from ideal, when I should have been home at 4pm the previous day.
The weather here has obviously been pretty bad. I woke up yesterday to say it tanking down with rain and the thermometer showing only 4 degrees. I fortunately had a recovery day. Thomas one of the guys I live with woke up and I asked him what he was going to train. He looked out the window and said that it looked drier outside that it had done the previous few days so he'd take the opportunity to rollerski. I thought it looked like a full on storm outside.
This afternoon I'm going to Beitostølen with Team Synnfjell. This autumn has been pretty mild in Norway so there isn't much snow around. Rumour has it that Beito has a 3k track at the ski stadium and a 4.5k track up in the mountains above the town. Hopefully we'll be able to make good use of the snow, because if we have to go back to rollerskiing I'm going to be a pretty miserable person to be around. It's not raining today. But I would still give it a "little to no" chance of seeing the sun. I feel like someone who has heliophobia. It's meant to snow a bit more during the week so hopefully the conditions will get better and better.
Now I have to go and pack.