Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Italian Job

For the second year in a row I've spent Christmas in Livigno, Italy. With this year being such a bad snow year for central Europe, I was lucky enough that Livigno was one of the few places with snow. In fact there is quite a bit of snow here. Enough that all the cross country trails are open, and new this year is an extra 10k trial at the top of the valley. Livigno hosted the first leg of the longdistance race circuit, The Ski Classics and the new loop was added to the trial network for the event. There is now about 35km of ski trails.

It's been a breath of fresh air to ski on longer and easier trails instead of just doing laps of race courses. It's pretty much there first time this year I've skied on any loops longer than about 5k. The conditions have been pretty good for training with it being cold most of the time, but sunny and not too windy. I've taken the opportunity to train a bit more volume. Last week I trained a whole 16 hours! Of course this is not very much compared to the 30 hour weeks I trained in the summer but compared to the previous few weeks of 10 hours it feels like a lot! It took me a few days to get used to going out for longer sessions. I had some good ski sessions over 2 hours and a skate session that was 3 hours long. It was a bit of shock to the system, but I quickly got over it. By the end of last week I was starting to enjoy my long sessions, and I wasn't feeling so tired after them. Then it was time to stop. I'm racing again next weekend so the hours have to be eased back and the focus is back on getting the speed up and getting ready to race.

I've had a couple of hard sessions as well. Normally I'd drive over to Valdidentro to train hard at a lower altitude, but there hasn't been much snow there yet this year. I went over to look but due to holiday traffic it took an hour each way instead of 30min. There was an 800m loop of snow, but there were a lot of kids out skiing and it was fairly flat. So I came back to Livigno and did my hard sessions here. It's worked quite well and I haven't noticed the altitude effecting the sessions that much. But I have also been quite high for over 3 weeks now, so I would have thought I'd be adapted by now.

Christmas has been a bit unorthodox for my family this year. Due to both my mum and my sister having to work at various times during the holidays it was impossible for us all to be in the same place and the same time. My parents came out to visit me on the 26th, and we celebrated Christmas a day late. The Europeans celebrate Christmas a day early, so I don't see any harm in being a day late. My parents have been here in Livigno having a little ski holiday, my mum is coming over to the start of the Tour de Ski to watch the first stage before she heads home in the new year.

Seeing as there has been a weekend off racing, things have been a little bit less hectic and more relaxed. However now things are getting back to "normal". The Tour de Ski kicks off on Saturday in Oberstdorf, Germany. It will be my 3rd TDS start and I'm looking forward to it. Mostly because we don't have to fo to Oberhof this year. Like the previous 2 years I'm only going to do the first 3 stages. The first 3 stages suit me quite well and hopefully I can get some good results. After the first 3 stages the Tour moves on to Italy. The stages planned for Italy don't suit me so well and I'm better off doing something else. I've never completed the tour and never done anything like as hard as it. So I'm not sure how I would respond or how my form would be after having done something so hard. But this year I will get a little taste. Straight after stage 3 I'm flying up to Sweden to do the Scandinavian Cup in Falun. The races there are on the same trails as the World Champs in February. So it will be exciting to check them out. The plan at the moment is to do only the second 2 days of the Scandinavian Cup, the classic sprint and the 30k skiathlon.

After Falun the plan was originally to head back to Europe to get some more altitude. But due to the severe lack of snow this year I'm not yet sure if that's going to be possible. So I might yet end up heading back to Norway and putting in a good training block there. But as you can see, the next few weeks are quite busy with a lot going on. Hopefully the races go well. I feel as if training has been going well so now it's just to race fast.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

From 58th to 20th.

A quick reminder that my blog has been nominated for an award. You can go here http://www.trespass.com/row/blog-awards-voting and vote for my blog under the snowsports category.

The past week has been spent doing pretty much nothing. Like I said in my previous blog, I was quite tired and a bit run down from all the training I'd done before the season started. My form was up and down and unreliable. So the last week I took the decision, after consulting with a number of coaches, to cut my training right back to the bare essentials. I trained roughly and hour each day. A jog and strength on Monday, a short ski and speed on Tuesday, a longer ski with 3x10 threshold on Wednesday and a 45min ski on both Thursday and Friday. Compared to how I normally train this is pretty much as close as I'll ever get to taking a week off. I felt good during the week. I had some really good quality training sessions and felt I got a lot out of them, even though they were short.

On Saturday I raced the 15k skate in the Davos world cup. My focus is on sprint races and I wouldn't normally do a 15k race the day before a sprint. But there were a few reasons back the decision to race the distance race. Firstly 15k skate is a world champs event this year: So getting a few good races in that event under my belt before world champs is a bonus. I can occasionally put in a really good distance race, like at the olympics last year, and the 15k is after the sprint at world champs so it is worth it to do the event. Secondly the course in Davos is extremely flat. That doesn't mean it is easy, but it means that heavier skiers have a chance. Everyone who made the podium was 80kg or over. I don't think that has ever happened before and there is only a handful of guys over 80kg that can win a distance race. And thirdly there was a little bit of me thinking that last week I had skied so badly that if I was going to go slow, I may as well go slow in more races and try and enjoy skiing and what I was doing.
The 15k was ok. But not amazing. The course was extremely icy. There was absolutely no loose or soft snow on top. It was just ice. I've never seen conditions like it before. It was really hard to balance and really hard to find any stable skis. Muzzy started off 30 seconds behind me. I was expecting him to catch me around half way and then I would try and keep up with him to the finish. Muzzy passed me at exactly half way and I kept up for a bit but got dropped on a downhill. Because of the ice I took the safe approach on the only downhill on the course. The corners were so icy that the only way to get round them was to go right to the inside, turn your skis into a hockey stop and slide to the outside of the corner. Once you had one ski off the race course and on the soft snow outside your could make your may around the corner. A lot of people fell. I probably lost a bit too much time on the downhills but at least I didn't fall. I ended up quite near the back with a not so amazing result. Unfortunately on Saturday my form still didn't really show any signs of improvement.
The lever on world cup has really increased in the past few years. When I first did world cup back in the 08/09 season I was 6min behind in 15k. I wasn't last but I was near the back. On Saturday I was only 2.30 behind but I was still quite near the back.

On Saturday night I was staring down the barrel of the gun that was my worst ever pre Christmas season. I have been all over the place. Erratic results and my form feeling so different from day to day. By Saturday night I really had very little positive to take with me for the rest of the season. My goal for the 5 weeks of racing before Christmas was just to get up and running. To feel good and post a few good results to build on. Ideally I wanted to get better and better each week. But this had gone out the window by week 3. Week 4 was a disaster and week 5 didn't look to be that much better.

I first started racing world cup in 08/09 and even before that I shared a room with Andrew on training camps and at other races. So for over 6 years I've shared a room, sometimes even a bed, occasionally even the same duvet with Andrew. Rarely have I complained. Rarely have I needed to. Until last night. The beds at our hotel are useless. They are fold out beds that are really short so our feet dangle off the end. They also have a gap at the back of them that the pillows fall down. So we took the mattresses off and slept on the floor. This had been fine all week. But last night Andrew was the most annoying room mate in the world. He went to the toilet about 10 times, and he uses his watch back light to guide him to the toilet. Im pretty much convinced he shines the light in my eyes on purpose and that it has an extra high strength setting that lights up the entire room up. There was rocking and rolling over and loud sighing from his side of the room. It was pretty much impossible to sleep.

At breakfast I was pretty much convinced that I had slept so bad that it was going to be nigh on impossible for me to ski fast at all. But by the time I got to the stadium and headed out ski testing I felt pretty good. The snow was much more stable today. It was still really hard, but there was much more grip and it was easier to ski technically well. I found some good skis pretty quickly and headed off to warm up. My warm up went well and I felt as if I was skiing well.

Because the sprint course he in Davos is a 2 lapper they use a batch start for the prologue time trial. I was off second in my batch 10 seconds behind the home town favourite and olympic champion Dario Cologna. In a time trial start you can start 3 seconds before and 3 seconds after your time. The time at the finish is still accurate as you set off a timing wand when you go out. Of course this brings in a tactic roll in sprint time trials. Do you go off at 3 seconds before making it look like you are close to the guy in front? Or do you wait and go at 0? Last week I set off at 3 before, giving me a 7 second gap to the guy in front. But today I went on 0 or maybe ever 1 second behind giving me a bigger gap to Cologna. The crowd went insane for Cologna, as you would expect.
My first lap was quite controlled. I made sure I nailed all my lines on all the corners and that I skied technically well. As I came onto the long straight through onto the second lap I really started to up my speed. I could see I was up on Cologna, and he was no close enough that he never went out of sight for the rest of the race.
I crossed the line in 22nd. Two people that started behind me came in front of me and I ended the prologue in 24th.
My quarter final was really tight and hectic. I don't think I've even been in a heat with so much contact. Skis, poles, arms, elbows, everywhere. On the long straight as we came onto the second lap I tried to make a move but I didn't have the turn of speed I needed. Through some tight manoeuvring, people falling and some near falls, I ended up 4th in my heat and 20th overall. Of course it would have been amazing to make the semifinal. But I'm happy with 20th, and happy that I was in the mix in my quarter final. Most of all I'm happy that things are going the right way again.
To end the pre Christmas season on a positive note is great. I now have something to build on. I've noticed things that I need to adjust and it now feels like it is possible to go forward and improve. The results from the last few weeks have been so far behind my expectations that I didn't even know where to begin or how to get myself back to where I wanted to be. At least now I know that the work I put in the summer has payed off, and the results are improving.

I'll take it easy for the next few days before getting back into some quality training over Christmas. I'm spending Christmas in Livigno, Italy. There I can ski everyday on what seems like the only snow in Europe? I'm going to race the Tour de ski, which starts in 2 weeks. Until then I'll just be training.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Davos Disappointment

I raced the world cup sprint in Davos yesterday. Last year I came 29th in the same event, this year I came 58th. When I looked through the race calendar at the start of the season in May, Davos was one of the events that I picked out as a race I could do really well in and I decided to give it a little bit of extra attention. The course suits me well, being fairly flat, with lots of skate 2/double dance and the medium altitude of 1600m suits me well, as I have been to altitude for training camps. 
However when it came to racing I was completely out of shape. I was tired and lethargic all day and never felt comfortable skiing during my warm up or during the race. My technique was all over the place and I never managed to push my self up into my top gear that is needed to go really fast in sprint races. 
It's starting to really annoy me now. I've raced 8 races this year so far. 1 was good, another was acceptable and 6 have been well bellow standard. I can accept not being good at skiing, for example if I had an amazing day and felt awesome but ended up 58th, then it is easy to accept there are 57 people who are better than me. But that's not the case. My form is swinging dramatically from one end to the other. I have some really good training sessions where I ski well and get a lot out of the session. Then the following day I can feel really tired and have no energy and ski really badly. Or as with yesterday, race really badly. 
For me it is a pretty unusual place to be in. Previously I've always started the season off with average results before I slowly build myself into the season. My results are almost always stable, I can't remember the last time I varied as much as I have done over the past few weeks. 
I spent this morning talking to coaches and getting opinions on why this might be happening and how I deal with it. It was pointed out to me that actually yesterdays result wasn't that bad. "If it was a bad day and you were only in 58th then think what you could do on a good day." The general consensus was that I've trained so much during the summer and the autumn that I just need time to recover and let myself get into good shape. I have already reduced my training hours quite a bit for the last few weeks. But it may be that I need a few more weeks with little training before I begin to notice the effects of being well rested. Of course the biggest races of the year aren't until January and February. So at a first glance I may actually be in quite a good situation. The only problem is that it is unknown and I've never really been here before. So who knows what will happen. But for now I'll stick to the plan. 
The start of this season has been quite hectic with lots of races back to back. I thought I was going to be really tired after Lillehammer and with the travel down to Switzerland. But I was pleasantly surprised to find I felt good all of last week. It was the first time so far this season where I've felt like I've fully recovered after a race weekend. I had some really good training sessions despite the limited snow. There was only a 1.3km track of snow at the start of the week. I used the track once and had a good technique and speed session. Otherwise I went to the gym and had some easy running sessions. By Friday they had made a 5km track for the races over the weekend. I had a good hard session going though the sprint track to be used for the race on Sunday. I worked on technique and also tried out some different ways of attacking the hills and corners on the course. Working out where it was important to go all out and where it was important to hold back. All in all it was pretty good training week with a lot of positives. Until Sunday. 
We stayed in an apartment and self catered last week which was pretty good. We had our own space and living room with a small kitchen. We made some pretty good meals. Posy did some baking... although only made healthy things like carrot cake and banana bread... both of which count as 1 of your 5 a day? 
For some reason a few weeks ago I had looked up the rules for the card game Gin Rummy. This lead me to a website where you could play lots of different card games and Yahtzee. I became addicted to some of the card games, and last week I decided to play Yahtzee for the first time. Andrew saw I was playing Yahtzee online over my shoulder and laughed at me and said I had a sad life. Then he decided to check it out and see what it was all about. About 5min later he too was addicted to online Yahtzee, saying "I'll just play one more game", before he proceeded to spend the next hour glued to his phone. Posy found some die in the cupboard at the apartment and we played "non virtual" yahtzee. We had some pretty close games and it is too close to call who is the official team yahtzee champion. 
The world cup should have moved on to France for next weekends races. But due the lack of snow everywhere in Europe it is staying in Davos for an extra week. I have changed my plans and instead of heading to the Alpen Cup in St Ulrich I'm going to have another week here in Davos. Next week the races are a 15k skate and a skate sprint. I'm planning on doing both of them. I'm quite happy I get a second chance at the sprint and hopefully I can put together some better results than I did this week. 
We had to move out of the apartment as it was booked out this week. So we've moved into official team accomadation in a hotel. So far it seems pretty good. Hotels are normally not great as we don't get much living space and live pretty cramped and close to each other. Here the rooms are just standard rooms, but the hotel seems pretty keen to please us. They've already asked us we'd like to eat for our meals and the food seems pretty good. The added bonus is that there is a Ping - Pong table. So the British Nordic ping pong championships will continue. With the absence of Thomas I see my chances of at least a podium spot being quite good. With Andrews terrible thumb injury forcing him to play with his less favoured right hand I may even have an outside chance at winning.

My blog has also been nominated for a "Trespass Blog Award" in the snow sports category. The blog which gets the most votes wins the award. The voting should have gone live today, and is open to the 5th of January. This is the link to the voting page http://www.trespass.com/blog-awards-voting However it doesn't seem to have gone live just yet. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Lillehammer - Davos

I raced the world cup in Lillehammer last weekend. The race program was a mini tour with 3 stages all adding up to a total time. I had always planned to skip the last day of the tour and only race on the Friday and Saturday. So for me the plan was a skate sprint and a skate 10k time trial. 

Last year I had started to ski quite well in skate sprints and had two top 30's on world cup. The sprint course in Lillehammer is really hard. It's quite long and there is a lot of climb. I'm also not an out and out sprinter, I can occasionally do ok in distance races. So I thought the long sprint with a lot of climb would fit me quite well and I might even have an edge over the sprinters. However this was not the case. I skied really, really, really badly and ended up way down. So far down I don't even really want to get into it. I haven't really got any idea as to why it went so badly. I didn't have the best of skis. I chose a very fine structure for my race skis which worked well during testing. However it snowed a little bit and compacted down giving the tracks a wet glaze. This might have caused the problem with the skis, but I don't think that is 100% responsible for me skiing badly. 

The following day for the 10k skate was quite different. I was quite sure my form was awful, so tactically I was really careful. The course in Lillehammer is one of the hardest in the world with a long climb about 800m long at the end of the 5k lap. They used the climb last year at Norwegian nationals. I timed the best men in the 30k skiathlon. They took over 3min on the climb, which is a long time. The conditions on Saturday were a little bit different and faster. There was less skate 1/paddling and more skate 2/double dance. So I took it really controlled to make sure I had something  left in the tank for the last time up the climb. I went perhaps too slow at the start and had too much left for the last few k's but not enough distance to make up enough places. I ended up only 1.36 behind the leaders but I lost less than 20 second in the last 2.5k. So almost all my time was lost at the start of the race. It was in fact my best distance race ever. 

Quite as to why my form is swinging so rapidly from my worst day in ages to my best race ever, I don't quite know. I've spoken to my coaches about it and they reckon it is quite normal for the start of the season. I was training a lot right up until the season started and I haven't quite got that out of the system yet. I think by the third week of the season I should be up and running in stable form. Hopefully my form will level out this week and I'll be able to ski fast in Davos and St Ulrich before Christmas. 

I used Sunday to pack and have a long easy ski at Nordseter just outside Lillehammer. After the racing was finished on Sunday all of the British team headed to the Airport and flew to Zurich. We got to Davos in the early hours on Monday morning. On Monday I just had an easy jog around the town. Today I skied for 90min. But there isn't much snow here in Davos or even in central Europe. There is only 1k at the moment but they hope to have 5k open by Friday. They are working pretty hard driving in trucks of snow from snow depots where they have snow cannons working round the clock. Obviously 1k of track isn't enough for an entire world cup circus. So lots of team have headed to Livigno to get some snow time. We decided to stay here as none of us are going to ski that much this week. Tomorrow I'm in the gym, I'm having a rest day on Thursday and I'm skiing again on Friday when the track is up to 5k. 

Here's a few videos from the 10k in Lillehammer last weekend. Both of them are from the long climb at the end of the 5k loop. 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Autumn Classics.

My race season started 2 weekends ago at Beitostølen. The first weekend back racing always feels a bit unusual. It had been a long time since my last race the season before. On top of all the usual uncertainties that come with the first competition of the season this year I was competing for Team Synnfjell for the first time. It always takes a few races to get into the rhythm of working with new waxers and support guys. 
I decided to skip the first race on the Friday and focus on the 15k skate on the Saturday and the classic sprint on the Sunday. The race schedule before Christmas this year is pretty full on and I have to cut back and miss some races. Wether missing the first race of the season was a good idea or not, I don't really know. I'm pretty sure I was more nervous watching on TV than the rest of the team were racing. 
I raced the Saturday as planned. I was pretty nervous before I started. I find when I get extremely nervous it is easy to make mistakes and change from my normal pre race routine. But this year I pretty much managed to stick on track and get my self to start without any problems. I started my race and what I thought was an ok pace. And I skied technically well throughout the race. But I didn't ski that fast. In fact I was quite slow. I was a lot further down the results sheet than I had expected, and a lot further behind that I had expected. 
The day after was the classic sprint. As a team we took the decision to double pole. It obviously worked as we ended up with 3 in the heats. I didn't make the heats. I felt sluggish and tired all through the prologue and ended up a good chunk down on qualifying. 
The team however had an amazing day. With 3 guys in the heats it was pretty much only the Norwegian national teams that were ahead of us. We showed we can compete right up there with the best guys. And we had by far the best results per krone in team budget. 
Although the team had a good weekend, I can't exactly sugar coat my results, I was pretty bad and my results at best were average. It's always a shock to the system to get beat by so much and the few days after Beito were quite important. I had always planned to use Beito and Gålå to get into better shape for later in the year. But I was quite a bit further back than I had expected. Together with my coaches we decided to just stick to the plan and see how Gålå went before making any changes. I was dubious, the first 3 days after Beito I felt really tired. I had no energy and every training session felt like a big task. On the 4th day, also the day before Gålå, I started to feel better. I tested skis at Gålå and had 4x2min at race pace on the sprint track. I felt almost normal again. 
The day after was the skate sprint at Gålå. I wanted to make the heats but I thought it would be a tough ask for me with the form I had coming into the race. The level in Norway is insanely high at the moment. You had to be within 5 seconds of the winner to be top 30 and qualify for the heats. There were 170 people on the start list so just to make the top 30 you are really up there in the upper bracket of the competition. Olympic medalist from Sochi, Ilya Chernusov, didn't even make the heats, nor did he even make the top 30 in the distance race the day after. There were other quality skiers who didn't make the heats and almost everyone who made the semi finals had some world cup racing experience. 
I qualified in 19th. I was happy to make it into the top 30, but I made a few mistakes in my prologue, I missed a few technique changes and was out of balance a couple of times. If I'd nailed it perfectly I think I could have gained a second. My quarter final was pretty exciting. In the end I executed my plan perfectly. I took it easy out of the start and got my place at the back. After the first 400m on the flat I decided to move up on the first climb. At the top of the first climb there is a 90 degrees right hand bend. This is when things first got interesting. I had moved up to 4th and was on the inside. Snorri Einarsson was on the outside and decided he suddenly wanted to fight me for the inside line. Snorri weighs about 50kg, I weigh about 85kg. So when a comparable feather decides to land on my shoulder it pretty quickly finds its self deposited on the ground. I think Snorri needs to learn to old saying of "don't start a fight your aren't going to win." I moved into 4th for the first of 2 difficult downhils. I wanted to be on the outside of a big 180 degree bend at the bottom so I could cut in a get a better line into the second uphill. 5th place came past me on the inside, but I new I had a better line on the bend so I didn't stress. Then from nowhere came this black clad speeding bullet on the inside of the bend. Everybody was breaking to get a good line on the bend. But not Snorri. He straight lined into the apex of the bend, then out the other side. I'm pretty sure he'd have kept on going into the bushes on the other side. But Gjøran Tefre was in his way. They collided/snorri rugby tackled Gjøran, and took each other out of the race. I ended up with a dead good line into the second and final uphill. I ended up in 2nd for the final downhill. On the long finish straight I sprinted round the leader and won the heat. 
My semi final was unfortunately for me the fastest heat of the day. The pace was so high straight from the start. I got my self comfortable at the back. But I couldn't move around anywhere as the pace was so kept so high. In the finish straight I won the sprint for 5th place. The annoying thing is I would have won the other semifinal with the time I had, and the time was much faster than my prologue earlier in the day when I was fresh. However it does mean I got a really good training session and a good run through at really high speed. I also got 2 good heats with training at close quarter and tactical skiing. So ultimately it should help me towards skiing faster later in the season. 
It was also the first time I've ever made the semi final as senior athlete. At any level, Norwegian cup, Scandinavian Cup, World cup I'd only ever made the quarter finals before last friday. 
The day after was a 10k skate time trial. I felt pretty tired at the start but picked it up throughout the race and finished off quite fast. I ended up 34th. An ok result, but hopefully I'll be making top 30's in Norwegian cup shortly.
The final day of competition was a 15k classic hunting start. Unfortunately I didn't do that much hunting, and got hunted by quite a few people. I felt really tired and after 5k I went into survival mode and just tried to make it to the finish.

After Gålå I headed back to Lillehammer. The world cup is here in a few days. Starting on Friday with a skate sprint, a 10k skate on Saturday and a classic 15k hunting start on Sunday. The same schedule as at Gålå. I'm looking forward to it. It is in away my "home" world cup. So it should be exciting to race. The weather is meant to be good so I think there will be a lot of people out watching and probably a good few people that I know. Hopefully my shape will continue to improve and results will too. The next few days are filled with pretty easy training. Yesterday was an hours ski, today is only 45min of strength work, tomorrow and Thursday I'll only ski for an hour each day. The focus is more on recovery and keeping my self fresh than training lots.