Tuesday, 24 February 2015

World Champs

I raced the sprint race at the world champs in Falun last Thursday. During the race I thought I was going pretty well and towards the end of the race I thought I was going to qualify for the heats. I had the same feeling I get when I do really good sprint prologues and I felt like I was really pushing my self as hard as I can. I know that when I manage to do that I tend to qualify. Unfortunately, moments after I crossed the line Kåre gave me the thumbs down from the coaching zone to tell me I was outside. I couldn't quite understand why, and struggled to come up with a point on the course I made a big mistake. I ended up way down in 40th, just over 2 seconds from qualify. I'd pushed my self so hard in the prologue that I was feeling pretty bad. I felt sick and spent the following half hour with my head between my knees staring at the floor of the changing rooms. At the time I thought It was just from the effort of the prologue.
I had time to go through the race with coaches and look at some video of the race. I skied technically well and skied to my game plan. But I was just missing a bit of energy. That extra spark. The margins are pretty small in sprint races and I can't afford to off my game if I want to be top 30 and make the heats.

After the race we headed back to the hotel. After a recovery jog I got a massage from our Physio. It was during the massage I started to feel unwell. I realised pretty quickly that things weren't right, I spoke to the team coach and got a room away from Andrew, who I had been sharing with. I spent the rest of the night vomiting. It explains the not having the extra gear in the race. And it explains why I felt so bad after the race.
After I eventually stopped having symptoms, around Friday lunch time, I was confined to the room for over 48 hours so as not to infect anybody else in our team or staying at the hotel. In the end I first headed out for a jog on Sunday night after having spent 3 days straight in bed.

I'm not going to do any more races during these championships. By sunday I had, had a few recovery days but I still didn't have any energy. I couldn't even bring my self to think about skiing or training, let alone racing. I was just happy to be able to get out of bed for the first time on sunday night. On Monday I was forced to skiing although I really didn't want to. I managed to bring my self to go and I was pleasantly surprised. I thought I'd ski for 15 to 20min and feel like death, but I skied for 50min and felt surprisingly good. This gave me a hope that I could start the 15k skate race tomorrow. So today I did some harder efforts to see how my body was responding and if I'd have enough energy to race. I knew pretty quickly after I started the efforts that I wouldn't be able to race. I felt ok at steady state but every time the effort went up I felt sluggish and out of breath. I'm pretty tired this evening, after the session, so it was probably the best decision to pull out of the race.

It is annoying to come to world champs and do 1 race and not do particularly well. I think I was getting towards some decent form and that things where starting to come together technically. I now have a little over a week and half to the next world cup races, where hopefully I can make up for a ruined world champs. 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Østersund

This weekend I race 2 world cup races in Østersund, Sweden, as my final preparations to the World Championships which start on Thursday.
The races didn't go amazingly well if I'm honest with my self. I finished down in 57th in the classic sprint and 67th in the 15k skate. I was looking for a top 30 in the sprint and I should be top 60 in a 15k. Quite why I din't skis fast I'm not so sure. I feel that I am actually in quite good form but I didn't manage to translate that into skiing fast this weekend. The classic sprint was really short at only 2 and half minutes and Iv'e noticed in the past that in really short sprints I have struggled if I'm not in amazing shape. I felt I wasn't up and going properly before the second half, and with such a short race I can't afford to give away so much time in the start. The world champs sprint is only 4 days away now. The course there is a bit longer and has some better terrain for me, so I'm still optimistic that I can ski fast there.
The 15k today was actually an ok race for me. I skied technically well and at a good even pace throughout the race. I was just a bit slower than I'd expected! I was a long way behind the winner, far more than I expected, but the actual position was ok and I was in around the people I expected to be on the results sheet. The atmosphere around the track made it fun to race today. There was a big crowd in the stadium and a good crowd out on the course with big screens a tv commentry being broadcast throughout the woods. The only misfortunate thing is that Scandinavians insist on cheering me on with "heia Musgrave" and "heia Englander". Not every British person is english and not every British skier is called Musgrave. I'm not sure if it is more insulting to me or more insulting to Andrew, but either way it wouldn't cause them much harm to actually look at a startlist and get my name right. Geography is obviously not taught at a very high standard in Sweden, but I don't have an easy solution for that.

After Kazakhstan I was expecting more from this weekend. I thought my form was on the way up and I was starting to feel better skiing. I was also finding it easier to push my self and really access my top gear. After what was quite a stressfull journey home for Almaty, I had an easy weeks training. I had to find a balance between having enough rest and recovering, and getting my body ready to race. I think I did a pretty good job, although this weekends results say otherwise, when I look back at what I did, I don't think I'd change anything.
The conditions back in Lillehammer are really good at the moment, there is lots of snow and all the tracks are complete and being prepared daily. It is also a bit warmer and the sun has returned! It is now daylight after 5pm!! It's much easier to train when the conditions are good. Here it Østersund they have not been so fortunate. It has been warm. All the tracks here are made up of old man made snow giving a combination of ice and sugar snow. Fortunately it didn't get too soft and the conditions stayed good for the weekend.
Tomorrow morning we are driving the 4 hours or so down to Falun. From what I have heard the conditions there are great and there is lots of snow. So I look forward to racing there. My first race isn't before Thursday. Tomorrow I'll just have a jog after travelling, on Tuesday I'll ski for 45min to an hour and on Wednesday I'll have some short intervals and test my skis on the race course. Hopefully this will get me in prime shape.


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Back In Norway

I've made it back to Norway and I'm not trying to recover, get over the travel and also get ready for heading to Sweden later in the week. There isn't much time to pause as the world cup continues this weekend in Ostersund, Sweden and the world championships start in just over a week. It's pretty full on.
The last few days in Kazakhstan went pretty well. I took it easy and spent a lot of time in the hotel resting. I finally got over the jet lag and got into a pretty good routine with sleep, eating and training and competing. My last competition was the 30k skiathlon, mass start. The temperatures had slowly risen throughout the week and it was starting to take its toll on snow conditions. It was pretty evident that 30k was going to be rather unpleasant. It was warm and the snow was slow and sticky and extremely dirty. I've never seen such dirty snow.
I haven't had time to test my klister skis that much this year, so before the race we opted to pick a skate pair that I would go on to give us more time to test classic skis. I picked my best warm pair of skate skis and 3 pairs of classic skis to test. In the end the classic testing was quite straight forward, we found one pair that was miles better than the others. The kick wax seemed fairly straight forward, Åsmund had done a pretty good job, it is not often I start a race already knowing that my skis dead good.
I didn't have the best of starts to the race as an Italian decided to try and cause as much mayhem as possible. I quickly sorted him out in a brief exchange of words. I'm pretty sure his English is better than my Italian, and he knew fully well that I wasn't very impressed with him. After this incident I was dead last 800m into the race. I slowly started to work my way through the pack and by 7,5k I was well with the group. By 10k I'd worked my way to the front of the group. Just after 10k, Notz, the only German in the race attacked. I just so happened to be in the track behind him. I stuck on his tails and before I knew it I was skiing In second place. I realised pretty early that it had cost me a lot to keep up with Notz. Two french guys and an Italian joined us in the front group, before a swede eventually made it across. I just focussed on keeping up with group and trying to use as little energy as possible. We made it to the ski exchange with a 20 second lead.
And that was about the end of the positives for me. I payed the price for not testing my skate skis. The conditions on the skate track where much wetter than we expected and I would have benefited from having even wetter skis. However I think most people had been caught out, not only me. I dropped the lead group pretty early on the skate leg. Then got into a good rhythm and finished the race down in 16th.

The results where not exactly that amazing last week. But there are a lot of positives. Things are beginning to work like they should. The technique training is paying off and I feel my physical form is really on the way up. I had two good classic races which I haven't had since the Olympics last year, and my skating was ok in the 15k time trial. There is a lot to be happy with, at the same time there is a lot to work on. But I'm optimistic about what I can achieve during the last 6 weeks of the season.

After the race was finished I headed back to hotel to rest and pack. I was picked up from the hotel at 2am that night and flew out of Almaty just before 5am. The travel back to Norway took a long time. Everything took a little bit longer than expected, but luckily I ended up with all my bags and skis.

I have been really impressed with Almaty. As I said in my last post, the only real problems where the air pollution and the lack of snow. Otherwise it was pretty much a perfect championships. It annoys me to read stuff in the media, written by people who weren't even there, slagging off the venue and the organisation. Similarly it annoys me to hear other coaches complaining about small things such as a change of course being used for an event. This sort of thing happens everywhere we go, and is absolutely nothing to do with the event being in Kazakhstan or the ability of Kazakhstan to host an event. There was concern in the Norwegian media about the safety of the course after a russian girl hit a metal fence. There where thousands of laps of the race course skied during the last week. And there was 1 person who crashed badly. Complaints that the fence should have been padded are ridiculous. Any race course, anywhere in the world has dangers. Trees, fences our even light posts. Not every tree beside a race course is padded, not every light post is padded. That a fence, on a straight downhill wasn't padded is not unusual. It feels to me that people where wanting to find faults and problems with the competition. As far as I'm concerned there where none that we don't encounter at races everywhere else in the world.

Almaty is a candidate city for the 2022 Winter Olympics. After having been there I do actually hope they get it. I've never been to Beijing, the only other remaining candidate city, but I'm confident Almaty would do a pretty good job. 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Kazakhstan

I'm now in Almaty, Kazakhstan for the world under 23 championships. Last week I race in Norway at the Norwegian championships. Which quite frankly I'd rather not write about, but I guess I have to say something about it. After having been ill for a week or so I got back into training and trained quite hard up to the Norwegian champs in Røros. I thought my form was ok and almost back to where I was before I was ill. But evidently this was not the case. I raced the 15k skate and the classic sprint, and finished 96th and 46th. Not exactly the results I was looking for. It is hard to put a single reason on who I skied so slowly, probably a mixture of several things.

After the sprint in Røros I flew to Oslo, only after having an argument with the security about the state of matter of peanut butter. My argument was that is was a butter, you melt butter and you can't melt something that is already a liquid. Therefore it was a solid. Their argument was that it was spreadable, therefore a liquid. At risk of causing an international terror incident at Røros airport, which is about the size of a cow shed, I gave up. Luckily the airport is so small and there was about 2 people on the flight, so I was allowed round the back to put my precious peanut butter into my check in bag.
I stayed overnight at the airport hotel in Oslo before flying to Almaty the next day. It was a long journey, and I'd say it was roughly similar to flying to Canada. I flew via Frankfurt before flying on to Almaty with a stopover in Astana to let people off the plane and refuel. For the final leg of the flight the plane was almost entirely skiers heading to Almaty. The Slovakians, Norwegians, Swiss, French and Germans were all on the flight. The flight got in to Almaty at 2.30 in the morning. But because of all the skis and equipment to be unloaded from the plane and re loaded into shuttle busses to the hotels, it wasn't before 5am that I was flopping into bed.
I slept for almost 5 hours, the ate breakfast before heading up the stadium to get in a quick ski session. The tracks are pretty good and look out from the top of a hill over the city.

Upon arriving in Almaty one thing was clear. Or perhaps not clear. There is a serious pollution problem here and smog is unbelievable. I've heard of smog, and seen some pictures on the news, but I've never experienced it before. The smog was is so bad that the airport arrivals hall is hazy and you can't make out the other end of it without squinting to see through the smog. This of course has an effect on the snow, breathing and pretty much living in general. It took me a few days to get used to it, but now I wake up and expect to only see a few 100m out the window. I've gotten used the smell and taste, yes it does actually leave a taste in your mouth, and I don't think it is effecting me too much.
Most of the smog sits down in the town. The venue is on the "smog line". Sometimes it is engulfed in it, but most of the time you can see out above the thick layer. Occasionally the lower down trails are covered but the upper ones are fine.

There isn't much snow here, just enough to hold a competition, although there are a few stones in the track. I've only managed to properly ruin 1 pair of skis on the stones. Most of my skis have escaped with only a few marks here and there which will come out when they are next stone ground.
The little snow that there is is grey. It's weird, it is still quite fast even though it is dirty, and it is really dry even though it is quite warm. The trails are all on old quarry roads which a carved into the hill. This means there are a lot of switchback/180 turns. There where 7 in the sprint loop, and 11 on the distance 5km loop. Thats a lot. In a "normal" you might expect one or 2 and the end of out and back sections.
The amount of bends made the classic sprint race interesting. All the downhill was in the first half before a massive hill back up to the stadium to finish. All the u23 guys played with double poling on skate skis versus kicking on classic skis with grip wax. The day before I was 2 seconds faster double poling, but I decided to kick the race. The grip for the race day was a bit better and the tracks where a bit more stable and I thought I'd gain more in the last hill. 1 Norwegian, 1 swiss, 2 Poles and 4 Italians double poled the qualifier. They all qualified.
My quarter final in the sprint was really good. I felt good and strong and my skis where really good. From the first hairpin bend I managed to lead the dictate the race. I got passed in the final 100m and finished second. After that I didn't feel so good though. I felt really bad between the quarter and the semifinal. All I could do was sit down, every time I stood up I felt dizzy and sick. About 5min before the semi I started to feel better, but ultimately I hadn't recovered enough. I went straight to the back of the semi final, and there I stayed. I ended up 12th overall, in what was my best ever classic sprint. My goal was to make the final, so I am a little upset I didn't make it. But when I look at the bigger picture it is actually a really promising race. I haven't managed to do as well as I had hoped in classic sprint this year. I thought I trained well enough during the summer to make a small jump in classic sprinting. But until now I've had nothing to show for it. So to get a good result under my belt was important. More importantly It shows I was back on track after the disastrous time I'd had in Røros.

After the sprint I had a pretty easy day with only a short ski testing session. And today was the 15k skate time trial. The race today went quite well. I started off at a pretty controlled pace and kept the pace around the same for the first 12k. I was getting splits that I was leading until roughly 12k where I was 2 seconds behind the leader. (splits where off those who started in front of me). The last 3k where rather hellish. The weather had warmed up and the sun was hitting the tracks for the first time (today was the first completely smog free day). The snow slowly began to warm up and turn wet. A lot of the last few k's where in direct sunlight and my skis slowed down a lot. And then I slowed down a lot. I wasn't feeling good for the last 2k or so. If you look at the live timing I actually went passed people at the end of the race. I was much better compared to the people around me, but compared to the leaders, this is where the race was won and lost. I still scored a pretty good result, but it could have been an amazing result if I'd kept it going.
And just like the sprint, it shows I'm back on track and taking a step in the right direction. It was easily my best 15km so far this season, if not my best distance race longer than 4km.

So far the championships has been pretty good. There are really only two things that aren't perfect, the smog and the snow. I've been to 7 world junior and u23 championships, and I'm struggling to thing of one that was better organised. The hotel here is only a 20min drive from the stadium and shuttle busses run every 30min. The food is basic but ok and the people are amazing. The people here really want to impress and pull out all the stops. Anything and everything is done to make sure we have a good time. The people in the town and having nothing to do with the event are friendly and all seem to have a basic understanding of english even if they don't speak it. We had a recovery run and stopped at the supermarket where we were asked for "selfies".
There has been a little "selfie" competition going on with people trying to get pictures with the military guards that guard the race course. So far my roommate James Clugnet is winning. I don't have a copy of the picture but if you find him on Instagram you'll see it.

There has been one other comical incident. Two days ago the cleaners came round the hotel and took all the towels... even towels that hadn't been used. Every single towel was taken. All the athletes came back from training at the same time and wanted to shower. Found they had no towel so descended upon reception. The towels were taken for cleaning and would be delivered at 7pm! We eventually got towels at around 10pm that night. But I know some other teams didn't get until the evening the following day. Before this we only had one towel in our room, as james had been here on his own before I came and they hadn't delivered a second set. So I had been using a small hand towel anyway. But only when the great Hotel Kazakhstan towel drought of 2015 kicked in did James produce a clean towel he had taken with him, so we did actually manage to get a shower after training.

I leave here on Sunday, but before then I have the small matter of a 30k skiathlon to negotiate.