Tuesday, 8 April 2014

95k double poling

95k is a long way. I knew it was a long way before I did the troll ski marathon. But nothing can quite prepare you for over 4 and a half hours of ski racing. 

I decided to race without kick wax on my skis and just double pole the entire 95k. I went on classic skis. It felt wrong to glide wax over the kick zone on my classic skis, but I managed to bring my self to do it. Having talked with a few people and looked at the altitude profile for the race I thought having just glide waxed skis would be a huge advantage.
The race starts at 8am over in Vennabu, this means a 4am wake up call in order to get the buss over there in time. I ate breakfast on the bus, peanut butter sandwiches and carbo loader gels. At the start it was really cold, bellow -10. This was much colder than had been forecast and was an added benefit with not having to mess around getting the kick wax to work. I only had my race skis with me so I ran for 30min before the start to warm up. 
The first 5k of the race was fairly flat with a few ups and downs. The pace from the start was quite fast. But the first real raise in tempo didn't come before the first drinks station. The pace was up and down and every time it went up a few people dropped off the group. I stayed up near the front of the group but tried never to lead. It was a gentle headwind and there was a huge benefit to stay behind. 
After the second drinks station we came into a really tough section and the first time I found it hard going. After a short sharp steep climb, the track the continued up a long gentle climb into a head wind. There were only 3 people with kick wax left in the group. Markus Westgård, Peter Skinstad and Martin Nyenget. Markus was at the front going pretty hard, and the group was strung out indian file behind him. I ended up behind Skinstad. This was the most annoying place to be. Peter was kicking so I couldn't really get close enough to him to get any shelter from the headwind. Then I'd get too close and hit his skis, then give him too much space and have to close the gap. After a few k like this the terrain eased off into a flatter section and the group bunched back into two lines. 
There were a couple of bobsleigh run like descents, really icy with lots of turns. Some of the old guys who had still kept up weren't exactly loving the downhills and those of us with skate boots on made quite an advantage. I ended up right at the front after one of the downhills just as Team NPRO decided to raise the pace. I hadn't really noticed but the size of the group had pretty much halved and the halved again. There was only about 15 people left in the group. 
At about 45k into the race I realised that I couldn't keep up any longer. I let the group go, stopped for my first toilet break and took a gel. I thought the second group would catch me, but nobody caught me. I skied the next 50k on my own, with a few individuals that occasionally went past or I overtook. For the 30k after I got caught I felt really really rough. I drank and ate lots and started to feel better towards the end of the race.
The last 30k is the hilliest part of the race. The race does have over 1500m of climb. I would say most of that is in the last 30k. When you are on an uphill, your triceps cramp up, your abs cramp up and you don't have any kick wax... well I can tell you, it is not exactly the most fun place to be in the world. On some of the steep bits I actually think it took me a minute to go 100m. The biggest climb comes with 20k to go. It's about 3k long and is up to Pellestova. There are a couple of steep sections but it is mostly just long. At the bottom I had to stop for my second nature call. I'm pretty sure I could have gone the rest of the race without having to stop. But my abs were screaming at me, and even worse than that were my hands. All the muscles in my hands cramped up, I tried taking my gloves off and on again and adjusting my pole straps. But nothing seemed to work. Even now, 3 days later I still can't clench my hand into a fist because all the muscles in my hands are so tired. 
After making it to Pellestova and the last food station I grabbed a handful of biscuit and cake. I put some in my waist band gel pocket for later and the rest in my mouth. I clearly put to much cake in my mouth at once. I immediately puked it all back up, all down my front. The last 15k from Pellestova wasn't fun. All I wanted to do was get to the finish. When you look at your watch and see you have been out for over 4 hours but still have another 30min left... it's demoralising. There are lots of small sharp rises in the last 5k. Double poling them after having gone 90k isn't fun. In the end I made it to Sjusjøen, "only" 21min behind the winner. 
After a quick change and some food I headed home. I din't feel too bad after the race, but on sunday I was horrific. I couldn't actually stand up properly. My back was the worst. I spent the day either lying on my back or my stomach. Standing up hurt, walking hurt, sitting hurt. Everything hurt my back. 
Troll Ski is a fantastic event. 95k long and they manage to have manned drinks and food stations every 10k. They even give you some food afterwards. I enjoyed the first 45k, but the last 50 was miserable. I'll still consider giving it a go next year though. 

Yesterday I managed to stand up and be a little bit active. I "played" 90min of football for the first time since last spring. I say played, but really I just stood at one end of the pitch and waited for the ball. We play that you have to score with your head, a volley or 1 touch as long as the ball goes in the air not along the ground. Safe to say I didn't score. The loosing team had to do 150 push ups.... so I get to write 90min football and strength in training diary. Double bonus for me. 
Today it is raining/sleeting/snowing. So in true sprit of a skier in April, I'm staying inside. April is the one month where if I don't have to the I won't. I don't have to train in the rain.... so I'm not going to. Of course normal service is resumed in May. 

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.