Monday, 22 June 2015

Blue Extra in June

After the May training camp with team Synnfjell I had a fairly easy training week. I only had one week before I was back on a two week training camp with the British Team. So I needed to make sure I was rested enough to get the most out of the next camp. I kept my training easy and varied and threw in one hard session to keep on top of my harder training. My hard session was 4x10min running with 2min breaks. I ran them with Runar, one of the guys from Team Synnfjell. We ran them on a loop he'd used before, mostly uphill with a  few flats and downs. We cut back down the hill during the breaks. It was a great session, considering it was cold and tanking it down with rain, we both ran pretty well.

An easy week was just what I needed to get ready for the next camp. On the Monday, now two weeks ago, I drove over to Vik on the west coast of Norway. I gave a lift to Sam Cairns, a British biathlete and cross country skier who is also training in Lillehammer. He has been "invited to train" with the British xc team this summer and so was headed to his first camp with the senior team. Apart from a road closure, some confusion with the bluetooth phone system that made us both jump when someone rang me and a slight mishap with the gps, the drive went really quite well. We were the first of the team to get to Vik and so were tasked with buying food for the first lot breakfast, finding the cabin we were staying in and generally getting us sorted. The owner of the cabin had to meet us in town and drive us to the cabin as there is no address for the cabin.
Having no address provided me with a little bit of a problem. I am on ADAMS, an anti doping whereabouts system where I have to give up the address of where I'm staying, where I'm going to be training, my travel plans etc. So I had to update it with directions from the center of town, thankfully it was quite straight forward... "After exactly 7kms from the center of town you will pass a bus stop. 100m beyond the bus stop take a right and at the bottom of the gravel road is the cabin". Nobody turned up to test me, so my direction writing skills didn't get put to the test.
The rest of the team were driving from Oslo airport. They decided/their gps decided to take the most complicated route possible, involving 2 ferry crossings. They made it to the cabin by midnight, long after Sam and I had gone to bed. They had to rely on my directions, and they got there, so they must have been alright.

The cabin was quite luxurious. Approximately 2 meters from Sognefjord, with huge glass windows giving a views up and down the fjord. The deck went right up to the waters edge. Unfortunately the cabin wasn't quite big enough so the coaches had to sleep in the living room. There was also only 1 bathroom, making the whole thing a little cramped. But we managed to make it work well enough for 6 days to have a good training camp.

This year has been a huge year for summer skiing in Norway. So far the spring and early summer have been some of the coldest and wettest on record. Apparently some places in the mountains have more snow now in June than they had at easter in April. At Vik the snow line was around 600m, and we skied at around 100m. The skiing is at the top of a mountain pass where huge snow drifts line the road. The snow depth was estimated at 12m this spring. I don't think there was that much by the time we got there, but there where a few cabins around the ski track which only had their roofs poking out of the snow.

Vik is about quality. The local ski club, who prepare the tracks in the summer, really want teams to come there and train, and train with high quality facilities. They sorted pretty much everything for us, and the guy who pistes the tracks on the mountain rang me every morning to give me an update on the conditions. Unfortunately we only got in 4 ski sessions in the 6 days. 1 day the weather was too bad to go up and another day we planned a strength session instead of skiing as there was a good quality gym in Vik. The afternoons were used for dry land training, as driving up to the mountain twice a day was a bit too much. The snow in the afternoon is also not so good. We had a good rollerski intervall from Vik up the vikafjell mountain pass towards the ski tracks. We had 5x7min skating. I skied the session with Callum, taking it in turns to do the work an push the pace. We kept the pace quite even and quite high throughout the session and I was pleased with the session. I managed to do the entire session in skate 2 or double dance. In a way that acts as over gearing, working a gear that is really too big for the hill. I like doing skate intervals like that where I can get both a hard session and a strength "gearing" session in one.
We also used the rollerski track in Vik to work on double poling. Double poling in the rollerski track is good to work on the small changes and accelerations needed when double poling in a race. Normally we train in the summer a long the road or bike path. These change gradient far to slowly and don't have enough corners and places where we have to acerbate and adjust our technique.

The final hard session in Vik was one of that hardest sessions I've done in a long time. We joined Team Synnfjell, who were also on a training camp in Vik, for a brutal 8x5min "hufsing" or ski bounding session up a gravel road. I've done 6x6 hufsing before but never as much as 8x5. It was a pretty brutal session. Naturally the group split up into several smaller groups during the intervals. I found myself pretty stable in the "front" group. I say front because we were at the front, but we were not the fastest. Rune Malo was going pretty fast, so in the breaks he ran further down the mountain and set him self the goal of catching us back up. Most of the time he caught us up. I suffered a bit on the last 2 intervals and had to let Callum, Mikael and Rune Malo go. I couldn't keep pace with them, but i held of the group behind. Running uphill is by no means my strongest point, so I was pleased with the session, and that I completed another good hard session that I should get some benefit from.

After a gym session on Sunday morning we took the ferry across Songefjorden and drove up to Sognefjellet. We got there early enough to ski in the afternoon. At Sognefjellet we stay up at Sognefjellhytta at 1400m right beside the ski tracks. This is our 4th year in a row of coming here and my 5th sognefjell camp. That afternoon the conditions were really difficult. They hadn't prepared the tracks since the night before, and lots of cold dry snow had blown on top of the track which was wet old snow. It was 0 degrees and pretty much impossible to get good grip. I gave up skiing after an hour and half because there was pretty much no track left and no grip.

The cold weather theme continued and the next day it didn't even get above freezing. Skating in morning was fine, but yet again the track setters at Sognefjell decided to take a break and didn't bother to prep the tracks for the afternoon session. It was prepared at 10pm the night before so by 4pm the classic tracks where full of fresh cold snow or just not there anymore. Even skating in the afternoon wouldn't have been fun with fresh snow drifting across the track. We waxed with som klister covered with Vr45. Ok so it wasn't quite blue extra conditions, but when you are using vr 45 (violet) kick wax in June then you no something is not quite right. We had surprisingly good skis, but I didn't bother skiing for more than 2 hours when the conditions where so poor. Interestingly, even when they don't bother to piste the tracks and don't salt them, you still have to pay as if they had. Seems like a good money making scheme to me.

That night it was forecast to get down to minus 11. The rest of the British team took advantage and did some skate intervals in the morning. I decided to drive down to Fortun and do some intervals with my club, Bækkelagets Sk. We did 6x8min with 2min breaks, skate rollerksiing from Fortun up towards Sognefjellet. We got as far up the pass as Turtagrø. The club do this intervall session each year as a sort of test to compare from year to year. Last year I got destroyed by 2 juniors, and really didn't ski that fast. This year went a lot better. We came much further up than last year. It was a little bit difficult to tell because of a section of road works we had to be driven across in a break, and because we skied down the mountain in the breaks to try and avoid the road works. But I estimate we were roughly 4min ahead of last year. More importantly no juniors beat me. At the start of the session I didn't feel so great so Sigurd kept the pace up. After the first 2 intervals I felt better and started to help with the pace setting. On the last intervall I managed to drop Sigurd as we came onto a flatter section. It was another good hard session, and it's good to see the progression from last year and that I am going forward, even though it doesn't always feel like it.

Yet again the conditions on the mountain disappointed. That tracks hadn't been prepared for the afternoon session, but this time it wasn't the new cold snow blowing in causing the problem. The sun had finally come out to play and had really softened up the tracks. It was just about bearable to ski, although by the end of the session the tracks were just mush with no classic track left.

Finally by Wednesday the tracks where back to normal, although the salting for the afternoon session was sub par and sub what you expect for Sognefjell, the tracks where actually skiable and able to work properly on technique. I had a good volume day with a 3 hour ski in the morning and a ski and strength session in the afternoon. The following two days the tracks got a bit better and we had 2 hard sessions to finish off the train camp. On the Thursday we had a 10x4min level 3 interval and on the Friday we did 2 times 1 lap of the track. Once at level 3 and once at race pace. Both where pretty good sessions where I could work on my technique at speed and focus on what I had to do.

We were quite a big group for the British Team. We had 4 guys with Callum, Sam, Duncan and me, 2 girls with Anika and Fi and 2 coaches, my dad and Thomas as a coach/waxer. Both Sam and Duncan were at their first Senior team camp. They had a lot to learn and picked up on things pretty fast. I think having them along is good for us "older" athletes too. Although they can't necessarily match us and push us on skis they can challenge us and teach us things in other areas. As us older athletes have been together as a team for so long we have probably become "stale". We probably do things that we don't actually know the reason for, just because we have "always" done them. So to get in some new blood and new ideas into the team is welcoming and refreshing. Although Anika has trained with us in the past she hasn't been with us much before either. She comes from a completely different set up having skied at the American College circuit for a number of years. It is interesting to see all these slightly different approaches to training and recovery and day to day life. I think it is good for the team and there is a lot we can learn from each other. The environment in the team is a bit different to what it has been in the past, but it's exciting and a good/productive environment that stil has me looking forward to the next camp.

On Saturday we had our last ski session of the camp before heading for home. I challenged myself to ski a 50k as fast as possible but still keep level 1/easy skiing. It is a harder session that just going for an easy ski but also good at making me think. The whole time for 3hours I was hunting the fastest way to ski, the best lines to take on the down hills, where I could get the most speed for least effort. It also meant I skied at pretty much the top of my level 1 for 3 hours so I could really focus on my technique and work on the things I'd found out during the week. I ended up skiing 3 hours at 18km per hour average, 54km with 1200m of assent. Which is quite a bit when you think about it.
That afternoon we drove back to Lillehammer and ate dinner together where Sam stays. I then came back to my apartment, my two flat mates had moved out whilst I was away and there was quite literally nothing left in the house. I've now moved apartment down to the basement of the same building. So the last few days have been spent slowly moving my stuff down.

Yesterday I finished off the hard week with a 3hour run. I'd ran so little during the last two weeks as we'd been skiing most days. It was nice to be back out running, but 3 hours was probably a bit much. I was pretty wrecked by the time I got home. When I got home I managed to knock my key from its hiding place down behind a plank that was nailed to outside wall. I had to rip the plank off to get my key back, exposing some insulation. So today was spent buying wood, cutting it, sanding it and painting it. Whilst at the hardware store I bought lots of useful stuff for the new apartment, a spatula, a garlic press, a vegetable knife, a chopping board, a door bell. Tomorrows task is to nail up the new plank of wood over the insulation. After a rest from training today I'm also going to do a gym session tomorrow.

At the end of the week I'm heading back home to Scotland. It's been a while and now I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be good to get a break from being away training, come home and train on some of my old training routes. Every time I come home I surprise my self when loops I used to train on suddenly don't take as long as they did when I was 18. In Norwegian the have a saying "borte bra, men hjemme best". Directly translated it means "away is good, but home is best". I couldn't agree more.


Monday, 1 June 2015

Jackets, tights, buffs, hats, gloves.

I've just finished my first training camp of the new season with Team Synnfjell. As you can probably guess by the title of the blog it was cold, wet, windy and at times completely and utterly miserable. Winter has yet to release it's grip on Norway with May being one of the coldest and wettest on record.  After having spent many sessions getting drenched it was good to be back in a group and training with the rest of the team. It provided that little bit of extra motivation needed to train properly in horrible conditions.

The first day of the camp was spent in meetings. The team has changed a lot from last year with only 5 athletes continuing and 5 new athletes and a new coach. So the first day I had an individual meeting with the new coach Jostein Vinerjui, then we had a long meeting with the whole team. Some of it we were working in groups and some of it all together with everyone. There was a lot that had to be discussed as well as getting to know all the new athletes and a new coach and how they work. Although it can be boring to sit around for hours talking it is worth while and later on in the year we might really notice the benefits of it.

The second day of the camp was the only sunny day of the week. We used it well with a 3000m run test in the morning and a long double pole session in the afternoon. I ran 9.42 for the 3000m, quite far off my pb of 9.14 but it was only my 3rd hard running session of the year. I was a bit worried that I simply don't have the run speed that I need to run at the times I want to. But I ran the first km in 3.04 which probably killed me off for the rest of the test, but at least now I know I have the speed I need. I think with a few more hard running sessions in my legs I will easily improve my time later in the year.

After the only sunny day I had to digg out all my rain gear and winter gloves, buffs and hats. The temperature barely creeped above 5 degrees and it rained pretty much constantly. We abandoned 2 recovery sessions and ran inside on the running track or the treadmill because of the weather. We had a 6 hour session where we did 2 hours skate roller skiing, 2 hours running and 2 hours classic roller skiing. The start of the session was miserable, I had my rain jacket on and my hood up under my helmet. My buff was up to my nose. I only had on a pair of training tights, but I regretted not having my waterproof trousers. Fortunately after the 1st hour the weather eased and by the end of the session it was actually quite pleasant. By breaking the session up into 2 hour sections it was quite easy to stay on top of hydration and nutrition. I had made home made pizza for dinner the night before so ate 2 slices I had left over. I also scoffed 3 bananas and 6 slices of bread with peanut butter during the session. I drank 3litres during the session, some energy drink, but mostly diluting juice. For the last section of the session the coaches headed to the shop and kept us supplied with coke, snickers and raisin buns. When doing such a long session it is key that you don't get hungry and hit the "wall". If it gets to that point the session isn't worth completing. We wanted to get a good over distance session and that means completing it with good focus and still being able to ski just as well at the end as the start.

The second hard session of the camp was an 8x8 skate rollerski interval. We started at the bottom of the valley, right beside the motorway and skied up to the ski stadium, before doing the last 4 intervals on the rollerski track. Finding the balance between staying dry and warm but comfortable enough to ski was challenging. The temperature was only 4 degrees and the rain was torrential. I had an ok session and managed to keep my focus on my technique and work hard right to the end. Quite a few of the guys gave up after 6 or 7 intervalls because they were simply too cold to ski properly. I don't blame them, it was touch and go if I was going to finish the session. But I stayed just on the right side  of it being worth while, and got at least something out of the session. After the session there wasn't enough space in the car so some of us had to ski down to the car park at håkons hall to get changed. I had a knee length rain jacket on and a waterproof trousers. My gloves had become soaked through so I'd taken them off. During the 5min it takes to ski down to Håkons Hall at the bottom of the hill I'd become so cold I couldn't undo my bindings on my roller skis. I had to fumble around to get my car open and get changed and get my hands warm before I could even take off my skis or undo my boots.

The camp ended on Sunday morning with a 3hour running session. The rain had finally eased off but it was still pretty cold. Everybody was pretty tired, but we had a good session running in the mud. Vegard Nilsen, a local lillehammer skier who is on the Norwegian B team, joined us for the session. He was leading the way and said he knew a good 3 hours loop. The loop was pretty good, until we got a section where the slightly boggy path had been completely flooded into a thigh deep lake. There wasn't much choice by that point, so we just went through. I placed my self strategically at the back of the group so the others would find all the deep spots and I'd know where to avoid.  Even so, I still managed to go in up to my hips. The water was a combination of fresh rainfall and snow melt, so the pace of the run quickly picked up afterwards so everybody could get warm again. My feet remained frozen for most of the run, but I quickly warmed up else where.

Despite the weather we still managed to have a pretty good training camp. We still completed all the most important sessions and got quite a bit out of it and we still managed to have fun. I'm looking forward to training more with the team. I think the group is going to provide a good training environment this year, and I think we can push each other to train better and harder throughout the off season. I'm going to British Team camps in both June and July, so I'm not back with team synnfjell until the first week in August.

Next Monday I'm off to Vikafjell with the British team. We are having a week in Vik and a week at Sognefjell. The plan is to ski 1 session a day on snow at Vik and twice a day on snow at Sognefjell. Hopefully the weather will be better and we can get some proper summer skiing in shorts and t shirt.

Today Exel payed me a visit. They are on their way to Sognefjell to test some new products, so they stopped in on their way past Lillehammer. I got some new baskets and handles to test as well as some new pole straps to test. It's fun to work with Exel and getting to test all the latest products and giving my feed back. They are constantly developing new things, and even the smallest of details don't go missed. There is going to be some exciting stuff coming from them in the next year, and I'm looking forward to testing them out on snow later in the month.