Sunday, 10 November 2013


I got back from a 3 week altitude camp with the British team in Italy just yesterday. First we had 5 days in Livigno before 16 days in Val Senales. Being in Italy is always good. Sun, good skiing and good food.
I like to think of the British Ski team as a group of quite intelligent people. Posy speaks Russian and French. Myself and muzzy can both speak Norwegian. Fi is studying at cambridge. But in Italy we are hopeless. None of us speak italian, and the second language, or even the first in some areas of Notheren Italy is German. Fi does speak a little German, but after a hard rollerski session she managed to tell an innocent old man in the car park "ich bin heiss". Anyone who learned German at school will have had that awkward lesson where the teacher explained why not to say ich bin heiss as it doesn't mean what you think it means. So pretty much none of us speak italian or german. So communication flickers between, italian, german, pigeon english and sign language.  It is however surprising how you can get by with very lit communication. At the hotel in Val Senales one of the waiters (Nelu, according to his name badge) had a surprising amount of banter considering we couldn't understand a single word each other said other than "aqua" "mit gas". Nelu also gavee my dad the nickname "Mr Presidente", as he was the one that payed for the Aqua, mit gas. 
I do feel rather embarrassed about my lack of communication skills, after all I did learn German for 5 years at school... 5 years and the only useful things I know are danke, mit gas and not to say ich bin heiss. I'm not sure if I should be embarrassed for myself not knowing more or for our country having a useless schooling system that doesn't actually teach us anything or just for my school which has a useless languages department? Either way, I still don't speak German. 
Livigno is the perfect place for altitude adaptation. The rollerskiing there is right from the door of the accommodation and there is about 12km of paved bike path that is mostly flat. No, there isn't a lot of rollerskiing on offer, and no there aren't big hills. But to be quite honest at that altitude you don't need hills, and the first few days the training sessions aren't so long so the 12k doesn't get too boring. There is also a rollerski track at Valdidentro a 30min drive away. The altitude is lower and the track is more challenging and good for interval training. 
In Livigno we were self catering, but after we moved to Val Senales we stayed in a hotel. The food at the hotel was quite italian. Pasta... every meal. And always with a creamy sauce... or a tomato and cream sauce. Soup, always a cream of something. And pork. I've never seen a pig in italy... and now i know why. They are all served up for lunch and dinner daily at club hotel Zirm, Val senales.
Food has become a real issue with in the team... no, not like the norwegian team with eating disorders and start bans. The issue has come over in what order you eat your meal. Posy has decided that you can't have something sweet before something savoury and so no dessert before a main course. At first look you agree with that.. who doesn't. It's just stupid to eat your meal in the wrong order. And then you begin to think a little. There are actually quite a few scenarios where there should be an exception to the rule.
- Firstly eating at a buffet... there is a queue for soup but not for main course, I collect my main then eat it so it doesn't go cold, then go back for soup. Apparently this is unacceptable according to Posy.
- Eating at a Buffet... are pie is taken out for dessert. There isn't enough pie for everyone so you have to get in quick. The pie is warm. Should you risk not getting pie by eating your main first? should you collect your pie and let it go cold while you eat your main first? Surely you collect the pie and eat it before anything else to ensure you get the pie and the full effect of the warmth 
- Still at a buffet, you collect your starter main and dessert in a oner. The waitress is really slow to bring your drinks order and you are eating your main... you get a dry mouth. Dessert is fresh fruit, sitting there looking all juicy. You know you can't eat the fruit... not until you have finished your main. But your mouth. It gets drier and drier until you pick up the juiciest looking plum and bite into to quench your thirst. That sounds quite reasonable to me. But no... I got shouted at. 

I should point out, we didn't just sit around eating all day. We did do some training. The adaption to altitude went much easier for me this time round. I didn't find it too bad, probably due to the previous camp in Tignes. After the first 5 days in Livigno my plan was to give it bore. A 25 hour week at Val Senales with 3 hard sessions and lots of long skiing sessions on the glacier. 
The hotel is at 2020m and the Glacier is at 3200. The cable car ride takes about 10min to get up to the glacier. I spend my time on the cable car trying to work out "if the wire snapped now, would I survive?" My conclusion was that short of it snapping with in 5m of the bottom station, anywhere else on the line would be fatal. Then I tried to work out if it would be possible to survive if it snapped by positioning myself in the middle of the cable car and using everyone else to cushion my fall. I came to the conclusion that that was pretty unlikely to be effective but worth a shot if it did happen. The cable car also swings as it goes over the single pylon 3/4's of the way up. I hate the swing. Every time I know it is coming but I don't hate it any less. 
Once at the top of the Glacier a short walk and a ski down an alpine slope takes you over to the cross country loop. This year the loop was about 1km longer than last year. 6.4km of track snaking its way around on the glacier. The way it ZigZags back an forth does look rather comical when the tracks are busy. 
The fist few days on the glacier didn't go as well as the first few days of the camp. 3200m is high. The Norwegian women's team seemed to be going a full speed on the glacier and I must admit it isn't so fun to have Johaug come past you, barely breathing, whilst you stop at the side of the track feeling like a 50 a day smoker. After a few days It felt a bit better. I'm not sure if either I adapted to the altitude or I just became used to feeling horrific. But either way I started to be able to ski normally on the glacier and we had a few speed sessions up there. Other than that all the sessions up there where easy. 
The harder sessions came down in the valley on rollerskis. The hard sessions went pretty well. We had a test race, uphill, classic. Not exactly my favourite, but I managed to win. It's a good sign. I was starting to get worried. I have gotten beat all summer in almost everything we have done. But now my form is on the way up, just when it should be, and I think I will be ready when the season starts in under 2 weeks. 
With training and eating there doesn't leave much time for anything else. I got into a pretty good daily routine. Get up, eat, train, eat, sleep, eat, train, eat, sleep. Living in a hotel at 2000m doesn't leave much scope for anything else. Just walking up and down a a flight of stairs was enough to make you tired and  generally hotels are pretty boring places. For the last 3 days of the camp we had to move hotels... about 100m to another hotel owned by the same chain. The new hotel did however have a ping pong table. I am laying claim to the team ping pong champion title. I beat Posy maybe once of 10 times and Alex twice out of 10. After I beat Alex for the first time he wasn't very pleased when I started gloating so he challenged me to a re-match, only to be promptly beaten again. He walked off and didn't play again. I did my best to rub it in. Alex is quite possibly the most competitive person known to mankind, famed for his hand eye coordination. Losing to him is in comprehensible. We did have to check on him after the defeat... make sure he hadn't taken any rash decisions.
This camp was also the first time I have gone 3 weeks without a washing machine in a long time. Now I know what you are thinking... "there are people all over to world who live without a washing machine". Agreed, there are. But they don't have to live in room with Alex and Callum...
Both of them did hand washing in the bath. The smell just turned into sweat masked with a little bit of shower gel, which in my opinion is almost worse. So I just didn't bother. On top of this Callum thought he was getting ill one day so made himself a jar of garlic and honey. He didn't get ill. But I refuse to believe it was anything to do with the honey and garlic. The stench was unbelievable. The room stank, Cal's clothes stank. The bathroom stank. It was like hitting a wall of garlic, everywhere I turned, more garlic. 
The shower in the hotel room was awful.  The water pressure was so low that it often couldn't keep water coming out of the shower head, the switch would flick and the water would trickle out of the bath tap. And the hotel internet was rubbish... and expensive. And there were lots of little kids at the hotel running around making noise. 
Ok I think I'm done complaining... what I'm getting at is that we don't live in luxury. We are there to train, and train hard. 

Near the end of the camp the BBC came to do a piece with us. It was good timing. It was the only day the glacier was stormbound and closed so they had to film us skiing about on "snow" down by the hotel. We each had individual interviews. And hopefully they got something useful from it. Its good to see we are getting more coverage in the media. It should make it easier for people to follow what is happening in our sport. 

Now I'm back in Lillehammer. I went skiing at Sjusjøen and Nordsetter today. I have never seen so many people on skis before. The car parks were completely rammed. By the time I was leaving people were having to turn around and go home because every car parking space in sjusjøen was full. The tracks were rammed as well. In a 2 hour ski I never once got out of sight of another skier. And I wasn't just skiing around the stadium I went quite far out into the mountains. It was amazing to see. I've never seen anything like it. Even at christmas and easter the tracks aren't as busy as they were today. 

I have an easier week this week before I head over to Geilo on Friday to add the finishing touches before the season start in Beitostølen on the 22nd. 

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