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.