Monday, January 25, 2010

20 Days + 13 flights + 20hrs of driving + 6hrs of train rides = Great racing?

As I sit in the Trondheim airport hotel looking back over the past 3 weeks I can only help but shake my head in regards to my pre-Christmas racing and the period I just had here in Europe. Since leaving Trondheim just 7 days ago I have had 2 flights, taken a 3 hour train ride and two days later jumped into a car for a drive 4hr from Sonthofen to Lindberg, Ger. Two days after that I was back in the car again for 5 hrs to Lienz, Aut where within an hour of arriving was the start of the street sprint. After the sprint I painted the town red until 3 am with a bunch of 20 year old German skiers, and 48 hrs later I am on the podium in third place in the 25km Dolomiten Lauf World Loppet race (the best skiers of the day were in the 42 km). Now another 5 hour drive back to Lindberg and an hour to Munich this morning and two flights to Trondheim I have had my best racing of the year?? Who would have thought. Certainly not me. The enjoyment of the past three weeks rivals anything in my athletic career. The 6 months preceding it were easily the most stressful and least enjoyable. It's not as simple as just enjoying the process and not stressing the little things, and great racing will happen...but I don't believe it can be overlooked.

This past week has cleared the fog that has hung around my athletic future. This will be my final year as a focused cross-country skier. Come May my rollerskis will continue to collect dust and will probably do so until September. However, I will be dusting off my running shoes, track spikes, mountain bike, baseball glove and whatever activity I can participate in. When I was most successful in sport I was not a single sport athlete. That formula may not work for everyone, but in my experience change is good. The body (and my mind) thrives when forced to adapt and I wouldn't be surprised to post some of my best results next winter on snow. I will for sure come back to Europe.

For now it is off to Calgary tomorrow where I will meet up with Kikkan in Canmore Wednesday and then off to Silver Star, BC to begin my stint with the Australian team in their prep for the Canmore World Cups and then the Olympics. Can't wait.

Below are some pictures from yesterdays race. My friend Thomas took third in the 42km event. We started with those guys and through 20km I was able to match the pace but lost 30 seconds or so over the next 5km. Thomas missed second by a boot length to World Cup veteran Tobias Angerer of the German National team. I had the pleasure of skiing the first 20 km with Axel Teichman another WC veteran.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When in Germany....

I will try and keep this brief. It has been quite a week since I last wrote an update. After leaving Steinkjer, Norway I have travel via train to Trondheim - stayed in the airport hotel overnight. Flew to Munich via Amsterdam on a 6am flight from Norway. Arrived in Munich and waited 3 hrs to catch a train to Sonthofen, Germany in the Allgua region (famous for it's I know why!).

I chose a later train ride because it had only one transfer which when you are carrying a 45lb duffle bag, a backpack and a 65lb ski bag it's crucial to not have to change trains often. Despite having only one transfer I had quite an experience. I had a transfer in a place called Passing where I boarded a train to Sonthofen. However, what I didn't realize was that at the stop just before mine the 10-car train would separate into two trains of 5 cars. One heading to Oberstdorf and one to Lindau. Unfortunately for me I got on at the front of the train and was now 5 cars from where I needed to be. I was told I had to move in limited English (which is better than my German). It was a train with it's own rooms and not one with a nice aisle down the center. I began my trip to the back of the train with my duffle and backpack which was not that easy going between cars. So when I was about the start the trek with my ski bag the train came to a stop, I decided I would jump off the train with my ski bag and run down the platform to the back. However, I was not off the train 5 seconds and all the doors closed....except for one at the very back being held open for me. I took off running one arm waving in the air and the other dragging my ski bag (on wheels) down the platform. I jumped back onto the train to some not so kind German words mixed with a bit of English. I didn't really listen as I was absorbed with thought about watching the train leave with my other bags containing my passport, wallet and phone.

Once in Sonthofen, where my friend Thomas Freimuth lives with his girlfriend Nicole Fessel (Germany National team) he and I headed out for a short night ski by headlight in the foothills of the German Alps. Afterwards we went to friends of theirs for a traditional German meal which included fried cheese! One of my favourite past times. I ate and drank like a king which as the week has past has become the rule not the exception. I had my first Heffewiesen/Cola mix and I must say I am a fan.

I was in Sonthofen for not quite two days when we began driving to Lindberg in the Bavarian Forest where Thomas' parents live. On the way we stopped at the Munich airport to drop Nicole off as she was headed to Rybinsk, Russia for a World Cup and her last chance to make the German Olympic team. She needed a top 8....she came 9th twice! It is in the hands now of the upper brass at the German ski federation. Fingers crossed.

After just two days in Lindberg (looks much like the Appalacians in Vermont area) it was time to get back on the road....and the Autobahn! Where Audi's, BMW's, and Mercedes are the norm and the slow lane is for 140 km per hour. Before I left though I went for a walk on a rest day with Thomas' mom to a wildlife "zoo" in the Bavaria Forest National Park. On the walk with their two dogs (one was a 2 month old Australian Shepard pup) we saw a pack of 12 wolves which the pup barked loudly at - from the other side of the fence of course. We also saw 3 Linx, a herd of the original breed of horse from the steppes of Kazakstan as well as the original cow. Very cool for sure.

From Lindberg, we drove to Deddendorf where we picked up Thomas' wax tech Edward, originally from Russia and then onto to Leinz, Austria. We passed along the edge of Salzberg and close to Ramsau and the famous Dachstein glacier. We were driving in style in the Fischer/Subaru racing team's logoed Subaru Forester which ran on two tanks of fuel. One was propane (which Thomas got blasted by when filling up - hand turned red and skin tightened but otherwise okay), and the other regular gasoline.

We arrived in Leinz about 75 minutes before the start of the Dolomitenlauf street sprint. Thomas and I both took part. The course was 350m long and consisted of the 7m long start ramp (only double pole), and a bridge that had the course corkscrew off of itself (much like water in a drain) and back underneath to a one meter drop jump and a 180 turn to the finish. We did 3 laps. Thomas warned me that it was almost impossible to pass once on the course. In my quarterfinal I got myself into second behind the 3 time champion (he won again last night) and cruised through to the semi-finals. Once there I blew my start and ended up 4th of 4 out of the double pole section and stayed there to the finish. It was a great experience though to participate and also watch how Europeans appreciate snow sports.

Today I skied with Thomas and Edward at the race site for the marathon. This weekend is part of the World Loppet circuit. I knew Thomas was a very good skier but I didn't realize how good until a van drove by with a picture of him on the side!

Time for bed now, as I have to get ready for a 25km mass start skate race tomorrow.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

1. Fitness, 2. Technique, 3. Timing.

As my visit comes to a close I look back on the past 10 days as the most valuable 10 days of my training year. Regretfully they came about 2 months too late. Today I jumped in a 13.5km pursuit time trial with Kristian Tettli Rennema from Frode's Team Trondelag. Last season Kristian was 4th at Norwegian Nationals in the 30km pursuit and won a Scandinavian Cup race before Christmas. Knowing this I was hoping to be able to hold on as long as I could but didn't expect to be near him at the finish. The original plan was for a 17 km pursuit but Kristian decided to call it a day on the first lap of the skate leg resulting in a 13.5 km TT. The great part for me was that I was right behind him when he turned to let me know we would be doing just 2 more km.

The plan was for a conservative TT pace but after blazing the first 5km (on slow skis) Kristian I think put himself in a bit of hurt. I on the other hand panicked on the first lap that, if this was conservative I was going to be in trouble. However, I was pleasantly surprised on the second lap to realize that not only had I hung on but I was actually holding back a bit (I had faster skis). Today confirmed for me again that I did the right training this year and that I am in fact fit. Step 1.

Step 2 is being able to efficiently move down the trail because poor technique can easily negate good fitness. On the classic portion I worked on extending my pole plant on the double pole out in front of my boots and dropping my upper body in one strong fluid motion beginning with my core and working out to the periphery. Hinge at the waist (core), then through with the shoulders, elbows, and finally my wrists. The focus was on a constant pressure all the way through and a release of the motion at the end. Similarly on the striding sections I worked on a early kick compression where I kept an even pressure down through the kick for as long as possible (much shorter on the steep parts). It was amazing how consistent my grip was and how much more glide I was getting. As well I focused on keeping my femur in as close to a vertical position as possible while striding.

Once we switched over to skate I blew up my legs early as I forgot to close my binding on one ski and it shot off coming out of the transition so as Kristian waited up the trail for me a bit I skied like mad while trying to get my poles on which taxed my legs to the max. However, the new one-skate (V2) technique I have been working on saved the day as I was able to get back in rhythm with Kristian as my legs cleared out. To do this I worked on being tall on my skis and essentially falling down the trail. Again with my femur as vertical as possible with my hips falling forward and down (instead of my usual down and back), I was able to relax my quads in the glide phased and clear away the burn. I worked on getting tall to bring my poles through to plant up by the front of my bindings. What a difference. No wonder I was going nowhere this ski season! I had been working against my fitness with my technique but both worked effectively today.

Step 3...Timing. If only I could have figured all this out in December! Oh well. C'est la vie. I will make the most of it next week in Austria. Can't believe I am actually looking forward to the 25 km mass start skate as much as the street sprint.

Below are a couple pics from the living room window in the farmhouse. The cold temps have been making for beautiful landscapes. I think I have been in every place this year that has been in their cold spell.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Norwegian Way

I have been in Norway for one week now and have learned a great deal. Perhaps the most important lesson in regards to ski racing is keep it simple. Whether it is recovery drink consisting of coke with salted peanuts, or improving your double pole by using that technique more in long workouts.

Although I haven't adopted the coke and peanuts drink yet, as an athlete and a coach my search for the magic element of racing fast I will look no farther than train hard, recover harder, keep the technique simple - and practice it often. Double polling improves by repetition during long training sessions - work the flats harder and the uphills easier (reverse of my normal training). There is less aerobic stress on the body when just the arms are involved which can translate into a higher tempo on the flats. Simple concepts. Big results. At least that is what I am seeing over here. After losing 1 minute to the leaders last weekend in the first 3km of the race (all double polling) I think they are on to something.

I am taking a rest day today. Just a 45 minute run to give the upper body muscles a rest. Yesterday Frode took me about 15 km south of Steinkjer to ski up on a highland plateau. We put in a strong 2.5 hour ski, where we put into practice pushing the flats and cruising the climbs. Easily my best ski of the year. Forgot how great it was to be able to go out on a long ski in endless rolling terrain.

I will jump into a 15km TT on Saturday with one of Frode's athletes. I am looking forward to getting another race type effort in before heading to Germany on Monday.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Everything goes wrong....but turns out for the best?

Go figure, after having everything go wrong last week on my travels to Norway I record some of my best distance racing results. As of Thursday last week my bags had still not arrived and we were due to start driving to Asarna, Sweden at 4 pm. Back to the ol' bad luck/good luck theme, the record setting cold temperatures in Europe put Saturday's race in jeopardy and it was decided that it made more sense to wait to drive until Friday. Waiting one day allowed my ski bag to arrive in Trondheim (200km south of Steinkjer), where the wax tech for Team Trondelag lives and he picked up my skis and they were waiting for me in Sweden (my clothing bag didn't arrive until Sunday). I was able burrow a pair of Salomon pursuit boots from Frode for Saturday's skate race and I had my classic boots in my ski bag so I was set for Sunday's competition.

Fortunately for me the cold weather shortened the 30km skate to a 20km....although it took me 12 km to really get going on Saturday and I had a very strong final 8km. I caught on to a Fin who was on his first lap of 10km while I had just lapped through and once I had his tempo I couldn't believe how good I felt. I was caught for 30 seconds by the guy two bibs behind me around the 14 km mark but he appeared content to just sit in the train that was now 5 guys (two more on their first lap came through). At the 15 km mark two of the 5 guys decided to break away and if I had had more confidence in my racing I would and should have gone with them. I told myself to stay with that Fin because I might not feel good in the race for long. However, with just under 2 km to go I realized that I needed to make my own break and I got away and managed to get 16 seconds back from the Norwegian who had caught me for 30 seconds. I finished 43rd overall (there were 120 on the start list), just under 4 minutes off the lead. The winner has had top 10 finishes on the World Cup so all things considered I was happy with the day. The final 8 km of the race I was able to challenge the course and myself and I remembered why I liked racing as I sat down that night exhausted. I finally pushed myself!

Sunday was the 15km classic. Due to the cold weather we were on a modified course and we completed the same 10km lap from the first day and then the final 5km on our second lap. The first 5 km was very flat and all double pole. I went out a bit conservative because I wasn't sure where my energy level was going to be after the 20km the day before. That strategy cost me big time as I gave up 1 minute to the leaders in the first 3 km. However, after that point I skied a very strong strong only losing 1 min 57 sec over the next 12 km. This field had actual a World Cup 15 km winners (Anders Sodergren of Sweden) who was 4th or 5th. Despite the slow start it was the first race this year where I was able to race from the start to the finish. I had great skis that ran quick and held there grip when I was tired. In the end I was closer to the overall lead than the previous day. I scored 82 FIS pts on Saturday and 79 on Sunday.

I know I trained enough this year to race well. I know I am in good shape. After 48 hrs of travel and 5 days of no training and losing my luggage to have strong efforts here in Scandinavia has eased any doubts I had that I had gotten it all wrong. I am more convinced now that I was too cautious coming into the racing season. I should have raced more, recovered better and stressed less. Now that the Olympic trials are behind me I can get back to racing fast and enjoying the process.

I am in Norway for another week and will then travel to Germany to train with Thomas Freimuth and race with him in Lienz, Austria Jan 22 and 24th. I will sprint on the 22nd and do a 25 km skate on the 24th. I have to admit I am looking forward to the distance race as much as the sprint.

Below are pictures and a video from my trip so far. The first ones are of Frode's family farm in Steinkjer, and then of the race site in Asarna, Sweden and our cozy cabin where I stayed with Frode and the teams head wax tech. They moved the race up about 500m in elevation to get the warmer temps and in just one night created a stadium in front of the local church and created two huge parking lots. Very impressive. Also, you will find a video of my recovery training today with Frode.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Planes, a train and an automobile

After 5 flights, a beautiful train ride and a short trip in a car I arrived in Steinkjer, Norway at the family home of my coach friend Frode Lillefjell.

This was hands down the longest, more tiring travel experience I have ever had. It was a trip of bad luck, good luck, bad luck good luck, repeat. All 5 of my flights ran delayed, resulting in me running 3 times off one plane to catch the next.

Leaving Anchorage on Monday my flight was delayed one hour and upon arriving in Seattle I was told I had missed my connecting flight to Calgary (the last one for the day) and I had to be in Calgary by 7 am the next morning to catch my flight to Europe....bad luck. However, once I got in the airport in Seattle I saw that my Calgary flight had been delayed by 50 minutes which meant I was now going to make my flight...good luck. But it meant I wouldn't get to Calgary until 2 am (no dinner). I got to my hotel at 2:45 am and caught the shuttle back to the airport at 6:30 am. Then it took 2.45hr to get through customs, and security and arrived at the gate 20 min before my flight was to leave (no breakfast).

I got to Houston, Tx and missed my flight (bad luck) only to find out it was delayed as well and made the flight as the last passenger (no lunch)....good luck = starving!

With not eating much I began to develop a bad headache and with the new flight rules going into the US from Canada I didn't have anything with me besides my computer so no Advil. With about 4 hrs left in my flight the headache was strong enough that I was pretty sure I was going to be sick which didn't make the airplane food go down any easier.

I made it to Amsterdam with 50 minutes to spare before my Trondheim flight but having to go through customs I was now down to 20 min. I had two choices then - food or advil. I chose Advil and ran into a drugstore in the airport (Amsterdam is like a mall) and grabbed some fast acting gel caps and started running again to my gate.

I arrived in Trondheim to discover my bags didn't make it and I missed the train I had planned to catch. This gave me an hour to kill which meant I could go to the airport 7-11 (yeah 7-11's in Norway!) and ordered a Calzone....not the best I have ever had but at that moment it was!.

I caught the 2:45 pm train from Trondheim airport to Steinkjer (I love the transport systems in Europe). It was a 90 min trip, and Frode and his middle son Marius were there waiting for me when I arrived. That was a relief because it was -25 c and all my warm clothes were in my bags that didn't arrive. We made it to the farm house and settled in for the night with three woodstoves going to keep the place warm. I managed to stay awake until 9:30 pm and slept until 5:30 am. Hopefully the jet lag will pass quickly. We were due to drive to Sweden tonight but with my bags not arriving, the cold weatherm and Frode maybe getting sick the trip will now start tomorrow....the bad luck, good luck continues.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

US Nationals Skate sprint - Kikk's a champ

My season long troubles appear to be continuing. I managed to sneak my way into the semi-finals in today's US National Championship skate sprint race. But after that effort I could do little but try not to lose ground. My starts were great again today, which saved me because I was at least in good position (1st or 2nd) when folks started to go by. In the B-final I slid from 8th to 11th on the final homestretch - a thing that hasn't happened to me in a few years.

On a positive note Kikkan won her 10th National title blowing away the field. She is back in action Monday in the 10km skate and I will be off to Norway that same day.