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Skin Skis: The Emperor’s New Clothes

December 1, 2018

Skin Revolution

- Svært dårlig test av felleski på TV 2

Over the last 5 years skin skis have developed considerably. So much so that you can’t move in a sports shop these days without being surrounded by “Skinabilia”. There are adverts everywhere encouraging the average skier to dump their normal skis and buy Skins. When one walks in to sport shops one almost trips over the number of preparative chemicals that are on display in order to keep your skins in top shape. Previously Skins were sold as the panacea for all skiers where all but the professionals could throw away their waxes and forget about kicking in mid-air due to poor waxing conditions. So what is the current verdict?

Skin Add-ons

One thing that the buyer is rarely informed about is that Skin skis actually demand maintenance. Skins need to be replaced regularly in order to keep optimum performance. Skins are more robust these days but will still need to be replace approx every 1000km. What’s more Skins need to be cleaned, buffed up and treated to prevent icing in order to remain in optimum shape. This means that certain products are necessary and your average skier does not escape work in the waxing shed. Don’t be fooled, Skin skis demand care and attention if they are to keep there grip properties.

Swix Skin Cleaner ProSwix Skin Care 150ml

Is there an alternative?

Fortunately there is, and it’s been around for decades. The problem is it’s been rejected by skiers and viewed by most as a gimmick that’s just used by Canadian old age pensioners. What is this magical solution that is a well kept secret by North American coffin dodgers? Well, it’s as low tech and cheap as you can get:

it’s grip tape.

Tape! WTF

I am making a claim that grip tape is superior to Skin skis on both all-round performance and also financially. 5m of grip tape will set you back approx 140 NOK whilst a pair of cheap as chips Skin skis will set you back at least 20 times that. Furthermore, you’ll need to purchase products to maintain your Skins and have to replace the skins on an annual basis (assuming you ski 1000 km p.a.). OK so cost is a no brainer, what about performance?

XC Start Grip Tape 15/16, festeteip

Proof is in the Pudding

I have experimented with tape now for about 3 seasons. I haven’t neglected wax/klister or my Zero skis and have used tape sporadically during the course of a season. I have used Start grip tape during varying conditions throughout this time, and am now experimenting with Rex grip tape. I have been pleasantly surprised by how effective the grip tape is and the breadth of conditions it covers. My tape skis have often outperformed my colleagues who have struggled in various conditions with Skin skis. In dry wax conditions, e.g. fresh snow temperatures below zero, tape functions well. However, it does reduce glide, just as one experiences with Skin skis. Under such conditions I wouldn’t recommend tape if you have a pair of cold skis, just as I wouldn’t recommend Skin skis. Though not a given, I recommend for optimal performance use of tape with skis that have a high camber, e.g. Klister skis. When I apply the tape it is applied just as thinly as I apply klister, or indeed wax. I apply it between the 0.3 zones on the ski which gaves good grip and good glide. Tape functions well around 0C during typical Zero ski conditions. It also performs well above 0C, even when the snow has transformed. Where it does not perform well is during icy conditions, where even Skin Skis are a complete disaster.


Although tape is not my first choice regarding grip, approximately half of my skiing trips now take place with tape. My children train and I used to expend a lot of energy and stress in waxing their skis before training. Now I just apply tape and don’t have to worry about the varying conditions or about artificial snow. My children have never been so pleased about the quality of their skis since I started using tape. What’s more they often have superior skis to their peers. However, when they are racing I don’t opt for tape. Contrastingly, I have used tape many times during ski races when conditions have been difficult or I have been pushed for time and had no time to prep skis. In my experience with Klister skis, tape has functioned as good as my peers’ skis on glide, and better on grip. I have gone 5 OBIK 10k races on artificial snow/real snow mixtures in all kinds of conditions and also a 40k race, Montebellorennet. Conditions for Montebellorennet were similar to the year before, and with tape I finished only 2 minutes slower, i.e. a loss of approx 3 secs per km.

Tape: Worth a Shot

Before you invest in the new Emperor’s Clothesthat are Skin skis I’d recommend that you splash out on some tape and give it a go. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. What’s more, if you have some redundant Klister skis with tape you’ll get a good pair of racing skis equal to what your peers are using in most respects. My advice is save your cash, buy some tape and invest in a proper pair of skis instead, e.g. a pair of cold skis, klister or even Zero skis. You’ll get a greater benefit and save loads of time in the waxing shed.







Uphill Battle

February 12, 2018

Running in Circles

After analysing the Winter season and my performances it was clear where I needed to put in effort. Almost in every race I had struggled on ascents and lost much time to those around me. It didn’t matter that I was often superior to my peers on the flat/downhill stretches if I blew up on steep inclines, particularly during the end game. I opted to resolve this during the Summer and intended to focus on hill running and æljhufs (a kind of Nordic running with poles see link). These two activities, I figured, would go a long way to improving my overall fitness. In order to fit them in however, I’d have to reduce rollerskiing time and I opted to focus on fewer, but longer rollerskiing sessions often with a hill finish (Grefsenkollen or Tryvann).

SRM: in control, but painful at the beginning for someone who hadn't run for 17 years (pic courtesy

However, the hill running season didn’t take off until early June so I had to settle instead for the monotony of running around Sognsvann with Sognsvann RundtMedsols (SRM). Whilst not been a big fan of running, at least this weekly event was a way of monitoring progress in a semi-competitive environment. As a bonus you could also choose on the spur of the moment how many laps you wanted to do depending upon form on the day. What’s more, the social nature was a big bonus and I met many friends and work colleagues during the relentless 3.25km laps of Sognsvann lake. In order to make SRM a little more interesting, I decided that each attendance should be met with a new personal best. This meant that if a personal best was not attained I had to keep running laps until a personal best was achieved. Fortunately I was able to attain 9 personal bests and never got above 4 laps or 13km of the lake. This rather cynical approach was rather quite a good one as I noticed my condition improved considerably during the early Summer.

Almost starting to enjoy the perpetual laps (courtesy

Reach for the Sky

Oslo is fortunate in having at least 10 peaks greater than 500m above sea level. The SRM organisers had organised a hill running cup competition comprising of 5 hills in the Maridal Alps to be commenced during the first Tuesday of each month.  After assessing the previous years results I thought that I could give it a good stab, since a top thirty finish would guarantee points which would be carried over to the final race and the final reckoning. Analysing the results I thought that I had an outside chance at a couple of the smaller races. However, I hadn’t counted on the new hill running wave which meant that participation and competition was going to increase considerably.  My goal for the Summer was to get on the hill running cup scoreboard with a top 30 finish, no mean feat with the majority of runners being half my age. Furthermore, many of the pack were composed of top skiers/runners.

Hill running season started in early June with Rett til Værs. I’d had some unsuccessful attempts at scouting the peak in advance, but at least I’d gotten to see some wildlife with sightings of moose, deer and hare. The race itself took place after one of the Summer’s many serious downpours and the route up was essentially like traversing a continous gush of water and mud. Up on the top visibility was zilch as cloud settled on the peak. 53rd place out of 80 and 40th in the men standings was the conclusion of a tough run in a time of just over 31 min, enough to give me points in 2010, but not of a high enough caliber for 2011.

Standard course profile for the Maridal Hill Running Cup

Fagervann opp was the next challenge in early July. Once again a monsoon hit town, but fortunately it subsided before the race. Fagervann opp is a tough challenge, but at least it is considerably shorter than Rett til Værs. A good controlled run with a finish through quagmires and some dense forest led to a time of 20min and a placing of 58th of 82 overall. Being 43rd of the men, cumulative points total was once again four-fifths of FA, although my time would have been more than good enough for a top thirty finish in 2010.

Centre stage, before a post-race dip in the lake

Views at the top are usually worth the strenuous ascent

With the competition proving to be more fierce than I had anticipated I was hoping for some real inclement weather to increase the number of DNS and hence my chances of getting hill cup points. However, at the next event in August, Sellanrå opp, the weather was remarkably dry and sunny so the omens weren’t good. An incredibly steep finish sorted the wheat from the chaff. No guesses to where I ended up with an overall 46th place of 67 and 36th of the men. At least I was getting closer, but was still roughly about 2.5 min outside the hill points.

View over Øyungen from Sellanrå

Come September it beame clear that my last chance of hill cup running glory was going to be Gaupekollen opp, the real pearl of all the Maridal Alps. Having moved heaven & earth to keep my diary clear, Mrs Engelski had scheduled a trip abroad putting the mockers on Skjennungsstua opp. Hence, my last chance for points was to be during the 2nd week of September.

The week before, however, was dedicated to Sørkedalsløpet, a fun yet demanding 11km terrain run. Hurricane Irene was still in town and the race took part in some atrocious conditions. Horizontal driving rain that stung the eyes and mud up to knee height was a common trait of this race. The race itself was a great workout and the course was negotiated in a modest time of 55min, which I was more than happy with considering the conditions. However, my calves complained for the next two days as the mud took its toll.

Hurrican Irene gets in on the act. Note the guy running on crutches, centre left. He could run like shit off a shovel

So to Gaupekollen opp. It had transpired that I had actually ran past this peak on a couple of earlier reconaissance runs to investigate the Maridal Alps. Unfortunately a tough week at work had me mentally drained and I didn’t feel particularly in the mood for another battle with the vertical. However, standing on the starting line amazingly alters focus and I was geared to go as the starting pistol went. A good race was concluded with negotiation of a couple of fallen trees as finishing line appeared out of nowhere. A time of just over 26min gave me 36th place out of 68 and remarkably a 30th place finish in the men, enough to secure the last hill running cup point. Oh joy! Goal achieved. My sole point, even with a DNS in the final race, should secure me with a mid-table finish overall. I’d always planned to retire at the top, however getting there seems like an impossibility, so retirement from the hill running cup placed halfway seems like a natural thing to do.

The Student Becomes the Master

After many attempts I was able to convince Engelski Junior to join me in a semi-competitive pain race. The quest was a trial run for Oslo’s steepest hill race, a run up the black alpine ski run from Wyllerløypa to Tryvann. At a 424m ascent over 2.7km the event was not for the foolhardy, particularly as the first kilometer is a 25% gradient. During the Summer I’d repeatedly outran Junior in sprints and wondered whether he could actually last the pace. Despite having participated in a number of ski races Junior did not feel particularly comfortable at being dragged to the bottom of Wyllerløypa for the start. I reassured him that I would run with him all the way and offer him words of encouragement. Knowing my tendency to struggle on the particularly steep parts I urged him to continue past me if he was able to do so, and offered reassuringly that I would catch up with him on the short downhill stretch before the final climb to the finish. Little did I know that I was to be part of a perfect stitch up as I opened gently, making sure that Junior was within touching distance.

Oslos Bratteste (steepest): holy shit!

Two minutes in, on the start of the monstrous 25% incline and Junior was starting to put his foot down and motor into gear. Despite my surprise, I was able to shout many words of encouragement and he managed to open up a gap of between 10-20M until we got up past half way. Junior appeared comfortable in these surroundings and was making headway past a number of older competitors. As we approached the short downhill stretch I gave warning that I was coming through and accelerated up to 20kmh, that is until I hit a stone and dislodged a shoe when I was right behind him. 15 secs were lost and by the time I’d made up the lost ground we were under the ski lifts preparing for our next ascent. A sharp right turn begins the steep incline at 18% to the finish. Junior was proving to be a good pacemaker, however it was at this point that I realised that I was done for and that I wouldn’t be able to get past him. I offered more words of encouragement as he kept some challengers at bay and he hit the finishing line a full 25 secs before I did, albeit in a new personal best for myself. Although I’d been beaten by an 11 year old I was well and truly proud. Of 56 starters he’d finished 19th and I’d rolled in 23rd. Junior was now well and truly hooked and we’ll both be doing the real thing next week. I’ve told him that I’ll be going down guns blazing this time, so he’ll have to really shift it if he’s to do me like a kipper again.

 Oslos Bratteste trial run results

The Student Becomes the Master Reprise

September was proving to be a good training month. August had been based on sheer quantity as more than 40 hours were racked up. September was the time to get a return on the investment, competition coming thick and fast with 6 events in the pipeline. The highlight was to be the Holmenkollen rollerski race. The inaugural race back in 2009 was a 25km race with a gruelling finish. Despite my protests the organisers had chopped the race down to 10km in 2010. Now the race had been hacked down to 7.5km and it seemed that the more I protested the shorter the race became. I had about 550km in the tank (200 less than last year at this stage) since the finish of the ski season, and after a short course with Kjetil Dammen to fix erroneous technique, was feeling in good nick. I was keen to get started and there was a good buzz in the starting area as I met up with team-mates and other acquaintances. I viewed the 7.5km as a sprint despite the 240m that had to be ascended to the finish at the Holmenkollen ski jump. My intention was to simply gun it, start fast and increase the pace making sure that I took out everything I possibly could before the finish.

In the zone: shame about the view

I was in wave 4 with the slackers, a suitable match based on my form in previous races. For once the sun greeted us at the start and as the starting pistol was released wave 4 started at a frantic pace. Since there were only about 25 in the wave I opted to start near the back to avoid the risk of breaking a pole in the scuffle to get out of the blocks. My tactic of flooring it from the off was working like a charm. To the gentle inclines to Bogstad farm I was double poling with kick past quite a few from my starting wave. At Bogstad farm I fixed a work colleague, CP, in my sites and thought I’d take him on. CP had beaten me in Gaupekollen opp by 2 min previously, and knowing him to be a) Norwegian b) tall and c) a keen skier I thought my chances of taking him on would be short-lived. CP was taken by surprise when I appeared on his shoulder and muttered words to that effect as I scooted past.

Out of Bogstad I was now leading (!) and stretching a group of about 15 skiers. I’d informed the Juniors to get ready to cheer me on as I was scheduled to go past the house 15 min into the race. Last year they’d cheered me on from the garage roof which had given me a great boost. As I was leading the majority of the wave out of Bogstad I was determined to keep pole so that I could impress the Juniors. As an Englishman in Norway I get used to skiing at the back of the pack, so I was certainly going to milk this rare moment. As I gunned down past the house at 35 kmh I was stunned by the earie silence. Where were the Juniors? Thought they’d at least be out to cheer Thomas Alsgaard, if not myself. It transpired that I was ahead of schedule and that the Juniors had only just made it out onto the balcony as I bombed through the traffic lights 50 m from the house.

I was still out in front, but facing some serious competition as we started the 200m climb to the ski jump. I knew that CP wasn’t far behind either and had trouble keeping the contenders at bay. Despite the steep incline I was able to keep double poling with kick. As soon as I went over to diagonal I’d lose ground, so with only 3km to go there was only one thing to do: give gas! A slight diversion brought us to a particularly steep part of the course and I had no option, but to go over to diagonal stride. After a couple of hundred meters I’d lost the “lead” and could hear others breathing down my neck, including CP wanting to avoid the embarassment of being beaten by an Englishman. As we went under the bridge at Besserud, CP came through almost level. Within metres he’d past me, but I could see that he was doing diagonal and wasn’t having an easy time of it. No words were spoken this time, and I decided to up it a gear as I changed back to double pole with kick. CP’s “lead” had only lasted 20M or so and I went off after a couple of others who’d also gone past. As we went passed Holmenkollen restaurant one of my contenders was continually getting coached from some guy next to him on a bike. He was really starting to piss me off as every time I went in for the kill the geezer on the bike would give my contender advanced warning to pull away. This carried on over the final 1.5km, but my main battle was with another guy and we went at it neck and neck past the ski jump. With 300M to go I thought that I had control and opted to accelerate to take out the last reserves. Things were looking good at 200M as my competitors breathing became more distant. With 100M to go it was in the bag, or so I thought. However, my competitor had not given up just yet and out of nowhere pulled out of my slipstream and did for me at the line. Bastard! Still I’d had a great race and finished in a time of 31 min, truly a sprint.

The atmosphere at the finish was great as usual and I was able to share tactics and race stories with my team-mates. It was then that I bumped into my ski instructor from last Winter. She’d managed to get a starting number at the last minute. It was only after getting home and analysing the results that I found out that I’d done for her and beaten a former double junior world champion and Norwegian  silver medallist. In this case I doubt very much that the student has become the master, but at least it was proof of progression.

The “postman” from the TUB first team, fresh from his Birkebeiner triple victory, snatched victory at the death in an exciting sprint finish. I was able to sponge a lift from him and his dad. His dad regailed tails of being beaten in races by the “postman” when he was 10 years old. How comforting I thought. This was really a great way to end a fantastic day.

For the record:

“Postman” 21:40 (faster wheels: C1)

Thomas Alsgaard 22:42 (faster wheels: C1)

Slower C2 wheels:

Nils Petter 27:34

Jan Bjørn 27:43

Morten 28:19

Knut 28:43

Engelski 31:48

CP 32:07

Ski instructor 32:25

Linda 34:49

Kaja 43:46

2011 Season Starts in Earnest

February 12, 2018

Vestmarka Trio

Only 3 or so weeks into the new year and the season is already in full swing.

Vestmarkrunden: Start

Vestmarkrunden: nerves staring to show

It started with two half marathons in Vestmarka: Vestmarkrunden and Tolver’n. Both were successfully negotiated with new PBs in difficult conditions, far more challenging than 2010. The emphasis on technique is starting to pay off. Today was all about a return back to Vestmarka.

New Challenge

The weekends challenge was a marathon in Vestmarka, Vestergyllen.


Tolver'n: lining up for a clear start

The route is quite challenging with some long “herring-bone” uphills (>1km) and some fast & hairy downhills (up to 50 kph). I completed Vestergyllen for the first time in 2010 in good conditions in a time of 3h 21 min. The aim this time was to go sub 3 hours.

Waxing Lyrical

I had arranged for Rune to pick me up at 07.15. Over the last couple of weeks, inbetween races I had concentrated on interval training, often with Rune. Rune is as strong as an ox and really guns it, which is a great driving force for me, and my pulse. Not sure I am much help for him though as I usually lag some distance behind on my inferior “grusski” (non-competitions skis). The evening before had been used to digest our son’s performances at the local Kjelsås championships at Holmenkollen and to discuss potential conditions & waxing. I had prepped my skis with LF6 & LF8 glider wax with a 0.5mm V-shaped rill, and had applied base klister & ice klister to the grip zone. Conditions were expected to vary considerably, with it being mild up high (>0C) and below zero at the start and near the lakes. We picked up Gaute & Nils Arne on the way and made our way to the start area at Solli gård.

To Glide or not to Glide….

As we arrived at the start the first wave involving the women was about to start. I met Kristin and Tilla Marie (United Bakeries) and wished them well. It looked like the women were opting for either K21 silver klister or ice klister with a silver wax on top. Whilst the women started we tested our skis on a gentle slope. I went for VR45 on top of the klister and had to gradually add many layers before I got any grip. The tracks were bound to get icy with about 1000 skiers due to start in front of us. The problem would potentially be icy tracks and also loose snow. The other guys settled quite quickly on their grip waxes and went off to cruise around and soak up the atmosphere before start. After about what felt like an hour of testing my skis, I ended up with VR50 on top of the VR45. I decided against going for a softer wax on top of this. With hindsight VR55/VR60 on top would have been the optimal and indeed race winner Callesen went with this mix, claiming it was what got him home up the final climb and over the finishing line.

Start Hysteria

With 30 min due to race start, I stuffed my face with 1500 calories consisting of an energy bar, a “lefse” and some sesame seed bars washed down with blackcurrant.

Vestergyllen, about as good as it gets in Vestmarka

This tactic had worked well the previous week, where after a steady start, I was able to finish strongly. Gaute was  the first  to start in wave 36-40M. 15 min later Nils Arne and myself started in 41-45M. Rune started 10 min after us in 46-50M. My normal tactic is to start at the back and let everyone else fight it out over the first few km. Many burn out from halfway onwards and it is quite easy to pick them off if one has conserved energy at the start. I usually shout out words of encouragement to those who have “hit the wall” as I go past and normally leave them for dead. This tactic didn’t quite work to plan last week when a spritely 25 yr old (Team Xtra?) was spurred on by my words of encouragement and took it upon himself to try and get back in front. His attempt didn’t last long though as I kept the pressure up. It was like letting the air out of a balloon as I eventually left the young pup in my wake.

Team Xtraordinary

As the starting pistol went we had 40km and a 900m elevation to conquer. As usual the guys up front zoomed out at a frantic pace. Everyone else got caught up in the panic of a potential gap opening up and the speed out of the blocks was a little too quick for my liking. After 3km I met Ole from Team Extra whom I train with from time to time. Ole did not look happy and had broken a pole in the charge out of the blocks and up the hill. An expensive price to pay and unfortunately the end of Ole’s race.

Roller Coaster

After 4 km of a gentle incline a 5% decent over 2 km took us down to Sandungen.

Race profile

Race profile: 900m of challenging ascent

Speed on the downhill reached 40-50 kmh and problems began to ensue at a couple of the sharp bends where loose snow had begun to pile up. After 6k the pace slowed distinctly as we had to climb back up to 430m (Bergåsen). This stretch sorts the wheat from the chaff with 1km of herring bone up the hill. From here on it’s a gradual decline over 5km to the first drinking station at 12km, the races lowest point above sea level (270m).

Bakery Boys

After gulping down a couple of cups of lukewarm blackcurrant it was full speed again with a 5km climb in front of us to get back up to 430m over sea level. At this point I pass a young lad with an L-plate on his back with the GB initials in the corner. Another brave or stupid Brit! I shouted some words of encouragement then left him for toast. This was a good stretch for me since I was by now well familiar with the route from Sandungen to Mikkelsbonn having raced Vestmarkrunden 2 weeks earlier, albeit in the opposite direction. After reaching Grønland 19 km into the race, the speed merchants from the wave that had started 10 min behind were starting to catch us. Similarly we were starting to catch some of the young guns who had started 15 min ahead of us.  A good battle was developing between myself and one of the United Bakeries team. Since I train on occasion with the bakery boys I was determined to get my nose in front and beat at least one of the team. The battle lasted about 5k in which we took turns to drive forward or slip into each others slipstream. On the final incline to Mikkelsbonn I was able to lose him and able to pull away. However, there was also the threat of Rune cruising by from the wave behind. The thought  petrified me and kept me well focused on retaining good technique and on the job at hand.

Pole Disaster Reprise

After 23km another drink station, this time with energy drink. A couple cups of Maxim and a third of a banana and it was off again. Apparently I overtook Gaute at this brief “pit-stop” though I was unaware. Gaute had also broken a pole, shortly before reaching the drink station. To his credit he continued in the race and was able to finish in a very creditable 3h 38m.

Seeding Madness

Last year from 20km-35km I was able to overtake tens of people through a reliance on double poling. The 20-30k section is far less dramatic than the first half of the race and is an opportunity to cash in on the stragglers and people starting to “hit the wall”. The field this year, however, was far stronger. The competition is fierce as everyone scrambles to bump up their seeding, and hence starting wave, for the Birkebeiner in March. Vestergyllen is denoted as a seeding race and 500 extra participants had given the field an increase in caliber, particularly amongst the middle age crisis waves. However, one of these dudes did take me out at 40 kph on a descent at a sharp bend, the bastard. Double poling with or without kick proved to be also effective this year as we reached the final decline down to the last drink station. Two more cups of blackcurrant revitalised blood sugar levels for the final climb to the finish.

No Pain, No Finish

All the time the fear that Rune would zoom past was with me. The final 2km climb to the finish was a tough one for many, particularly those who had not waxed optimally and were finding they had little grip.

Double Poling Comes into its own

I was doing okay, but wishing that I had opted for a slightly softer wax at this stage, as at times I had to opt for herring bone to get up the hill. The guy in front of me opted to skate until I reminded him of the rules (bastard!). With 1km to go the roar of the finishing line and sound of the commentator really drives you on. Thus far, I had avoided glancing at my pulse watch, and though tempted decided not to do so. Glancing at time and pulse during a race can really cause one to lose rhythm and stride. However, on this occasion maybe I should have taken a peak. As I reached the finish line with poles stretched out in the air I let out my usual “victory” roar which usually gets the pulse to rocket up to 180. I looked at the clock at the finish line and was convinced that I’d finished in 4h. In my elation at hitting  the finish line I wasn’t able to subtract start time 10:10 from 13:10 and it took a few seconds to realise that I’d actually hit my goal of 3h, though some 19 seconds over (race stats on Garmin here). 

English Threat?

Vestergyllen was a big triumph from my point of view. A highly enjoyable race with some fantastic scenery. Goal was met (okay 19 secs outside then) as part of my stepping stone on the way to the world’s hardest ski race (Grenadern 90km). The keen skiers at work all seemed impressed, though one of them is getting worried as I am now perceived as a potential danger. It doesn’t get more embarassing for Norwegians born with skis on their feet to be beaten by an Englishman. With almost 7000 Norwegians left in my trail last year, I think there could be a few more starting to panic, and maybe even signing up for technique courses.

For the record Nils Arne finished in 2h 53m, Rune 3h 10 m and Gaute 3h 38m.

Ramping it up

Next challenge is the Holmenkollen ski marthon (sic) at 53km. The course is a gruelling one with an instant 400m climb and no opportunity to rest at all during the whole 53k. My goal here is a rather optimistic 4h, but it could be that 4h 30m is more realistic. Still if everythings goes my way and the conditions are good, 4h could be on.

It’s a Marathon not a Sprint! Doh!

February 12, 2018
Finishing post at the new Holmenkollen ski stadium

Race in Doubt

Well what a last couple of weeks it’s been. My preparation for the Holmenkollen skimarathon (sic) could hardly have been worse. Only 4 h training in 2 weeks since Vestergyllen, the quality of which was generally poor. Then this week been struggling with man flu. I was feeling so shit that on Wednesday I put my start number up for sale. My intention was to drop the Hk, hopefully get fit and then either do Steinfjellrunden or Hauer’n the following week. Only problem was that these races are only 6-7 days before the big one, Grenaderen. A risky manoeuvre, although I tend to recover quite quickly from races. Within minutes of posting I had received two offers by telephone. The 1st one took me by surprise as I was kind of hoping not to sell. I managed to fob the 1st caller off and when I had received the second call I just couldn’t do the sale. Hk was supposed to be a major stepping stone to Grenaderen and I guess I was not prepared to put the big G at risk. That was it then, resigned to Hk.


Eager skiers waiting to kick loose

Last year I set my goal for the Holmenkollen ski marathon as being best Brit and /or sub 3hours. The organisers had, however added what transpired to be an extra 16k to the course and I had to realign the goal to best Brit and sub 4 hours. Last year I was 35 min behind the best Brit finishing 3rd place overall.

Killer Start, Killer Finish

This year, the organisers had moved the event to Sørkedalen and extended the track by what turned out to be 17km.

Holmenkollen skimarathon course

Holmenkollen skimarathon course

The track looked tough and at least on a par with Birkebeiner, actually worse but conditions tend to be stable in February as opposed to March for the Birkie. Last year I had improved my time by over 1h and finished in approx 3.5h. The finish was brutal with a ridiculous 120 degree bend at the bottom of a ravine, followed by a steep climb to the finish. Not good with lactic acid. This year the race was schedule to finish at the new Holmenkollen ski stadium/jump and take on part of the World Cup course including the famous Monster Hill.

Recipe for Success

Fortunately Friday night had been much colder than expected facilitating ski waxing. I opted for glider: LF6 with LF8 on top with 0.5mm V rill (M2 plane); grip wax: VG35-V30-V40 base with VR50 and then VR 45 on top to counteract milder conditions during the day. This proved to be the magic mix and the race winner “the Postman” also used this mix, but without VR50 since he started much earlier.

Ready to go?

Brain dead

Sick as a dog: brain abducted by aliens?

Considering the last few days I wasn’t feeling as shit as I had been. I hadn’t quite managed to force down my usual 2000 calories pre-race, but had at least gotten half that down. I wasn’t getting my usual race tension buzz, but I did feel ok to start. The starting area was quite relaxed and I met a few knowns: Marianne, Jørgen Aukland’s better half from Team Xtra, Peter XC ski coach for my oldest son, Rune obviously seeking revenge after Vestergyllen and Anne from work, also seeking revenge after last years Birkie. Temperature in Sørkedalen was about -10C, reasonably comfortable for Sørkedalen. I tested my skis and gradually applied thin layers of grip wax until I was content that I had good enough grip for the immediate 400m climb that lay ahead.

“Under Starters Orders….”

I was starting in wave 10 with Rune and Peter. I saw Peter, but Rune was making himself scare, obviously planning an attack from the back. His wife Ingrid was in wave 9, and Nils Arne in Wave 12. The first 12km is virtually all up, 400m in fact.

Course profile

A brutal start

I got off to a comfortable start and after the opening couple of km was actually starting to feel quite good. I was concentrating on technique, and particularly on double pole with kick. It’s amazing how few people choose this technique or can use it effectively. Most tend to opt for diagonal stride. Why go in 2nd gear, when you can use 3rd? My focus was paying off and I was making good time up Gråseterveien. A quick pit stop for some Winforce energy drink and then I really did start to pick up momentum. I gunned it up to Heggelivann in good time overtaking tens of people. It was at this point that I saw Peter again so I said hello and zoomed by. Peter took up the offer and tucked into my slipstream, no doubt afraid of being beaten by an Englishman I should think. A few more km then another pit stop at the 15km mark at Heggelivann, time for more energy drink and a biscuit.

Travelling Through Another Dimension

Across Northern Heggelivann double pole with kick was giving big rewards. I was simply flying whilst others appeared to be just going backwards. At Skamrek in the distance I could see a lady wearing a Try jacket. I veered upon her like a BMW veers upon a Fiat 127 on the autobahn, jigged to the side and said hello. It was Ingrid, Rune’s better half. She had started in wave 9 and appeared a little shocked to see that wave 10, and probably more specifically an Englander, was already eating in to wave 9. We spoke for a few seconds with her prophetically retorting that I should eat & drink along the way as I shared reservations that my start was simply beyond the Twilight Zone (or indeed the Outer Limits). This wasn’t the last that I was to see of Ingrid and back of Try jacket, more of which later.

Taken by Surprise

Little beknownst to me someone had obviously been hanging onto my coat tail up Gråseterveien & across Heggelivann. A check of the times at Heggeli dam post race showed that Rune was on my shoulder, and it should have been no surprise that he suddenly appeared on the way to Storflåtan. I was completely taken unawares that somebody could actually try and overtake me in the form I was in, never mind that it was arch nemesis Rune sniffing out an opportunity to make an early psychological kill. Rune said that I’d been incredibly strong until this point inferring that he was actually stronger as he hit cruise control and whizzed off. I managed to hang on to his coat tail for only about 500m, but wasn’t particularly perturbed. If it was to be his day, great! I was also determined that it was going to be my day too. In any case Rune had burnt out early during Vestergyllen so there was also a chance it could happen again, not that I wanted this to happen. I was convinced I would take him on the monster hill on the way into the stadium and finish in any case.

Too Good to be True

After hitting the service station at Storflåtan I remarked to the volunteer handing out peeled bananas that I’d hope he’d washed his hands as I troughed down a third of a banana. His response was a perfect “So do I”. Cruise speed was induced and all was well with the world on the way out of Storflåtan to Langlia. There had been little sign of man flu symptoms, though it was often difficult to tell in any case as a constant stream of mucous ran from my nose, a normal event amongst XC skiers. I often wonder how glamour XC ski athlete Therese Johaug gets away with it. Maybe she gets all the snot airbrushed from her pics. The sore throat had gone and the cough hadn’t been given a chance to break proceedings. Perhaps I had discovered a new cure for man flu & would be soon rewarded with the Nobel prize for medicine. The lack of a massive breakfast didn’t seem to be having an affect either and I was ensuring to snack, albeit briefly, at the pit stops.

The Fifth Dimension

 The stretch from Storflåtan, past Bleiksjøen  down to Åbortjern is very reminiscent of Vestergyllen. Narrow track with some fast downhill and very sharp turns. With approx 1500 skiers starting in front, the terrain became, a la Vestergyllen, quite treacherous. Most snow there was, had been ploughed away by over-cautious skiers leaving behind a nice sheet of ice. One day, when I rule the Earth, I shall run my own ski race where the runners & riders start in reverse. I would like to see how the elite get on after us duffers in wave 10-20 have trashed the course. Don’t think the elite skiers would be so quick with banana peel, gel wrappers and the odd “engangsgrill” (single use BBQs) stuck to their skis. Welcome to our world.

Chicken Shit

Since being taken out by some loser at 40 kph in Vestergyllen and also hearing about Erling Christiansens misfortune at high speed where he suffered broken shoulder & ribs (Tolver’n trasee) on a sheet of ice I have been wary of going for broke in the hockey position surrounded by out of control skiers. I try and avoid ploughing, but sometimes it’s not worth the risk. Being chicken shit means I probably lose a couple of minutes per race, but at least I get to compete for the rest of the season instead of sitting in plaster.

Another Brick in the Wall

In the yo-yo stretch on the way to and from Langlia, it was at this point that I realised that I’d left the choke in and flooded the tank. First signs of trouble arose on a climb in Ugly Valley Road (Styggdalvegen). Coughing & spluttering I was starting to develop problems in the lower gears, herring-bone and diagonal stride. Suddenly Peter was back alongside. We briefly acknowledged each other and I tried to return the compliment by easing into his slipstream. A severe case of kangaroo petrol-like skiing put a quick halt to that and I had to let Peter go. Fortunately the equivalent of AAA was on hand at the Langlia pit-stop, but no solids could be taken on board. Now I was really starting to go in reverse.

Florence Nightingale

Out of nowhere Ingrid had shot out in front around Langlia. Ingrid turned out to be my Lady of the Lamp. I said hello and told her that her husband Rune was going big guns. For the next 10-12 km I was able to tuck in behind Ingrid and follow her rhythm over the tough stretch between Langlia and Fyllingen. My technique had been starting to go to pot in the lower gears, so I was glad of the support that Ingrid was unconsciously providing up front. Lactic acid had been building in my calves reducing my glide phase in diagonal, so it was a relief to relax knowing that there was still just under half of the race to go.

Into the Cellar

At the next pit stop at Fyllingen I decided to try and force down a few biccies washed down with the now obligatory Winforce energy drink. I should really have opted for some gel from my supplies, but was rather worried that it might make a repeat appearance. In a cruel joke, the 3 Bixits I received from the service personnel appeared to have been superglued together. I was able to prize one away before hoying the redundant others away from the ski tracks. Amongst the Bixit tomfoolery, Ingrid had made a break for it, and my Nightingale had gone. That was it, I was now on my own. It was I, and only I, that could resolve the dodgy kick in the diagonal stride from now on. Fortunately from Fyllingen on in I felt as though I was on home territory. I knew that if I could make it to Kobberhaug, that I could double pole most of the way in. It was time to dig deep and go down into the cellar to retrieve whatever reserves that were left.


It was getting difficult to focus on technique after passing Middagsdalen (Tjuvdalen). At least I had arrested the number of skiers passing me by. It was at this point that Nils Arne, starting in wave 12, passed me by. He told me I was doing “shit good” which actually transpires as a complement in Norwegian. With words of encouragement taken, Nils Arne left me for toast (see previous blog), but left me with a real sense of determination. I now realise that my own words of encouragement to stragglers are often of real meaning. Thanks Nils Arne! Amidst the snow powder trail left by Nils Arne, I was now reinvigorateded and was able to cruise, with the occasional top up of lactic acid, into Kobberhaug and the penultimate pit stop.


Now food station 6 is no ordinary food station. As last year, it is manned by United Bakeries and really does offer the works! There is simply no comprehension in having such a diversity of delicacies on display nearing the end game. I occasionally train with UB and team 2 chief Andre was on hand to offer support. He ordered me over to a mountain of food for a 3-course meal! I protested at once. Seeing and understanding my predicament he pointed me in the direction of the skiers elixia: coffee & cola mix, a notable cocktail taken by skipros during the end game. If your stomach can take it (the cola fizz, the bitterness of the ashtray like coffee, the acid of the gas, etc) you really are in business as the caffeine kicks in, the glucose enters the blood-stream and the phosphoric acid begins to rot the teeth.


There was still 8 km to go, but this was now home territory and double poling for the most. I reached Blankvann and received some support from the sidelines from a former colleague, Åsa, from yesteryear. She never knew me as I skier and think was in shock for some time after cheering me on…she stopped cheering as soon as she triggered who I was. So to the last drinking station at the base of  Tryvann for yet more Winforce energy drink. Last year there were hoards of people cheering us in from this point. This year, being in the Twilight Zone, it was completely deserted. In fact from Nordmarkskappellet to Tryvann I was oddly going it alone. This made me briefly paranoid and I had to check that I’d taken the right course. From Tryvann in, most people had been cacking themselves in advance of the race and at how tough the finish would be with lactic acid build up. For me this was time to just get on with it and make it to the finish. We entered the World Cup tracks and were greeted by a joker informing us that we only had 3km to go. Being wiser I knew that we had nearer 5 km left and was mentally prepared for what was to come. Many people were blown by this and scarred by this well-meaning (?) steward. The track yo-yoed and took us under the Corkscrew Luge track. Another kilometer and we came to Midstuen ski jump where we were greeted with a fantastic sight. Whilst we had been slogging our guts out in incredible sunshine the whole of Oslo below us had been enshrouded in cloud. Oh joy!

The “monster hills” on the way into the stadium proved problematic for some, the edges of which were littered with wiped-out skiers struggling to get up on their feet with lactic acid in their legs. Those lacking in course knowledge are easily fooled into thinking that they are home and hosed on sight of the stadium & the magnificently over-budgeted Holmenkollen skijump. However, the course veers sharply down a steep decline and around the back of Grattishaugen (sic) and then back up a steep incline before entering the stadium. I avoided potential collisions and the eating of snow and made my entrance without fuss into the stadium.

Photo Finish

At the big events you can always guarantee a photographer is surrepticiously placed somewhere to capture your misery and share it with your family & friends. We had already been snapped a couple of times earlier and I could see in the distance a photographer placed at the finishing line. I had two skiers in front of me. This motivated me to take out the last reserves of energy. I had to get past these skiers at all costs. If the photographer snapped me at the finish behind these two skiers, who both looked pretty knackered (like I wasn’t), I would look like a right loser. Driven by the thought I dug deep  and double poled with immaculate technique (evidence yet to be seen) past the two skiers, thus ensuring that my victory salute and brawl were capture on film with two lucky losers in the background.

Best Brit

A quick glance at the clock showed that I had posted 4h 28m for the 57km trip. Although I was 28 min outside of my goal, I was pleased considering the challenges I’d had up to and during the race.  I never once thought of quitting, though the Grenaderen crossed my mind aplenty during the tough times. On finishing I reflected that actually the big G is only Hk + 33km. Doable if I open at a gentler pace and also putting my 7.5h goal within reach. However, there are two premises that need to be ticked off before registration deadline expires 17th Feb: full fitness & good weather/conditions. It remains to be seen if this will happen.

Oh yeh, I could also be proudly crowned best Brit as I creamed last years no.2 by 7 min (last years winner chickened out at the start with a DNS).

For the record (off the top of my head): Nils Arne 4h 10m, Rune 4h 15m, Ingrid & Peter 4h 23m, Brit number 2 4h 35m, United Bakeries dude 4h 50m, Anne 5h 19m, Marianne DNF or DNS?

1400 Norwegians were left in my trail & are now desperately in need of a ski course when they read this methinks.

Who put the F in the Big G?

February 12, 2018
The Grenader: not for wimps

Are you Tough Enough?

It had been a long time coming and some preparation. One year to be precise and some 2500km skiing/rollerskiing in which 37000 m had been climbed and 166000 calories burned. So this week wasn’t really the time to chicken out of what is the worlds toughest ski race, the 90km Grenaderen. Mentally and physically there had been doubts. VMjarl had once again stiffed the weather prediction forecasting -18 to -15C, enough to put severe doubts into the minds of most but the toughest/stupidest of skiers. Furthermore the body was dredging up ailments and complaints from yesteryear. The thigh strain gained from fell running in October was mysteriously back, rollerski elbow was playing up (blunt poles on tarmac) and the meniscus in my right knee was suddenly giving me some serious jip, enough for Mrs Engelski to ask why I was limping. Although my body was doing it’s best to mentally wreck my goal it was also exhibiting bipolar tendencies. Subconsiously brain had instructed stomach to eat like a horse all week, just in case the body couldn’t force me to wimp out.

In Fear of Fear

I wasn’t the only one umming and erring about starting. A number of my comrades were experiencing similar quandaries. Elvis had been muttering something about a sore throat and was in two minds whether to sign up at the last minute. I bumped into him in Milslukern as I was registering for the race with barely a couple of hours to go before the registration deadline expired. He’d done well last year in extreme conditions, but appeared scarred after making his own tracks in a blizzard and being close to frost bite. VMjarls’ weather forecast was hardly a help as it presumably afforded flashbacks. I registered, left Elvis to it and disappeared home to prep skis, not really sure whether he was going to bite the bullet or not.

The Grenader

The Grenader is a 90 km XC ski race from Hakadal, North of Oslo, to Asker, way out West of Oslo.

Hakadal-Asker: 27 hours by ski (1716), 50 min by car (2011)

It is known as the worlds hardest XC ski race with some 1900m of incline to be conquered. So just why would mad Norwegians and 1 stupid Brit want to put themselves through such an ordeal to get from Hakadal to Asker, a trip which would normally take 50 min by car?

A Historical Perspective

In 1716 Karl XII of Sweden was on a rampant march through Norway. His army had set up base camp at Hakadal. A local worker overheard the Swedish army’s plans to march forth to Lier and do over the Norwegians at the Gjellebeck defence. A soldier (Grenader) was sent from Hakadal with the task of getting to Lier to alert the Norwegian troops and prepare them for impending battle. Without prepared tracks, V30 ski wax, Cera F  glider and coffee/cola, the brave Grenader made the 90km trip to tip off the Norwegian troops so that they could ward off and stop the advancement of the 1000 Swedish troops. The soldier completed the trip in a time of 27 hours. In his honour the Grenaderløp ski race was inaugurated in 1969 encountering pretty much the same route. As the race roll-call tends to show, it attracts only the hard-knocks of the skiing world, the calibre of which is extremely high.


Preparations in the immediate advance of big races are far from straight forward. On Tuesday I finally discovered why my stash of energy bars had been continuously disappearing when I found a mound of wrappers hidden not so discretely behind the fish tank. It transpired that my oldest son had been having a little 500 calorie glucose snack every day on getting home from school. At least this explained the lack of homework and why he had been bouncing off the walls. With that I could also cancel the prescription for Ritalin & stock up on more energy bar supplies. At least this trauma was resolved on time, unlike the time when the Polish cleaner mistakenly used my ski wax iron to iron my work shirts! I’m sure my work colleagues must have been impressed with shirts prepped with LF6 possessing a particular gloss to them being remarkably water repellant and wrinkle free. Please note the Polish cleaner is no more.

Early to Rise Early to Shine

Skis had been prepped (cheapskate LF6 glider, V30 wax) and at least conditions would be stable so that wouldn’t be an issue.

Order of the day: grin & bear it

However, there was the problem of getting from home to Hakadal, and then from Asker to home after the race. I opted to drive and park my car at Asker and take the bus from Asker to Hakadal. However, this meant getting up at an unfeasibly ridiculous time. I thought rather optimistically that with eye blinds and ear protection I’d be able to get some shut-eye on the bus on the way to Hakadal. However, one rather adrenalin fuelled skier couldn’t resist informing his comrade, and indeed the whole bus, of his earlier Grenader exploits. We arrived in Hakadal at sometime around 6 am with tails of the 1975 Grenader race still ringing in my ears.

Alarming: the “F” after 3:46 has been censored

The temp was a stable -13C and I was fortunate to be on the first bus in. This meant a comfy spot in the waiting room at Hakadal train station and avoidance of a long wait in the queue for the solitary loo before all the other buses came in. It also gave an opportunity to tuck into some serious calories without losing any heat. 3 packets of Quakers porridge (“Your hearts desire”) & 1000 calories was my recipe for slow release carbs.

Iron Men

Whilst in the waiting room I met up with some of the Bakery Boys, Remi, Andre, Marius & Mr Kondis.  Since, I last trained with them team 2 must have really ramped it up a notch. Many of them are in training for Norseman (jump from a ferry into a cold fjord at 3 am, swim 4km, get on a bike cycle 180 km, then run a marathon uphill escalating 1900 m!) so were taking the Grenader as a gentle warm up. Like myself Andre was a Grenader virgin whilst remi & Marius(?) had completed the race once earlier. They were in good spirits and I left them in the queue for the loos to go and check out the start area and test skis.

On your Marks…

A nice atmospheric walk had been prepared up  to the starting zone by Nittedal Banquet Racers & co. The organising committee had done a great job in marking out the path by candle light in the dark, and were also doing a stupendous job over the tannoy in pissing off the neighbours expecting a lie in on the first day of Winter vacation.

Chaos 30 min before start (courtesy of Kondis)

I looked around for knowns in the starting committee & starting field, but found none. Maybe Christian had slept in (unlikely with the tannoy blaring at 110 decibels). Perhaps Elvis and Rode-Grim had bottled it and chickened out at the last minute. I tested my skis and was reasonably satisified. Glide wasn’t great, but it was -12c after all. I could have done with another thin layer of grip wax, but opted to focus on technique and retain whatever glide I had.  So with that I chucked my bag in the truck to be transported to the finish and made my way to the start just as dawn was about to break.

Start Anticlimax

Three waves of skiers were lined up on the plain before the starting line. With 90km and 1900m of incline to be conquered it was going to be difficult to predict how the body was going to react. My plan was to open carefully, refuel aplenty and to focus on technique and economy. This meant blocking out the other runners & riders and I opted to start from the back of wave 3, not a smart move in retrospect. When the time came to start nothing happened. I checked my GPS for the time, yet still no starting pistol. After waiting what seemed like ages the earie silence was pierced by a slow shuffling sound and I could see in the distance a wave of skiers moving off. “No starting pistol?” I thought slowly advancing  to the starting line. However, the clock was ticking and without a starting mat to trigger automatic time keeping the 40 seconds that it took to get there was going to cost me dear.

No.724: tactically astute, ie last (courtesy Kondis)

The Grenader Trail

It is said that anyone that wants to be a serious skier should do the Grenader. I would also state that anyone that is glad in the great outdoors and has a love of fantastic scenery should also do it, with or without the stopwatch. The Grenader trail brings out Nordmarka at its best. The terrain is varied with some vast lakes spanning out and down into valleys below. There are some great view points offering magnificent views over the forest and valleys along the way. Furthermore, en-route one passes through the famous old cabins still in service today, Kikut & Løvlia being the most famous situated at the highest points in Nordmarka. For ski afficionados the route takes in the old Holmenkollmarsjen trase, the new Holmenkollen skimarathon (sic) route, Vestergyllen, Tolver’n and Vestmarkrunden and is a great way to take in the challenges of the terrain with some steep gradients and tight bends. For Vasaloppet (Sweden)/Marcialonga (Italy)  fans there isn’t a lot of double poling to be done on the Grenader trail, sufficient to give rise to it being the hardest XC ski race on the planet.


The opening 10 km turned out to be a long procession. With only 3 tracks to squeeze in 750 skiers it was always going to be a crush. The pace was frustratingly slow, but I knew that I had to keep control of the urge to race up to Trehørningen. I was with Mr TUB2 for the opening couple of km. He was also taking it easy and we chatted about the Vasa and other stuff whilst our pulses remained low. Eventually Andre’s patience subsided and he made a break through the masses. I didn’t see Andre again for another 8 hours by which time we had opposing experiences to share.

At Trehørningen I was taken down by Mr Wipeout. Wipeout mysteriously collapsed in front of me. My momentum forced me to run over him with me cursing and doing my best not to impale him with my poles. Not a word, nor apology was received and I could count myself lucky that I hadn’t bust a pole on the prone Mr Wipeout’s cranium. After a climb of 220m, at Gørja the traffic started to ease as the skiers started to group and stretch out. Gørja is the first of an important milestone, the 10 km mark. The Grenaderen differs from all other ski races in counting distance in blocks of 10 km, whilst all other races gingerly count down in 1,2 or 5 km. Only 80 km to go, just under two marathons. From Gørja a gentle descent, a quick hello and whizz by to Mr Kondis, and then onto Helgeren and Bjørnsjøen before the first refuelling stop at Kikut. I checked the GPS. 1h 45m for the first 17km, albeit much uphill, was not going to set the world alight now was it.

I had opted to eat and drink at every opportunity and also gone for a belt and braces approach. With only two layers (super thermals & racing suit) I’d opted to ski with a now, for the first time in the Grenaders’ 35 years, voluntary lightweight ruck sack. The ruck sack was stuffed to the hilt with spare training attire, gloves, mittens, sandwiches, energy gels, waxes and all other kinds of unnecessary junk in case of a blizzard. With no sign of a storm in sight and no need to baton down the hatches, the ruck sack was superfluous for all but the regular glucose top up from the energy gels. Going thin on the clothing front was probably not such a wise move in minus double digit Celsius and this was demonstrated by regular stops for incontinence at each pit stop.


Out of Kikut the trail continued through Fyllingen, past the 20km mark, and onto Langlia. Flashbacks were present as disturbing images were recalled from the Holmenkollen skimarathon (sic). As I’d crossed Langlia in the opposite direction  my mood had ebbed and flowed as left brain (logic) had battled with right brain (awareness) in a stop-go-stop-go-stop physical and mental breakdown. Kveldsrostjern to Langlia in this direction is a breeze and some downhill afforded a chance for a brief respite before the long climb to Løvlia. It also afforded a glimpse of some spectacular scenery down the Langlia valley, but only a glimpse mind as speed begins to pick up on the downhill stretch. From here 170m of incline was negotiated and the 30km mark reached. Pit stop nummer two at Storflåtan was just round the corner and with 33 km breached, only the equivalent of the new Holmenkollen skimarathon (57km) remained. Piece of cake. However, I’d taken almost 3 hours to get this far.

Milliarium Aureum or all Roads Lead to Løvlia

Løvlia, the Grenader's highest point and still not half way

Since Gørja their had been regular signpostings for Løvlia and an unofficial countdown of distance to the golden milestone. Whilst Løvlia is not quite half-way it represents the highest point of the Grenader race. However, the signposts were beginning to get rather annoying as instead of counting down they would occasionally stick at the same distance or even increase distance to Løvlia instead of reducing. Obviously there were many routes to Løvlia, but it appeared that we were taking the most laborious. Another 130m of incline past Bleiksjøen and Atjern meant that the final stretch to Løvlia was in sight. However, at regular intervals their were signposts stipulating that Løvlia was only 4.5km away. No matter how close we got to the immediate target the distance remained the same. This also held true for some time after having passed Løvlia. Weird!

From Storflåtan onwards I’d managed to check in with a group around my pace. The group composed of the Lady in Red, the Grape (woman in purple), an annoying bearded clacker (descriptive of really bad timing on technique), Wipeout and Beret, a professorial looking geezer with a maroon hat. On the uphill stretches it was no problem to keep apace with the group. However, on the flat or slight ascents I would accelerate away with double pole/kick to build a commanding lead. This lead never lasted long during the duration of the race as numerous incontinence stops or de-icing stops, to remove ice from the base of my poles after crossing lakes, held me back. Løvlia was reached in a time of 3h 40m. There was much work to do if I was to break through my pre-race goal of 7h 30min.


A quick sandwich at the Løvlia pit stop and within a couple of km we had reached the 40km mark. Only 50km to go! From 41km, potential energy is converted to kinetic energy on the descent to Fjellsetra and beyond. This stretch was just what the doctor ordered as many skiers started to struggle from Løvlia onwards. I was doing fine and in no fear of hitting the wall.

The Grenader: even the sign-posts are tough (courtesy of Gunnar)

The 50km mark brought with it a savage short climb. Time to sort out the wheat from the chaff. 3 more clicks and we rolled into Kleivstua with the possibility of some warm shelter if required. Kleivstua was reached in a time of approx 5h, leaving an almost impossible task to meet the goal of 7.5h for the race. What the hell! Time for some coffee/cola mix (as recommended by 8 out of 10 private dentists) to pep things up a bit.

Waffle City not! Kleivstua-Sollihøgda

Vestmarka  is an area that I am particularly fond of. It’s generally a guarantee for snow early on in the season and the first month of training generally takes place out here. On reaching Kleivstua this felt like home territory. It really makes a big mental difference when you feel you know the terrain. Sørstra was reached in what seemed no time and the treck onward to Sollihøgda and past the 60k mark was straightforward, double poling with kick doing the business to keep up the pace. Sollihøgda should have really been waffle city. Much had been made of the fact that the penultimate pit stop had a waffle iron in continuous production for ravenous, burnt-out skiers. However, it had transpired that Elvis had hit the wall an hour or so earlier and totally cleaned out the pit stop of waffles. I made do with some energy gel and coffee/cola mix to reinvigorate me for the last 24k. Time at Sollihøgda: 6h 08min and time to get the skates on. There was now a real danger that I might not even break through the 8 hour mark.


It wasn’t just the waffles that were rapidly disappearing from Sollihøgda onwards. The km were also getting eaten up too. 70km was attained before the last serious challenge of Haveråsen.  We were now in Vestergyllen/Vestmarkrunden territory and Mikkelsbonn was welcomed via Burås like an old friend.

The end game in sight (NB pic taken evening before. Takk Gunnar!)

The incline of Haveråsen didn’t prove to be so problematic and some sporadic downhill meant that a good pace was kept when needed. I was still going to have to go some to break the 8 hour mark, but fortunately there appeared to be reserves in supply. The final pit stop at Sandungen was reached with the clock registering 7h 23m. There was no time to wait. The last 10km had to be gunned in 36m to break the 8 hour barriers.


All the stops were pulled out during the last 10km. A 250m descent was a big help and I double poled like a mad man. I called to a young lad, nicknamed by me as Alpaca (c’os he had a funny hat made from llamas), for help as we left Sandungen. I said that we had to break the 8h mark and that we had to gun it. Obligingly we alternated leading the way, gradually increasing the pace towards the 85km mark. We were now approaching civilisation after almost 8 hours in the wilderness in temperatures below minus double digits. Almost 7000 calories had been burnt, but yet still there was more fuel in the tank for the final push. At 85km the time read 7h 43min. Shit! 17 min for the last 5k seemed unrealistic. More encouragement was given to Alpaca to bust a gut. As we reached Semsvannet I realised that the lake could be the final spanner in the works. Warnings in advance of water on the surface had proved to be negative, however there was always the danger of more icing problems on the poles. Fortunately this didn’t prove to be the case and I double poled like Northug in the final 250m of a World Cup sprint across Semsvannet. Alpaca was left well and truly parked, or so I thought. With 1km the final hill stood in our way. Alpaca battled back and did for me on the hill. Not too worry. With 500m left I still had 2 min in the bank, although panic began to set in. The finishing line was in sight, Alpaca was already there, and I had to dig out the last of my reserves in the final 200m. I let out a huge roar and received substantial support from the flocking masses (yeh right!) as I crossed the finishing line. A brief glance at the GPS: 7h 59m 54s. A couple of old timers gathered round and congratulated me on my performance and on breaking through the 8h barrier. What perfect timing…..or so I thought.

A Royal Welcome…Not

The finishing post was at Jansløkka, school of Princess Ingrid Aleksandra. After having reconstructed the 1716 Grenader I’d hoped her mum, Princess Mette Marit would be on hand to cheer me in and hand over the prestigious Grenader medal. After all this was no mean feat, it’s not everyday that one gets to save the local population from 1000 marauding Swedes. Disappointingly she stood me up.

In the changing rooms I met up with Bakery Boys, Remi, Andre and Marius. Marius and Remi had had a good race and were in spritely form. I had a surprising amount of energy remaining and was actually a little disappointed that I hadn’t been able to take out everything. Marius rubbed it in, correctly pointing out that one hadn’t really been in a race if one hadn’t puked or at least wretched at the finishing line. Checking my pulse stats, I’d hardly gotten above zone 3! Maybe he was right.

Zone 3: over-trained or just couldn't be arsed? Note number of stops for de-icing of poles/incontinence
Zone 3: over-trained or just couldn’t be arsed? Note number of stops for de-icing of poles/incontinence

On the other hand Andre had had a tough time. On reaching Løvlia he’d hit the wall with still more than 5okm to go. With his head full of negative thoughts for the remainder of the journey, he’d done a commendable job to get to the finish. No doubt great preparation for the Norseman I should think.

Stitch Up

On getting home I checked the official results. Officially no. 724 had finished in a time of 8h 00. How could this be possible? Garmin said 7h 59m 54s and this was also taking into account for the 40 seconds it had taken to get to the starting line. Putting 2 and 2 together I realised that the lack of starting pistol and mat had caused confusion amongst the clackers in wave 3. We’d started a full minute after the official start. With 40k profit it is hoped that Nittedal Banquet racers can fork out at least for a starting pistol for 2012. Even Vestmarksrunden has a cap gun! The amount of stick I’ve taken for not being able to take out an extra second over 90 km has been extraordinary. Jeez!

What’s Next?

So how does one top a fantastic day where many (but not all) milestones were reached? By coming back in 2012 of course. But first there is the little matter of, what I consider to be, the best ski race of the year. Ringkollløpet maybe only 25km, but the atmosphere and terrain is a peach. Two weeks later there is the worst ski race of the year, the Birkebeiner. Worst because of all the hype, sheer numbers (15000, now the 2nd biggest ski race world wide) and conditions. Still it has to be done. If Mrs Engelski hasn’t done me in by then and I can get some Zero skis, why I may even be tempted to round off the season with the N3.
Thanks for reading.
For the record (from the top of my head): Elvis 5h23m, Marius 6h19m, Remi 7h15m, Rode-grim 7h18m, Andre 7h37m, Alpaca 7h59m, Mr Kondis 8h53m, last place 11h43m!

Ringkollen Utopia

February 12, 2018

Taking Stock

The week after big G was spent with some serious restitution. A homeostatic imbalance had to be corrected and the body was doing it’s best to do it asap with hypothalamus going into overdrive. This meant 6 super size meals a day for a week. Inbetween constantly troughing, I was able to get some skiing time in with Engelski juniors, plus get some skate skiing in before the whole of Oslo was consumed by World Championship hysteria.

Second Place, First Loser

Whilst the rest of the world asks “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” the equivalent in Norway is “Where were you when Oddvar Brå broke his pole?”. Back in 1982 whilst the rest of the world was focussed on the Falklands war, Poland banning Solidarnosc, Lebanon turning into civil war and Italy winning the football World Cup, all Norway could focus on was how elite skier Brå had broken a pole on the last leg of the relay and had come back to tie and jointly take gold with the Soviet Union.

Where were you 25 years ago?

My first appreciation of how hysterical Norway becomes during the big skiing events was back in 1993, 3 weeks after arriving in Norway. The World Championships were taking place in Falun, Sweden and the whole of society shut down to watch the championships. Even supermarkets were installed with televisions and everything ground to a halt as shoppers, workers and shoplifters alike crowded round the grocery section to watch the ski action. 1993 was the time when Dæhlie pipped Smirnov at the line of the 15km skate and people went absolutely berserk. Dæhlie was to prove to be Smirnov’s nemesis thoughout his career and Smirnov became incredibly popular with the Norwegian public even though he went on to race for Sweden. Smirnov was embraced by the Norwegians since he was the ultimate first loser, placing consistently second, and often to the Norwegians’ ski king Dæhlie.

Holmenkollen Hysteria

By the time the World Championships had come to town ski fever had long kicked in. Fortunately the little people (Engelski juniors) were still able to train in the evenings on the World Cup trails. There was no escape from the World Cup as wherever one went radios and tvs blared out commentary. The little people were really getting into the skiing and were absolutely ecstatic when ski queen Marit Bjørgan skated by in slow motion and skated over my son’s skis! This was followed by my daughter getting a high five from the Northug Express as he collected his gold medal for the relay and the juniors were on cloud nine.

Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You

 The British skiers weren’t expecting to do much at the World Championships. However, they are a young team and I was anticipating a top 20 finish from Musgrave. This never materialised and towards the end of the championships a potential disappointment was on the cards. With the relay coming up on Friday and the British men lacking a solid opening leg I was hoping for a call. To be able to compete in the same

Musgrave & co: a missed opportunity?

tournament as Usain Boit (sic) from Kenya would be an honour I thought, and if given the chance to qualify for the 10k I may even have kicked his butt. Boit has become a folk here in the same mould as Eddie the Eagle, as back at the olympics in Nagano when Dæhlie refused to accept the gold medal until Boit had finished. Unfortunately the call for team GB never came meaning  that Musgrave, Smith and Platt were left without an anchor man and hence no entry for the relay.

Out of the Blue

A few days befor Ringkoll-løpet I received a correspondence out of the blue. It was an invitation to join the United Bakeries second string. I’d trained on and off with the bakery boys for some time and was delighted to accept. They’d had a recruitment campaign and although I was probably going to be the oldest, and more than likely one of the weakest, of the team the environment and people are great (though no prisoners are taken during interval training).


Ringkoll-løpet Geek Fact: Filip Gjerdalen won Ringkoll-løpet in 2004 almost 7 years to the day. On this day his waxer in chief and race support was his brother Tord Asle (with gold jacket above). Diverging careers have seen Filip become Mr Grenader with 4 victories out of 4, whilst TA had to settle for World Cup glory 7 years after his brother set a new record for the Ringkoll race.

Ringkollen Utopia

Ringkoll-løpet for me is the highlight of the year. It is only a 25k race, but has some spectacular scenery in a great part of the world. The race is wedged inbetween Holmenkollen skimarathon (sic)/Grenaderen and the Birkebeiner and is a great way to give oneself a confidence boost.

Ringkoll-løpet: it doesn't get better than this

The conditions are usually great and the tracks fast, often giving rise to delusions of grandeur. A super fast time in the race means nothing when standing on the starting line of the Birkebeiner, as the Birkebeiner always brings one down to earth with a bump. Having done the Grenader two weeks earlier Ringkoll-løpet was going to be more or less a sprint in comparison.

Double Agent

 The atmosphere around Ringkollen prior to the race is always relaxed and enjoyable. With only approx 200 participants, people mix freely in advance of the race and exchange stories of races gone by and waxing tips. Today was no different. However, I had been transformed from a nobody into an expert in the eyes of my competitors.

Agent Engelski with a good overview of the field

How could this transformation have occurred I hear you ask. Quite simply, by walking around the car park dressed in United Bakeries regalia I’d suddenly metamorphosed into team boss Thomas Alsgaard’s colleague and waxing chief supreme. I was approached by many asking me all kinds of stuff about the professionals in team one, none of which that I could answer since I am about as remote from them talent-wise as the North Cape is from Oslo (part of the same country sure, but distance-wise miles & miles apart). However, the greatest embarrasment was to come as strangers sought out waxing advice in advance. “Shit, now my cover will be well and truly blown and people will see me for the charlatan that I really am”, I thought. Fortunately there are a few skiers out there who know even less than I do, so when a few people came over and asked if I was going to use Klister I suddenly gained in confidence. I retorted that I thought that mildly hard waxes would be good enough and was going to start testing skis with VR45, possibly opting for VR50 as the race started at noon. Fortunately I’d got it spot on and my fellow Norwegian competitors had swallowed waxing advice from an Englishman without detriment.

The Midas Touch

I wasn’t the sole Team United Bakeries representative and met Jon from the cycling team at the start. Jon was itching to get on with the cycling scene, but was dabbing his hand in with a spot of competitive skiing. Ringkoll-løpet is a low stress start and I opted to start near the back of the field.

Flopsy & Mopsy in action: going down for the count, skis & poles akimbo

Why I hadn’t learnt a lesson from previous poor starts I don’t know. Today was to be no different. As the starting pistol went off it took about 10-15 secs to reach the starting line being at the back of the field. However, Flopsy & Mopsy in front of me decided to go kamikaze and had a spectacular collision and wipeout landing on top of my skis. Great! It took about 20 secs for Flopsy & Mopsy to extracate themselves from my skis and by the time I crossed the starting line I was already 30 secs behind the field. Never mind, it was to be a sprint in any case. However, I was to spend the first 10k of the race battling my way through the field and expending unnecessary energy.

Tjolahopp tjolahej tjolahoppsan-sa

One can enjoy Ringkoll-løpet and the surrounding nature very much in the early stages of the race. The race takes one round the beautiful Øyangen lake, central to the Ringkollen area. Though initially there is much up and down a 70m climb, takes us to Borgersetra after about 5km.

Ringkoll-løp race profile

Some downhill takes us back down to 580m over sea level at 7 km and Vambutjerna. 50m of incline is then followed by some breathtaking downhill and vicious turns to Spålsetra, the lowest point of the race at 479m at the 11km mark. It was at this point that I started to get into a good rhythm. I’d hunted down many of the back markers and was now with a group at approx the same level as myself. In the group was Pippi (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Longstocking, it was the pigtails and freckles that really did it) and Herr Nilsen (a guy bearing an uncanny resemblance to Pippi’s monkey, it was the furry physiognomy). I remembered Herr Nilsen from last year. He is about 20 years my senior and pipped me at the line in 2010.

Zorzi Reprise?

With me vested in Alsgaard’s colours I began to feel I was getting the same kind of treatment from my fellow competitors, ie too much respect. Little did they know that I was an Englishman in disguise, yet nobody in the group wanted to take the lead, re Alsgaard-Zorzi 2002. Team chief Alsgaard was so riled back in 2002 that he gunned it and blew Zorzi away before slagging him off at the finish. With no alternative if we were to catch the group in front, I took the lead and led from the front over the next 10-12k as we double poled and caught ground on those in front.

The End Game

At Store Sinnera after 14km, gradual ascent starts and the ascent continues to virtually the finishing line. I was motoring away leading our group and when we came to Mosjøen I could see fellow bakery boy Jon in the distance. Without a doubt I had been gaining some pace on many of those including Jon in front. After double poling over the lake, the serious climb begins. I was able to lead my group up most of the climb, until at about 22km my pace started to dip. Leading the group over 10k without exchange had taken it’s toll and Pippi and the gang slowly picked me off over the last few km before heading in to the stadium. I was able to recover some ground and almost did for Herr Nilsen at the line. I’d set yet another PB and furthermore, as Ringkoll-løpet pretty much guarantees, set my fastest ever pace in a ski race. I crossed the line in 1h 36m, just under 2 min behind team-mate Jon and within a minute of Pippi and her crew.

Ying & Yang

As always Ringkoll-løpet had been a tremendous experience. It had been a good work out and a great confidence boost in advance of the Birkebeiner, about as polarly opposed as one can get from Ringkoll-løpet as an experience. It had also been a fantastic debut for the bakery boys and I was intent on continuing the good work in two weeks time at Rena for the Birkebeiner.

Birkebeiner Mercenary

February 12, 2018

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