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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.

93.jpg

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 http://www.kondis.no)

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 http://www.kondis.no)

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

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.

Goal

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.

Guts

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.

Banquet

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.

Home-stretch

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.



Ritalin

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.

Hakadal-Kikut

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.

Kikut-Storflåtan

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.

Løvlia-Kleivstua

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.

Sollihøgda-Sandungen

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.

Sandungen-Asker

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).

Interlude

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

Read more…

Råskinnet: Mud, Sweat and Beers

February 12, 2018
WIA (wounded in action): with trophy in hand it was time to wash the swamp stench out of clothes & hair

Snow Today, Gone Tomorrow

After a great Winter the skiing season came to a rather abrupt end for all but Tom Stensaker. Post Birkebeiner, an unseasonably warm spell had done considerable damage to the ski trails. N3 had been a temptation, but for once I was pleased that I’d not entered a ski race as the conditions were a nightmare with an incredible amount of DNFs due to the tough conditions (so kudos to Kjeller’n & Rodegrim for great efforts and fast times). My main focus had been on closing out the ski season by focussing on skate skiing with a view to doing Skarvarennet in 2012. Fortunately I hadn’t a start number this year as even the normally reliable Vidda was also struggling due to the heatwave. My last fix of the season was a desperate skate ski 4×4 interval at the Marikollen alpine ski resort during a brief break inbetween games at the Løvenstad football tournament for Engelski junior. Desperate indeed.

Ever Seen a Happy Jogger?

With the ski season over, I opted to concentrate on running up hills. April was a tricky month with conditions poor for skiing yet ironically difficult for hill running due to the melting snow. Even the athletics track at Sognsvann was proving to be a challenge. A 3000M test run soon became a 3200M test run due to all the ice and mounds of snow on the running track. My only option to get some serious physical activity in was to join the masses at Sognsvann Rundt Medsols for a few laps of the lake.  After the monotony of running in circles on the flat, a new impulse was required since road conditions were still unsuitable for rollerskiing.

UK Training Camp

Easter week brought about some serious training with budding triathletes Sitriestri and Knackerednick. Unfortunately Alfonsodeseo was suffering with a back injury and was unable to train. Some serious restitution resulting in heartburn was interrupted by a run up Wyming Brook in the Peak District and a chance to do some Nordic running (stavgang) without poles up the Rivelin valley. The triathletes were in good condition and our trip up the mountain was a vast improvement on our last training camp during the year before. Admittedly the hangover was less serious this time.

Raw Hide

Back in Norway I’d had my eye on Råskinnet. When it comes to running I’m not particularly enthusiastic. With every run I envision bone rubbing against bone and future knee replacements due to meniscal fallibility and ligament liability. Running uphill is a necessary evil and these days running is dedicated to Ælghufs (a kind of Nordic running with poles) or orienteering with the Engelski juniors. In my quest to find a happy jogger I thought that Råskinnet must be the place to find one. Råskinnet is essentially an extreme running event involving 10km of running through the swamps and lakes of Nordmarka, Oslos forest. The trail is never announced in advance so participants have no chance at all to train on the “circuit”. Running through quagmires & marshes is great training and represented a potential good workout so I registered for the event at the last minute.

Jogger’s Tension

Build up to the race had been spent psyching up fellow ski/cycle enthusiasts Blodsmak and Team KjelsåsLærerne on Twitter. A few days prior to the race I had a warm up by running up Wyllerløypa on a reconnaisance of forest terrain. Looking out over Bogstadvannet I could still see several square km of ice on the lake, a concern if we were to cross an icy Sognsvann. The swamps had thawed to leave a lovely mush. With this in mind I spent the rest of the week psyching myself out by viewing Youtube clips of Råskinnet events of yesteryear with runners jumping into becks, swimming in Sognsvann and disappearing in the muddy swamps. The occasional Twitter from Blodsmak & TKL fuelled the apprehension. For swamp attire I opted for Nike Air from 1996, running shorts and knacked T-shirt. I was prepared to freeze at the start and in the lake as long as I had the least available surface area for mud to cling onto and weigh me down. Wool & cotton were also out of the equation due to additional weight when wet.

Swamp Fever

 It was an amazingly great day for the race. Air temp was a rather sweltering 17C and my choice of attire had proven to be correct. However, I was more concerned with water temperature and also what was going to happen to my Garmin GPS/pulse watch when undoubtedly go under during the lake crossings. I was wondering what the effect would be of a short circuit of my pulse belt and whether the potential across the heart would be strong enough  to either wipe me out or transform me into some superhuman Jon Tvedt. I had my tactics laid out for the swamps and had triple tied my shoe laces (well spotted TKL) to avoid donating trainers to the already malnutritioned swamps. As in quicksand my tactic was to not fight the suction of impending doom, but to simply relax and try and float. Most people tend to die in quicksand as they tend to fight and struggle forcing themselves down. I was also going to be careful to ensure avoiding creating a vacuum in my running shoes whilst running through the bogs and quagmires. This would definitely guarantee loss of shoe. After a short trot to warm up I met Blodsmak and TKL at the starting line. We had time for a brief chat and placed ourselves about one-third back of 1100 starters.

Råskinnet: a course for concern

Early Bath

At the start we were let loose first around the nearby fields and to get a taste of Hell Hill, a former ski jump, before the final home straight. My intention was to keep Blodsmak & TKL within sights thinking that if I finished close to them I’d done a reasonable job.

Engelski (light blue top), stood to left of Blodsmak (orange shirt) on right of picture near back of field
Engelski (light blue top), stood behind Blodsmak (orange shirt) and TKL (green shirts)…somewhere (Photo: Kjell Vigestad http://www.kondis.no)

My goal was 60 min, but not having ventured into extreme running territory before was prepared to bite the bullet if necessary and fade out to 75 min. As the starting pistol went the hoards of clean participants went enthusiastically off like a shot. After Hell Hill the first challenge approached, a narrow bridge crossing a stream. Rather than wait in turn to cross the bridge many opted to leap into the stream to only discover that the stream was about 1M deep and a bugger to get out of. Those patiently plodding across the bridge like myself had a good laugh not knowing that our turn was about to come shortly after. Through the farmers field and into some dense swampy terrain created the next challenge. By this stage I’d already decided to avoid the queues full of people gingerly tiptoeing around the edges of the bog and opted to traverse a beck as short cut. At least I’d tested water temp and found it to be above freezing and actually a rather comfortable 5-6C. My short cut meant that I had to traverse yet another beck and by the time the job was done Blodsmak & TKL had edged further in front. So much for a short cut! I tried to make up ground on our first venture across Sognsvann lake. This time water level came up to a rather ball chillingly waist height. 100M may seem like a short distance, but when your gonads are shrivelling at the rate that air escapes from an untied balloon it can seem like a marathon. I made some ground during the lake traverse. However, with 15M to go I hit a shallow plateau which resulted in a stumble and water up to tit level and a fully submersed pulse/GPS watch and pulse belt. With no electric shock forthcoming I quickly checked the Garmin to see that it was still working and moved on out of the lake.

Long Mire

Back into the jungle we headed over to Langmyr. However, before we got there I received my first injury in the dense jungle. I’d opted to retain sunglasses in a wise decision even though my view of the forest floor would be partially effected. The runner in front nicely ran through a hefty branch and let it thwack back behind him into my forehead. Fortunately the sunglasses deflected the blood from my eyes and I was able to continue, wishing that I’d brought with me some Agent Orange. I had already second guessed the route beforehand knowing that if one was to get sticky and bothered this was where we were going to be heading. I’d done some extreme orienteering in a thunderstorm here with Engelski Juniors last year and knew the trail well, a definite advantage in knowing where to place feet. The thunderstorm had resulted in a frog frenzy as a plague of mini frogs descended on us in the middle of the swamp. At least the kids loved it even though they were saturated and missing wellies taken by the ravenous quagmire.

Women and children first (Photo: Heming Leira http://www.kondis.no)

The race up Langmyr is a tough one for those anticipating a brief spell in the swamps. I was enjoying running through the swamp and was managing to keep on tree roots for a good while. The occasional miss would lead to a gloop and one would quickly find oneself knee high in the brown stuff. Fortunately the triple knots on my trainers held. The quagmire extends for a good kilometer or so before circumventing a small lake. Surprisingly the organisers opted for us to run around the lake and we continued our trek in the swamps past Svartkulp. With queues developing at certain parts of the course I was beginning to get a little frustrated. Where there was forest it was often too dense to overtake so when an open marsh appeared I knew I had to take the opportunity to get past some stragglers. Whilst everyone went to the side and ran on a tiny boggy trail I opted to leap out into to knee high water and give it legs 100M to the other side. My tactic was a big success as I picked off 15-20 fellow participants in no time.

Wimps! Persil really does put the whiteness back. (Photo Heming Leira http://www.kondis.no)

After 5km a brief escape from the swamps was afforded as we traversed a canyon involving a 45M descent followed by a 60M scramble back to the top. This stretch was a demotivating factor for many as prior to the descent one could see an interconnecting path avoiding the drop into the canyon. However, a course steward stood in our way and pointed down with a wry smile. This kind of cynical course planning was also to show itself in the later stages.

That's more like it! (Photo: Heming Leira http://www.kondis.no)

Mud City

 Having done the ravine I was now dreaming of getting onto a main path so that I could increase the pace and make up on ground on many in front. Thus, far I’d expanded most energy in pissing myself laughing and assumed that I’d been running in zone I-3. A look at the pulse stats after the race showed that laughing actually takes its toll on the heart as I’d actually been in I-4 for the whole race. Maybe this is why the majority of joggists don’t smile, the need to conserve energy. The next part of the course was the part that really had me cracking up as the swamps continued into an open area surrounded by cliffs. With some runners gripping thinly on to the cliff edges, many participants like myself were just jumping wholeheartedly into the brown gunge and wading across. If one was fortunate and able to retain balance the gunk only came up to waist level. However, there were a few unfortunates and I allowed myself a good chuckle as several others struggled to keep their heads above the minging stuff.

Mud glorious mud! (Photo:Heming Leira http://www.kondis.no)

After 7km we found ourselves at the North end of Sognsvann. With the majority of the swamps stuck to my shoes and shirt I was itching for a bath, so I was only too pleased to see a new lake traverse with hoards of spectators and photographers waiting to capture our unfortunate battle to avoid completele submersion. I opted not to grapple with the rope and went for the crossing freestyle, a big mistake! Half-way across, with the water just above ball-line, I stumpled on a big stone and gave the Garmin equipment another submersion test as I struggled to keep my head above water. If I’d gone under I would probably have drowned as I was in hysterics at the time.

Ho heave ho (Photo: Lasse Wilhelmsen http://www.kondis.no)

Home Strait…Not!

 With Sognsvann out of the way I was now ready to use up all of my conserved energy. However, my path to glory was continually blocked by stewards directing us off the main easy path back to the finish. First a 40M climb was needed before we descended back onto the main Sognsvann highway. On getting back to the gravel path we were once again directed back into the forest for another climb. This brought us to the route from Lille Åklungen and descent for a couple of hundred metres on a proper gravel path for once.

At this point I noted a guy up front running in a rather unusual fashion. He was hopping rather bizarrely from one foot to the other on the tiny grass verge away from the gravel path. On gaining ground and closer inspection, I became aware that the cause of this unusual Kangaroo technique was a distinct lack of shoes. This poor unfortunate had obviously donated aforementioned shoes in a charitable fashion to the Langmyr quagmire. Apparently Blodsmak had also met this guy a little earlier, but at this stage he was hopping along with one shoe. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

It was time to negotiate Hell Hill once again. Ever since crossing Sognsvann at the North end for the second time the crowd here could be heard 2 km away willing particpants on. Hell Hill had essentially become a tunnel with a tiny path up the hill being flanked with supporters on either side creating a fantastic atmosphere. With lots of reserves in store, and a great uncertainty about how I was going to use up these reserves with only 400M to go before the finish, I powered up the hill “Stavgang” style and was rather pleased with myself as I got to the summit after having passed several people on the way up. My joy was short-lived however, as knackered knee syndrome meant that I had to tackle the descent on the other side like a wounded crab and all the overtaken soon became overtakers. On reaching terra firma, with gritted teeth I opted to sprint the last 200M and bombed past the 5-6 people that had just yo-yoed past. Finishing time was a rather modest 1h12m and I was still, rather disappointingly, burning with energy. A familiar scenario I hear you cry (ref Grenaderen, plus a number of disastrous starts since). Next time I will open at full pace and crank up the tempo for the duration…..honest.

At the finish I met up with the TKL trio (one absentee, hopefully had a good excuse). The boys had done good and looked respectfully clean, finishing in a time of just under 1h. Blodsmak pipped me at the line by 3 minutes. By now I was beginning to smell like the kitchen sink and opted to discretely depart after collecting my prize: Ariel washing liquid and T-shirt. A restitution barbecue with revitalising Guinness was in store for the rest of the afternoon. As any budding athlete knows Guinness is the perfect restitution drink and a great way to increase VO2max. Guinness is rich in iron important for binding to haemoglobin and oxygen uptake, probably.

One of many: as happy as a hippo squelching in the mud (Photo: Heming Leira http://www.kondis.no)

My quest for the happy jogger was now over with several other contestants also having a good roar during the race. There were also many smiles at the finish- Råskinnet was a fantastic experience and a well-organised event. Temperature-wise we were fortunate this year and may not be so lucky next time. However, the mud value will take some beating.

Engelski stats: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/82457125

Kondis has some excellent coverage and photgraphs from the event. A great head cam video taken by fellow contestant gives one a good “flavour” of the event and can be viewed here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zc-41_l6JAw

Vestmarkrundlurt

February 12, 2018

Vestmarkrunden. Picture courtesy Trine Jørdal (Budstikka)

Tenterhooks

Season start had been eagerly awaited for over 8 months. Last year we were spoilt rotten by being able to ski in mid November. This year we had to wait 3 weeks longer and then ski often in suboptimal conditions until the New Year. The Summer and Autumn had been spent focussing on running uphills in order to counter last years weaknesses along with an extended rollerski season. During the ski interlude I had climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest from sea level five times over. Having ran 600km, rollerskied 1000km, biked 400km and canoed 30km, I had a good foundation for the new season ahead. During the Autumn for extra variation I went over to skate rollerskiing which proved to be a good move as I saw considerable improvement in balance. As usual, to open the season I opted to warm up with a 20km sprint. Although Sørkedalsrennet actually looked fun this year with a route up to Heggelia, I opted for Vestmarkrunden. The start had been moved from Skoglund to Vestmarksetra to optimistically accommodate a greater number of participants and to also take into account the lack of snow around Haveråsen. The course still looked fun though as there were 4 areas of the course which double backed on itself meaning that there was an opportunity to see who was both in front and who was behind.

Powder Addict

Now in my fourth season of racing I figured that I was nearing peaking out regarding fitness and race times. Whilst there is always room to improve technique there had been little time to focus on classic technique during the early part of the season due to snow restrictions and I had spent a large time skate skiing. I had always hesitated about competing at my level with the best equipment, since it would be the equivalent of  Lyn playing at Ullevaal or Stockport County playing at Wembley, ie a complete mismatch and total waste of expense. However, I was starting to get a bit peeved at all my efforts, being ridden over roughshod in races by less superior skiers who had often much better glide. I could usually keep apace and even burn off my peers until it came to the downhill stretches where they would rapidly eat into my lead. So with this in mind I opted to experiment with high fluoro content glider in powder form for the major races of the season. Rather than risking a potential waxing catastrophe in a seeding race with glider/waxes I wasn’t familiar with, I decided to get some experience by using them in a low key 2ok at Vestmarkrunden.

World Cup Victory

My first experience of powder was back in 2009 and was not a good one. However, before even relaying this story we have to rewind some ten years. Bizarrely, as pretty much a non-skier, I’d been contracted to make and refine some glider waxes for a leading brand name. On delivery of the products to the client I had pretty much forgotten about the job until the client came back and asked me to repeat some alchemy. Apparently the last batch that I had made had proved to be so successful that Hermann Maier had won WC gold on the formulation. This was news to me, as I thought I had just been working on yet another R&D project. Fortunately I’d kept some sample in reserve before moving on to other tasks, the intention being to one day try out the wax myself.

The Herminator in action, prior to taking up a love for fast motorbikes.

The day finally came when after many years of thinking about doing a ski marathon I finally bit the bullet and entered the Holmenkollen ski marathon in 2009. The race was moved to Gåsbu and I drove to the race with Elvis. Now being able to design waxes and understanding the science is one thing, but application and understanding out in the field is another. I applied the Herminator mix to my skis with an old clothes iron, not really having a clue what I was doing. When Elvis saw my skis after I’d applied the white gold he went into hoots of laughter.  I’d cluelessly just applied the glider and hadn’t removed it nor polished the sole. Fortunately I was able to get some Swix personnel to bail me out before the start of the race and finish the job of prepping the skis. Not that this helped much. Utilising the valuable Herminator mix was a complete waste of time with somebody of my talent and also on 15 yr old “lead” skis. 2009 was also my first account of racing, if it could be described as such, against Rune.

Cheat?

Now when you’re a skiing duffer it feels kind of inappropriate, if not downright foolhardy, to use the best equipment, glider and waxes. I was starting to build up a guilt complex regarding the powder and was also starting to feel that what I was intending to do was completely wrong. Firstly Mrs Engelski had just discovered a 3000kr invoice for glider and this had taken some explaining. Secondly what was a ski buffoon doing trying to gain an edge via technology when maybe I should have been focussing on things under my control such as technique and fitness? My guilt complex had gotten to such a high level that after prepping my skis with C105 (SkiGo) I found myself unable to reveal to Rune that I had gone for powder. In fact he still doesn’t know until he reads this. Sorry mate! It would have been easier to confess that I was using EPO. The way I had gone about this was quite David Millaresque, having been roped into it with the thinking that since everyone else is doing it, it must be okay. Why put yourself at a disadvantage over your competitors? One thing I did learn whilst applying the glider was to use a mask. Now vendor waxing videos or workshops never use protection, but the powder and fumes can be pretty damaging to the lungs and can induce a Keith Richards state.

In the zone: the effects of Cera F are plain to see

Two Timer

For some time I’d been thinking of moving away from Swix kickwax products. Whilst generally good, they can either be a godsend or a complete nightmare in difficult conditions. Rune had driven us to the start of Vestmarkrunden at Vestmarksetra and the conditions were proving to be tricky as it was snowing. Rune opted for Rode violet as he had good experience of Rode with snow in the air and high humidity. I’d intended to try out SkiGo products since their range is much simpler than Swix, 4 kickwaxes versus the 10 that Swix have. I’d had little time to try out the SkiGo waxes beforehand and needed to try out not only powder glider, but also the new grip waxes before the seeding races took place. However, I was lacking one of the SkiGo waxes and I panicked into going back to Swix as the start approached. This was the equivalent of having just broken up with a girlfriend and getting back together again for just one more night of passion (well ok then, just one more time, she’ll be gone in the morning anyway. But it had  better be good). I saw several other competitors struggling with Swix products, many going through the range up to VR60. I was being quite stubborn and was resisting the softer waxes opting to put an extra thin layer of VR50 on inbetween unsuccessfully testing out the skis. Normally I turn up at least 90 min before race start thinking that this will afford plenty of time to prepare the skis for the conditions of the day. However, it is always incredible how this 90 min gets eaten away and leads one into a panic state before the start of a race. After having applied several layers of grip wax without the desired effect I was starting to reach this panic stricken state. I met a couple of the bakery boys, Andre and Jon from the cycling team (see Ringkollløpet report from March). Andre was using SkiGo red and had fantastic grip. This information induced further panic and I foolishly opted to cover VR50 with SkiGo red. This was now the equivalent of two-timing my new girlfriend with my ex and then inviting her for a threesome, a guarantee for catastrophe. When grip hadn’t improved I opted for a final layer of VR50 and had no choice but to go down to the start area and hope for the best, and that a focus on technique would get me up the 2km hill at start. The ski wax “menage a trois” was doomed to fail as I’d now applied about 88 thin layers negating the effect of the powder glider.

Start

With the snow still coming down there was a hope that conditions would be a little colder when we got to the top of the first hill. This would mean that my VR50 mix would have a better chance of working its magic. Rune sat himself up on row 3 of the grid whilst I went for row 6. The young guns had already stolen a march on us having started ten minutes earlier. Now it was time for the coffin dodgers in the older age classes. Start up the first hill went reasonable well and I was finding some grip after climbing about 50m. The faster skiers had raced away and I had found a group of skiers roughly about the same level as myself. Rune had powered up the hill at a good pace despite a troublesome achilles interupting his diagonal stride. I was focussing as best as I could on technique and varying from diagonal to double pole with kick at the less steep points. In no time at all it appeared as though we were at the top at Langåsen 420m above sea level. 70m of descent brought us to our first blind alley run into Risfjellet. It was at this point that I noted that many of my competitors had at least the same if not better glide. Despite the use of powder my skis were “subbing” as I’d overloaded the kick zone with grip wax. As I was on my way in to Risfjell I met Rune on his way out and mentally made a note of the time. I was already a minute behind after the first 6km of the race. I knew that Rune was in good form and that chances of catching him were going to be remote, particularly since the remainder of the course was well suited to double poling, a particular strength of the “Ox”. On the way up to Risfjell I’d been passed by Jon and I was able to urge him on as we passed each other on the way in and out of Risfjell.

Vestmarkrunden: 4 tailbacks afford a good view of the field at regular intervals

Ignorance is Bliss or Rundlurt?

The next passage involved a short 30m incline up to Godtland. I was behind a group of 3 and was conserving energy as I persued them through the forest. Suddenly the guy in front stopped and turned around. He was followed by the other two and they then briefly stopped. I scooted past and told them that the turning point was up ahead, we were still about 500m short of the turnaround. To my amazement they ignored my advice and the trio opted to go in the opposite direction leaving me to fume away in complete bewilderment at their unsportmanship. After a couple of hundred metres I met a race marshal running in my direction. It had obviously been quiet for some time at the turnaround point and he was beginning to wonder what had happened to all the skiers. I informed him that there were several that had cut short the run into Godtland. It later transpired that approximately half of all skiers in front had omitted to go to the turnaround point. Reviewing 5 other competitors Garmin data post race, revealed that they’d covered up to 1km less of the course than they should have. This despite getting clear instructions beforehand that one couldn’t go wrong if one was to keep right for the whole duration of the race. This ignorance left me fuming for a while, but fortunately I race against only against myself, so I opted to focus more on what I was doing than what my competitors were doing. However, this now meant that I had to work harder as I was now alone in the tracks.

Top Totty

I continued around Svartvann. On the way into the the third turnaround point at Hornivollen I was briefly joined by Tufse Staver who was to win the women’s race. She was going at a good pace and shouted “ya” to let me know that she was just behind. I veered out of the tracks to let her pass, but not quite in time. Fortunately she didn’t appear too peeved and accelerated away leaving me to admire the view from behind. At Hornivollen the gap between myself and Rune had grown to 6 minutes, although now it was impossible to make a fair comparison since we’d gone different distances. I’d been shouting encouragement to many of the skiers behind me when we came into the turnaround points. At Hornivolled I decided to cease encouraging them as one of them came dangerously close to overtaking me on the next stretch.

The final turnaround involved a short 80m ascent to Grønland. It had been my intention to expend all energy up to this point and then to just gun it on the downhill stretch to the finishing post. The short climb up to Grønland proved to be a little harder than anticipated. I was now passing a good number of tour skiers, many of which were cheering as I went by. I thanked them for their support. One tour skier however, was proving particularly stubborn to get past and stayed in the tracks. In an effort to get passed I stepped out of the tracks into the loose snow and double poled. However, the more frantically I ratched up the pace the faster he seemed to get. Just like an irate motorist being overtaken he was deciding to speed up and prevent me from getting past at all cost. The tour skier wasn’t deliberately speeding up, he just had better glide in the tracks than I did in the loose snow. I cursed several times under my breath as each poling action got more vigorous than the last. After what seemed like an age I was able to sneak ahead and move back into the tracks and finally accelerate away.

Downhill

From Grønland it was downhill all the way. I double poled as much as I could and got some good speed up to 50 kmh on the long stretch to the finishing post. My improved balance from skate rollerskiing in the autumn was a big help around a couple of the bends on the descent into Vestmarksetra. The final 3km were covered in 7 minutes and I reached the finish in a time of 1h 13min 51sec, some 6 min under my pre-race goal. I had reason to be pleased at my average speed and it had been a good workout for the season opening. Unfortunately the result list looks a little ugly from my perspective, seeing as I went the full duration of the course. The trio who had turned in front of me at Godtland had all finished within a few minutes of me, meaning that I would have beaten them if they had completed the full course.

If I was a betting man I would have put money on a Calle/Tufse victory beforehand. Top Totty Tufse won the ladies race as expected. However, Calle Callesen was pipped at the post, unusually for him as he usually has steel control in the local races. Still I’m sure he’ll be able to gain revenge in 2 weeks at Vestergyllen, coincidentally my next challenge and seeding race for the Birkebeiner.

Callesen (left) pipped at the post by Wold Høye (right); courtesy Trine Jørdal-Budstikka

Results

Wold Høye 52:09

Tufse 59:42

Andre 1:05:09

Jarle Thon (class winner) 57:09

Rune 1:06:57

Jon 1:08:04

Engelski 1:13:51

Last place 1:38:17

The Twelfth Wheel of Time

February 12, 2018
Tolver'n: the twelfth wheel of Kjerraten as displayed on the trophy

Tolver'n: the twelfth wheel of Kjerraten as displayed on the trophy

It’s the Devil’s Work

After last week’s waxing catastrophe in Vestmarkrunden I decided to get my racing skis planed and re-structured since they didn’t appear to take on any powder glider. The news from Mislykkern (sic) was that I had somehow burnt the sole which just about explained everything. Ironically I wasn’t alone in doing this as one of my skiing colleagues simultaneously received the same message about his skis too. This meant a week without the racing skis, which fitted nicely in with my plans of having a week of restitution since Mrs Engelski was away. I was left with the Juniors and the task of taxi chauffeur in order to ferret them to and from training all week. On her return Mrs Engelski could obviously see that I was a little bit tetchy and seeing that Engelski Junior had scrapped the KM classic on Saturday encouraged me to get out for a 3-4h tour.

Dilemma

Whilst mulling things over on Thursday night I suddenly had the urge to do something more useful with the parole I’d been given. There’s no better training than competition and there were 2 races on in the vicinity, Finansavisrennet (dvs Bærumsmarka rundt) and Tolver’n, both 25km. Whilst Bærumsmarka rundt appeared attractive due to the route, I wasn’t so keen on a yuppified stress race a la Birkebeiner in areas of potentially little snow so I opted for the safety of Tolver’n, a smaller race in a snow rich area of Buskerud. The only problem now was to get hold of a pair of racing skis. Mislykkern (sic) had planed my racing skis but wouldn’t be able to set the structure in time so that was out. Rune kindly offered to lend me his Nanosonics which would afford me at least good glide. However, the skis had the flex for 93Kg, some 20Kg more than I weigh. I knocked the offer on the head as I didn’t fancy herring-boning up each and every hill. My last resort was to get out the rock skis, relax and just take a big hit in the result list. At the least I would get a great work out, particularly from double poling downhill, due to a distinct lack of glide.

Rock n roll

My rock skis are probably skis that someone like Pål Gunnar Mikkelsplass could only have dreamt of back in 1982. The skis date back to 1996 and were probably a top range model back then. However, with the advancement of technology, they now resemble NATO planks. In 15 years the skis had never once had glider applied to them. They were so heavy and solid that stones and grit used to run for their lives when I was skiing. They are the equivalent of a Volvo weighing in at around a tonne. It is easier to cross country ski with alpine skis than with these beasts. The sole of the skis was a complete nightmare, being more banged up than Joe Bugner in his prime. The skis had always been used to ski in and out of car parks or to take a boozy trip home after visiting friends, and had had many a meeting with stones and kerbs. The bindings were also a load of crap and would often ice up and need defrosting in the car with the heater on at full pelt. However, the rock skis were able to safely negotiate me around the Stenfjell course at Gåsbu in my first ever ski marathon back in 2009. After coming in at a time of a little over 4.5 h the skis were immediately dumped for a pair of Nanosonics. They tend only to see the light of day at the beginning of the season when snow levels are low and rocks/grit poke through the snow teasing skiers with their newly structured skis.

Rock skis: a podium finish at Gåsbu after 2000 other ski revellers had finished 1-2 hours earlier and then buggered off home. The finishing area was deserted when I crossed the finishing line, though I did manage to beat a 100 others. Note Pål Gunnar Mikkelplass like attire

Knowing that the rock skis were going to severely hinder my performance, I relaxed and did some Friday night intervals with the Birkie heads from work. On hearing of my woes, Iren kindly took the piss accusing me of having at one time gone into a shop to order some grusski (rock skis). I denied the incident, since 15 years of complete neglect had given me a perfect pair of rock skis. My apathy was beginning to show and I didn’t even bother to prepare my skis on the night of the race. I figured that since I had good grip during the interval session that this would also suffice for another 25k in the morning. I treated the rock skis to a quick wax clean and applied some LF7 glider, but assumed that this would be a complete waste of effort in any case.

Tolver’n: a Historical Perspective

Back in 1800 an incredible construction that the world had never seen the likes of before, nor since, was built in the Buskerud forest. The Tolver’n race gets it’s name from the halfway point of the race, at the drink station at Storflåtan. Here lies the remnants of what was the 12th water wheel of Kjerratan. In 1803 Peder Anker wanted to sneakily avoid tolling logs through Drammen and devised a plan to transport them from Steinfjorden through to Bogstadvannet and from here down to Vækerø, where the logs would be cut down to planks and sent for export to London. Bringing on board a Swedish engineer, Samuel Bagge, they constructed a series of 12 water wheels to transport logs from Åsa to Storflåtan, a climb of approx 400m. The logs were pulled with iron chains connected to the water wheels and a log could be transported the 4km and up 400m in 3h, giving a throughput of 240 logs per day or one every 6 minutes. The first 11 water wheels were used to transport the logs from Åsa to Damtjern. After crossing Damtjern the twelfth wheel at Storflåtan was unable to transport the logs due to low water power and a horse driven railway had to be built to complete the journey to Storflåtan. Remnants of the twelfth water wheel can still be seen at Vassendvika, Storflåtan and the immense construction gave rise to the name of the ski race that passes through the heart of the Kjerratan.

Map showing the 11 water wheels that were used for log transport in 1800. The twelfth was built, but due to a lack of water power it was replaced with a horse driven railway

NATO planks

On getting to Damtjern, the start of the race, I found myself with an unusual amount of free time. I’d already tested the skis and found that last nights wax (SkiGo HF red) gave me good grip, but was probably a little too soft for the conditions. Being a lazy git and knowing that my performance was going to suffer regardless, I opted to not remove the old wax, but just cover it with a thin layer of VR45. This seemed to do the trick and prevented snow sticking to the sole of the skis. Tolver’n is the only race that I know that starts and finishes on a lake. Down on the lake I was recognising some familiar faces. Race favourite Børre Næss was testing out his whole ski park, as was dark horse Kjetil Dammen. Both eyed me with suspicion to see if I was any serious competition, particularly as I had placed my skis on the 2nd row of the grid directly behind Børre Næss. They viewed my racing attire which didn’t give any signals that I was a charlatan and then, shock horror, they glanced at my rock skis. The rock skis gave the game away and I turned in shame in the way that a Formula 1 racing car driver probably would on being found out that he drives a Fiat 127. Dammen had been inspecting me more closely and I was beginning to wonder if he recognised me. He’d taught a rollerski course back in June in a thunderstorm and had commented that my diagonal technique was not like a wheel going round, but more like a boiled egg wobbling along on the floor. I hid my shame again and made myself scarce until race start.

Tolver'n

Tolver'n: lining up for a clear start on the lake(from 2011)

Omnes viae Løvlia ducunt (or All Road Leads to Løvlia….again)

Tolver'n: Damtjern-Løvlia-Vassendvika-Høgås-Vikseter-Vambu-Borgersetra-Langtjern-Damtjern

It was interesting to be at the front of the starting grid for once, something that I’d never experienced before. There were only half the number of anticipated starters, numbering just 115. This was going to give us a smooth start to the race. Normally there is considerable jostling for position in crossing the lake as 10 tracks gradually merge in to two before the first ascent. As the starting pistol went, Børre Næss went like shit off a shovel and left me virtually standing. Many of the pack behind had also overtaken me in no time at all as my rock skis creeked and groaned before finally inching forward. Double poling across the lake is normally an easy way to start, but here I was already at full throttle as my skis resisted every double pole that I could enforce. The lake was safely negotiated and gave me a taste of what was to come in the ensuing 24km. The first hill was also going to challenge my technique as a 150m ascent had to be climbed. Although I’d lost a lot of ground across the lake I could already see that my diagonal stride was performing well. Thursday night had afforded a brief technique session with the O2-snapper and his words of advice were starting to pay off as I caught up and passed many skiers on the way to Løvlia. Once we neared the top, a regular pattern began to emerge. All the skiers that I’d overtaken passed me on the flat as my lack of glide began to take its toll. Fortunately I was left at the back of a pack as we descended into Løvlia via a 135 degree turn and was able to avoid a potential wipeout.

Race profile

During the next few kilometres I was able to once again claw my way back to the field in front. I was now behind a lady with an uncanny resemblance to Justyna Kowalcyk, and a guy Joe90. Joe90 was to prove to be a pain in the ass for much of the race as he continually blocked me in whilst I attempted to overtake. Kowalcyk had a good rhythm and was proving a lot easier to handle and I opted to tuck in behind and conserve energy. It was at this point that I noticed that Kowalcyk had literally got her knickers in a twist. Each double poling action was causing her racing dress to ride up and reveal her thong. Now being in such close proximity I didn’t really have anywhere else to look. Instead of going naturally down into the crevice the thong had taken a detour and appeared to be at a rather unusual angle across the left buttock. At least this now explains Kowalcyk’s unusual technique as anyone attempting diagonal stride with their knickers in a twist will know. After several kilometres we were now a bunch of six skiers going at reasonable pace. I continually had the urge to go up front and start to hunt down skiers in front, but realised that this would be a fruitless exercise due to my lack of glide.

Twisted knickers: Joe90 & Kowalcyk

My improved diagonal technique was keeping me in the hunt on the uphill. However, we were approaching the descent into Vassendvika and I knew that I would soon be in trouble. Sure enough, the five in front accelerated away due to their superior glide and I had to result in double poling downhill to just about stay in touch. My balance was good particularly on the turns, and I was able to get in front of Joe90 as I took a perfect turn cutting into a corner. I was able to stay in front of Joe90 to the drink station, but just before I got to the drink station I was passed by Mr Magoo. Now Magoo had been burnt off long back, but his better glide had given him a considerable edge and suddenly he was back in front out of nowhere.

Reunification

After pounding down a couple of drinks another 150m climb gave me a chance to haul back the others in front. One by one I picked them off, first Mr Magoo, then Mr Leeds (Leeds hat), a couple more and then I was reunited with both Kowalcyk and Joe90. They were forming a good team and sharing the workload. I wasn’t prepared to do diddly as I was having enough problems with the skis. Once again I tucked in behind Justyna and was tempted to hook on to the thong for a free ride. I was able to keep apace until a flatter straight meant that both were able to double pole away. I was able to keep them within my sights, but knew that chances of passing them were slim, since the last few km were downhill. At Langtjern I lost them completely as we started our descent into Damtjern. It was at this point that the expected hoards from behind started breathing down my neck. My rock skis still had the hand-brake on going downhill and one by one Tom, Dick and Harry scooted on past. As I made it back onto the lake I could see that Joe90 had bottled the last hill and was only just in front. I double poled for all it was worth, but was not able to edge him out at the finish. My time at the finish was actually quite a respectable 1h43m, only 2 min behind last year with my good skis. However, conditions were faster this year and Børre Næss was able to break the course record by a minute. Still I was more than pleased with a hard workout and a time which was far better than I originally anticipated.

Kick in the Pants

I enjoyed the drive home and was revelling in my performance on rock skis. When I got home Engelski Junior was chomping at the bit so we went up to Holmenkollen for skate skiing training. After several laps the downhill double poling began to take its toll. On our final trip up Hellner Hill, Junior left me well and truly parked as he went over to V1/V2 whilst I struggled to paddle up the hill. It was all a bit too much like Hellner/Northug in reprise and once we rounded the stadium I called it quits. Embarassed once again by an 11 year old. At least it was a good sign for his race tomorrow at the kretsmesterskap at Holmenkollen.

Next Vestergyllen, a 40k seeding race on Sunday. Should have my good skis back by then. If I get them back before Wednesday I may even do OBIK. Thanks for reading.

Results

Børre Næss 1:03:29

Kjetil Dammen 1:03:45

Class winner 1:12:00

Last place 2:17:46