2011 Season Starts in Earnest
Only 3 or so weeks into the new year and the season is already in full swing.
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.
The weekends challenge was a marathon in Vestmarka, Vestergyllen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After 4 km of a gentle incline a 5% decent over 2 km took us down to Sandungen.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.