It’s a Marathon not a Sprint! Doh!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Out of nowhere Ingrid had shot out in front around Langlia. Ingrid turned out to be my Lady of the Lamp. I said hello and told her that her husband Rune was going big guns. For the next 10-12 km I was able to tuck in behind Ingrid and follow her rhythm over the tough stretch between Langlia and Fyllingen. My technique had been starting to go to pot in the lower gears, so I was glad of the support that Ingrid was unconsciously providing up front. Lactic acid had been building in my calves reducing my glide phase in diagonal, so it was a relief to relax knowing that there was still just under half of the race to go.
Into the Cellar
At the next pit stop at Fyllingen I decided to try and force down a few biccies washed down with the now obligatory Winforce energy drink. I should really have opted for some gel from my supplies, but was rather worried that it might make a repeat appearance. In a cruel joke, the 3 Bixits I received from the service personnel appeared to have been superglued together. I was able to prize one away before hoying the redundant others away from the ski tracks. Amongst the Bixit tomfoolery, Ingrid had made a break for it, and my Nightingale had gone. That was it, I was now on my own. It was I, and only I, that could resolve the dodgy kick in the diagonal stride from now on. Fortunately from Fyllingen on in I felt as though I was on home territory. I knew that if I could make it to Kobberhaug, that I could double pole most of the way in. It was time to dig deep and go down into the cellar to retrieve whatever reserves that were left.
It was getting difficult to focus on technique after passing Middagsdalen (Tjuvdalen). At least I had arrested the number of skiers passing me by. It was at this point that Nils Arne, starting in wave 12, passed me by. He told me I was doing “shit good” which actually transpires as a complement in Norwegian. With words of encouragement taken, Nils Arne left me for toast (see previous blog), but left me with a real sense of determination. I now realise that my own words of encouragement to stragglers are often of real meaning. Thanks Nils Arne! Amidst the snow powder trail left by Nils Arne, I was now reinvigorateded and was able to cruise, with the occasional top up of lactic acid, into Kobberhaug and the penultimate pit stop.
Now food station 6 is no ordinary food station. As last year, it is manned by United Bakeries and really does offer the works! There is simply no comprehension in having such a diversity of delicacies on display nearing the end game. I occasionally train with UB and team 2 chief Andre was on hand to offer support. He ordered me over to a mountain of food for a 3-course meal! I protested at once. Seeing and understanding my predicament he pointed me in the direction of the skiers elixia: coffee & cola mix, a notable cocktail taken by skipros during the end game. If your stomach can take it (the cola fizz, the bitterness of the ashtray like coffee, the acid of the gas, etc) you really are in business as the caffeine kicks in, the glucose enters the blood-stream and the phosphoric acid begins to rot the teeth.
There was still 8 km to go, but this was now home territory and double poling for the most. I reached Blankvann and received some support from the sidelines from a former colleague, Åsa, from yesteryear. She never knew me as I skier and think was in shock for some time after cheering me on…she stopped cheering as soon as she triggered who I was. So to the last drinking station at the base of Tryvann for yet more Winforce energy drink. Last year there were hoards of people cheering us in from this point. This year, being in the Twilight Zone, it was completely deserted. In fact from Nordmarkskappellet to Tryvann I was oddly going it alone. This made me briefly paranoid and I had to check that I’d taken the right course. From Tryvann in, most people had been cacking themselves in advance of the race and at how tough the finish would be with lactic acid build up. For me this was time to just get on with it and make it to the finish. We entered the World Cup tracks and were greeted by a joker informing us that we only had 3km to go. Being wiser I knew that we had nearer 5 km left and was mentally prepared for what was to come. Many people were blown by this and scarred by this well-meaning (?) steward. The track yo-yoed and took us under the Corkscrew Luge track. Another kilometer and we came to Midstuen ski jump where we were greeted with a fantastic sight. Whilst we had been slogging our guts out in incredible sunshine the whole of Oslo below us had been enshrouded in cloud. Oh joy!
The “monster hills” on the way into the stadium proved problematic for some, the edges of which were littered with wiped-out skiers struggling to get up on their feet with lactic acid in their legs. Those lacking in course knowledge are easily fooled into thinking that they are home and hosed on sight of the stadium & the magnificently over-budgeted Holmenkollen skijump. However, the course veers sharply down a steep decline and around the back of Grattishaugen (sic) and then back up a steep incline before entering the stadium. I avoided potential collisions and the eating of snow and made my entrance without fuss into the stadium.
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.
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.