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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Ski instructor 32:25