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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wold Høye 52:09
Jarle Thon (class winner) 57:09
Last place 1:38:17