The Postman Always Wins Twice
Fusilier Gone AWOL
With the worlds hardest ski race, Grenaderen, given the cold shoulder, the Holmenkollen ski marathon (sic) at 56km (35 miles) was going to be the years toughest challenge, along with potentially the Birkebeiner. Last year there was confusion over the ski marathon (sic) distance. It was reported that the skimaraton (sic) was going to be 54k, but measured in at nearly 57k. This got a lot of people riled. Normally people get riled for the reason that the race is shorter than reported (e.g. Birken is only 53k, and not actually the reported 54; Grenaderen is 88 and not 90; worryinglyVestergyllen is 38 and not the reported 40 and hence could theoretically lose status as seeding race being under the critical 40 point). So what was Hk going to be this year? It was reported in advance to be 56k, but could we as participants believe the number? The course distance had been slightly reduced around Burgular valley (Tjuvdalen), presumably because of the risk of getting our skis nicked, and we had been informed that the course would be approx 1 km shorter.
After 3 sub optimal performances in races this year it was time to pull it out of the bag. I was already being demoted in my Birkebeiner seeding, and plans to move up in the skiers hierarchy had been completely kyboshed after breaking a pole in the Vestergyllen race . With the Hk skimaraton being my only other seeding race it was now shit or bust.
All week I had been subconsciously piling on the carbs. It’s strange that my body always knows what needs to be done in advance, without any coersion or force feeding. The weeks food fiesta had come to a crescendo with a triple feast of a linguini carbonara, prior to, during, and post prepping of skis. After sorting the skis, stomach was suitably pacified, but brain was buzzing and in a state of ski frenzy, not particularly suited to getting a good nights kip. This hyperactive brain activity was subdued with the aid of a couple of beers. As a bonus hæmoglobin was over the moon after extra iron intake via the Guinness delivery system. However, getting to bed at 1 am wasn’t so wise particularly with a 5:30 rise in the offing. Furthermore, the beers were not such a good move either, as hourly visits to the bathroom took place during the night. Regular waking meant a distinct lack of REM sleep. Any sleep I had was a light form of sleep interrupted at regular intervals by the rising of bed sheets as I dreamt of double poling to victory across the Holmenkollen finish line. What Mrs Engelski thought of it all I had no idea, but she knows better than to interrupt Dr Engelski in dream mode after I once dreamt of tackling some intruders in the house. Rudely awoken by my swearing at the intruders in my dream, she had to rapidly defend herself as the intruders got what they deserved, until a piercing shriek awoke me from my slumbers.
Early to rise at 5.30, a couple of rounds of sticky Quakers porridge was to be my saving grace. In zombified fashion I got my kit together and made it up to Holmenkollen. On the bus to Sørkedalen I met Elvis and the Porshaug Express. Elvis was already getting his excuses in early saying that he’d only had 1 long trip all year. There was good news for waffle fans everywhere. Elvis reported that he will not be doing the Grenaderen this Saturday so the waffle station at Sollihøgda will available to all without the threat of a ravenous burnt out skier devouring everything in sight. On arrival at Sørkedalen, we were met with a most romantic sight with the start area atmospherically lit up with candles. It transpired that I’d gotten to the start a little too early, 1.5h in fact before before start, especially since the temperature was a chillingly -18C. As I disembarked the bus the Postman came over for a few words to see how I was. Frankly I was still in zombie modus and was pretty knackered. We exchanged some pleasant chit chat and wished each other luck. He was reigning Hk champ and appeared to be in a calm yet determined mood to retain his crown. Seeding-wise I was doing okay for the skimaraton and had been placed in wave 6, which gave me a good opportunity to improve on last years time.
Despite appearing to have plenty of time in hand, I knew that 1.5h would disappear fast. Plus as always there’s the dithering and shit-for-brains factor that needs to be taken into account, as reader(s) of this blog will know. Episodes such as standing on the Birkie starting line without a chip (packed in bag on way to Lillehammer) or getting changed on the starting line after the starting pistol and all the runners and riders have gone, are not abnormal occurrences. I just had one of those feelings that since I was knackered something amiss was going to happen again. I needed to compose myself and first get my skis in order. Fortunately the floodlighting enabled application of the now extra obligatory panic layers of grip wax in the dark. For glide I opted for LFgraphite-HF6-C105 and for grip HFviolet on a VG35/V30 base. The panic layers were applied as a wafer-thin HF red in the “tråkket” topped with HF violet. “Smøring i verdensklasse” it maybe, but only if applied by competent personnel. This I was going to find out near the end game, and as suspected, Hellner hill was going to need a bit more than a wafer-thin layer of HF red in the tråkket to avoid herring bone. After sorting the skis it was time to tuck in to some food and try and keep warm.
The starting area was getting busy and my toes getting pretty numb. Bumping into team-mates Linda, Kim & Hans Christian for a brief chat was a good distraction from the elements. Work colleague Iren wasn’t so keen to talk wanting to get her skis sorted. Since I had plenty of time I went over to the start to get some pictures of the elite in wave 1. After getting the pics it was time to make a dash back to base to get ready and sling the bags in the back of the truck for transport. I was briefly distracted by meeting Trude, Hege & Kristian from Try and got my stuff and heaved it into the lorry for transport to the finish. As I walked back to get my skis I felt something flapping around my legs. Shit! I’d forgotten to remove my over trousers. A mad panic dash back to the lorry resulted in getting staff to rummage around to retrieve my bag. It was like a scene at Heathrow airport after a baggage handlers strike and how the staff found my bag I’ll never know, but find it they did. Phew!
Nothing Can Go Wrong Now
With that sorted it was back to get my skis to leg it onto the starting line as time was fast approaching race start. When I arrived off the bus I had placed my skis in snow next to a fence in the change area. Being I was one of the first to arrive it didn’t appear to me that locating my skis was going to be a problem. However, some 75 minutes later all I could see now was a wall of skis that all looked like exactly like mine. After a frantic run through all of the skis I came to the logical conclusion that someone had mistakenly taken mine. I couldn’t believe it! Of all the things! I went back & forth across the fence checking out all of the skis again and again. Nope, they still weren’t there. Bollocks! After all this I’d have to do a DNS c’os someone had mistakenly taken my skis. Fortunately after much soul searching and the clock desperately ticking down I found my CT1 poles in amongst the myriad of skis. Phew! Next to them were my nanosonics and I grabbed the skis in a frenzy. Now all that was left to do was to run like shit off a shovel to get into my starting wave. As I got there wave 7 was filling up and wave 6 closing out. I managed to get in at the back of wave 6 as a relieved man, not being particularly bothered that I was at the back of the field. At least I would be starting, something that didn’t look realistic a couple of minutes before.
Over the tannoy the speaker had informed us that the temperature at Heggelivann was decidely warmer and a baking -8C. This gave some extra incentive to get a move on and increase the pace up the first 11km climb. The first few kms of the Hk skimaraton are a slow procession. Ten or so tracks merge into 3 at the bottom of the first field and the bottle-neck is not vanquished until halfway up Gråseterveien. If only I’d received Hege’s advice in advance. Her post-race tip is to wait 3-4 min after the wave has gone before starting across the starting line. This way your time is not penalised by the crush as you catch everyone up. Smart! I’d subconsciously done this before during the Birkebeiner to good effect, though it wasn’t planned in the episode where I was still getting dressed on the starting line as the starting pistol went. It took me an age to get ready and I crossed the starting line last in the wave 2 min behind, but caught everyone up after a few km due to the bottleneck.
Last year I’d felt in good nick and had double-poled with kick all the way up to Heggelivann, passing tens of people. On reflection I passed lots of people probably due to a poor seeding, starting in wave 10. This year I was in wave 6 and at least my comrades in tights were of a similar caliber. I’d started at the back of the field with team-mate Mari. I said a brief hello and good luck as we went over the official starting line some 200m down from where the wave started. To Storbekkhytta is a gradual climb and I was overtaking steadily on the outside tracks. I was focusing on going easy to conserve energy and keeping my technique optimal. Two drinks at the first pit stop and then it was ready for the steep climb. The field was thinning out a bit and I was in a group of skiers about my level. I was with Tango (orange top), the Bum Shuffler (so called because he kept changing track every 2 minutes), Spiderman (webbed lycra), Kleissner (guy with what looked to be skis similar to my own rock skis), and Mari from the Bakeries. We were all taking it in turn to lead and drive up the hill. Every now and then we would see a skier coming down in opposite direction looking to quit the race, maybe due to a bust pole or some other missfortune. The Bum Shuffler was really starting to get on my wick, hopping about all over the place from one lane to another. It was at this point that I opted to try and lose him rather than trying to extracate my pole from his nether regions, so I upped the pace and was followed by Tango and Spiderman. Frost bite was starting to kick in. My right big toe felt as though it had been cut off and was hanging on by a thread. A quick look down at the toes showed that everyting was in place and I changed over to diagonal technique in order to get the blood flowing. As we neared Heggelivann this appeared to do the trick and I went back to double pole with kick. However, this time numbness began creeping in to my left big toe. Fortunately, more diagonal solved that issue.
The first check point was reached fairly effortlessly and I’d broken through my first sub goal in a time of just over 55 min. This was a significant improvement on last year by 3 min. I’d also gone economically and was feeling good, especially since the sun was shining, nature was looking fantastic and it was a few degrees warmer at 500m over sea level. A quick stop at pit station number two, briefly changed my mood. Sports drink and a half a banana were the plan for an energy top up. The sports drinks were being served in cups that were only half full which was slightly annoying. The banana proved to be frozen solid and as I attempted to chew into it, 240 volt electrical discharges went shooting into my molars as fillings of yesteryear revolted at the contact of frozen banana. Grunging and squinting at the pain I managed to get the banana down before it could do any more damage. Although I had reasonable glide the conditions were presenting a challenge on many other fronts.
From Sondre Heggelivann the Bum Shuffler was back. Mari also put in a brief appearance. The Bum Shuffler again wasn’t helping as he’d gun it up front, shift track two or three times then accelerate away, only to be caught by us after 500m. Spiderman was now pulling his weight as Tango appeared to be weakening. It was at this point that we passed Trude on one of many occasions during the race. I said hello and had a brief one-way conversation. Trude didn’t seem to keen on a dialogue so I scooted on by with Tango in tow. At Heggelia we went down to traverse the lake. This stretch through and over Skamrek offers double polers a keen advantage. Hence, I was disadvantaged, but yet able to pull away from Spiderman, Tango, Mari and fortunately the Bum Shuffler. I made some good ground across the lakes and made it into pit stop 3 at the 21k mark at Storflåtan in good time (1h 34m). Goal for the day had been to be best Brit and go sub 4hours. I wasn’t really sure if this was realistic as I hadn’t really had any good pointers to my form in races this year. However, times thus far looked promising.
The Journey is the Reward
From Storflåtan some easy terrain gives one a chance to relax a little and lower the pulse. Some fast downhill down to Åbortjern gives one also the opportunity to glance at the amazing winter wilderness this picturesque area of Nordmarka possesses. Even though the adrenalin is pumping and the testosterone levels bursting, it’s important to smell the roses along the way. This is particularly so before one gets to the psychological barrier that is Langlia. If the energy tanks are empty at this stage there is only trouble ahead (see report from last year https://engelski.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/its-a-marathon-not-a-sprint-doh-2/). I was conscious of last years error and was determined to enjoy this years race and pace myself better. I stocked up at pit stop 4 at Langlia with energy drink and 3 Bixit biscuits (equivalent of chocolate Digestives, but better). The chocolate on the biscuits was frozen solid and I had real trouble getting the biscuits down as the frozen biscuit took an age to dissolve. The frozen biscuits were in fact functioning as a great glucose delivery device, although it felt as though I had a mouthful of gravel for ages. The three biscuits took an age to eat and I swear that I was still chewing on them when I got to Fyllingen several kilometres later.
The 30km was reached in a time of 2h 9min giving me a good chance of breaking the 4h goal. Tears from my eyes on the downhill stretch from Langlia had frozen and now the beautiful sunshine could be enjoyed. This meant it was time to baton down the shades. From hereon in I was joined by both Trude and Mari on the long ascent over and to Fyllingen. Mari was doing great and her lightweight build was giving her a great edge on the uphill. She was impressively leading a group of about ten skiers and I snuck in behind for a few km until I couldn’t hang on any more. Fortunately Trude was still there and I slipped into her stream and synced technique to conserve energy. This worked a treat and we got to Fyllingen in what seemed no time at all, helped by a short sharp downhill stretch with right angle bend. Last year Ingrid had been my saviour on the same stretch and this time her team-mate Trude had given me an easy ride across a tough stretch. As last year I was to lose my leading woman at Fyllingen. Ingrid had made a break for it last year, but this time Trude was stopped in her tracks by a dodgy shoe and had to make some readjustment at the 5th pit stop. Now it was my time to make a break for it and I double poled aggressively across the lake on the way to the next and penultimate pit stop at Kobberhaug.
I’d been looking forward for some time to getting to the United Bakeries pit stop at Kobberhaug. It was here that I could refill with a blast of coffee/cola mix to get me through to the final stretch of the race. On reaching the pit stop I thought that I was still dreaming. I was met by about 10 pretty babes all wearing team UB yellow beany hats affording luxurious offerings from the United Bakeries banquet table. A fantasy come true. Here was I doing what I like best, skis on my feet being greeted by 10 gorgeous cookies offering the whole bakery portfolio of wares (well almost!). I was anticipating a dig in the ribs from Mrs Engelski as my diagonal stride awoke her from her sleep, but nothing was forthcoming. This wasn’t a dream, but reality! I was purely beaming, but I rapidly pulled myself together and asked the girls for coffee/cola. I received a fresh mix there and then, whacked it down with a grimace and thanked the girls before heading out of Shangri-la-ski-utopia-ville.
Birk and Hare
Time at Kobberhaug had been 3h 10m, giving me an excellent chance of breaking through the 4h barrier, particularly as I knew the terrain on the way in and could double pole for the most. Reinvigorated I looked out for someone else to tag on to. Someone who was going at a good pace out of Kobberhaug was the Birk (dressed in Birk attire). I tucked in behind and followed closely for 7 km, until he appeared to suddenly hit the wall and went over to tortoise mode. With the Birk done for I made a break over Tryvann and led whoever was behind on the way in.
With 5km to go I still had 21 minutes in the bag and suddenly things were looking a bit touch and go. We were now entering the World Cup track and it was now or never. Suddenly out of nowhere appeared Trude once again. We were neck and neck at the 3km mark with only 12 minutes left and two small if significant hills to command. Trude went in front and I roared her on telling her that we could do it, we could break through the 4h barrier. A co-skier from wave 6 expressed significant doubts, but we just got our heads down and concentrated on the task at hand. On the uphill to Midstuen ski jump the sugar snow was starting to give me grip issues. Trude didn’t appear to have these issues and was racing away. I went over to herring bone to get over the top and still had her in my sights. Down again and a right turn brought the Holmenkollen ski stadium and finishing line in to view. Thoughts of a finish were put out of mind as with 1k still to go there was much to be done. Hellner hill and shed loads of sugar snow stood in our path. The downhill and left hand bend was safely negotiated and Trude increased pace and started to disappear up Hellner hill, I lost significant time once again as herring bone had to be called into action. The lap into the stadium felt good, I knew I was on to a good time, but would it be enough? I thought I’d give the crowding masses some entertainment and double poled all the way in. I “split the tape” in a time of 3h 57m 39 s and could rightly be proud. It also transpired that I’d beaten the 16 other Brits in the race, the nearest being 17 minutes behind. This is probably not too much to shout home about as some of the Brits represented teams such as Crazy Arse and Team Road Kill. All the same, it was a perfect race on a perfect day.
Video of the finish can be seen here (Parental guidance recommended). Apologies for profanity (again), but adrenalin was running high: http://results.ultimate.dk/events/2012/skiing/hsm/video/front/index.php?pid=2285. For Norwegian speakers only, please note comments from the speaker.
Arne Post (TUB1) 2:36:57
Class Winner 2:49:41
Knut Arild (TUB2) 3:14:20
Hans Christian (TUB2) 3:29:01
Kim (TUB2) 3:29:13
Linda (TUB2) 3:44:27
Helle (TUB2) 3:49:20
Mari (TUB2) 3:51:52
Kristin (TUB2) 3:52:49
Nils Arne 3:59:32
Tilla Marie (TUB2) 4:05:53
Karianne (TUB2) 4:13:31
2nd Best Brit 4:14:05
Tim (TUB2) 4:32:31
Last place 15:03:02 !!!!!