It had been 5 weeks since Holmenkollen Skimaraton (sic). There had been many long trips technique training, intervals and skate skiing trials on the World Cup circuit. However, something had been missing. 5 weeks without a start number on the chest was bearing its toll. Fortunately Ringkoll-løpet was around the corner, a fast 24km race in a beautiful part of the world. Ringkoll-løpet is a confidence boosting race usually held about a week in advance of the Birkebeiner. It is just long enough so that one can go hard all the way and can be used as the weeks hard workout.
Better Red than Dead
Ringkoll-løpet is a circular route around the Øyangen lake. Øyangen is famous for being the lake that Leon Trotsky landed on on his exile from Stalinist Russia in the mid 30s. Trotsky stayed in a cabin near Kolltjern until the secret police interrupted his tranquillity. Trotsky had been given a choice of either exile in Madagaskar or Oslo. Seeing as there was a distinct lack of snow, wooden planks and tram-line tracks in Madagaskar, Trotsky naturally chose Oslo. Trotsky was a hirsuit geezer and presumably maintained his sculptured looks by the use of Universal klister for his fine bouffont, KB 20 spray klister for the beard, and VR70 for the ‘tache. The latter selection notably gave way to the slogan “Better red than dead”, probably.
An unseasonably mild start to March was creating havoc with the snow tracks in all but the highest of places. Fortunately there had been a big dump of snow mid week which had been enough to revive the tracks. I’d managed to convince Mr App from the team and arch nemesis Rune to participate, and picked them up nice at a reasonable hour for the 80 min drive to Ringkollen. Bright sunshine met us upon our arrival at the stadium. Upon picking up start numbers we met Trude and Guri, highly competent skiers and likely class winners. I’d been able to hang on to Trude for about 35 km during Holmenkollen skimaraton (sic) and she only pipped me at the finish by 1 minute. She had however, slagged off my downhill skills, or rather distinct lack of, and I was determined to show her what the embarassment of being beaten by an Englishman felt like. Guri had stiffed me by 10-15 min in the same race and I thought that odds were stack against me beating her today.
Conditions were good, but with still 90 min to go before race start the sun was going to do some damage to the tracks. This had to be accounted for in our waxing strategy. However, when Rune caught sight of my waxing case it brought about streams of laughter. Being a practical type (read tight wad) I’d opted for a bread bin as my waxing case. Mrs Engelski hadn’t been too keen to share the bread bin with both Fiber Aktiv bread from the bakery and ice klister, so when I bought her a new bread bin I inherited the old one. Pro!
I had sprayed KB20 klister in the grip zone and opted for Universal klister with HF red wax on top. This afforded good grip in the starting area, but conditions were going to deteriorate rapidly, especially since start was at 11.30.
Last minute race preparations involved stuffing my face with 4 slices of bread, chocolate and cheese spread. The lard arse tactics 15 min before start were meant to prevent a rather optimistic acceleration out of the blocks until the nutrients had entered the blood stream further down the track. I was determined to avoid last years start fiasco (https://engelski.wordpress.com/?p=213&preview=true), but was still slow getting my skis on the grid. At least I wasn’t on the back row this time. Mr App had lined up with Rune on row 6. So much for being “Først i sporet” I thought. Surprise surprise I had not gotten my arse into gear and had sneaked in on row 12. I was sandwiched directly between Guri and Trude, though not quite in the way some of you filthy readers are probably imaging (please!). As the starting pistol went, Trude aggressively raced in front and shot off. After departure of the stadium and 500 m down the track she already was out of sight. She obviously hadn’t fancied witnessing more of my superlative downhill skills, and a potential wipeout, and had decided to make a break for it before the potentially tricky downhill stretch. It wasn’t only Trude that had set off at a frantic pace, but it was looking like the whole field in front of me had also heard rumours of my downhill expertise. With two big thick hefty sandwiches still resting in my stomach I had no option but to gear down and let the field drift further away from me. I had a hunch (hope) that many had opened too hard and that I would be seeing them later over Mosjøen.
On the way across open terrain and Femputtene to Borgersætra I could see a number of skiers in the distance. I could just make out Guri and it appeared that she was slowly accelerating away from me. Conditions were reasonable, particularly in the shaded areas, and I had respectable grip and good glide. The races highest point at Borgersætra was reached after only about 20 minutes. An extra 400m had been scheduled around Borgersæter this year for one reason or another. The track here is one of the highest in Nordmarka. A gradual descent took us down 70m to Vambua, before a climb back up to 660m and Øyangsrøysa.
I was pleased to be on my own with no skiers in the near vicinity as we headed for the downhill stretches and I presumed that Trude was also content with that. The stretch down to Spålen is great and avoids some great views over Ringerike. The problem is that the downhill stretch can be unpredictable depending on conditions and the track quite narrow. Fortunately, today conditions were firm and pretty much lacking in ice and out of control skiers and I was able to descend to Spåltjern without incident.
From Spålen the next 5 km allowed for a good chance to make ground on those in front. On the downhill stretches I had caught glimpses of the field in front as we rounded corners into straights and I analysed that the gap was about 100m. With vigorous double poling I estimated that I could make up the gap in about 5 minutes over the next 1-1.5 km. My calculations were valid and I had already overtaken the Fossum twins by the time we got to Sinnerdammen. At Store Sinnera I could see Guri in front with a guy with a pink striped racing dress, Pinky. Guri kept veering to the left to overtake Pinky, but Pinky would continuously edge in front. My mission from here was to try and assist Guri in getting past Pinky. I snuck in behind Guri and manage to cross into the left track. I offered her some words of encouragement. Guri was struggling with here skis and hadn’t optimal grip. She wasn’t the only one as the sun burned down on the tracks. My glide had been disappearing since Vambua and I had decided to get my head down and double pole. I told Guri to hang on in and to try and get a free ride from Pinky and myself. After about half a kilometer I realised that Pinky was slowing down so opted to burn him off before getting to Mosjøen. Unfortunately Guri wasn’t able to follow and I continued on my mission to hunt down as many skiers as possible to the end of the race.
Mosjøen offers the last opportunity to put some severe distance between yourself and others in the close field before the final, and sometimes gruelling, ascent to the finish. I am not a particularly good double poler and my technique is severely lacking. However, months of stamina building rollerskiing in Lommedalen, Sørkedalen & Maridalen was starting to pay off. On the lake I had a good battle with a guy I called Marmaduke (looked oddly like the comic strip dog). As I overtook him he tried to stay in my slipstream over the lake. Fortunately I was too strong for him and about halfway I was able to shake him off. After exiting the lake the ascent starts over Tørkerudhaugen. I could see Starsky & Hutch in the distance. Fortunately they were without their Ford Gran Torino and I was making good ground. Disappointingly jive talking Huggy Bear was nowhere to be seen. Spectators were lining the tracks from here over the cabin region Nysætra. One of the spectators had biked it in and I acknowledged his support, but couldn’t help myself in telling him how disturbing it was to see a bike in the forest so early in the ski season.
I was slowly making up ground on the cop detectives. Hutch looked the stronger of the two and was making a break for it over Nysætra. I dealt with Starsky via double poling with kick, and left him trailing in my wake. Hutch was proving a tough nut to crack and had opened up a 30-40 m gap. I’d close on him on the gradual ascent, but on the steeper ascent the sneaky bastard would start skating. This got me rally riled, especially as I was also struggling with grip. Bizarrely I had experienced an over zealous skater two years previously in the same race, but was able to burn him off before the finish. I was determined to nail the cheating bastard that was Hutch, and managed to claw alongside him after several minutes on hard exertion. I discretely informed him that this was a classic race and Hutch cowered and went back to a duck paddle technique to get up the final ascent. I drifted past him thinking that would be the last I would see of him. How wrong can one be.
As the ascent gradually flattened out and we neared the stadium the speaker could be heard over the tannoy. With only 2km to go a reinvigorated Hutch decided to double pole looking like a piston on a Bullet train. He accelerated past and I attempted in vain to tuck in behind him . Hutch gradually increased his lead as we came into the stadium and I focussed on keeping my position. Behind me I could see Scouser (Liverpudlian Graeme Souness look-a-like) in a red racing suit about 50m behind. He was slowly gaining on me, but I thought that I had him in control as I double poled the circular route around the stadium. All the time Scouser was eating into my lead. With 100m to go I heard someone on my left barking out orders. It was Rune. Rune had finished a few minutes earlier and was seconding me like a Sargent on a military drill. He could see what was happening and was bursting my ear drums with encouragement. I was double poling like mad and now I had Scouser alongside doing diagonal with only 50m to the finishing line. What the hell was going wrong? The conditions from Mosjøen in had been challenging and the tracks had been sucking my skis down as the snow melted. As it was shown an hour later by Eldar Rønning (as he edged Dario Cologna in the 50 k at Holmenkollen), double poling was surprisingly not proving to be as effective as diagonal stride in the “sugende” conditions. Rather embarrassingly Scouser did for me at the line going over in diagonal stride as I double poled a few metres behind. All the same it was time for a victory cry and time to picked up the honoured Silver medal for 4 race completions.
After finishing I met up with Trude, Guri, Rune & Mr App for a race debrief. It transpired that Mr App hadn’t had a good day and had decided to throw in the towel halfway round. Potentially overtrained or sick, Mr App wasn’t taking any risks before the Birkebeiner. There were a handful of DNFs during the race, yet none of them were as discrete as Mr App. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to slyly avoid being listed DNF in the result list. Top man!
Winner: Stian Remseth Andresen 1h11m18s
Course record holder (1h03m): Børre Næss 1h11m34s (3rd place)
Class winner: 1h15m16s
Engelski: 1h35m36s (3 seconds faster than 2011! woohoo)
Last place: 2h45m52s
Mr App: disappeared without trace a la Leon Trotsky on a holiday in Mexico