No Pain No Gain
Beitostølen Skimaraton: pain is weakness leaving the body. It’s when your spirit gets up and leaves that you’re in trouble
Since the end of last Winter much hard work had been done in the form of competition, mainly in the form of hill or terrain (XC) races. There had been some brutal courses with brutal injuries to match, most notably during the Salomon Tour Trail series. Rollerskiing had been non-existent over the autumn due to a touch of shoulder bursitis, more than likely brought on by poor skate ski technique, so when the first snow fall arrived at the end of October I was keen to get out on the snow. Unfortunately the snow didn’t last and all I had to show was a few km skate skiing from Vestmarksetra. October is generally a month of less activity, both competition and training wise. The calmer period is much needed after a full on September and is a good way of adjusting the body prior to the ski season. Normally the seasons first ski race appears in January. However, this year Beitostølen was organising the seasons first tour race in early December, and rather fortuitously, Engelski Junior was to have a training camp at Beito on the weekend of the race. The opportunity was too good to miss, although I was likely to get a pasting with a strong field in evidence. Still the race would provide a good workout and some vital information as to how my preparation for the Winter was going.
XC Ski Panacea
Beito is a pearl for cross country skiing in Norway. Sjusjøen may be more popular and potentially has better facilities, but what it lacks is the stunning mountain scenery that Beito has being on the edge of Jotunheimen, the largest mountain range in Norway.
Furthermore, Beito has a snow guarantee, having stored snow from last season over the Summer. On arriving at Beito it was plain to see that the tracks had a good sole based on the stored snow from last season. I was aiming to race for the first time with a heat exchanger (Lungpust) so I opted to test it out. On the eve of the race I’d strapped my skis on virtually outside my cabin and scooted about on the tracks in and around the stadium where the race was due to start. After practicing with rock skis for the last couple of weeks my racing skis felt good, although the cold temp of -16C was reducing glide quite considerably. The Lungpust worked well and was a good alternative to a mask, usually a necessity when temperatures exceed -15C. The only negative with the Lungpust is the amount of gob it produces and this ultimately ends up freezing on the racing suit giving it the look of a Van Gogh neo-impressionist painting.
I am sure that everyone that competes, at whatever level, has a nemesis somewhere. My nemesis is a guy called Arvid that usually beats me by approx 1 minute no matter what the competiton or distance. Over a period of about three years and twenty races, Arvid has beaten me in all but one race by a solitary minute, whether it be cross country skiing, roller skiing or trail/hill running. Arvid probably doesn’t know or care who I am and is probably too busy looking up the result list to care. However, I knew who he was and was determined at each race to take him out. I did manage to kick his arse once in a terrain XC race which gave me immense satisfaction, thinking that at last I’d turn the screw on my nemesis. This wasn’t to last however, as Arvid continued to whoop me by a minute in all events post this.
Espen’s nemesis, as it happened, just turned to be me. I only discovered this after he introduced himself to me as a frustrated athlete who was always playing second fiddle to yours truly. I was rather embarrassed, but yet also flattered as he reeled off the events I’d beaten him in by a matter of a few minutes or indeed seconds. Even though Espen had showed vast improvement over the last few years, whatever he did I was able to match, less one minute or so. Even when he improved his Birkie time by 40 min and he thought he’d done me, I’d improved mine by 41 min. There was no escape and it look as though Espen was doomed to be second best in his little dual. As it was Espen was warming up prior to the race and came over to say hello. He made some excuses in advance to defend what he presumed was to be another loss, we wished each other good luck and continued with our warm up. I went to visit some of my former Bakery team-mates, and now new Skigo team-mates, prior to the start and we did the usual last minute discussions of whether to add the extra panic wax layer or not. The temperature at start was again -16C and conditions were slow. I opted to bypass powder glide as it was the first race of the season and I was likely to get caned no matter what I had under my skis. HF violet grip wax afforded great grip.
As loyal reader(s) will know I have a tendency to balls things up if given the chance. I’ve had my load of poor starts and incidents in the starting rows of races and it was beginning to look like I’d actually learnt something over the years after several mistakes by myself and others. Well, never underestimate the stupidity of mankind. Read on….
Arms and Legs
There were about 6 tracks on the grid to acommodate about 100 skiers or so. However, I observed that the 6 tracks immediately went into two tracks on crossing the starting line, a rather odd lay-out from the organiser. Noting this fact and aiming to start quite high up on the grid I tucked in about three rows behind the first row containing messers Aukland, Aukland, Østensen & Tveiten. As the starting pistol went off, to my immediate right a gap appeared in the track to my side. I’d have to move into this track on crossing the starting line or double pole out of the tracks until I could get a slot, so this immediate vacancy appeared very attractive. I leapt out of the tracked into the aforementioned space, but something went bizarrely wrong. I’m still not sure what it was. It could have been a ski tip catching the snow or a misplaced pole or contact with the guy behind, but whatever it was caused me to smash down into the snow at high force. There was a lot of commotion and I can only equate it to being caught in the January sales stampede on Oxford Street or Harrods. Even though there was no bargain sofa on reward I retrieved the situation and was up in a flash only to be taken down yet again. There were arms and legs everywhere. The second fall came in the melee and resulted in a rather hefty guy landing on me at speed and smashing my left hand down into the pole. Mr Hefty was none too amused and swore violently as his full weight hammered into my thumb. I was unable to retort as I had my Lungpust in position and was only able to utter a muffled sorry that probably sounded like a quack through the duck attractor. At this stage we hadn’t even crossed the starting line and I’d already been decked twice. Even for me that is some going.
On eventually crossing the starting line, now at the back of the field, shooting pains starting seering threw my thumb. This rather strange experience had been encountered before. Whilst performing a lesser art of skiing I’d had a rather spectacular wipeout in the Poconos and had jabbed a ski pole hard into the ground resulting in a broken thumb. Immediate visions of ths came flowing back and I remembered how the pain came and changed in stages as the extent of the injury was revealed. I twigged that I’d probably done the thumb, but adrenalin was coursing through my veins and the endorphin production factory was now working overtime. Together with the -16C temperature numbing the pain temporary moderation of the incident allowed me to focus on other matters at hand. I was now at the back of the field and the fear of potentially coming last brought me back to reality.
I was able to gun it and already by the time we had reached the ascent up the mountain I had passed a dozen or so people. My intentions at this stage were to essentially suck it and see and wait to see just how much grief the thumb was going to give me. The shooting pains had started to come, but fortunately they were superceded by a rather more pleasant stinging and warm sensation, no doubt as the body’s natural defence system was kicking in. So far so good and the ascent largely demanded diagonal stride which I was able to accommodate without too much discomfort.
On the continued ascent up to the first drink station at 7k, I passed a few others including Espen, for who I was his nemesis. I gave Kristin some encouragement on the way up and began to get into a good rhythm. I also passed the Bearded Wonder who shouted words of encouragement as I passed him by. How nice I thought until I realised he was going to stick to me like glue over the next 7k while I did all the donkey work. I checked the GPS on reaching the drinking station, 32 min had passed since the start. I felt in good nick, despite the thumb, and wasn’t in need of taking on board liquid so early into the race. It wouldn’t have been possible without much difficulty in any case due to the duck attractor in my mush and my knackered left hand. On reaching the top of the alpine pistes the terrain became much more undulating. Up to this point I had made good ground on team colleague Tille. She was about 30 secs in front and I had been gaining on her throughout the ascent. On the top, my intention had been to open up and cream it to get back some time after the nincompoopery at the start. However, conditions weren’t facilitating good glide, at least not with my skis, and I had to work hard to keep Tille in my sights. At both 10k and 14k there were two short descents of approx 50m in height. Both descents confirmed my worst fears that my peers in front had superior glide. I really had noone else to blame having opted to avoid powder. I was able to reel in the group in front on these two occasions, but it was painful work. My thumb had now gone over into throbbing modus and the rather pleasant stinging feeling was long gone. Double poling was proving difficult without jarring the thumb further and I just had to grin and bear it. Furthermore yo-yo-ing back and forth with the Bearded Wonder was starting to do my head in. His pleasantry wasn’t courting favour seeing as he wasn’t prepared to pull his weight in the field.
At the second drink station after 14k, I managed to remove the duck attractor and get down some liquid. I wasn’t looking forward to the final descent as I knew what was to come. Memories of this years Tolver’n came flooding back when I’d done the race on 16 year old rock skis and had pissed on everyone on the ascents, only for to have them do me on the descent on the way in as I double poled. Sure enough on the way down I was picked off one by one. The Bearded Wonder took me first and informed me how shit my glide was as he flew past. Thanks! Like I really needed that. “Quack” I shouted back in response.
Over the next few km several others, who probably thought I was out of sight on the way up, also zoomed by. Thankfully they didn’t rub it in by telling me how shit my glide was, it being pretty apparent to all. Suddenly a familiar shape appeared. It was Espen. Espen was about to do his arch nemesis. He powered on past, but unfortunately for him the tracks levelled out and I was able to stick with him for a km or so until the descent continued. Then he just disappeared into the horizon. Well good for him I thought. It’s great that it was looking to be his day.
At the start of the descent I’d clocked the GPS registering just over 16k. The organisers had reported the race as being 22k, but I was already getting suspicious that there was more to this course than we’d been informed. I was preparing myself for several extra km knowing that once the descent was over we would have to circuit the lit track. Halfway down the descent I started preparing the body for an extra 6km which I though may be at hand. By this stage the thumb had had enough and I was working hard to still keep brain engaged. At the bottom of the hill we entered the stadium in preparation for the lit track circuit. The track winds back on itself several times and gives one the opportunity to see at very close hand just who is in front and who is behind all at the same time. I reached the stadium as the bearded wonder was exiting indicating that I’d lost probably about 500 m to him on the descent. As I was exiting the stadium I met Kristin and she gave me some good encouragement to keep up the good work. I quacked back as best I could. Then in the distance coming towards me I could see a familiar figure. It was Espen. I could see that he was giving me the stare with great satisfaction. We didn’t acknowledge each other as we didn’t need to. As we passed each other I could see it in his eyes that he just knew that he’d done me good and proper like a kipper.
I plodded on trying in vein to keep my technique in order. I reached the Danskebakken. Fortunately I was out of view of the stadium and noone could see me do the bum shuffle technique up this short pathetic little hill into the stadium. I crossed the finish line with relief. It had been a good workout in many ways and as a “bonus” I’d had the usual early season mental workout during the race. The plan now was to get off the gloves, view the damage and get to an Accident & Emergency asap. The only problem was that this was a 40k drive, and on getting there I discovered that the nearest X-ray machine was a further 110k drive away. After visiting A&E I didn’t have time to do a 300k round trip for the X-ray as I had to get back to see how Engelski Junior was getting on.
I managed to sort out Junior and gained some respite as I sent him off for a restitution swim. I used the opportunity to visit my good Skigo colleagues to review the race frivolities. So without poles, and with six pack in hand, I skied down for a good chin wag to regail the days tribulations.
Simen Østensen 1:08:56
Anders Aukland 1:10:08 (age class winner)
Nikolai (Team Skigo) 1:22:44
Petter (Team Skigo) 1:28:11
Torbjørn (Team Skigo) 1:32:45
Morten (Team Skigo) 1:34:47
Stig (Team Norgeshus) 1:39:17
Linda (Team Skigo) 1:46:16 (3rd place)
Tille (Team Skigo) 1:50:46 (5th place)
Espen (Team NPro) 1:54:04
Engelski (Team Legevakt) 2:02:54
Kristin 2:08:56 (8th place)
Last place 2:23:03