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Welcome! My name is Michael Somppi and I'm a competitive cross-country skier. I developed this blog so sponsors, family, friends and fans can keep up to date with my life as a full-time athlete. You can expect regular blog posts about racing, training, and life in general. Check out other sections of my blog by clicking on the tabs above.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Austrian Thanksgiving

6 hours before everyone in Canada was enjoying their big Thanksgiving turkey dinners, our team was shoveling chicken into our bellies at the Winter Garten in Schladming. I don’t think chicken has ever been so delicious before!

While training in Austria our team decided it would be much less of a hassle to go to dinner at the Winter Garten, a pension restaurant through Haus Katharina, than make our own meals in the small kitchen of our apartment. The restaurant is only a 50m walk from our door, so it’s a great setup. Over the past 2 weeks we’ve become regulars at the Winter Garten and have gotten to know one waitress in particular, named Rommy, very well. She’s quite humourous and loves to joke around with us every evening. She even refers to me as “milk man” because I like to drink milk with my dinner.

So, on Sunday evening when we walked in, the first thing we said to Rommy was, “You know it’s Thanksgiving in Canada today. It’s a special occasion.” She looked at us kind of funny and then her eyes sparkled, “Well, we’ll have to do something special for you tonight then,” and off she went. Perfect. We viewed this as an opportunity to get more food out of our pension meal and so far it looked good.

The first thing Rommy brought out was our salad, except instead of serving it all on individual plates, she brought us empty plates and a big bowl of salad and said, “Like one big family. Do you want me to be your Mommy and serve you your salad?” Priceless. The next portion of the meal was even better. I don’t know if they Googled Thanksgiving or what, but apparently they decided that if they couldn’t serve us turkey, they would find the next best thing for us…heaping amounts of chicken. In total, there were five chickens on the platter they brought out with two different sauces, one being cranberry sauce. It was an impressive display to say the least and considering our team consists of only six people, we each got a pretty large helping. We decided we had to finish this meal off right with a huge dessert, so we ordered a large platter of Kaiserschmarr (the most amazing Austrian dessert ever!). It’s basically a fluffy version of Finnish pancakes cut up into small pieces with icing sugar and a jam dippy sauce. Imagine the picture below multiplied by five, that’s how big our platter was.

Overall, the Winter Garten’s take on a Canadian Thanksgiving was, in my opinion, a success, a bit strange and unusual, but a success. Let’s put it this way, my belly is more than full, which is how a Canadian Thanksgiving should be.

Happy Thanksgiving Canada,

The Austrian Delicacy Kaiserschmarr

Our team sitting in our regular spot at the Winter Garten with our waitress Rommy.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

2008 Summer Rendition, Episode 4: Dirt Jumping

I almost forgot! We hit up some dirt jumping at the Canmore Nordic Center post-Haig. We rented the standard Rocky Mountain Flow dirt jumpers from the Trailsports and then ripped it up. Check out the photos.

Luke flyin' high off the big set.

Harry rippin' it on the middle set.

Luke wall ridin'.

Me hittin' up the middle set.

Me on the middle set.

A look at the dirt jumps in Canmore.

Harry pullin' up off the jump.

And that was it. I know, pretty sick!

2008 Summer Rendition, Episode 3: Post-Haig Fever

So right now I am currently on the Autobahn in Germany heading to Schladming, Austria. At first it was everything I could have dreamed of: fast cars, more refined “Euro” vehicles, 130km/h speed limit, lots of farm land and lush forested areas... Then came the traffic jam. We are now currently driving 40km/h. High speeds on the autobahn today. So while our team gradually makes our way to Schladming with our German guide, Hans (short for Yohan…don’t ask me?) I will continue with my summer rendition series.

The day after running down from the Haig, I crawled out of bed with heavy legs and mixed feelings of dread and eager anticipation. “Today I will make my body suffer”, I thought. “Today I will conquer the infamous 5x 1min full-out striding intervals”. And that’s exactly what I did. An excessively long warm-up, due to Harry forgetting his training shoes at the house, brought the nerves a little closer to the surface until I could not bear to wait any longer to get the workout started. The first interval up the massive hill wasn’t quite what I expected. In my head I wasn’t really planning on going completely full out on the first interval, even though that is the idea of the workout, but Harry screwed up that plan by taking off like a rocket ship and of course, my competitive spirit took over and I attempted to follow him. I did my best, but Harry went up that hill like a bat out of hell. He rounded the corner, crested the top of the hill and kept going before Eric screamed “STOP!”. I have only done this specific interval workout at this location twice, but that was definitely the furthest I have ever seen anyone get up that hill in 1 minute.

I executed the rest of the intervals in a very textbook manner; I made it a little bit shorter every time. Harry and Luke had a somewhat different pattern however. After lighting up the first interval, Harry bonked hard, then recovered and finished strong on the final interval. Luke kept it consistent and then killed the last interval. Jesse did not join us for the interval session as he did not come up to the Haig with us and this interval session is a specific post-Haig workout used to maximize the affects of recently coming down from altitude. I find it very interesting seeing the different styles each person brings to workouts like this. Despite the fact that we are supposed to be going all out on each interval, it seems everyone, whether it be a subconscious or conscious decision, has a set plan on which specific interval(s) they will save some energy on and which one(s) they will hold nothing back on. Either way the workout was executed, I can say I was impressed with the effort our entire team put into it. It is meant to push your mental barriers and I can confidently say we all did just that. I know Christina was certainly surprised by how painful these intervals were. The short 5 minutes of work time can certainly be deceiving.

With the concept of taking full advantage of recently coming down from altitude, our team tackled zone 3 skate rollerskiing intervals two days later. I know, a bold move, back to back intervals post-Haig. Despite being quite exhausted, I personally believe it was an excellent decision. Using the Canmore Nordic Center’s paved trails made the zone 3 intervals even better. I actually felt like I was racing on snow because of the terrain and nature surrounding the trails. Unfortunately the entire workout didn’t go entirely smoothly. While doing some sprints to warm-up Luke took a spill and Jesse’s knee collided with Luke’s pole tip. 2 months later, Jesse still has the scab to show for the wound. Bunch of jitbag rollerskiers if you ask me.

These two hard intensities wrapped up our team’s summer training in Canmore. Overall it was a great time, as to be expected, and my fitness made substantial improvements. Now it is time for me to end this post because I am getting distracted by the spectacular scenery as we head into the mountains of Austria. More to come shortly.

Auf Wiedersehen,

A castle on the side of the Autobahn.

The Kunterbunt Apartment where we are residing for the next 3 weeks.

The view out our front window.

Outside the Schladminger Brewery. Do you think they have enough kegs?

Monday, 8 September 2008

2008 Summer Rendition, Episode 2: The Haig

Episode 2 coming at you! The Haig! This would mark my third time training on the Haig Glacier and man, was it good. Eric (head coach) had laid out a heavy schedule for me to tackle this week and although I didn’t quite manage to complete it all, I was pretty damn close.

In the afternoon on Monday, July 21st our team ran into the Haig Glacier camp. Eric had scheduled in 3 hours for me, but I knew the run up wouldn’t take nearly that long. Fortunately, Timo (assistant coach) and I took a wrong turn at Turbine, and found ourselves crossing over into British Columbia…hmmm…I think we might be in the wrong place… The past two times I had run up following other teammates, so when it came time for me to lead, well, I dropped the ball. In the end it worked out fabulously, as Timo and I made it back to Turbine, found the correct trail, and arrived at the Haig Glacier camp in just over 3 hours. I got my training in, and explored a new trail!

Tuesday brought with it the real beginning of the training camp. Time to ski! The conditions were fairly good all week. A few days the snow was a little soft and sloppy due to overcast weather, but we managed to avoid the rain. The rest of the days provided clear blue skies and brisk morning temperatures which allowed the snow to stay frozen and provide fast skiing conditions until the hot sun seized the day.

A beautiful day up on the glacier.

My body adapted much quicker than last year to the high altitude, which allowed me to increase my training volume and speed by a reasonable margin. After hearing some words of wisdom from National Team members Dave Nighbor, Sean Crooks, and Brent McMurtry, I decided to prioritize and put my focus first, on my skiing workouts, and second, on any PM workouts I may have. This was an important task for me this year, to ensure I maintained focus throughout the entire week and got the most out of skiing as possible. Looking back on the week, I felt that I completed this task very well. I made some positive gains in both classic and skate technique, and put in some solid volume, skiing a total of 213km. With the three PM workouts added in, a one hour run, strength circuits, and a core strength session, my total volume for the week added up to 28.25 hours, a 2 hour increase from the larger of the two previous Haig training camps I have done.

The best ski of the week for me had to be the final day. Two days before, I was starting to feel the exhaustion hit me and my morning rusko was high. After some talk with Eric about it, I dialed back my planned 4 hour ski to 3 hours. Saturday I was forced to do the same and cut my planned 2.25 hour ski 25 minutes short because I was simply too exhausted to get anything more out of skiing that day. It seems the decisions to dial back the training hours were the right ones to make because on Sunday, as Pauli Kaki would say, “I felt like I million bucks!” I polished off a 51.5km ski in 3 hours and 40 minutes with relative ease.

A big thumbs up after the big 51.5km ski.

Monday morning I reluctantly crawled out of bed and headed over to the main cabin for breakfast and chore sign up. At first I thought I had lucked out, “cleaning the barbeque, what could be easier?” I thought to myself. A few minutes later Jodi informed me the barbeque didn’t really need to be cleaned. Joel then promptly told me no one had picked the shower yet…great…I went for best chore to worst chore. I think I got played on that one because I later saw Mark Doble cleaning the barbeque. Oh well, I suppose it’s the least I could do. As our hosts for the week, Jodi and Joel did an amazing job, providing gourmet meals, excellent grooming, and all that jazz.

Once our chores were completed and the non-direct group (a.k.a. girls) was given a head start, the run down began. It’s funny how running down from the Haig often turns into some form of race. Last year after the second Haig camp, Jesse and I ran down in 1 hour 36 minutes after practically sprinting the last 3km. Afterwards, Eric got mad at us for going out of zone 1. This year, our entire group stayed together, including Eric, and our time was 1 hour 38 minutes. Let’s just say the final few kilometers were a shade out of zone 1. I suppose after doing so much slow, volume training on the Haig combined with the highly competitive nature of athletes, it’s not really surprising we’re all just itching to hammer.

Well, that was it! The 2008 Haig training camp was nothing short of a success.

Peace out,

Harry rockin' the skate ski.

C'est Jeux (a.k.a. Christina) enjoying her first Haig experience.

Luke...umm...yah, that's Luke for ya.

The coaches. I'm sure you can guess who is who.

Friday, 5 September 2008

2008 Summer Rendition, Episode 1: Go West Young Man!

It’s been a while…much has happened… In light of this fact, I will be posting a BRAND new series of articles called “2008 Summer Rendition” to bring everyone up to speed on all the exciting stuff that’s been going on. I have inevitably procrastinated this moment for far too long, so here goes.

It almost seems to be a taboo for Canadian youth not to head west at some point to explore the vast countryside and breath in the exhilarating mountain air. There’s just something about the majestic Rocky Mountains that attracts the free spirit in young people. And I am no exception. On July 7th, we packed up the Peace Train (formerly known as the Meatwagon…our team van) in the early hours of what would eventually be a hot summer day. With bikes and skibags on the custom roof rack or “trailer” and an enormous heap of bags and sh** in the back of the van, we were set. Eric yelled at the top of his lungs, “Take us West Skeletor!” and just like that, we were off. I suppose an explanation is required, Skeletor is the Peace Train’s new hood ornament. Basically it’s a skull with a pirate eye patch and if you happen to lift the eye patch, SURPRISE, there’s a little dude sitting inside! I know, it’s pretty sweet, eh?

The drive was epic as per usual. We made it to Swiftcurrent, same as last year, and stayed in the same motel as last year the first night. We all thought we had forgotten Christina back in TBay, but really, she was just passed out in the back of the Peace Train all hopped up, or should I say doped down, on Gravol for the entire drive. This is where she received the sarcastic nickname, Cheerful, from. The long drive is definitely worth it though. Once you spot the mountains, your cramped legs and general boredom completely vanish.

We spent the next two weeks doing dryland training in Canmore. I love training in Canmore during the summer for one main reason: it breaks up the long off-season into smaller, more manageable pieces. With different scenery and training locations, I’m never stuck doing that same old route over and over again until I go insane. The entire two weeks was filled with solid training, but there were a few workouts that were off the chain! The first workout I recall being tossi maatava (translation: extremely great) was a continuous zone 3 ski striding workout at the Canmore Nordic Centre. It was the first time our team did a continuous zone 3 this year and I could not believe how great it felt. The biggest difference between doing a continuous style as opposed to specified intervals is the feel of the workout. When doing continuous efforts it feels more like a race, more natural. Rather than constantly looking at my watch to see when I could stop going hard, I was watching the trail for the spots we had decided to start/stop at. It was a great feeling to not be so dependent on my watch for once.

Two days later was the “man up” workout, a three hour classic rollerski up Highwood Pass, predominately using double pole technique. I managed to only use kick double pole on a few flats and gradual climbs, while double poling every single massive hill. It was a tough challenge, but a good one. The final climb to the top of Highwood Pass is approximately 3.5km long with a reasonably steep average grade. To complete the challenge one must double pole this entire climb. The outcome: two heroes, Harry Seaton and myself. We defeated Highwood Pass with a total elevation climb of 925m over the 3 hour ski. A big shout out to Phil Wood, who completed the challenge of double poling the final Highwood Pass climb last year.

The Rocky Mountain Sheep that literally stopped me in my tracks during the Highwood Pass ski.

They're everywhere! At least these ones were a little smaller so I didn't feel like I was going to get charged and trampled.

Harry after conquering Highwood Pass.

Me after maning up and conquering Highwood Pass. Usain Bolt totally copied my pose. This picture was taken before the Olympics...what can I say, I set the trends.

The team standing on top of Highwood Pass.

The final workout that sticks out in my mind was the long road ride our team did. There’s just nothing that can compare to climbing up mountain passes and taking in stunning scenery and then flying back down again. Our route began in Canmore and first went West along the highway, then around Minewanka loop, straight to Tunnel Mountain, through Banff, up Mount Norquay, back to Canmore and to cap it all off, we climbed Silvertip Mountain before heading home. The best part of the ride had to be Mount Norquay. Going up the switchbacks, I always feel like I’m in some European stage race or something. And riding back down at 75km/h, passing cars, then slamming on the brakes to make it around a switchback isn’t so bad either. I think I set a new personal record for highest speed on a bike during this ride. I took all the corners just right coming down Silvertip and I’m pretty sure I broke 80km/h. I guess I’ll have to get a bike computer for next year so I can be certain.

Overall, it was a good two week training block before heading up to the Haig Glacier. Chillin’ in Canmore, doing lots of train bridge jumping, long board sessions, hustlin’ at the pool table in our house, and eating at the Grizzly Paw generally tends to bode well with our team.

Episode 2: “The Haig” in stores…uhhh…I mean, on my blog SOON!

Me at the top of Corey Pass. We attempted this hike/skiwalk last year, but took the wrong way and missed the views. We really missed out last year! Wow! It was crazy up there. You can see the trail we came up on to the right of me in the picture.

Luke setting up for a backflip off the train brige...oh sh**! There's a canoe. Don't go yet Luke! No worries though, he didn't land on the canoers...phew.

Monday, 23 June 2008

A Fresh Season Brings Revamped Energy With It

A new season is upon us and it is high time I begin updating this blog at more regular intervals again. Much has happened since my previous blog post; an awesome spring skiing training block, final exams for my two winter courses followed by an entire computer programming spring course which I just wrote the exam for last week, many beach body building sessions with Butler and Timo, the 2008-09 NTDC team was selected, I purchased a new road bike (I still can’t take my eyes off it...), and I am now officially a modern man (I turned 20 on June 20th and I now own a cell phone!). Whew…that’s a lot of stuff!

So after a solid month of base off-season training in May with Timo, the entire team settled into Thunder Bay and began training together. The 2008-09 team is comprised of newcomers Luke Viljakainen (Big Thunder – Thunder Bay), Christina Groulx (Big Thunder – Thunder Bay), Harry Seaton (Hardwood – Orillia), and veterans Jesse Winter (North Bay Nordic – South River), and myself with coach Eric Bailey and assistant coaches Timo Purias and Lisa Patterson. Out-of-towners Harry and Jesse arrived in TBay on June 10th and immediately the day after we had our first test run of the season.

This run was new for NTDC, but for Lappe veterans Christina and I the familiarity of the test run’s location made it seem like we were still training with the Lappe Junior Racing Team. The run was a 10km out and back on Kamcurrent Road (the road Lappe Nordic Ski Center is situated on). I always seem to race well at Lappe whether it’s during the ski season or the off-season and this day was no exception. I took off at a quick pace wanting to test my bodies limits rather than play it cautious. I died a little in the last 2kms of the run, but finished in a very respectable time of 35:07. I surprised myself with how well I felt during this race especially because this was one of the first intensities I had done since the new season began. I could not have asked myself to run any better than I did.

June 17th marked the first day of the 2008 NTDC Boot Camp. This camp was filled with testing, team meetings, and big hours. It all began with the 2 sets of the strength test on Tuesday. I have made it my goal to break 300 for some time now and unfortunately last year I was unsuccessful in my attempts despite coming close many times. This year I came the closest I have ever come, but still came up short. My score for the 1st set was 298…ugh. I mean, I’m happy I managed to score a new PB this early in the season, but only 2 more points…one more pullup…two more situps…dang. Not to worry though, by August I should be breaking 300 with my hands tied behind my back...okay maybe not quite, but you get the picture.

The next two tests we did were the submax treadmill test and the incremental work/lactate profiling test to find our training zones. The tests went smoothly and I’m looking forward to seeing my results. Friday was critical speed testing on the 200m indoor track at Lakehead University and coming up just short seemed to be the theme of the week for me. Both the 4000m and 1000m tests went really well for me, but they just weren’t quite good enough to break any records. I ran a 13:16 in the 4000m which is one second slower than my PB and the NTDC record and a 2:50 in the 1000m which tied my PB, but is once again one second slower than the NTDC record (I’m coming for that record later this year Skeets!). The good news is, for this time of year running on par with my PBs is sick! Basically, it means if I improve at all over this summer’s training I should be able to break my PBs by the fall. A special mention goes out to Harry Seaton who ran a 2:49 in the 1000m, tying Skeets Morel’s NTDC record. Way to go brotha!

Directly after the critical speed testing we headed out to Nancy Viljakainen’s home on Lake Superior for lunch and a nap before we headed back out for our PM skate rollerski workout. This had to be the hardest day of the training camp as Timo worked me in the rollerski sesh with his noticeably quick bearings. Nothing a good sauna and swim in the Lake couldn’t fix though! That evening we met the revamped and superfantabulous NTDC board of directors at a dinner and social held at Nancy’s home. A big thanks to the board members for all the delicious food you brought and an extra big thank you to Nancy for hosting the dinner. And whoever it was who bought those tyrannosaurus size steaks for the team to eat, wow, thank you! Definitely the thickest and one the best steaks I have ever consumed.

The camp finished in tradition on Sunday with a long run at the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Unfortunately Harry was attacked by ticks and was hospitalized with lime disease…just kidding! We’ve been joking with Harry all week about the terrible ticks that are invading Thunder Bay forests. The run went well and was a great way to cap off a fantastic 2008 Boot Camp.

2008-09 NTDC Team rocking our new NTDC training tops pre-Sibley run. From left: Jesse, Timo, Harry, Luke, Christina, Eric, and myself.

Timo is obsessed with his new Goliath of a watch, the Forerunner. Here's the map of our Sleeping Giant run thanks to the Forerunner and Timo.

I think I got confused when I put on my new Quick Step gear. Am I a skier or a road biker? Hmmm... Maybe I'm the new Paolo Bettini?

Lookin' sharp with my new steed.

The apple of my eye, my new steed, the Giant TCR C2.

Until next time, I'm Michael Somppi. Keep it classy...world.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

2008 Canadian Championships

Our plane touched down on the runway in Vancouver as I peered out the small window at green grass. I felt a mixture of excitement and nerves as butterflies did Varial McTwists and Misty Flips in my stomach. I was almost there. The drive along the Sea to Sky Highway was spectacular. In the distance white coated mountains loomed, and towards them is where we headed in our two crammed rental vehicles. After a homemade style meatloaf dinner at a cozy restaurant in Squamish, which reeked of Tabasco sauce as a consequence of a team member accidentally knocking a bottle onto the carpeted floor, we completed the drive to Whistler. That’s right Whistler…booyah!

This was going to be the perfect Nationals. Racing at the 2010 Olympic site in Callaghan Valley where there would certainly be no lack of snow. I felt great and had prepared the best I possibly could for these races (as stated in my previous article). I was ready to take on Canada…or I should say North America as many top skiers from the States made the trip to Whistler to check out the future Olympic site.

The first race at Nationals is always a team race where no individual points can be attained and everyone races for bragging rights and club points. Timo Puiras and I teamed up to ski for our club, Lappe Nordic in this 1.2km Team Sprint event. We both skied strong in our first heat finishing 2nd behind a world class team consisting of two Senior National Team members. We also had the 2nd fastest heat time of the day. This qualified us to race in the final…oh boy. The final heat consisted of 15 tough teams. Unfortunately Timo had some difficulty with his grip in the first leg and handed off to me in last place. Unable to reel in the pack, we finished 14th. Just making the final was great, but Timo and I were both a little disappointed we didn’t at least put in a fight. Nevertheless, I felt awesome. I skied extremely well, my technique was solid, and my skis were running well. It was a great start to the week and I felt nothing could go wrong.

Two days later was the race I put the most focus into, the 10km classic individual start. I had yet to finish a good 10km classic race this year and I wanted so badly to put in a good result. With fresh snow and warm weather a last minute decision to make hairy skis (no grip is used, roughing the grip zone with sandpaper is supposed to provide grip) threw my focus off. The night before I meticulously made a race and warm-up plan for the following day. These plans were now gone. I didn’t have soft enough skis at the race site to make hairies with, I wasn’t able to test them before the race, and I had no grip on my warm-up skis so I was forced to do a less than adequate double pole warm-up. I started the race with butterflies in my stomach…not due to excitement, but rather nervousness. The first climb out of the stadium I had barely any grip. I immediately knew this was going to be another brutal 10km classic race. After herring-boning and double poling as hard as I could I crossed the finish line 16th place in Junior Men. Brutal. It seemed the only skis working consistently well were chemical base hairies, a type of ski I do not have the fortune of owning. After putting so much focus into this race and feeling so strong physically, only to have another bad classic day my confidence took a huge hit.

The following day was a 15km skate individual start race. In the past this type of race has been my specialty. Mentally I was not prepared for this race. I was trying to forget the day before, but negative feelings still lingered. I started at an okay pace in the blizzard conditions. The trail was difficult to ski on as slow, heavy snow had built up on the edges of a single skied in slippery track. Ruts and random holes covered the course like landmines just waiting to claim their next victim. On top of all this, many skiers on their 2nd or 3rd lap were in the way and with only one track to ski on, passing was a difficult task. While flying around a 180 degree corner on my first lap I was forced into the new heavy snow by some skiers I had caught up to. With shaky legs from trying to balance on the greasy skied in surface I couldn’t keep my balance and crashed. Mentally I was broken. I just crashed on a big hill with a long tucking stretch, how could I possibly make up the time I lost? I got up half-heartedly and continued “racing”.

Noah Hoffman, arguably the fastest junior American skate distance skier passed me (he started 30 seconds behind me). This is where my race changed. Noah blew by me in Silver Star earlier this year and I wasn’t going to let him do it again. I gritted my teeth and latched on for the ride of my life. It was tough, but I regained the desire to perform. My mental toughness was back. I followed Noah right into the finish stretch of the race where he promptly face-planted 20 meters from the finish line and unable to avoid it, I skied right through him somehow managing to stay upright. I ended up 7th place in Junior Men (6th Canadian) and only about 8.5 seconds out of 5th place. Looking back, maybe if I hadn’t fallen I would have been able to grab 5th place, but 7th place is still a solid result from me.

By the time sprint day rolled around I was starting to feel the effects the hard efforts of the past three races had on my body. However I was determined to overcome any tiredness I felt and throw down a good performance. I did exactly that. I skied the best qualifier of my life, finishing 6th in Junior Men (5th Canadian). With tired legs I was unable to use a powerful one-skate on the more gradual climbs and instead opted for a high tempo offset. My technique choice seemed to bode well.

Again during the heats I employed this high tempo tactic. It seemed to work well as I skied into 1st place in my quarterfinal by the top of the first long climb. While tucking around the tight 180 degree corner I caught an edge of my ski and nearly crashed. Suddenly I was in 4th with little time left to regain a top two position and move on to the semis. Panic. I started sprinting as hard as I could and miraculously I was in 2nd within the next 200m. I skied the final downhill poorly and was passed by distance specialist Kevin Sandau. Coming down the finish stretch I put in a final desperate push and squeaked out a narrow 2nd place finish. What a heat! The rest of the heats were a little less eventful for me as I just didn’t have the energy to make the A-Final. I finished 2nd in the B-Final, 8th overall and still the 5th Canadian.

Now it was time to put the classic skis on again and race a 30km mass start. After the last classic race my confidence was severely lacking and an ongoing battle between positive and negative thoughts took place in my head. I tested klister skis and hairy skis owned by a past Lappe teammate. With confidence in my coach’s positive comments towards our klister, hard wax combo I decided to use my own skis. Once again I had very little grip. I was able to find some kick here and there, but it was difficult with the stiff klister skis I was using. Limited grip coupled with limited energy seemed to get the better of me. I tried skiing with higher tempo and short strides, I tried skiing with slow tempo and long gliding strides. Nothing seemed to make me go any faster. Near the end of my first lap the klister began to pick up fresh snow until soon I was skiing on platforms. After double poling down the normal tucking hill into the stadium I made the decision I never wanted to ever make in my career as an athlete. I decided to drop out. It was the first time I’ve ever dropped out of a ski race and only the 2nd time I’ve not finished a race that I started (the first being a bike race I had mechanical issues in). Not the way I had envisioned ending my racing season. And again, the chemical base hairies prevailed.

To sum up my 2008 Nationals, I had solid skate races, an amazing team sprint, and two terrible classic races. I guess you have to take the good with the bad. It wasn’t the perfect Nationals, but hey, there’s always another year. Skiing at the future Olympic site was nothing short of amazing. I even got the opportunity to watch four Swedish National Team members duke it out with North America’s top sprinters in the skate sprints.

The following week I had the opportunity to stay for a week in Whistler with my teammates and shred some pow in the slopes of Blackcomb and Whistler Mountain. I got in 4 days of mind blowing downhill skiing that made Mount McKay here in Thunder Bay seem like child’s play. It was the perfect way to celebrate the season and get cross-country off the mind for a while. If you ever get the opportunity to ski/snowboard at Whistler I highly recommend you don’t hesitate to take advantage of it.

A big thank you to my sponsors for supporting me and to everyone who has been involved in NTDC Thunder Bay over the past year for providing me with the tools for success.

Peace Out!

Me on top of the world at Blackcomb.

Lenny and his brand spankin' new green helmet.

Cam Moore looking good and enjoying the tele skiing at Whistler.

Lenny shredding some pow down the Purple Haze at Blackcomb.

Harry Seaton finishing off a big day of tele skiing on the mountain. All that's left is a 15 minute hike home...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Successful Weekend!

This past weekend was a huge success for me. I competed in two races as preparation for the 2008 Canadian Championships which begins this coming Sunday, March 16th. The races went better than I could have asked for! Saturday was the NTDC Invitational/Thunder Bay City Championships, a short 10km continuous pursuit race and Sunday was the annual Tapiola Invitational, a 7km classic individual start race which winds through high-speed, narrow, “flat-ish” trails.

Friday evening I meticulously went through all the preparation I would normally do for a big race. I waxed my skis, stretched plenty, ate properly, planned my race strategy and made a plan for my warm-up; the goal being to simulate racing at Nationals. Saturday morning I opened my eyes and immediately knew this was going to be a good day…I was only unsure how good it would be. After a good warm-up followed by a long wait in the starting lanes, the starting gun went off and I was moving, fast. With the combination of a strong field and a short race I guessed the starting pace might be quick and I wasn’t let down. Butler threw down a hard pace right away in an attempt to drop the field. Unfortunately for him, following was a little easier than leading on this cold morning and soon a lead pack had formed including: Chris Butler, Steve Hart, Phil Wood, Timo Puiras and myself. A highlight in the classic portion of the race was when Timo directly collided with a squirrel attempting to cross the trail. The squirrel was definitely the loser in this collision as I watched it become airborne and summersault across the trail while squeaking in dismay.

The previous day I took a guess that the race would break up during the exchange from classic to skate. I wasn’t entirely right, but between Timo’s slow poke exchange and my face plant while attempting to step out of my exchange box, a considerable gap did form. Luckily, I was able to catch up to Chris, Phil and Steve on the first flat part of the course. Unfortunately Timo wasn’t able to do the same as his sprint into the exchange zone seemed to zap his energy. The skate course was considerably hillier than the classic course and I discovered my legs to be unusually stiff when climbing. Fortunately my infamous hippies (Peltonen Hybtonites) were running fast and kept me in the race…thank you skis! With a downhill/flat finish I felt confident I could try to take the win and began to make my way from 4th to 1st. In the end it came down to a tight sprint finish. Phil took 1st, I was 2nd (0.4 seconds behind), Steve 3rd (0.6 seconds behind), and Chris 4th (1.7 seconds behind). My final opinion of the race: choice.

With a boost in confidence, Eldar Roenning (a.k.a. me) arrived at the Tapiola Invitational ready to throw down. The trash talking with Boerre Naess (a.k.a. Chris Butler) and Tor Arne Hetland (a.k.a. Phil Wood) began. Naess and Hetland made a bold decision to use skate skis and skate poles intending to muscle out a victory. Steeevfe (Steve Hart) opted for skate skis and classic poles allowing a higher tempo for double poling power. Roenning kept his head on his shoulder and used the regular classic equipment as this was indeed a classic race. Roenning has had the benefit of racing this course a few times before and recalled the extreme exhaustion he has felt in the past from so much double poling; he figured a little kick-double pole and striding might be what he needs to keep his arms feeling fresh. With the variety of strategies the race proved to be an interesting one. The victor of this hammer fest turned out to be Steeevfe followed by Roenning, Hetland, then Naess. It seemed Hetland and Naess found a new muscle group while double poling with their skate poles and would later regret their decision.

With two 2nd place finishes against some stiff competition and defeating Naess for the first time in a distance race ever…twice, I’m feeling very well prepared going into the 2008 Canadian Championships. Over the past three weeks, while many of my teammates have been overseas racing at the World Junior/U23 Championships, myself, Thomsen, and Phil along with our assistant coach, Timo, have been training hard. After racing almost every weekend this past season my body was craving some time to train and put in some longer hours on skis. The break from racing was refreshing and gave not only my body a rest, but also my mind. Now that I’ve done some long skis and had a chance to focus on some specific interval and technique training, everything seems to be coming together. I’m expecting to turn in my best results of the season at Nationals and have a top 3 aggregate in my sights. The junior men’s category is full of talented skiers, so it will certainly be a challenge, but I feel that with the training I’ve done this year and how my body is reacting to it now, I am capable of reaching such a goal. Only time will tell…

Over and Out,

Thomsen, Timo, and Phil getting ready for our most epic ski during the training block, a 60km glorious ski at Sibley Park.

Thomsen lookin' pumped for the ski at Sibley. Thomsen and Phil were especially excited about the combination of skiing the Sibley trails and the exceptionally nice weather that particular day. Unable to supress their joy, the two of them proceeded to hoot and holler for the first hour of the 4.5 hour ski.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Road Trip to the States

On Monday, January 21st, Thomsen D’Hont, Phil Wood, Timo Puiras, and I climbed into the “Meat Wagon” for a road trip to the States. Our first stop was Lutsen where we went for an afternoon classic ski. I’ve heard many good things about the unlimited kilometers of cross-country trails around the Lutsen area so my expectations were set very high. Unfortunately none of us took the initiative to research where some of these trails were. So, without knowing exactly where the good cross-country trails were, Timo pulled into the downhill resort in hopes of discovering some tracks. Little did we know, the main cross-country chalet was only a short distance past the downhill site. However, we did spot a classic track and decided we were good to go.

The trail lead us on a gradual climb to the top a few downhill runs where it came to an abrupt end. Now what? Well…what do you think…book it down McFolly’s bush trail on our classic skis of course! We then explored the other side of the mountain by following the “Mysterious” snowshoe trails. Eventually we made it to the top of the mountain where a spectacular view over the Lake Superior shoreline lay before us. After enjoying the sights we carved some pow on our way back down to the meat wagon. Despite lacking the cross-country ski trails, the downhill runs and back-country trails made for a right nice change of pace from the typical training ski. You might say it was a choice sesh. Definitely a clutch decision on Timo’s part. To fill you in, the common phrases/words used on the trip include: clutch, right good, right nice, choice, and purchase.

After the choice ski we completed the drive to Duluth followed by a scenic tour of Duluth (we had limited directions to our rental house…the gas station employees were useless…and yeah…I’m not a World Champion navigator either). Eventually we did find our house; plus, now we knew where to find the grocery store! The house turned out to be very spacious and quaint. When describing it the word “whimsical” comes to mind.

Wednesday evening brought with it the Super Tour Skate Sprints held at Marshall High School. The set up was choice. I was thoroughly impressed. Despite being situated in town, the hilly terrain offers everything a ski course requires in only 2.5km of trails. The sprint course was designed very professionally and uses everything the landscape had to offer. It includes a large stadium, a sharp corner as well as a long gradual corner, a lengthy downhill and a monster climb. Nothing too technical, yet still fun to ski and very spectator oriented. To add to the already pimped out course, huge portable lights were strategically placed around the course to accommodate the late start.

I skied a wicked qualifier under the fading afternoon sunlight to put me 5th place in Open Men and 1st Under 23. It’s a good thing I skied well too because only the top 8 moved onto the heats. Thomsen D’Hont also moved on after qualifying 7th. With the sun set, Thomsen and I headed out into the freezing night air ready to do battle under the spot lights. I skied aggressively in my semi-final, but after getting boxed out numerous times and almost being forced into a gulley I crossed the line last in a tight finish. Thomsen was disqualified from his semi-final heat after finishing 2nd by an official who didn’t quite have a full understanding of FIS rules and regulations. So we ended up in the B-Final together and again my aggressive tactics were denied by defensive skiing on the American’s part. I managed to recover from being boxed out again to finish 2nd in the heat and 6th overall while Thomsen finished 8th overall. The heats were a bit frustrating because my strategy didn’t work well at all, but I had a great time and learned that patience can be a key component to winning a sprint. I also took home some cashola for finishing 6th and being the top U-23 athlete so that capped off the day pretty well.

The following day we had planned to drive to Cable, Wisconsin for more Super Tour races on the weekend. Well, we did end up getting there…at approximately 12:30am. We had a bit of late start due to our not so reliable van. Yes, the meat wagon died once again. After our late start, we skied at Snowflake Ski Club in Duluth and ate supper at the infamous Grandma’s restaurant before hitting the road to Cable. It was an epic day to say the least.

Saturday morning was a 10km Skate Individual Start Super Tour Race held at Telemark Resort (about 20 minutes from Cable). After a few rough nights sleep I didn’t have excessive amounts of energy, but I gave 100% and was able to have a decent race. I finished 11th in Open Men and was the top Junior Man only 4 seconds ahead of Banff Ski Runner’s Graeme Killick. Phil Wood finished 9th grabbing some top 10 cash and missing the U-23 top spot by only one second.

Sunday on the other hand was a rough day for our Canadian group. It was a 15km Classic Mass Start Super Tour Race with a huge field of almost 200 skiers. A combination of a few things led to one of my worst races ever. I tested out a new pair of poles which turned out to be too long, our team didn’t have good grip wax because the snow was different on the course than where we tested, and the bad sleeps over the past few nights caught up with me hard. Phil Wood actually changed his skis halfway through the race in an attempt to get better grip; unfortunately he was later disqualified as an official saw him change skis. By the end of the race I found myself contemplating whether I should give up or push through it. I’m proud to say I chose to push through it, but it sure wasn’t a pretty sight. Thomsen was the only one who managed to make something out of the race and finish well. It’s a tough experience to have, watching skiers you would normally beat by a lot blow by you. It was one of those days you analyze why you performed poorly, learn from it, and move on.

Next on the race schedule is the Eastern Canadian Championships. During the past week after the Super Tour races I did an easy week of training to allow my body to recover and get myself refocused on my goals. Hopefully I will be able to regain my form from the Ontario Cup races in Thunder Bay and pull off some groundbreaking results at Easterns.

Keep it classy,
M. Sompps

Check out Thomsen and my B-Final heat from the sprints in Duluth via this link (I'm bib number 5 and Thomsen is 7):

Friday, 18 January 2008

The Patermax Residence.

I arrived in Toronto on December 30th along with fellow teammate C-Butt and coach Bailey. Since we couldn’t move into the Farmhouse (our team’s accommodations for World Junior/U23 Trials) Pate’s family welcomed the TBay boys into their home. We stayed at Pate’s grandparents house for two nights and what a two nights they were. Let me paint a picture for you. Pate’s grandparents house is a large open-concept home situated in the countryside just outside of Toronto in a small town called Caledon. Conveniently, Pate’s home is directly beside his grandparent’s house and sits proudly on top of a hill. It reminds me of something from a fairytale story my mom would read to me when I was just a wee youngster. The big yet cozy, yellow farm-style home on top of a hill with plenty of open landscape around it and a forest visible off in the distance.

As Eric, Chris and I were carrying our bags into the house we spotted Pate zooming across the property on his quad. Eric looked at me, “Pate is definitely in his element”. I nodded and we both laughed while watching Pate do a donut in the distance. The country-side landscape brought me back to my days growing up on Government Road and Mapleward Road out in the country. The tree-filled landscape was completely refreshing.

That morning I awoke to the smell of bacon and Tom sniffing my bed. Tom is Pate’s grandparent’s friendly little wiener dog. The previous day Tom had also sniffed around my bed and discovered my recovery and sport drink in plastic bags. Let’s just say that when I found the drink mixes they were no longer bagged. That morning I got to the bottom of why Pate loves his Maple syrup so dearly. His grandparents love Maple syrup. We had hot cereal with maple syrup, pancakes and bacon with maple syrup and candies left over from the holidays with maple syrup. I think I had a sugar high the entire day after that breakfast! It was delicious!

Once we got back from skiing that day I got a chance to get the full tour of their property from Pate. Chris and Eric had each disappeared with their girlfriends which left me with Pate all to myself. After watching some Family Guy we hopped on the quad (because who walks when you have a quad?!?) and drove down to the shed to take out the snowmobile. We then ripped around the property in and out of seemingly secret trails surrounding the fairytale home. We climbed around on Pate’s old tree fort and raced down the massive tobogganing hill. After putting the snow mobile back in the shed we headed home on the quad, but not before doing some serious donuts on the ice-covered driveway.

And the day wasn’t over! Soon I found myself battling Pate’s little brother, Sam, on Guitar Heroes. I had never played before and he pretty much kicked my ass. Although Sam may never admit it, I did beat him once…out of about 10 matches. Seeing as it was New Years, Pate’s sister had a bunch of her friends over and we had a lovely supper. I felt like I was at a restaurant being waited on by Pate’s parents hand and foot. All in all, it was a busy fun-filled day. To finish it off we watched some Family Guy and went to bed at 10:30pm (real party animals, I know).

All in all it was a great way to spend the two days before moving into the Farmhouse. A big thanks to Pate’s family for welcoming us Thunder Bay hooligans into their home.

Over and Out,
The Michael

The Cold and Quebec

The time has come! I’ve managed to neglect my blog for long enough and the time to update everyone on my adventures has come. I’ll start from where I left off last…the epic journey. It began in Silver Star, passed through Canmore, and ended in Quebec. A total of 8 NorAms in 15 days. My battle worn body completed 7 of the 8 races and let me tell you, it wasn’t an easy task.

By the time we made it to Quebec I wasn’t sure what to think. From one perspective, I no longer had to contend with that crazy thing they call altitude and more time since the tough training in Silver Star meant I should be better recovered and able to race faster. On the other hand, I had just finished racing in 4 NorAms and travelling more than half-way across the country. It was a toss up for sure and the only way to find out what would happen was to race.

First up were the skate sprints and along with them came the cold. I pulled out the windproof craft and my trusty balaclava and set out to challenge the winter elements. Turned out to be my best sprint ever! I guess all my preparatory work the day before really paid off. I finished 25th in Open Men and 7th in Junior Men. Fortunately for me all the Juniors who qualified ahead of me decided to race Open that day, while I decided to pull out my Junior card to gain valuable sprint experience which I am quite deficient in. Props to Thomsen for holding his own in the Open Men category and finishing 12th.

Needless to say, going into the heats I felt pretty confident being the top qualifier. I brought a new aggressive style into the heats and was full of determination to win. My aggressive skiing worked amazingly well, despite almost crashing after a near tangle up situation, and I WON!!! It was just what I needed. A good confidence booster going into the distance races on the weekend.

Next was the pursuit. Seeing as I now have so much experience with these races they call pursuits, I wasn’t even the least bit nervous. I decided it was going to be just like the sprints. Ski aggressively and win. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work the same way in a 20km race.

The morning was just plain frigid as we set up our skis in the proper lanes. I looked around the start area and watched skiers taking off their warm-ups while thinking to myself, “Are they crazy?!? It’s at least 22 below with over 5 minutes to the start and they’re taking their warm-ups off already!” I eventually did take my warm-ups off, but let me tell you, I sure didn’t want to! No matter how many times I swung my arms around and jumped up and down I just couldn’t manage to make my hands warm.

Nevertheless, the race began with a bang and we were off. After a rough start I pulled it together and had a great classic leg. My transition went somewhat smoothly and the skate leg was painful. My feet were blocks of ice and it was difficult to control my skis on the fast downhill sections. I even had a solid wipeout on my first lap of the skate course. The last 200m came down to a sprint for 2nd place in Junior between Lenny, Julien and I. Lenny came out on top and I came out on the bottom. The good news is I didn’t have to pull out of the race due to frozen toes.

Everyone hobbled into the warmth of the Val Cartier Ski Centre afterwards to discuss the day’s battles and show off their wounds. It took about 25 minutes until my feet had gone through the agonizing process of thawing, but I felt pretty fortunate. Harry Seaton’s toes had a new colour, black, and I heard Brent McMurtury’s fingers also took a likening to the colour black. There were even racers sprawled about in the bathroom attempting to use hot water from the shower to warm up. It was definitely quite the battle and a day I’ll remember for years to come.

The following day was slightly warmer (a balmy minus 16) with the addition of a blizzard. The race was a 10km Classic Mass Start. Due to the shortness of the race and the depth of the field of racers, the start would be a critical part of the outcome. I discovered this the hard way. Only 50m from the start line someone’s poles caught the inside of my ski and suddenly I spun 180 degrees and was swarmed by skiers. This was a new experience for me. I have never been facing the opposite way at the beginning of a 100 person mass start race. I don’t even remember how I did it, but somehow I managed to turn back around, ski between lanes filled with skiers and get myself back into the top half all within 100m.

The rest of the race was a game of catch up that I didn’t have the energy for. I finished a disappointing 9th place in Junior Men. It was a tough day, but after already having two great races I couldn’t complain. And that wraps my first time skiing in Val Cartier, Quebec.

The Michael