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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.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

24 Hours of Domination

Wow! I can not believe we did this. Harry Seaton, Jesse Winter, Luke Viljakainen and I joined forces to make a four man team with the goal of breaking the existing four man record for most km skied at the 24 hours of Lappe. This is no easy task. You must ski the majority of your laps in zone 3 or zone 4 and conditions must be quick. Fortunately we had a perfect year, with the sun only slowing the trails down for about a 2 hour window during the hottest part of the day. The rest of the event from noon on Saturday, March 21st to noon on Sunday featured crystallized snow and icy fast trails.

24 Hour Relay Start. Photo Cred. Paul Inkila.

Me skiing in the sunny blazing fast conditions at Lappe.

To break the record we had to ski an average lap time just over 12 min for the 4.3km course. We began the event skiing average lap times under 11 min, building up a significant buffer going into the night. The wee hours of the night are where teams really run the risk of falling apart. Missing exchanges because of oversleeping or bonking during your hour or two hour night shift are all too common. Our team pushed through the night minimizing our losses with only one poor exchange and only some minor bonks. As soon as the sun started to rise and our night shifts were done, we went back to a 2 lap rotation and our pace picked up drastically. With 2 hours left we had already broken the four man record and had our sights set on breaking the all time record (currently held by a 7 person team). We switched to a 1 lap rotation between the four of us so we could hammer every lap and get a 30min rest then go do it again. After skiing over 100km each I have no idea how we managed to ski close to 10min laps in the morning. I guess our adrenaline was pumping like crazy.

Jesse tagging me in for my final lap of the event.

Jesse dead after completing his final lap of the event.

After 24 hours of skiing, our team demolished the existing record of 517.4km. We skied 556.4km with an average lap time of 11:11.4 over the 4.3km course. Each of us skied over 135km in 6 hours! Props to the Mister Big team put together by our coach who also took down the existing record with 523.2km. Kelly Henry tackled the 24 hour event solo and broke Nancy Viljakainen’s record, skiing 284.8km. I was tired enough after hammering out 143km…I can’t imagine doing double that!

Aside from skiing the most km in 24 hours, the event has another title up for grabs; the fastest lap (male and female). This is a tricky title to win because not only does it require you to ski very fast, but you also have to plan and make your attempt when the conditions are the fastest. The fastest lap can be done anytime in the 24 hour event. Ideally, you should be on a large team so you don’t have to come out until early in the morning when the trails are still icy fast from the night time freeze. Then you can do a few laps to warm up and go for it. That’s how Adam Kates set the all time record in 2006. Unfortunately I was on a small team so I had to be there skiing fast the entire 24 hours. I made the decision after skiing 50km at around 10pm when conditions were getting close to their optimal frozen icy state to go for it. I think that was the fastest I have ever skied 4.3km. I started out at my sprint pace and with the extended rests on downhills due to the fast conditions, I was able to hold it for the better part of the loop. My time was 9:36.5…0.6 seconds slower than Adam’s record. F***. At least I had the fastest time for this year so far. Chris Butler made several attempts as a member of the Mister Big team, but after burning himself out on the opening lap and making a fast lap attempt earlier in the day when conditions were not yet close to optimal, he came up short with a 9:44 lap. Karla Bailey won the women’s fast lap with a time of 11:14.3.

Chris Butler leading Jesse Winter and Scott Sullivan in the opening lap. Jesse took the opening lap win in a sprint finish. Photo Cred. Paul Inkila.

Karla Bailey leading Becky Puiras and Jeff Budner in the opening lap. Photo Cred. Paul Inkila.

At the end of it all, three records were smashed and our four man team was so exhausted we could barely stand up. I don’t know why we are drawn to challenge ourselves in such ludicrous ways as skiing for 24 hours. I will say this, I do not plan on trying to break the four man record we set any time in the near future. Remind me to read this blog post next year so I don’t do anything stupid like forget I said that.

Me, Jesse, and Harry during the final few minutes of the event waiting for Luke to come into the stadium.

The new 24 hour Relay Record holders!

Check out the Lappe website for more 24 hour pictures.

That's What I'm Talking 'Bout

Despite the lack of snow, Highlands Nordic was able to pull together a great Nationals and it sure was a good thing for me because I had definitely found my stride. Racing at the start of the season was always a struggle, but now it felt almost effortless to ski fast. Sunday, March 15th the 2009 Nationals commenced with the team sprints. I paired up with Werner Schwar and we finished a respectable 13th place. It was a fun race to kick off Nationals and warm up the body for the rest of the week. The rest of the week was like a dream come true for me. I felt stronger every race I did.

Doing it up in the sprint relay. Photo Cred. Paul Inkila.

2009 Nationals
Skate 10km Individual Start – 11th Open Men (9th Canadian)
Classic 15km Individual Start – 14th Open Men (13th Canadian)
Classic Sprints – 15th Senior Men (12th Canadian)
Skate 50km Mass Start – 16th Senior Men (12th Canadian)
Canadian Aggregate Total – 6th place Senior Men

The skate 10km has always been a strength of mine, but this may have been the best one I have ever done. I attacked it right from the start…maybe a little too much as I was sitting in 7th after the first 5km. I definitely faded towards the end of the race, but I was able to dig deep in the final km and pick the pace up enough to beat the top Junior Men.

Attacking the 10km skate. Photo Cred. Paul Inkila.

The classic 15km was an interesting day. The younger category races were postponed due to hurricane winds, however the open categories were declared tough enough to handle the conditions. I’ll give you an example of just how strong the winds were: I placed my poles against our wax trailer while I went inside to grab my skis…bad idea! When I came back one pole had apparently been blown against a telephone pole and snapped clean in half. I guess those World Cup Excel poles are pretty light. Anyway, Eric and Lisa did a great job waxing our skis today, using an aggressive binder so our wax didn’t wear off the first time sliding around the hair-pin corner on the icy course. I didn’t have any difficulty kicking the boards today. Unfortunately I was lacking some of the grit I displayed in the skate 10km. Either way I was happy to wind up in 14th place. My focus on skiing efficiently and starting conservatively seemed to help me persevere in the challenging conditions.

Skiing smooth in the 15km classic. Photo Cred. Paul Inkila.

I’m super pumped about my classic sprint result. I have never had a good classic sprint in my life, and the Ontario Cup race doesn’t count because we used skate skis and double poled it. I was really focused and determined to have a good day in these sprints. My qualifier was solid, I had one part where I strayed from my race plan which cost me some time, but overall it was good. I was happy just to get a chance to move onto the heats. I felt unreal in my quarter-final heat. My start was a little slow, but I caught up quickly and had no trouble sticking with the leaders. Looking back, I should have been more aggressive and tried to move up from 4th to 3rd or 2nd earlier in the race rather than waiting until the final climb. I ended up flying up the final climb and passing Skeets Morel early in the finishing stretch, but came up just short of catching Lenny Valjas. I finished 3rd in my heat and with a 17th place qualifier did not get a lucky loser spot to move on. Although I was disappointed I didn’t get a chance to race more when I was feeling so good, I’m extremely happy I was competitive in a classic sprint and am confident my quarter-final heat was one of, if not, the fastest heat of all the quarters. The top four in my heat were neck to neck the entire way so no one could let up and ski to the finish slow.

A look at part of the course before the 50km started. The trails were looking good today after the snowfall on Wednesday compared to earlier in the week.

And they're off!

Finally the highly anticipated 50km! This was my first 50km race ever and boy was it a good first one to do; the trails were icy and super fast, the sun was out, the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees and bound to warm up with the rising sun. I couldn’t ask for more perfect conditions. On top of all this, I was feeling exceptional. The race started off slow and mostly everyone stayed together for the first two laps. I found myself getting pushed back in the pack and losing places…but I wasn’t worried, it was a 50km race. We were just getting started right? Wrong. One minute I could see the leaders and the next they were gone. There was nothing I could immediately do because there were about 10 guys in my way.

After maneuvering through these skiers I made an attempt at catching up and came within about 15 seconds, but it was too much of a gap to overcome so early in the race. I didn’t want to risk burning myself out with another 35km to go. So a chase pack formed of about 8 guys and I chilled here for a while. Halfway into the 5th lap Eric shouted at me to mix it up…I was feeling good and was getting bored relaxing in the pack so I took the lead and picked the pace up a bit. Then for some reason I found myself attacking hard up a steep hill and creating a gap between myself and the group. Oops. I got too excited. In my excitement I thought I only had 1.5 laps to go so I kept hammering trying to put as much time between myself and the pack as possible. Next lap I passed Eric and he informed me I had 2 laps to go, not 1. “Just keep the pace up Mike, you can do it!” he shouted as I took my feed. “Yeah, right” I thought.

I fought damn hard to stay ahead of the chase pack, but I was fading fast on my last lap and they were closing quickly. I took two coke feeds which helped considerably, but it still wasn’t enough. Skeets Morel and Tim Reynolds caught me with about 2km to go and I didn’t have the energy to stay with them. I pushed as hard as I could to the finish and just barely held off two more of the chase group guys, Kit Richmond and Karl Saidla (Kit finished just 5 seconds behind me followed by Karl…that was a close call!). I am proud of my first 50km result, it was fun to try an attack and mix it up with the guys out there. Hopefully in the future I’ll remember which lap I’m on though.

The chase pack.

Chilling in the chase pack.

Navigating the hair-pin corner.

All by myself a few km after my attack. Britt cheering me on in the background.

So Nationals was a resounding success for me. My consistent racing earned me a 6th place standing in the Senior Men’s Canadian aggregate points total after the week of racing. I want to thank my coach, Eric Bailey and assistant coach, Lisa Patterson, for giving me awesome skis all week. Thank you to Nancy Viljakainen for fueling our team for success at Nationals. And a big thank you to all my sponsors and supporters for helping me out along my skiing journey. It feels so great when everything comes together and all the hard work reaps the results you’re looking for.


My mom and I after finishing the 50km.

Turning Point

I may have had a bit of a slow start to the season once again, but I finished the season stronger than ever. The Christmas break started to breathe some life into my exhausted body, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to give me the energy I needed for World U-23 trials. I had one solid race, a 13th place in the individual start 15km skate, but the other two races weren’t so hot. I arrived home from trials a very tired boy. After a few skis and some catch up on homework, I caught the flu. It hit me hard. I lost about 10 pounds and was out of commission for a week. I guess my body was done giving me warning signals and finally just broke down, forcing me to rest.

Canmore U-23 Trials 15km Skate

13th place Senior Men

As soon as I was healthy our team took a road trip to the States for two Super Tour events. Finally, I started racing well and brought home a little prize money. The Telemark Super Tour was a larger event with more competition including a few U.S. National team members. My results from the trip were:

Mount Itasca Super Tour
Classic 10km Individual Start – 7th
Skate 10km Individual Start – 5th

Telemark Super Tour
Skate Sprints – 13th
Classic 10km Individual Start – 14th
Skate 15km Mass Start – 7th

Following our trip to the States our team put in a month long training block including some good volume and fun local races. I competed in all three races at the Ontario Cup as well as the LSSD Championships. I was happy to be able to perform well in all these races despite being in the middle of a volume training block.

Ontario Cup
Classic Sprints – 2nd
Skate 15km Mass Start – 2nd
Classic 10km Individual Start – 1st

LSSD Championships
Classic 10km Individual Start – 1st

Ontario Cup Skate Mass Start. First time I have ever had the #1 seed in a race!

On the podium. Harry took the sprint finish for gold.

Finishing off the O Cup classic race.

Made it to the top step.

This outlines my lead up to the 2009 Nationals and the turning point in my season.