Welcome to my Blog!

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.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

SNOW in TBay!

This week marked the end of NDC Thunder Bay’s final training push before the race season. Last weekend we completed a 5 day training camp in Lutsen, MN where we embraced the warm weather and awesome rollerskiing paths. After a much needed rest day we took on Lappe Nordic’s most historic running time trial, the 22km “Lappe block” run. The route consists mostly of hilly gravel roads with only about 2km of pavement. Reijo Puiras (owner of Lappe and Olympian) has an open challenge where if you can beat his personal best time on the route he will give you free pancakes at the Lappe Nordic Ski Centre for the entire winter. His personal best, 1hour 20minutes, is no easy task to beat on this difficult route. Nevertheless we thought we’d have a crack at it.

12km into the race Chris Hamilton was leading, about 40 seconds ahead of Andy Shields and me who at this point were even with Reijo’s splits. 12km is the low point in the route. At this point the real climbing starts and after downing a power gel I picked up the pace a little. At 14.5km I was alone chasing Chris and 20 seconds up on Reijo’s splits. After a serious effort to reel Chris in, I stopped the clock at 1:19:01. Free pancakes! Props to Chris for holding me off and potentially breaking the record with a time of 1:18:43 (the record is currently being sought after and once I find out I will be sure to post it). Big ups to Andy as well for finishing only about a minute off the 1:20 benchmark. The furthest running race he’d done before this was 10km and he’s still a Junior! I have yet to see the ‘official’ results but the rest of the team had strong performances and really battled hard.
Our annual team fundraiser, Nordicfest, was held on Saturday. With 185 tickets sold the evening was a success with great Scandinavian food, plenty of silent and live auction items, and our team’s attempt at providing some entertainment for the audience. A BIG thanks to all the volunteers, our board of directors, the businesses who donated auction items, and the Thunder Bay ski community for being so supportive!

With more than a hint of irony Mother Nature blessed us with a dump of snow overnight and today we were classic skiing on the Lappe trails. The transition from warm fall weather to winter was literally an overnight occurrence. I could hardly comprehend what my eyes were seeing this morning. The past few years snow has been sparse in November here in Thunder Bay, but not this year! The forecast is looking cold for the next week so I’m crossing my fingers that this is it. No melting, just more snow.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Perfect Nap

Today I had the perfect nap. I came home from training, hung up my wet clothes, threw in some laundry, made a couple ricotta, pesto sandwiches on fresh buns and hit the hay. I wasn't quite ready to sleep so I read an article in October's Outside Magazine titled "Sick Puppies". I don't know if the content of the article contributed at all, but by the time I finished it was lights out. 45 minutes later I woke up in a daze. Where am I? What time is it? I must have slept at least 3 hours... oh what? It's only 4pm! Man I went deep. Then a light bulb appeared above my head and I thought of the skit Will Ferrell did of George Bush on the subject of napping and nearly bust a gut laughing. Check the video out and the next time you wake up from an exceptional nap you too will experience the hilarity of remembering Will Ferrell's skit.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Austria - Schladming - Dachstein - Ramsau

Our team had an exceptional training camp in Austria this year. We departed on September 20th from Thunder Bay and returned on October 10th. We experienced everything from blue bird sunny days to blizzards with complete whiteouts on the Dachstein Glacier. With 4 tough intensity workouts and plenty of hours put in skiing at 2700m, I am left satisfied with my efforts and enjoying a well earned week of recovery. Here are some pictures from the training camp (Thanks to Eric our photographer extraodinaire).

Andy, Leif and I rollerskiing in Ramsau

Harry, myself and Chris ("The Canadian Train")

Me gliding it out on a typical busy day at the Dachstein

Harry showing the jits how it's done

The NDC Ladies Erin and Andrea


2010/11 NDC Team

Hiking in the Alps

Mountain Goats on the horizon


One of many great dinners at the Winter Garten with our friend and fabulous waitress Romy.

The following article is one I wrote while in Austria for the Lappe Nordic Fall Newsletter. It gives a brief overview of our setup and training in Austria as well as some Fall training advice that I do my best to adhere to.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Lappe Nordic Newsletter Article

While writing this article I am currently in Schladming, Austria with the Thunder Bay National Development Centre for a 3 week training camp. The focus of our camp is skiing on the Dachstein Glacier at 2700m. We are able to live at a lower altitude by staying in Schladming which is a small town in the bottom of a valley below the glacier. By living at a lower altitude we are able to recover faster and still achieve the physiological benefits of training at a high altitude. The other benefit of living at a low altitude is we are better able to do dry-land training including intensity workouts during the afternoons. Ramsau, another small town above the valley Schladming sits in, has some great roads and a twisty rollerski track which provides an excellent location for afternoon rollerski workouts.

Warming up for a rollerski intensity session in Ramsau.

It’s an early morning on ski days, waking up at 6:30am so we can drive 25 minutes up switchbacks to the tram station where we hop on a gondola to take us over the face of the mountain to the main building on top. The early mornings are well worth it though. After the spectacular gondola ride we are greeted by a 7.5km freshly groomed track with views of mountains disappearing into the horizon. Shortly after arriving in Austria the Dachstein Glacier received about a foot of fresh snow. With all the new snow skiing conditions are comparable to mid-winter. On some occasions we have even used hard-wax for classic skiing! Because the Dachstein Glacier is such a great place for skiing during the off-season months it attracts many top European teams including many World Cup athletes. It’s pretty cool to ski alongside the big names in cross-country skiing like Ola Vigen Hattestad and Petra Majdic.

A view of part of the long course on the Dachstein Glacier.

Happy to have skis back on my feet.

Our accommodation in Schladming consists of apartment style buildings in Haus Katarina. During our down time we have a ping-pong table to keep us entertained. Of course, exploring the town is always a good option too with many bakeries and shops worth checking out. We have a half-pension deal with Haus Katarina, meaning we cook our own lunches while breakfast is served buffet style at Haus Katarina and dinners are at a restaurant across the street called the Wintergarten. If you ever get the chance to travel to Austria, one local dessert you have to try is Kaiserschmarren. It tastes similar to Finnish pancakes except it’s thicker and cut into small square pieces served with raisins, icing sugar and a bowl of fruit sauce for your dipping pleasure. Caution, it is generally served in large portions and it is very filling!

Traveling to new places for challenging training camps is a lot of fun, but it can also be a good recipe for sickness and burnout if one is not careful. The fall season combined with school starting up again can have the same effect. To have the best fall training possible and bring you into prime race shape for the winter here are a few tips I do my best to follow:

1. Consistency. It is important to manage your energy so you can complete each training session with good quality. If you are starting to get tired, slow down during your next few zone 1 workouts. Avoid running yourself down too badly as you will run a higher risk of catching a virus.

2. Stay healthy. Viruses are common in the fall months, especially for students spending many hours in classrooms where germs are everywhere. The easiest way to avoid sickness is to sleep lots and wash your hands regularly. When I am training hard I operate well on 9 hours of sleep at night and a 1 hour nap in the afternoon. Vitamins, Cold FX and healthy eating habits will also help. If you feel your throat starting to get a little scratchy, gargle warm salt water to kill the bacteria before it gets any worse.

3. Stay loose and avoid injury. Stretching is the best and easiest way to accomplish this. I like to stretch for half an hour directly before bed while listening to music. If you find stretching just isn’t enough then a visit to a massage therapist might be a good idea.

4. Post training recovery. Your recovery directly following a workout is almost as important as the workout itself. Always have a full change of clothes to avoid getting chilled. It is important to get some protein and carbohydrates in right away. I use the National Ski Team recovery drink mix which can be ordered through CCC. Basically any whey based drink will do the trick. Milk is also a great post workout drink. I prefer chocolate milk personally. Water is only sufficient if you also have some food to go with it.

Good luck with your fall training and I’ll see you on the trails when the snow flies!


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Quebec NST Camp

Harry Seaton and I had the fortune of joining the National Ski Team for an intensity focused training camp in Mount Ste Anne from September 6th – 15th. Our trip did not coincide with blue bird skies and a warm sun, as the predominant forecast was rain, but this didn’t faze Harry and me, we were with the National Team! With roomy accommodations we settled in quickly and dove into some challenging workouts.

The training camp followed a simple schedule with the focal points being intensity workouts every second day. We completed 4 intensity workouts as well as one sprint workout in only 9 days that spanned a variety of activities including skate rollerskiing, bounding, classic rollerskiing, and double poling. It was a great opportunity to compete with and learn from the best in the country. The focus was high and the quality outstanding.

Me bounding up Mount Ste Anne into the clouds.

Harry pushing it, closely followed by Stefan Kuhn and Graeme Killick.

A new experience for me was the cameras following the team around during one of the rainy training days. We did a skate rollerski sprint workout in the morning followed by a strength session in the afternoon. The CBC van set up shop for both workouts despite the morning showers and recorded several sprints, interviews, and other action shots. It was odd having camera crews filming a workout I was participating in. Cross-country skiing doesn’t exactly have a huge media buzz surrounding it in North America.

Making use of one of the National Team's recovery techniques, the NormaTec.

Another highlight from the camp was watching the ProTour road race in Quebec City. I’ve seen much of the Tour de France on TV and followed some other races on the Pro circuit, but to see a Pro race live was a whole different experience. Ryder Hesjedal gave Canadians lots to cheer about by putting on an amazing show with aggressive riding and a 4th place finish. We watched the ProTour race in Montreal on TV two days later, cheering hard for Ryder. He finished 3rd place after an impressive attack and solo ride to victory by Robert Gesink.

The peloton flying through the streets of Quebec City.

Breakaway group including Ryder Hesjedal with 1 lap remaining.

Thomas Voeckler wins!

Podium. From left, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Thomas Voeckler, and Robert Gesink.

Ryder Hesjedal honoured for top Canadian in 4th place.

Now it’s a quick turn-around for Harry and I as we rejoin the Thunder Bay Training Centre and travel overseas for a 3 week training camp in Austria in less than a week.



Thursday, 9 September 2010

Surgery and Back

The 2009/10 ski season held many peaks and valleys for me and the root cause of the majority of the valleys was due to chronic compartment syndrome. Although it did not completely inhibit my racing, it did have several unfavourable affects. For those who don’t know, compartment syndrome refers to the compression of nerves, blood vessels and muscle inside a closed space (compartment ) within the body. This leads to tissue death due to lack of oxygenation as the blood vessels are compressed by the raised pressure within the compartment. In my case, the anterior and lateral compartments in both of my shins were the ones receiving this unpleasant experience during skate skiing races and intensity. I received short term relief from massage, chiropractic, physiotherapy, and acupuncture treatments, but nothing solved the problem. By the end of the winter I had decided if I was to continue with skiing I would have to look into surgery.

In April I began the surgical process. I traveled to Calgary where Dr. Meeuwisse at the Roger Jackson Sport Medicine Clinic performed a pressure test on my shins. The test confirmed my diagnosis for compartment syndrome. In May I traveled back to Calgary, this time for a consultation with Dr. Mohtadi, a very well respected Sports Medicine doctor who would be performing my surgery. My surgery date was set for July 2nd, however before I went under the knife, I traveled to Canmore for my first training camp with the National Ski Team (NST). The NST was doing a 4 week training block known as the “Yo-Yo Camp” because they spend 3 days on the Haig Glacier, followed by 3 days in Canmore then repeat 3 more times. I joined the camp for the 2nd and 3rd cycle. Fortunately for me I didn’t have to go straight from sea level in Thunder Bay to 2600m on the Haig Glacier in two days. The glacier actually had too much snow so we headed to Jasper for 3 days instead.

A snowy Haig glacier with blue skies = one happy Michael

The camp was great. The change in scenery was brilliant; training in Jasper, Canmore and on the Haig Glacier all in 12 days. I pushed myself to keep up with the big boys and managed to do pretty well. It’s a good thing I wasn’t there for the entire 4 cycles though because I was zonked after 2 of them. The training camp capped off a stellar May and June training period for me. Now, I was ready to enter the realm of the hospital.

July 2nd was the big day. I walked through the hospital doors accompanied by my mom, feeling light headed, not so much due to the fact that I would be going under the knife in a few hours, but more because I hadn’t eaten in about 9 hours. I am generally hungry every 2 hours during the day and 99% of the time I wake up hungry in the morning. This morning I didn’t eat my usual hearty breakfast and I was starting to feel it. I had just started a fresh game of Monopoly on my iTouch when the nurse attached my IV. She pushed a button and I suddenly became aware of a strange sensation running through my body. The next thing I recall is opening my eyes to a panicked mom and nurse. I felt cold and wet. I didn’t believe them at first, but apparently I had passed out. After the drama of this event had passed everything went smoothly. I was rolled into the waiting area where I met a nurse from Thunder Bay, small world; then on to a surgery room filled with several people in scrubs. The anesthetic’s doctor put me under and Dr. Mohtadi performed the fasiotomy.

I hung out in Canmore for the following 5 days to give my legs a chance to get over the worst of it. I stayed away from the Percocet I was given and stuck with Tylenol T3s. Along with crutches, they were my friends for a couple days for sure. Jesse, Chris and Amanda stopped by to visit me in my crippled state and provided good company. My sister made the trip to Canmore to join my mom and me for a couple tourist days around Canmore and Banff. We even took to the gondola up Sulphur Mountain and I reminisced about our driving trip out west 10 years ago when my family ascended Sulphur Mountain in the same fashion. I believe that was the first mountain I ever stood atop.

On top of Sulphur Mountain with my mom and sister.

I arrived back in Thunder Bay on July 8th with swollen ankles and tender shins and continued my T.V. obsession while I elevated and iced my legs. It just happened that the Tour de France began on July 3rd this year, enabling me to watch every single stage. I also got hooked on the football World Championships, following the Spanish team to victory. Almost as soon as I returned home, I was leaving again; back to Calgary on the 18th for a check up with Dr. Mohtadi. The dressings were removed and I was pleasantly surprised by how good the incisions looked.

I returned to Thunder Bay, happy to be done with traveling to Calgary and began a slow, steady progression back into training. More often than not my progression felt frustratingly slow. In reality, my recovery was going quite well. I had no issues with my surgery and I experienced slight improvements every few days. However, when you are used to a high level of activity and suddenly drop to none, the novelty of having excessive time to watch movies and read books quickly wears off and the yearn to run and bike and be active grows strong.

My first workout was strength, 10 days post-surgery. I could do upper body weights and some core strength exercises. Soon I was able to spin on a stationary bike. I kept testing my legs on my road bike, but the vibrations and cracks in the road were extremely uncomfortable. 20 days post-surgery I went out for one of my road bike tests. I was beyond excited to discover the cracks and vibrations no longer felt so terrible. I threw on my helmet, jersey and bike shorts, snatched a water bottle and yelled to my mom, “I’m going riding! I have my cell phone if anything goes wrong” and sprinted off on my Giant. With my heart pounding and my legs pumping a sense of freedom enveloped me as the air pushed past my face. That’s the feeling I love. That’s the reason I am a skier. I wasn’t looking at my heart rate or controlling my speed. I was just going. I threw down a few full out sprints, pushed my pace a bit and bonked at 50km. The high was over. I doggedly finished off the final 10km and collapsed on my front lawn, satisfied to have finally got the endorphin rush my body has been craving.

I may have over done it just a little bit. My legs were quite sore the next day. A few days later I was back at it. My training schedule alternated between road rides, gym workouts, kayaking and rest days for the next week. My body began craving more of an endurance challenge so I planned a route I guessed would be somewhere between 120 and 130km with a goal of maintaining a 30km/h average speed. I took off on the morning of July 28th, with a hot sun beating down and a stiff wind blowing through the tree tops. I felt great and my will to conquer the challenge motivated me. As I climbed over mile hill and entered the hilly domain of route 595 my legs felt a tinge heavier. I blasted down the long South Gillies hill in attempt to hit a high speed and was confronted by an unanticipated buffeting head wind. My girlfriend, Britt, called me while I ticked over 110km pedaling down the highway. She offered a ride and I confidently turned it down, determined to complete my route. I turned off the highway onto 130 and again was buffeted by a relentless head wind. As my speedometer ticked over 125km I pulled into a gas station exhausted with no money, food or water and a dead cell phone. In desperation I used the gas station’s phone to reach my mom for a ride and hopped back in the saddle to meet her a few kms down the road. I never saw her. I unzipped my jersey in an attempt to cool off under the heat of the blistering sun and kept on pedaling. Finally I rolled in to Britt’s driveway and plunked down on her steps completely depleted. I had polished off a 146.5km solo ride with an average speed of 30.1km/h. Needless to say, my legs were sore the next day.

Following this big effort I hit a real low. I was slowly increasing my training hours, but I had been doing nearly everything alone while my team mates were off doing a training camp in the States. Now they were leaving for another training camp in Canmore that I had hoped to attend, but had come to the realization that I was just not ready. The thought of being left behind was tough; Canmore was a summer training camp I had done for the past 3 years and really enjoyed. I lost my direction. I didn’t feel like my legs were improving and I was tired of doing nothing. I was sick of my legs swelling up and having to ice them. I did nothing for 4 days.

Finally I pulled myself together, wrote out a training plan for the week and posted it on my desk. I talked to Eric (coach) for suggestions and emailed Adam Kates and Timo Purais for training partners. Adam was able to join me more regularly since the school year for teaching had yet to start and helped give me some motivation to train again along with some useful technique advice. I pumped out a 17 hour week followed by an 18 hour week while my team mates were training hard in Canmore. I added classic rollerskiing to my repertoire of activities followed closely by skate rollerskiing and then running. A month after my first road ride on July 22nd, I had put 872km on my road bike.

Being in Thunder Bay all this time had its advantages as well. My sister and I had recently purchased a ’97 Subaru Impreza and the time at home gave me a chance to learn to drive standard. I was also able to spend a lot of time at my girlfriend’s camp on Lake Superior. Lake Superior was the perfect cure for Thunder Bay’s hot summer days. Britt and I also fit in a weekend trip to Neys Provincial Park where I could lounge on the beach after running and rollerskiing. I went for a day trip to Quetico Provincial Park with my mom and sister. My Dad and I explored a secret lake off Spruce River Road and caught 7 healthy bass and 2 walleye. I was even able to pull out my parent’s old windsurfer and wetsuits from the garage and give it a go on Lake Superior. Although I was definitely pretty bad the first time out, I managed to catch some wind in the sail and am eager to try again.

My Dad's and my haul from a successful day of fishing.

Neys 2010!

Out for a run at Neys.

Riding the wind on Superior.

The team arrived home from Canmore towards the end of August and I was happy to have some more training partners again. After two weeks with the team in Thunder Bay I’m back to where I started this whole journey, at a training camp with the National Team, except this time in Mount St Anne, Quebec. Harry Seaton and I joined them on Monday, September 6th for an intensity focused camp. I am back into full time training and full of drive and enthusiasm.

Thanks for reading!


My attempt at stitching photos together sans a tripod. Not a bad view though!