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.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

NDC Athlete Article

How is your balancing act holding up?

Check out my NDC Athlete Article titled "Balance" by clicking on the link provided. The article talks about balance in one's life and although it is written more specifically for athletes, it can be applied to anyone.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Three Cheers for Sponsors!


BIG shout out to my new silver sponsor, KMH Engineering Inc! You can find out more about the consulting firm via there website by clicking on the link above. A BIG thank you to returning sponsors Neety Panu & Juha Metsaranta, the Lappe Furniture Company, and John W. McDonald Law Office! I couldn't be successful without your support.


Sunday, 16 October 2011

Lappe Nordic Update

Yesterday I went back to my Lappe roots and joined the Lappe racing team for a hard striding interval workout as well as the annual Lappe Nordic open house and ski swap. It's always great being back at Lappe and seeing familiar faces, plus the Finnish pancakes are a delicious post-workout meal. A highlight of my visit to the Lappe trails was checking out the new 500m of trail added to Maaritta's Loop. It's nothing short of awesome! Big ups to Pauli Kaki for his work in creating this new loop. I can't wait to ski it this winter.

For more news about the Lappe Nordic Ski Club you can check out the Fall Newsletter through a link on the Lappe website: www.lappenordic.ca. There's more info. about the new trail included as well as a short article I wrote about being on the National Ski Team.

A view of the revamped Maaritta's Loop.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Hot Pavement

I recently finished an altitude training camp with the National Team in Park City, the land of hot pavement. Let me break it down. Hot: for two weeks we trained in the area and every single day the hot sun made us sweat and smile. Pavement: we did many 4-hour workouts, mostly on rollerskis, without repeating a road once. The one thing the roads did have in common was the direction of travel, up, meaning elevation gain abound. Big thanks to the coaching staff for doing the recon planning and organizing all the logistics for so many different training routes! Every day was fresh and exciting with new vistas to view and new trails to pound.

Aside from training our touches off we found time to play beach volleyball on two occasions and our lack of height was publicized whenever Lenny (6’ 5”?) had an opportunity to spike… good times. I got in the habit of drinking coconut water (it’s so much cheaper in the States!) as an electrolyte replenishment and overall nutritious beverage. I’m not a huge football fan, but I’m fairly up to date now after listening in on a constant barrage of football talk (a bunch of the guys on the team have a couple fantasy league pools going on). Also, if you happen to be in Salt Lake City and are going grocery shopping, keep your eye out for a Whole Foods Market. It’s the best. Reasonable prices, fresh produce and great selection.

A big shout out to our massage therapists (Wolfman and Scott) and physiotherapist (Erin) for keeping our bodies functioning because you know we’re hard on them!

This week I'm hanging out in Canmore attempting to recover quickly before I travel to Whistler on Sunday for a 1 week intensity focused training camp with the National Team. My apologies for the lack of quality pictures, they don’t do the area justice at all, but that’s how it is when you’re training hard.

The gang during a 4 hour session

All smiles in the Wasatch Mountains!

Scenic views

Some of the guys striding up the steepest section of pavement I've ever skied

Friday, 12 August 2011

Summer in Canmore: Episode II

Wow! It has been a long stretch in Canmore this summer. My flight out West on June 28th feels like a century ago. I finally flew home to the hot sun in TBay on August 8th. I’ve done a ton of training and I am looking forward to good times on Lake Superior at my girlfriend’s camp relaxing, kayaking, cliff jumping and attempting some windsurf sessions. I’m also looking forward to saunas, swimming and BBQs at a camp my mom rented on West Loon Lake. These have been my carrots at the end of a 6-week heavy training load that I have worked hard to earn.

The first episode of “Summer in Canmore” left off at the end of the NST training camp so I’ll start there. I spent a few days post-camp hanging out at the Killick household, recovering and doing some “light” training. I put light in quotations because 4 days after the camp I was already doing running intervals with D. Kershaw. I was fortunate to be able to join up with Devon, Ivan, Graeme and Brent for some quality training before the NDC TBay crew came out. A highlight was a long run on the Alpine Circuit Trail around Lake O’hara with Devon. The scenery O’hara offers is simply breathtaking. It’s definitely worth a visit. A big thanks to the Killick family for providing me with a place to stay! Thanks to Phil Wood too for letting me borrow his Specialized Epic so I could rip up the Highline Trail.

My mom came out for a short visit and we moved into a room at the Grande Rockies. We drove into Calgary to hit up the self proclaimed “Greatest Show on Earth”, the Calgary Stampede. It’s pricey but they do have a decent spread of carnival rides and I will say this, the evening show was entertaining. From carts recklessly drifting around a dirt track behind purebred horses in the chuck wagon races to the music, dancing, flames and fireworks of the show, there was a lot going on. Another fun adventure was an afternoon hike up Hai Ling (Chinaman’s) Peak. I can definitely see why the short route with a great view of Canmore and the surrounding area is so popular now.

Some pretty exciting stuff those chuck wagon races.

Lots going on in the evening show!

My mom sitting on the ridge over looking Canmore.

The NDC Thunder Bay crew rolled into town on July 20th eager to begin a new training camp. I definitely was not feeling fresh, but the team’s energy and drive motivated me to push through it and keep working hard. We pounded out a few days of dryland training with one hard intensity and one adventure hike around Mount Yamnuska before heading up to the Haig Glacier on the 25th. Since the weekend we were on the Haig was the August long weekend we were fortunate to have one extra day at the Glacier and didn’t run out until August 2nd.

Hiking ain't no game. Here's Harry scaling the cliffside barehanded on a steel chain.

Okay, that image may have been slightly skewed. But it was a solid 40+ft drop from where we shimmied across the cliffside. Here you can see Jimmy in the centre crossing a narrow section.

Chris planking on the summit of Mount Yamnuska. One minute later lightning struck close by and we were on our hands and knees crawling off the summit. Sketchy...

With 7 full days of training at the Haig Glacier we had plenty of time to put in good quality hours on the skinny skis, compete in many Frisbee golf matches, and of course continue with our nightly dessert competition. No surprise this year, the winning dessert was sugar pie crafted from scratch by Harry and yours truly. Also, a big thanks to Rob Rupf from the Canadian Sports Centre Ontario for joining us on the Haig and providing top notch monitoring!

Putting in some kms on the Haig Glacier (photo credit: Eric Bailey)

Harry slaying some strength on the glacier. This was our ghetto version of a cable machine: rope over the chin-up bar attached to a plastic carton with rocks in it. Solid!

Post-glacier our team had two important intensity workouts to make the most of our increased red blood cells. We all pushed ourselves hard and depleted the energy stores and it felt great to finish that second intensity knowing the hard stuff was done for a little while and it was time to rest and recover. The day before we flew out of Canmore most of the team borrowed or rented mountain bikes and ripped up some serious single-track. Big thanks to our guide for the day, Mallory Deyne. She took us on an awesome route that was full of fun twisty downhill sections, some sweet ladders and a few jumps/drops. She even helped me solve the issue of getting the cleat from my bike shoe out of my pedal when the screws came loose. What a gal!

The sky is blue and it’s time for me to pack up for a weekend on the beach at Neys Provincial Park.

Over and Out

Michael

Friday, 5 August 2011

Summer in Canmore: Episode I

Canada’s World Cup Team united with the Senior Development Team for the first time this season on June 30th. The camp consisted of some long distance training at higher altitude as well as lower altitude intensity sessions and strength workouts. Originally the plan was to ski on the Haig Glacier for two higher altitude stints, however weather (too much SNOW if that makes any sense…) forced us to cancel any glacier plans for the first altitude stint.

So on the 30th we met early in the morning for a long classic rollerski & run up to Sunshine Village. The comment of the day was “Wow this is a big group!” The women’s team was a little short-handed in comparison, as the men’s team of 12 athletes rolled out in the morning. It’s a group filled with talent and I felt privileged to be a part of it.

Canada Day celebrations were limited to BBQs and watching Canmore’s fireworks (very impressive this year!) before crashing in bed. It’s a good thing I slept too because the pace of the next day’s zone 1 skate rollerski around Minewanka and back to Canmore was pretty quick. We covered the same distance as we did the previous day only in 2/3 the time. We were really cruising coming down the bike path to Canmore with coach J. Wads pushing the pace on his first rollerski of the year. Our first distance block finished with a classic/skate rollerski up Highwood Pass. And just because summiting the pass once seemed easy, we bombed down the other side of the pass and then summited it again.

After a lighter training day we mixed it up with some classic rollerskiing intervals and hit the gym in the afternoon. Time to rest and recover right? Well…for one day, then on to the second half. Fortunately we were able to go up to the Haig Glacier for the second altitude stint.

In the Heli on the way up

Flying onto the glacier in a helicopter was a highlight of the camp. In five minutes I went from standing in Ranger Creek to crust skiing on the Haig. Not a bad turn around time! The weather was sunny and HOT (heat wave?) so it wasn’t long before the crust softened and we were stuck on the groomed trail. I’m not complaining though, being on skis was great! On our 3rd day up at the glacier the hot sun was hidden behind grey clouds… stormy conditions meant no helicopter was coming to pick us up. Bummer. Running out was plan B. The good news? There wasn’t too much post-holing through deep snow; the previous couple day’s high temps must have melted a significant amount of snow on the trail.

The NST guys crust skiing on a sunny day

What would the Haig Glacier be without Peelix?

Another light training day, a rollerski intensity session up Silver Tip in the AM and a strength workout in the PM on July 10th and the camp had come to an end. Having the whole National Team together to do some good quality training was really positive and I’m looking forward to doing it again in Whistler later this year. For now, I’m chilling out in Canmore and resting up in anticipation of my next training camp with the Thunder Bay crew beginning July 21st.

Till next time,

Michael

Saturday, 4 June 2011

June Classic

Against my better judgement I raced the June Classic 10km road running race today. The first km was good and then my fatigue caught up with me and I felt like I was running backwards for the rest of the race. 3 days between the end of Boot Camp and this race was evidently not enough time for my body to recover properly. I finished in a time of approximately 35:15. Ugh that's rough. I'm glad the suffering is over now.

In other news, the weather is super nice in TBay today with a high of 24C and sunny blue skies.
I'm pumped to watch a big weekend in professional sports:
  • Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight (GO CANUCKS!)
  • Game 3 of the NBA Playoffs tomorrow night (Miami is going to bring the HEAT against the Mavs)
  • The big face off in the French Open tomorrow morning. Like old times Feds and Rafa will duke it out in the final. Will Feds be able to take down Rafa on the clay courts or will Rafa be king of the French Open for a record-tying 6th time? After Feds ended Djokovic's 43-match winning streak in dramatic fashion in the semis you've got to wonder whether he will be able to pull off a similar winning performance against Rafa.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Boot Camp 2011

The Thunder Bay team kicked off the 2011/12 season with its annual Boot Camp this past week. Our team of 12 athletes led by 3 staff members participated in the 8 day camp filled with dryland training, physical testing, meetings, two great BBQs, and of course a sauna and chilly swim at the home of Reijo & Tuija Puiras. Thanks to our NDC staff (head coach - Eric Bailey, assistant coach - Timo Puiras, and team manager - Amanda Holdsworth) Boot Camp was well organized and ran smoothly. Also, a big thank you to the Reijo & Tuija Puiras and Nancy & Frank Luckai for hosting the BBQs.

The team (minus 3) looking "badass" against a graffitied wall in TBay .

(Photo Credit: John Sims)

For new athletes to the team, Boot Camp is an introduction to how the team functions, what resources are available for the athletes, and meeting those involved in our team. For returning athletes such as myself, the focus is more on the physical testing. During the 8-day camp there were three main tests: critical speed, strength, and classic rollerskiing. The critical speed test involves two running time trials where protocol requires you to run a 4000m time trial followed by a 1000m time trial 2 hours later. We perform the test on the 200m track inside the Lakehead University hangar. At the end of May I don’t expect too much from myself since April is a rest month and it’s only the beginning of a new season, but this year I surprised myself, setting a new PB in the 4000m by a few tenths of a second with a time of 12:57.3. I also ran my fastest early season 1000m ever, finishing less than 2 seconds off my PB with a time of 2:47.4. Awesome start to the season!

The strength test went well too, as I set a new PB in both the first and second set by a few points. Our strength test involves performing as many repetitions of an exercise as possible in one minute, then taking a minute rest and moving on to the next exercise. The exercises included are: pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups, box jumps and dips. There is no extra rest between the first and second set. The trend continued in the classic rollerskiing time trials. At Ouimet Canyon we do a 2.1km uphill rollerski time trial followed directly by a 1.2km uphill double pole rollerski time trial. I managed to tie my PB in the 2.1km TT and set a new PB by a few seconds in the 1.2km DP TT. What a great week of performances! And it wasn’t just me who was setting new PBs and performing well. Many returning athletes were either very close to their PBs or setting new benchmarks throughout the week. It was great to see!

Overall, Boot Camp was a success and the NDC – Thunder Bay team is poised for another stellar season.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

NATIONAL SKI TEAM!

It’s May 14th and a new season is upon us! I had a great spring with a highlight vacation to Peru with my girlfriend. We traveled around Southern Peru mostly by bus and explored the capital city Lima, Cusco, Puno and Arequipa. We spent 5 days on an amazing trek with Sun Gate Tours starting near Mollepata and finishing at Machu Picchu. Our trek began in the mountains, passing by Salcantay Mountain (6240m) while hiking over a high pass of 4600m, before dropping down into the edge of the amazon in the town Santa Teresa and finishing in Aguas Calientes (the hub for visiting Machu Picchu). We also spent 2 days on a tour of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest commercially navigable lake sitting at 3811m. The tour included a night’s stay with a local family on Amantani Island.

While I was in Lima I received an email from my coach, Eric Bailey, telling me to phone him. So later in the evening I phoned from a pay phone outside a grocery store and received some very exciting news; I have been nominated to the National Ski Team! After the call I was walking around that grocery store with the biggest grin plastered on my face. I am proud and honored to be a part of the National Team. Not only am I on the NST but I’m also still a member of the National Development Centre in Thunder Bay. It’s great to have the opportunity to spend another season with the Thunder Bay crew and I’m really looking forward to training with both teams.

One of the wonders of the world, Machu Picchu.

My first training camp will be with NDC-TBay as we kick off the season with our annual Boot Camp May 24th-31st. I’ll be joining up with the NST towards the end of June for a Haig Glacier Yo-Yo Camp and then rejoining the TBay crew for another Haig Glacier Camp when they arrive in Canmore in the middle of July.

That’s it for now. Stay classy… Canada.

Myself and Britt standing at the top of Machu Picchu Mountain.

Sitting on Taquile Island with Amantani Island in the background.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

February to March to April

The season is over, and wow did it feel like a long one. There was so much travel packed in there! Following my European racing adventure there was no time to rest. The weekend after arriving home I was already racing again at the Eastern Canadian Championships. This weekend went very well for me with 3 strong back to back races I finished the mini-Tour event in 3rd place overall. I was pumped to make my first ever Senior Men’s sprint A final and ski a great 30km classic race.

On the podium at Eastern Champs.

After a short week of rest and training, I traveled with some teammates to Halifax for the Canada Winter Games. The Games were exciting and BIG; lots of competitors in different sports and volunteers working hard to make sure the event was a success. The long bus ride (1+ hours one way) to and from the race site was exhausting and made for some early mornings, but the race trails were a lot of fun with plenty of twists and fast rolling terrain. I had a great first race, the 10km Skate, and won a silver medal. I had hoped to win some more medals however exhaustion from all the travel and racing started to hit me and the next two individual races didn’t go so well. The provincial relay race was a bit of a let down as well after our team got off to a rough start. I skied a strong anchor leg with the fastest skate time of the day, but it wasn’t enough to put us into the medal hunt. Despite some not so hot performances, the Games were a great experience and I’m happy I came away with a medal.

A Silver Medal Performance at CWG.

Hanging out with Theodore the Tugboat in Halifax!

I did my best to balance training and recovery in the two weeks before the National Championships in Canmore, AB. With some lagging fatigue I decided to not race the team sprint. It was a tough decision as I love representing Lappe every year, however I had never raced and traveled so much before and my body was just not recovering from hard efforts as fast anymore.

My first race at the Championships was the 10km Skate Individual Start. I had thoughts of a medal in my head as I raced out of the stadium, then upon hitting the very first climb I experienced an odd sensation in my glutes. It was something of a tingling variety with a douse of pain. I finished the race, but it wasn’t pretty. The feeling in my glutes only escalated until I could barely step forward on the climbs during the final lap. I finished a very disappointing 13th place. The 15km classic was only slightly better, finishing 10th. I gave it my all and battled hard, unfortunately I couldn’t avoid fading on my last lap.

Working hard in the 15km Classic.

Things started turn around for me on the Classic Sprint day. My qualifier was nothing special, after having difficulty with skis prior to the start and using a pair glide waxed with Rex Blue. The weather was a real challenge with some skiers on hard wax, some using zeros, and our team, using klister. I had awesome grip and not so hot glide in my quarter-final heat and was sitting comfortably in 3rd directly behind 1st and 2nd at the top of the course. Then we started descending and I realized it would be a battle to maintain my position to the line. Battling draggy skis through the finish stretch I finished 4th. A good effort, but my day was done. To my surprise it wasn’t over yet! A skier in my quarter was disqualified; I moved into 3rd place and advanced with a lucky loser spot. On to the semi-finals! I repeated the same scenario in both the semis and the B-final. Skiing amongst the pack to the top of the climbing section then getting dropped on the downhills and flats. I finished 11th on the day. The good news was I did not slow down from the quarter to the B-final. My body was responding well just in time for the final race, the 50km.

50km races seem to be my discipline. I settled into the pack and conserved energy well throughout the race. I was nervous about being at the front after such a difficult week of racing however I shouldn’t have worried. When the time came to dig deep on the final lap I still had enough energy to ski well and push to the finish. Though I didn’t medal this year, I am content with a 4th place finish. Despite some inconsistent racing at the National Championships I finished 3rd place in the U23 Men’s aggregate and tied for 7th place in the Senior Men’s aggregate. Decent.

Earlier in the season I had decided to race in Sun Valley, Idaho following Nationals. I did not anticipate being so tired going into Super Tour Finals. Though I still wanted to race, I was nervous how my body would recover following 4 hard races in Canmore.

Arriving in Sun Valley I was immediately struck by the landscape and altitude. Breathing was a difficult during my first ski, despite having been in Canmore for two weeks beforehand. My breathing was on the back of my mind though as the snow covered and nearly treeless landscape caught my attention. A warm sun reflected off the white rolling mountains and I was reminded of skiing on glaciers in the summer.

On March 29th we kicked off Super Tour Finals with a Skate Prologue. Man these prologues are hard! I can’t seem to get the pace right. I started very conservative which was good then I got excited on the first climb and used up too much energy. By the middle of the second long climb my legs were burning and I was gasping for oxygen. The final climb and 500m of the race it took everything I had to keep moving forward. My result, 18th. Not terrible, but not amazing either.

My focus of the series was the next race, the 15km Classic Mass Start. My skis were perfect today, maybe a little draggy outside of the tracks, but the grip was awesome. I got off to a really good start and went from 18th in the grid to 3rd place in the first few hundred metres. For the first 2km of the race I was right up at the front of the pack, skiing comfortably. The pace picked up at 5km and I knew I would blow up if I tried to go with the leaders so I settled into my own pace and skied to a 15th place finish.

The lead pack early on in the 15km. I'm on the far left. (Photo cred. to Fasterskier.com)

All in a days work for our CCC trip wax techs.

I was not able to recover from the 15km for the following two races despite having a rest day following the race. Simply put, the classic sprint and skate hill climb were tough sluggin’. Still, reaching the peak of Dollar Mountain was a fitting way to end a great season of racing. I crossed the line in 20th place for the Tour and sipped on a beer while watching the ladies transform from small dots to full figures as they raced up to the top.

Thanks to all my supporters for all your help this year. From sponsors, coaches, and wax technicians to NDC board members and IST members to family and friends, you know who you are, THANK YOU! Let’s do it again next season!

Michael

Monday, 7 February 2011

My First Taste of International Racing

Sure I’ve raced in the States and I did race the classic sprint at last year’s Canmore World Cup, but Estonia was my first real taste of international racing. It marked my first trip overseas for racing and I’m thrilled to report it was everything I dreamed it to be.

Only three days after arriving in Vierumaki, Finland it was on to Otepaa, Estonia. Two days skiing on the race courses and on my sixth day in Europe I was racing a Classic 15km Individual Start World Cup on what is touted as one of, if not the, hardest race courses on the World Cup circuit. That distance course was the hardest race course I have ever done. The majority of the course was very flowing, with challenging climbs but nothing ridiculous aside from one monstrous climb. This particular climb started at the base of the Otepaa ski jump hill and ended right at the top. It was so steep even the best World Cup athletes were forced to step out of the track and herringbone. The boisterous crowd and TV cameras lining the side of the entire climb were intimidating and acted as motivators to get up that mountain of a climb as fast as possible. With 3 laps of the 5km course my lower back was left aching for 6 days afterwards. Even that didn’t stop me from smiling once I cross the finish line. In my mind, I just conquered the hardest World Cup course; what else do I have to be afraid of now? I finished 62nd out of 75 competitors. Not exactly a note worthy result, but hey, I’ve got to start somewhere right?

World Cup 15km Classic. The fans were loud and the course was intimidatingly hard. Guess who the German is behind me? That's right, Axel Teichmann!

The next day I managed to climb out of bed and race the Classic Sprint World Cup. The race course was much tamer and had some cool elements with bridges and laps through the stadium (which by the way is massive). My race again was nothing spectacular, finishing 66th out of 77 competitors. At least I wasn’t last! It was impressive watching Daria Gaiazova race to a personal best 8th place, huge props to her for an awesome race.

Daria on the big screen duking it out in her semi-final.

That is one cool bus. I've heard the stories but seeing it in person was something else.

With only 4 days until my next race and the major focus of my trip, the World U23 Championships 15km Skate Individual Start, it was time to utilize all the recovery techniques available to me, the cold tub, sauna, stretching, foam roller, and Normatech and rest up.

Thursday was the big day, the Skate 15km. My lower back was still aching however I did my best to forget about it and focus on racing. Thankfully the race organizers did not include the monstrous ski jump climb in the Junior/U23 race courses so the 3.75km race course for Thursday was much more manageable. I started strong up the first climb out of the stadium then settled into my race pace. The individual start format made it easier for me to dissociate from where and who I was racing and focus on myself. By the 3rd lap I was struggling to maintain a high pace. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Kevin Sandau blew by me at the start of the final 3.75km lap. I knew this was a decisive moment in my race and my competitive instincts kicked in, go with Kevin. It was exciting skiing behind Kevin who was getting splits that he was challenging for a medal. I was careful not to step on his skis or poles because every second counted for him. We came into the finish with the cameras trained in on us. I crossed the line and was surprised to see 7th place beside my name. I knew 15 fast guys were still coming behind me… how many would beat my time?

When all was said and done, I finished 14th place! Big props to Kevin for a very impressive performance finishing 5th. It was a bittersweet result for me as the Cross-Country Canada selection criteria states you need to place top twelve to qualify for the National Team and I was only 10 seconds from 12th. Initially I was somewhat disappointed. Afterwards I took as step back and I realized I have to be satisfied with all I have accomplished this season. 14th in the world isn’t too shabby. I mean I was super pumped just to qualify to race here. I had never really given much thought to what my goals would be if I happened to actually make Canada’s U23 Team.

Awards ceremony in the stadium for Wednesday and Thursday's skate races.

I was exhausted after the race. Completely wiped. Though I desperately wanted to race the classic sprints, I knew one day off wouldn’t be enough to recover and race fast again. So I made the decision to skip the classic sprint and focus on the 30km Pursuit. It was exciting watching the U23 guys and gals duke it out in the sprints. Congrats to Jess, Lenny and Allyson on their awesome races, finishing 6th, 7th, and 12th respectively.

After 3 training days I was feeling very good again and ready to race fast Monday. I hopped on my warm-up skis and headed out on the Tartu Loppet trails to start warming up. The tracks were rock hard. The day before the classic tracks were soft and dry with no moisture. How did they firm up so much in one night? Surely I thought with how little moisture was in the snow on Sunday the track would still break down on race day. I was wrong. I had picked the wrong skis. I should have picked a soft, easy kicking ski to race on, not a stiffer, soft track ski. After testing my race skis and confirming I had no grip, my next plan was to load up on grip wax. Surely with enough grip wax I would still be able to kick them and at least get by in the classic portion of the pursuit. Nope. After plenty of layers of kick wax my grip was only slightly improved and to make matters worse the sun came out and the classic tracks started to marginally glaze over.

A race that didn't go my way. The 30km Pursuit.

I’m not going to go into detail about the race. Let’s just say it was a long day and I would rather remember my 14th place result in the skate than my 40th place in the pursuit. I crossed the finish line pale white and feeling sick with disappointment. It seems for every high moment in racing a low moment emerges to bring you back to reality.

Besides the pursuit race my European racing experience was phenomenal. The team was great and the coaches were very helpful. My first taste of international racing was a delicious one and I’m craving more.

After a brief training period here in Thunder Bay I’m off to race the Eastern Canadian Championships on Feb. 11th – 13th.

Until next time,

Michael

Race photos courtesy of fasterskier.com

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Racing My Way to Europe

What a season so far. It’s been everything I could have dreamed of. From Silver Star, BC to Rossland, BC to Thunder Bay, ON racing has gone as well as I could have wished for. I started out with two solid performances in Silver Star against the majority of North America’s with a 10th place in the classic sprint and 15th place in the 15km skate. Rossland was the much anticipated mini-Tour format. With the same competition from Silver Star plus a few more Canadian National Team members I skied to a solid 17th placing in the skate sprint, a great 12th place in the 10km skate, and a not-so-hot 20th place in the 15km classic. Overall my pre-Christmas results were the best I have ever had.

Over the Christmas holidays I kept the focus on my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Under-23 World Championships. The good start to my season fueled my drive to succeed and I put in some good training hours in preparation to peak for the trial races in Thunder Bay. It was difficult to believe I would come around when I felt so tired only a week before the races. I trusted my coaches and guess what, it worked. I peaked perfectly for the Thunder Bay Trials races.

In the 30km pursuit race I skied with the lead pack for 28 tough kilometers. It wasn’t until someone attacked on one of the final climbs when my lactated legs said enough and wouldn’t let me follow. I finished 7th place and 3rd U-23; a good result that put me in contention for a spot on the team. The classic sprint was another exciting day for me. I skied what was probably my best qualifier ever, finishing 9th and 4th U-23. I didn’t ski all the heats perfectly, but I did manage to make the B-final count and finished the day in 9th and 5th U-23. I was in the running and I knew I had to have a good day in the final race; the pressure was on.

Start of 30km Pursuit. I'm at the front on the left.

The final race, the 15km skate individual start has in the past been a strong race discipline for me. Last year I struggled with it due to my shin injury, but this year after having surgery to cure the injury I felt back to my normal self. I started the race with one goal in mind; ski as fast as I possibly can. I knew it would hurt however I had the motivation to push through it. All the home crowd cheering helped spur me on and I crossed the finish line completely spent. My result: 3rd place and 1st U-23! After 4 previous years of trying I finally accomplished my goal. I qualified for the Canadian World Junior/U-23 Championship Team! I didn’t stop shaking until well over 2 hours after finishing the race.

The Sunday NDC Thunder Bay Medallists: Andy, myself and Jimmy

And now here I am, in Vierumaki, Finland. I arrived with the team on Monday and trained here yesterday and today. Tomorrow I will be traveling along with a few other U-23 skiers to Otepaa, Estonia to race the World Cup before the World U-23 Championships. It will be a great experience to race a European World Cup and to test out the courses before the U-23 Champs. Not going to lie, I’m a little nervous, haha. No big deal, taking on the big names in cross-country skiing.

Above: Some of the team eating lunch at the Scandic Hotel buffet.

Below: Skiing on the Vierumaki Trails in Finland. A little sketched out by the trails under the culvert. Let's just say I had a bad past experience involving some ski wreckage.

Another bonus of coming to Finland for me was I had the chance to visit the Peltonen ski factory, a 40 minute drive from Vierumaki in the small town Hartola. They are my biggest sponsor, providing me with all the skis I could want for racing. It was an amazing opportunity to meet general manager, Juhani, tour the factory and pick up some new skis. I am so grateful for the support Peltonen has provided me with.

Inside the Peltonen Factory! Eric checking out ski cambers with the high tech Swedish ski testing machine.

On that note I would like to thank all my personal sponsors for helping me realize one of my biggest dreams, racing in Europe: John McDonald Law Office, Lappe Furniture Co., Neety Panu & Juha Metsaranta, Dr. Reijo Peltoniemi, Harbourview Optometry, Lappe Nordic Ski Club, Peltonen, Alpina Sports, and Swix. Thank you to all of NDC Thunder Bay’s sponsors as well!

Next up, Estonia World Cup! Game on.

Michael