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.

Friday, 23 November 2012

White Stuff

I like me some white fluffy snowflakes, mostly because they're great for gliding on top of.  One of the considerations I had before moving to Canmore this year was the fact that winter generally comes earlier in Canmore, even if it's mostly man-made white stuff.  This year I was the third person to ski on Frozen Thunder when it opened October 13th.  For those that don't know, Frozen Thunder is a short loop (~1.7km) made from man-made snow stored over the summer months under sawdust.  It may get a  little old after doing laps upon laps, but I'll take the real thing over the skis with wheels any day.

The next skiing development was Lake Louise.  All natural snow.  10km one way.  One of the days I skied there it was absolutely perfect classic mid-winter conditions.  Medium packed track, blue skies, easy kick with colder temps, yet not so cold you were freezing.

With some wintery temperatures recently, the snow guns have been blasting at the Canmore Nordic Centre and now part of the World Cup course is open.  I suspect the entire course may be open by this weekend.

It's hard to believe I have been skiing for over a month already!  Last year I didn't get on the skinny boards and white stuff until December!


Skiing with my room-mate Chris
My other room-mate, Russell



Monday, 10 September 2012

The Summer of 2012

It’s been a busy summer hence the lack of updates.  With so much to talk about I’m going to do my best to paraphrase my recap and stick to the highlights.  First off, if you don’t know by now I’m part of a new team this season, the Alberta World Cup Academy (AWCA) based out of Canmore, AB.  Yep, that means not only a new team, but a new town in the west too.  One thing is constant from last year, I am still a member of the National Senior Development Team (2nd year now).  The season begins May 1st so I’m going to start off my recap thereabouts.

Bend, Oregon
After dragging the body out of lazy April and back to an athlete’s reality with a few runs, bikes and visits to the gym, I flew to Calgary to meet up with the AWCA team before driving to Bend, Oregon for some early season skiing.  I have never skied in May before and to be honest I wasn’t sure I was ready to strap the boards back on so soon.  The sight of snow changed that quickly.  A mix of warm spring skiing and fresh snow, mid-winter conditions were well received by us athletes during our stay in Bend.  Aside from skiing some highlights from the trip include an incredible run in Smith Rock State Park and a team baseball game that managed to draw a few spectators.

Smith Rock State Park (I didn't have my camera with me so I had to steal these photos off the internet.  We started our run along the river below the cliffs, not too shabby!)  Below is a picture of the rock formation "Monkey Face".  When we ran by below it there were people slack lining from the cliff across the void to the mouth.  Craziness!

Jess excited about the fresh white stuff at Mt Bachleor
Skiing in May!
Thunder Bay, ON
Home again home again.  After an epic amount of travel (13.5 hour drive from Bend to Canmore followed by flying out of Calgary to TBay) I made it home to pack up my life, play a few rounds of golf and visit friends and family.  The day came, June 6th, when I planned to start the drive west in my new Matrix*…surprise surprise, I wasn’t done packing.  Those who know me well probably would have foreseen this.  On June 7th, out I stepped into a foggy warm morning.  With the matrix loaded down, Britt and I hit the TransCanada to start our Canmore bound road trip.  It was a long drive.  The gale force winds and driving rain through the prairies were not of assistance.  Eventually, we rolled into (cue the harmonious soundtrack) the town of Canmore.

*Exerpt [I bought a used Toyota Matrix in Ottawa this spring – first vehicle with my name on the ownership!]
The Matrix riding low
Canmore, Alberta
My new home.  I’m living downtown with roommates/teammates Russell and Chris.   We have a small fenced in backyard backing onto a shallow river with a dirt trail along its bank.  Our place is one of the Mountainview Estates townhouses located across the street from Safeway, perfect for hungry athletes.  We even have a single car garage to store our hoards of outdoor gear.  All in all, it’s a great setup for us.   A few trips to Ikea in Calgary and the local thrift store and the place was more or less furnished.

Nelson, BC
Not long after settling into Canmore life I was on the road with AWCA for a training camp in Nelson.  This small BC town impressed me with a great main street strip, scenic views of Kootenay Lake and a good Mexican restaurant to top it off.  We only stayed a few days, however we did complete two epic workouts.  The first was a striding workout up a mountain involving 2 long zone 3 efforts with some short hard efforts inbetween.  Try as we might the mountain conquered, we never reached the end of the trail or any sort of summit.  The next day I celebrated my 24th birthday with the longest road ride of my life.  I completed the Silver Triangle, a 216km loop including two mountain passes, in 6 hours and 40 minutes with an average speed of 32.32km/h.  When I rolled into the parking lot at our motel one of my teammates joked, “Somppi you’re looking rough” and indeed I was.  Completely spent, covered in sweat, grease, spilled coke and sticky power gel I smiled.  A birthday I will remember for the rest of my life.

Heart of the Summer
I spent all of July training hard in Canmore.  We did two stints up on the Haig Glacier to put in some high altitude volume on-snow training.  The first trip up with the National Ski Team was something of a rock star style camp if that’s possible in cross-country skiing.  We took a chopper up to the glacier, as opposed to the normal 2+hour run in, and crust skied under blue skies and a bright sun.  The perfect weather held out for the entire 3 days and we finished the camp being photographed by journalists before boarding the chopper and flying out.  It felt too good to be real.

Beauty days up at the Haig Glacier with our friendly mountain goat
The Canadian Men's National Ski Team (I'm on the far right)
I must have pinched myself too hard because the next trip up was a reality check.  Day one we hiked in during the afternoon, the groomer broke down in the evening.  Day two we skied on partially groomed tracks, it was ok.  Day three we skied on ungroomed tracks in sluggish conditions.  With no possibility of the groomer being repaired, we ran out a day early.  We finished up the big training block with a mini-Tour style testing weekend before taking a week off from the daily schedule.  Cresting the top of Spray Lakes road in the 7.5km uphill running race felt like a real achievement and was a great way to cap off the training period.

Golden, BC
The highlight of my rest week was a weekend getaway to Golden, BC.  On our way to Golden, Britt and I did a day hike around Lake O’hara, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  In the amphitheater there’s a 360 degree mountainside view…I’m not going to attempt to describe it and pictures don’t do it justice, but trust me, it’s good.  The only downer was I stared at the cakes in the store before starting the hike and when we arrived back at the store they were all gone…bummer.  Anyway, on to Golden we went.  If you end up in Golden sometime I recommend the milkshakes and salmon at Apostoles Greek Restaurant.  I had them, they were delicious.

Britt running the Alpine Circuit above Lake O'hara
The next day I did a 3 hour mountain bike ride on the Moonraker trails and down the CBT Line to town.  The best parts: a fast windy descent on the “Moonraker” and stumbling onto the Canyon Creek trail to stop short of a gigantic canyon.  The bad parts: getting lost twice, once attempting and failing to find an alternate route back from the Canyon Creek trail involving less climbing and once taking a wrong turn off the CBT Line to end up at the river bank in the wrong spot, again involving more climbing to get back on track.  After a much needed lunch from Overweighty Foods, Britt and I drove up to Cedar Lake to check out the rumored rope swing.  I had watched some YouTube footage of the swing in action and decided I had to go off this thing, however seeing it in person was a little more daunting than in the video.  Britt and I were contemplating which knot to hold on to when some presumably local dudes showed up and gave us the inside scoop.  After watching a few of them go flying off the swing unharmed I climbed up the steep hillside, up onto the platform and gave it a go.  I let go of the rope and felt myself climbing higher into the air still.  My jaw was wide open as I seemed to hang in mid air for a moment before plummeting to the lake’s surface and promptly smacking my jaw shut from the impact.  Aside from the initial scare that I had chipped my tooth, it was awesome! I did one more adrenaline pumping swing before calling it a day.

Whitefish, Montana
The AWCA descended on Whitefish in August in search of a new training oasis and I would say it was an indisputable success.  The average day involved morning and afternoon training, each time jumping into Whitefish Lake afterwards to cool off from the 30 degree sunny weather.  The paved climb up Big Mountain provided an awesome spot for rollerski interval sessions.  Training highlights include a rollerski up the breathtaking Road to the Sun followed by a mountain trail run down from Logan Pass (a continental divide) and a 10km road running race where PBs were had all around.  Highlights from life outside training?  Renting a kick ass boat and doing some wake surfing/wake boarding while pumping beats, the Piggyback BBQ’s amazing smoked ribs, Loula’s famous huckleberry pie, and the local ice cream shop where a split single scoop (actually 2+ scoops of ice cream) in a fresh waffle cone cost $3.50.  Of course there were some serious games of Catan to be had as well.

Trail run with the AWCA boys with the "Road to the Sun" below us.


A view of Whitefish Lake from the balcony of our accommodation
Thunder Bay, ON
To cap off the summer I took a trip home to visit friends and family while doing a few regular TBay summer activities.  I spent some time on Lake Superior at Britt’s camp – lots of saunas, swimming, bridge jumps and tennis, went fishing with my Pops, utilizing his refined setup (check out the picture below), fit in a round of golf with good friends at FWCC, caught up with old friends (shout out to the Five Mile boys!) and took a walk around the newly constructed Marina.  It was great to fit in an interval session at Ouimet Canyon with the TBay centre crew too!
My Dad and I caught our limit of walleye in 1.5hours at an undisclosed location near TBay
Down at the Marina in front of TBay's Sleeping Giant 
Now it’s on to Autumn with the last hoorahs of summer waning.  The NFL season is upon us and my fantasy football team is gearing up for domination.  With the ski season approaching it’s time to double down the focus and get ready for an exciting year of ski racing!

If you managed to make it this far, thanks for reading!

Michael

Robbie Weldon Wins GOLD!

Congratulations to Lappe Nordic skier Robbie Weldon for her inspiring performance at the London 2012 Paralympic Games!  Robbie won the gold medal along with guide Lyne Bessette in the Women's Individual B Road Race.  Read more...

Robbie on the left with guide Lyne Bessette

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

National Champs and it's a wrap.

There seemed to be a lot of build up leading into the National Championships this year. With no major domestic racing in over a month I had plenty of time to first recover and then complete a heavy training block before tapering for the Championships. Upon arriving in Quebec City, it looked and felt like winter, with high snow banks and below zero temperatures. Unfortunately that didn’t last long as the sun shone through and daily highs of +15C became the norm.

The first race on the schedule was the team sprint. I had a blast racing with friend and wax tech, Timo Puiras. We didn’t let the sloppy conditions ruin our day and skied a strong semi-final to squeak into the Final as lucky losers. I was feeling pretty rusty racing today, but Timo was on fire! Together we represented Lappe Nordic Ski Club well with an 8th place finish in the Final, beating our Thunder Bay rivals, the Big Thunder team of Chris and Dudley, in the process. Sorry boys, better luck next year.

The team sprint turned out to be exactly what I needed to get the body ready to race hard again. In Monday’s classic 10km I rocketed out of the start gate and didn’t let up. Everything came together for me. I picked a stiff ski that I knew would glide well, plus our team nailed the wax, so they were ripping fast. Being a short distance race I figured if I skied with good technique and had good energy I wouldn’t have difficulty kicking the skis. I executed my plan perfectly and finished the day on the podium in 3rd place! It was my best classic ski performance of the season and one of the best of my life. Honestly I was shocked I had made the podium in this race. All the hard work I’ve put into my classic technique paid off today. I finally felt smooth on my skis and was initiating my kick earlier in my stride.

Above: Striding it out in Monday's classic 10km (photo credit James Cunningham)

Below: On the podium! (Left to right: Erik Carleton, Ivan Babikov, me!)

Tuesday is when the weather really started to get absurd. The younger categories raced in the morning, leaving the Open categories to deal with the +20 degree afternoon heat. The race trails were a deep slush fest and to say the conditions were slow would be an understatement. I was tired from yesterday’s effort and my body did not respond well at all to the hot sun. I paced my first lap of the 15km skate somewhat conservatively and had difficulty getting my head into the race. I crashed around the 3.5km mark when my ski got caught in the deep slush and if it weren’t for a helpful official I would have skied straight into the finish stretch instead of the lap lane. On my 2nd time around I snapped out of my stupor and caught a ride with Thomsen D’hont who was starting his first lap. At some point the heat really started to affect me, but there was nothing I could do to prevent from overheating. The third lap was tough. I pushed through it and crossed the finish line with mixed feelings. I finished 9th place and after cooling my body’s temperature down I realized I had a solid performance. The competition was simply harder today with World Cup stars Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey and Len Valjas returning from World Cup Finals to race Nationals along with several strong French, Norwegian, and U.S. skiers in attendance.

A hot day for ski racing (photos courtesy of Bernard Pigeon)

Thursday is when the strength of the field at this year’s National Champs really hit home. I was ranked 24th going into the skate sprint event. My biggest goal for the sprint was to ski a strong qualifier and I did just that, finishing 16th place. Unfortunately I didn’t have the same energy for my quarterfinal heat and was unable to advance past the quarterfinals, finishing the day in 21st place.

Saturday was the big day: the 50km classic event and my final race of the season. It was nothing short of an epic battle for me. Once again my skis and my body were feeling great. I skied around the middle of the lead pack for the first 10km. While leaving the stadium to head out for the third lap I found myself stuck skiing outside of the tracks. Rather than standing up to wait for an opening I did a few hard double poles and stepped into the lead. That’s right, the lead. This definitely was not part of my race plan, but by skiing at the front I was able to avoid the yo-yo affect in the back and set my own pace. Surprisingly no one went by me and I ended up leading the entire 5km lap. A little voice in my head told me I shouldn’t be leading when guys like Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey and Ivan Babikov are in the pack following me, but at the same time it felt pretty cool to be at the front.

That's me, bib 11, leading the pack. Directly behind me: Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey. To my right: Ivan Babikov. (Photos courtesy of Bernard Pigeon)

As we came through the stadium again Ivan took control and the pace crept up until I realized this was a decisive move. I knew it was now or never and I went for it. The lead pack split quickly and I was dangling several meters off the back. It took me the entire 5km loop to regain contact with the back of the lead pack. As we entered the stadium to complete 20km I thought, “Ok, this is it. I made the break. The pace is going to slow down now and I’m good”. I thought wrong. As soon as we hit the first climb out of the stadium I was struggling to hang on again and on the next big herringbone climb I could no longer do it. My legs were filling with lactate and I was close to bonking only 21km into the race. Game over.

I let up and caught my breath while assessing my current situation. I have 29km to go, I’m tired and there is no one in sight ahead of me or behind me. I did all I could do. I kept the pace up as high as I could without blowing up with the hope that the lead pack would slow down significantly and I would be able to catch back up. For the next 19km I skied alone. Every time I lapped through the stadium I would see the pack that dropped me a little further ahead and the pack behind me a little closer. At 38km I took a glance over my shoulder and was startled to see a National team suit a little ways behind me. On second glance I realized it was Jesse Cockney and thankfully he was alone. I had worried the pack behind me would swallow me up and spit me out so I had done my best to keep a steady pace hoping someone would splinter the pack in an effort to bridge the gap to me.

At 40km Jesse caught me and he didn’t wait around for me. I think he had planned on rolling straight by me, but I had saved some energy for the final 10km and was able to follow him closely. He was skiing a strong race and all I could do at that point was follow. Together we pulled away from the skiers behind us and finished strong. I had little energy for a sprint finish and was more than happy to cross the line in 8th place a couple seconds behind Jesse. He had pulled me for the final grueling 10km and definitely deserved 7th place. That was without a doubt the hardest 50km I have ever done. Yes I could have made it much easier on myself by skiing more conservatively however you’re never going to surprise yourself if you don’t take some risks. It was a great race to end the season with.

Overall I had a really good National Championships. I had two big goals for the championships; one was to win a medal and the other was to ski consistently well all week. I accomplished both of those goals winning a bronze medal in the 10km classic and finishing 6th place in the aggregate points standings for the 4 individual races. The top three aggregate men were Canadian World Cup athletes, Alex, Ivan and Devon, so really I was the 3rd domestic racer in the standings.

A big thanks to the Thunder Bay Training Centre staff for making the trip an awesome time. Eric, Timo and Lisa did an outstanding job giving our team a competitive advantage with fast skis to race on every day. Tracey Laroque kept our team limber with massage therapy throughout the week while Carey Crooks kept our bellies full with tasty nutritious meals. Our accommodation was just ridiculous, staying in the Mont Saint Anne Manor equipped with a sauna, games room and more bedrooms than we could fill. I’d also like to thank the Mont Saint Anne race organizers and volunteers for making the championships a success. The weather was far from optimal and they did a great job getting the race trails into race-able condition. Maybe next year we can move Nationals to the beginning of March?

NDC TBay's ballin' accommodation - Mont Saint Anne Manor

There ain’t no snow here in TBay anymore so it’s time to put my feet up and rest. We’ll see… I might even dust off my bike on a sunny day this week.

Cheers

Michael

Thursday, 1 March 2012

North America's Largest Loppet

The American Birkebeiner: 9183 skiers registered between the Birkie and the Kortelopet races - a new record for North America’s largest loppet. 48 states and 20 nations present. One of the most competitive elite fields to ever contest the Birkie’s main event, the 50km skate. High stakes on the line with a prize purse of $39,000 including $7500 for the victory. 39 years of tradition. Should I go on?

It’s a big event and in 2012 I was a part of it for the first time. The event fit well into my race calendar this season and with it being only a 5 – 6 hour drive from my house it seemed sensible to give it a try. I’m sure glad I did! The party atmosphere surrounding the event was awesome! The city of Hayward really does have Birkie fever and it’s known to be contagious.

I was fortunate to have accommodation in the Telemark Resort with teammates Brent and Nish. The resort is located only a couple hundred metres from the start line so our early morning start (8:25am Elite wave start) was no biggie. Thanks boys for letting me share the room!

I'm Bib 210 on the left, skiing near the front a few km into the race (Photo courtesy of Mark Milford, Brett Morgan, Darlene Prois, and Kelly Randolph)

The race itself felt a lot like a road bike race. I managed to get up near the front shortly after the start and hung out there for the first 11km until Nish and Bennoit Chauvet (French World Loppet racer) broke away. I drifted back into the pack, not wanting to help reel in my teammate, and waited. A few Americans started to work together to pick the pace up around 30km and soon enough Nish and Bennoit were in sight again after leading by over a minute. Now the race was on. Everyone got a little antsy and as I was trying to make my way closer to the front of the pack, Tad Elliot attacked and broke away. Frustrated, I positioned myself closer to the front of the pack determined not to miss any more moves. A few kms later our pack splintered as attacks were made on the final climbs and I was able to cover them, sticking with the chase pack.

Skiing onto the lake our chase pack was whittled down to 5 guys and a thought crossed my mind, “hey, I’m in the prize money! Top 6!” I could see Elliot in the distance and it looked to me like he was fading, skiing alone on the open lake. I got excited and took the lead of our group in an attempt to reel him in. Rookie mistake. Skiing at the front took too much of my energy and when Matt Leibsch made a move I was unable to match the pace. A small gap opened between him and the rest of us. I mustered my strength and put in a burst. I got right behind him and dropped the rest of the guys momentarily but was unable to hold it and dropped back again. I came off the lake in 3rd place feeling exhausted and expecting someone to blow by me any second. Sure enough, Brian Gregg did just that. I wish I had had the mental strength to push myself to stay right behind him at that moment. As it was, I let him get a few metres ahead of me before I was able to find a second wind and give a hard finishing kick.

I gave everything I had and surprised myself by pulling up beside Brian right at the finish line. I threw my foot out in the best lunge I could muster and winded up 0.2 seconds behind. After skiing 50km I missed the podium by 0.2 seconds. Don’t worry, I’ve gone over all the “what ifs” I can think of. I am really happy with how I felt racing and 4th place in the Birkie is great, but I can’t get over the bitter taste left in my mouth after missing the podium by such a small margin.

Coming down the finish stretch as fast I could in an attempt to pass Brian in the red suit before the white banner in the distance. You can check out a video of the finish by visiting http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/20689510.

A big thanks to Randy and Nathan for wax support and feeds! Thanks to the 2000+ volunteers for making the 2012 Birkebeiner an event to remember. I had a great time and will definitely be back in the future.

The top six men in the Birkie 50km skate.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

My European Racing Adventure

It’s hard to believe I was only gone for 2 weeks. In that time span I traveled to Europe, raced 5 times in 3 different countries, survived a stomach flu, got to know some of Canada’s best cross-country skiers a little better, learned the ins and outs of European ski racing, and flew back home again. That’s a busy 2 weeks if you ask me!

Before I get into any details I want to thank our trip leader, Eric Bailey, for running an extremely smooth trip allowing us athletes to give our best each day. I would also like to thank our wax chief, Patrick Moore, and assistant, Fraser Mills-Connery. No complaints out of those two, they did their job and they did it extremely well. In fact, Fraser was working so hard we caught him trying to catch some zzz’s during team meetings! And no, surprisingly it wasn’t because Eric was rambling on for hours.

Ok, now time for the details. Upon arriving in Munich, Germany we hopped in two vans and drove, headed for Belanio, Switzerland. A short drive up switchbacks from Belanio brought us to Campra. Here lay a beautiful network of trails situated in a valley below high snowy, windblown peaks. The trails offer a wide variety of terrain ranging from flat valley skiing to steep pitches climbing the valley walls. Of course, the race course favoured the steep climbing sections. I felt good considering the hefty travel and 6 hour time change. The weather was windy and cold, but we’re used to that being Canadians, right? Well, actually not so much this year. It’s been warm in Canada!

Scenic skiing in Campra, Switzerland

The first race was a 1.4km classic sprint and the start list included the German National Junior and U-23 team, several good skiers from France, Italy, and Switzerland. At the top of the list was a name I’m sure you’ve heard of; current World Number One Dario Cologna. I was unsure of what to expect, but I went out there and skied a solid qualifier. In retrospect I should have skied more out of the tracks because the high winds had blown them in making the tracks a bit slow. Nevertheless, I qualified for the heats in 29th place. With a nothing to lose attitude I pushed hard in my quarter-final heat. It was aggressive and everyone stayed together right to the end. A German dude took a spill before the final climb and I passed one more in the finish stretch to finish 4th in the heat and 20th on the day. I was psyched! My first international heat and I was right in the mix! Tomorrow is going to be even better I thought to myself.

When I woke up the next morning my stomach felt off. I was especially wary because Fraser and Alana had both already had some kind of stomach flu and Brian was currently feeling rough as well. It took me 45 minutes to eat breakfast but I got it down. I warmed up and decided to start the race. If I felt bad I would drop out after one lap. I actually felt pretty decent on my first lap around the 2.5km course so I decided to finish the 10km classic. That may have been a bad decision. My energy was low to begin with and it only got worse as the race progressed. On top of that, the conditions were ridiculously slow and the weather was cold, sucking away any remaining energy I had. I finished 53rd. I attempted a cool down ski and almost didn’t make it back to the wax room. Upon arriving back to our accommodation I lay in bed, exhausted. Over the rest of the day I emptied my stomach, slept a lot, and fainted once. There would be no 15km skate race for me on Sunday.

Sunday afternoon we drove back to Munich and stayed the night in the Movenpick Hotel. It was a short turn around for a sick guy with little energy or food in his stomach. Fortunately my appetite was back to take advantage of the morning feast the Movenpick offers guests. Monday we flew to Riga, Latvia, hopped into two new vans and drove to Madona.

Tuesday we checked out the ski trails in Madona and I instantly liked it. The 1.7km sprint course offered little rest and some long working climbs. They weren’t steep, but they were more than long enough to be a challenge. The 5km distance course was one of the hardest courses I have ever skied. In total it had 198m of climb with the feature challenge being three consecutive long steep climbs with fast, twisty descents between them. I did some intensity to wake up the body and planned my strategy for the next day.

My trip roommate, Brian McKeever, testing out Fraser's hilarious arm chair bed in Madona. Fraser's thoughts - "It's the most comfortable arm chair I have ever slept on"

Wednesday I had my best sprint qualifier of the season. I didn’t have amazing power but I paced it perfectly and worked every section really well. I thought maybe I’d qualify in the top 20, but I finished 29th again. Being a Scandinavian Cup as opposed to last weekend’s Alpen Cup, the field was entirely different and I think a little stronger. There were many strong Norwegian, Finnish, Estonian, and Swedish skiers in attendance as well as a team from the U.S.A. My quarter-final heat started fast. After the first climb I was sitting in last. I hung in there, conserving what energy I could, then put the hammer down on the final climbing section. I moved into 5th place and came around the final corner closely following the four guys in front of me. Again I managed to pass one guy in the finish stretch for 4th place in my heat and 20th on the day. I was right in the mix again.

Thursday was a 30km skate mass start on the grueling 5km course I described above. Off the gun everyone went like mad. Before the race I asked Brian McKeever about mass start strategy in a race like this and he recommended staying as relaxed as possible and conserving energy as opposed to constantly sprinting and making aggressive moves for position. I did my best to maintain my position in the 40+ skier pack without wasting energy. The pace wasn’t too fast off the start and for 18km I hung in with lead pack. There was a lot of yo-yoing going on and plenty of crashes to avoid. In a race like that you’ve got to have your head up! For sure it was the craziest mass start I have ever done. At 18km the pace surged and I didn’t have it in me to go so I joined up with a group of about 7 or 8 skiers, including Brian, and we skied it into the finish together. I managed to position myself fairly well coming into the final few kms and gave everything I had to finish 2nd in our pack. We also came up on a Norwegian metres from the line, but he was able to out lunge me at the finish. For the third time I finished 20th place.

Myself followed closely by Brian McKeever in the 30km (Photo Credit: Eric Bailey)

Sprinting to the finish at the end of a gruelling 30km race (Photo Credit: Eric Bailey)

Friday we drove to Albu, Estonia and went for an afternoon ski to check out the ski trails. Feeling pretty janked (new term I learned this trip – means exhausted/messed up) by this point I opted to sit out Saturday’s classic sprint to focus on Sunday’s 15km classic individual start. Once again the field was very strong with top Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Estonian skiers in attendance. I am sure glad I made the decision to not race the sprint for two reasons. I still felt janked skiing on Saturday and it was minus 20 with high humidity. My toes were freezing!

Thankfully Sunday was warmer and I was feeling good again. My goal today was to pace the race well. I have often been starting too fast this season. Only a few hundred metres after starting my race I came up behind a Norwegian skier, already one lap into his race, who was moving well. Although it was a bit slower than I would normally start I decided to hop in behind and take the ride. I followed him for my entire first lap of the 3.75km course and his coaches said he was in 2nd at that point in the race. I figured I happened upon a good guy to ski with. I took over on the 2nd lap and he followed. He took over again on the 3rd lap and I hung on. He finished strong and turned into the finish stretch as I headed out for my 4th and final lap. I faded a little in the first half of the 4th lap then found a second wind and finished fast. I winded up 30th on the day and was happy to accomplish my goal of pacing the race well.

Taking a look at the results sheet showed just how tight racing in Europe is. I finished 2minutes 5seconds behind the winner, Norwegian World Cup skier John Kristian Dahl, in 30th place. The third place skier finished 51 seconds behind the winner. In a 74 second span between my finish time and the 3rd fastest time were 26 dudes. That doesn’t happen in Canada.

Post 15km race, standing on top of the "big" ski hill in Albu and feeling satisfied with my racing experience in Europe.

My European racing adventure had come to an end and it was time to go home. Everyone on our B-Tour team had some awesome results and I had a great time hanging out with them for two weeks on the road. Special mention to Graham and Phil for their pairs of 5th place finishes. Impressive stuff!

Above: Phil skiing to 5th place in the Campra Sprint A-Final. It was a killer finishing climb!

Below: Phil skiing to 5th place in the Madona Sprint A-Final. Check out the sweet brand new ski lodge in the background!

Overall I’m happy with my racing. I took a lot away from this experience and am pleased with my consistency in all disciplines. I finished 20th in a classic sprint, skate sprint and skate distance race, then finished 30th in a classic distance. Of course the stomach flu situation sucked, but that was all part of the learning experience. You have to be able to go with the flow and adapt on the fly when your racing in Europe, that’s probably the number one lesson I learned. The trip also gave me a better idea of just how many fast skiers there are in Europe.

What’s next on the docket? With National Championships over a month away I found a new goal to focus on over the next two weeks, the American Birkenbeiner! I’ve never done a loppet before so this will be another new challenge for me and I’m looking forward to it!

Till next time,

Michael

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Canmore and more

NorAm #4 (Western Canadian Championships) was an exciting one that took place at the Canmore Nordic Centre. What made it so exciting was the race format, a 3-stage mini-Tour. Friday was a 10km classic individual start, Saturday was a skate sprint and Sunday we wrapped it up with a 15km skate pursuit. 3 days of racing back to back on the hilly Canmore Olympic courses is no easy task however I enjoy the mini-Tour format and made it a goal to finish the Tour in the top 6 overall.

Friday’s 10km classic went well. I skied a strong first lap, faded somewhat in the 2nd lap, and then held it together to post a decent 3rd lap time and finish the day in 10th place. The course was really challenging and made for a gritty race. Pushing myself to keep the pace up on the final lap left me completely depleted post race. I walked straight inside, albeit slowly, and sat down to nurse my throbbing head.

Only a few strides into my morning jog on Saturday I knew my body hadn’t entirely recovered from the effort the day before. My legs were heavy. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Nevertheless, there was a race to compete in! My qualifier was sub-par for me, as my legs still felt sluggish. I had difficulty coaxing them to push with their full power. Still, I skied well enough to get into the heats and fight for bonus seconds.

My quarterfinal was a fast one and after finishing 3rd place I squeaked into the semi-finals as a lucky loser. After a slow start in my semi I decided to conserve some energy for the B-Final rather than go for broke and attempt to get back into contention for a spot in the A-Final. With so many bonus seconds on the line for the mini-Tour I knew it was important to grab as many as possible. Sitting in 5th place shortly into the start of the B-Final heat we came around an uphill corner and I made my move. Any energy I saved I used now, skiing by everyone into 1st place. My teammate Harry Seaton finished strong to win the heat and I held on for 2nd place and 8th place on the day, picking up 38 bonus seconds.

The final day of the mini-Tour is the most exciting one. Each athlete’s time from the two previous races is added up and any bonus seconds earned from the sprint day are subtracted to give the athlete their current ranking. After two days of racing I sat in 9th place, only 17 seconds out of 6th place. I was fortunate to start Sunday’s 15km Pursuit at the same time as Jess Cockney and only 3 seconds behind Brian McKeever. The three of us formed a group and worked together to pull back time on skiers ahead of us. I should give special mention to Jess who took charge and led a fast pace for much of the first half of the race. I felt great on my skis today and nearing the finish our group of three had already moved past two skiers making a top six within reach. In the final km it came down to Brian and I. My effort on the final climb wasn’t enough to shake him and he blew by me at the bottom of the fast downhill into the stadium to claim 5th place, while I crossed the line just behind in… 6th! Top six overall in the mini-Tour! I was stoked!

Sixth place in the Western Championships mini-Tour

Soon after I found out I also had the 3rd fastest time on the day! Only 8.8 seconds behind the fastest time and 3.8 seconds behind World Cup skier Ivan Babikov. I’m still surprised at that result! It was an awesome way to cap off January’s races.

My first podium of the year! 3rd place in the 15km Skate.

So, what’s on the docket for February you ask? Europe I answer! I qualified for CCC’s February convergence trip and will have the opportunity to race OPA and Scandinavian Cup races in Switzerland, Latvia and Estonia. It’s a quick turnaround since I arrived home yesterday and will be departing for Switzerland this Sunday. I’ll do my best to put up a post or two while I’m across the pond.

On to the next racing adventure!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Early Winter Recap

I’ve forgotten about my blog for long enough! The ski season is well under way now so I’ll do a “brief” recap to get you up to speed.

NorAm #1 – Sovereign Lake, BC

On December 1st I did my first skate ski of the season in Silver Star, BC. I was pumped to be out there with great skiing conditions. My motivation was high and I put in some solid training hours over the next 4 days then followed it up with a good showing in a 15km classic TT on the 5th. The 6th was a rest day and on the 7th our team geared up for the first race weekend of the season.

The weekend’s racing was not what I had hoped for, but there were some good signs. I had a great qualifier in the classic sprint on Saturday, finishing 12th (5th Canadian). Unfortunately my energy ran out fast my quarterfinal and I finished the day in a disappointing 21st place. Sunday’s 15km classic individual start didn’t go as planned either. I actually skied a little slower than I did in our team’s TT on Monday. Still, I pushed myself to the limit and finished 12th (6th Canadian), so it wasn’t a terrible result.

Opening day of my season (Photo Credit - Jesse Winter)

NorAm #2 – Rossland, BC

After a long drive in sketchy conditions our team arrived in Rossland on December 12th and I was happy to be off the mountain (Silver Star) and back to a lower altitude. I’ve always enjoyed visiting Rossland. The ski trails are fun and the town itself is everything you’d imagine a small ski town to be: charming, cozy and colourful. It’s my definition of a winter wonderland.

This year we went for an adventure ski at Paulsen Ski Club and we were all blown away with the trail system there. It’s mostly classic skiing and many trails are single-track through forests of thick tall trees covered in an abundance of snow. If I find myself back in Rossland during the winter months I will most certainly be skiing there again.

After coming down from altitude my body was feeling really good which is why I was so shocked and confused by my result in Saturday’s skate sprint qualifier. I finished 20th. Yikes. Time to regroup. I got out to a slow start in my quarterfinal, then was boxed out and pushed into 6th place. Enough of this I thought and I started making more aggressive moves. A few minutes later I skied in to the line alone in 1st place leaving the other 5 guys behind on the ground after narrowly avoiding a big crash. This was the break I needed.

Narrowly escaping crashzilla! (Photo credit - David Greer)

Skiing to the finish alone in my quarterfinal.

I felt relaxed in my semifinal and got off to a quick start, leading for the majority of the race. After finishing 2nd in the heat I was on to the A-Final. What a turn around! Again I had a good start and was right in the mix. I faded a little over the first climb and almost lost contact, but managed to fight hard and stay in contention for the podium. Coming down the home stretch I saw the finish line staring at me with the 2nd and 3rd placed skiers just ahead of me on my left. Podium I thought as I gave everything I had left. I stretched out my leg at the line, looked left and saw Brent and Kevin with their legs stretched out too. No podium. It was a wooden medal for me. It was a tough pill to swallow, finishing 4th when it was so close, but on the positive side this was my best sprint result EVER in Senior Men.

Pushing it to the line. I'm #19 on the left.

4th place finish in the Sprint with teammate Harry Seaton in 5th

Sunday’s 15km Skate Mass Start went well too. I pushed myself to the limit again and finished 7th place. To be honest, I was expecting to be able to stay with the lead pack longer, however I did all I could on the given day and that’s all I can ask of myself.

Christmas Break

So, there you have it. My pre-Christmas races were a mixed-bag and I’m determined to improve in January. The Christmas break was good as always; spending time with family, friends and my girlfriend. With a longer than usual break from the racing circuit this year I was able to do a bigger training load and a couple races. I competed in the annual Boxing Day Classic at Lappe to burn off all those Christmas day treats. The race went pretty terribly for me, but it was still a good effort. On January 6th myself along with some teammates raced a classic prologue as part of the first Ontario Cup race of the season. I paced the race well and was happy to notch a win before heading back to the NorAm circuit.

It always feels good to win a race at your home club. On the podium with teammates Andy Shields and Chris Hamilton. (Photo Credit - Paul Inkila)

NorAm #3 – Callaghan Valley (Whistler), BC

After all the build up, the race series started up again in Whistler Olympic Park. My training had gone according to plan and I was feeling ready to go. Somehow, in the final few days leading up to the races I started to feel off. My body felt heavy and fatigued, not the way peaking should work… My race prep intensity on Tuesday still went well enough so I figured it was nothing. 4km into the 30km Pursuit on Thursday I realized it wasn’t nothing. My body wasn’t functioning normally. My arms had no power, then my legs got heavy fast and I was left struggling to hang on to a charging lead pack. At 8km I blew up. I stopped skiing and started shuffling unable to do anything. Fortunately Chris Hamilton caught me and I found some energy to follow the tails of his skis. I pulled it together and felt ok for the final 3.75km lap of the classic leg, then fell apart again as I started the skate leg. It took all my willpower to follow Chris and Andy around the course for 3 of 4 laps. On the bell lap they both gave a little extra and I was left on my own to ski it in to the finish. Despite feeling sub-par I managed to finish 12th. Not at all the result I had been working so hard for, but I suppose it could have been worse.

I have a few theories about what may have gone wrong and trust me, I’ve thought about it a lot. Either way, I had to get my body feeling better. I did all I could to rest and recover before the sprint on Saturday, yet when I woke up in the morning before the sprints I felt rough. I considered not starting, but after my surprise 4th place in the sprints in Rossland, I couldn’t bring myself to skip out.

I stood on the line thinking, “whatever happens, happens. Give it your best.” I still felt exhausted climbing out of the stadium on the sprint course and crossed the line expecting a bad result. To my surprise, I qualified 8th! Racing sure can be confusing sometimes. By the afternoon I felt better and skied well through the heats making it into the A-Final. I tried an early move in the Final swinging wide up the first climb to pass a few guys. It worked out well until I tried to move back into the faster, more skied in lane, got tangled up with another skier and crashed onto my side in the snow. I did my best to catch back up but the deficit was too much. I was only able to pass one skier who was the victim of another crash before crossing the finish line in 5th place. Of course I’m a little disappointed I didn’t have the opportunity to challenge for a medal. Nevertheless, after my bad showing in the pursuit, a 5th place in the sprint was what I needed to bounce back.

Mixing it up in the heats. (Photo Credit - Jesse Winter)

Sunday morning I felt great warming up. Although I wasn’t skiing super fast out there, I had a solid day and felt the best I have so far this season in a distance race. I finished the 15km Classic Individual Start in 7th place.

Finding some good feelings in 15km Classic. (Photo Credit - Jesse Winter)

To date, this season has gone differently than I would have thought. My distance racing has been sort of blah; some decent performances but nothing remarkable yet. On the other hand, my sprinting has improved plenty. My qualifier in Silver Star was solid and my heat skiing in Rossland and Whistler was way better than previous years. I wouldn’t have guessed my top results would be in sprints, that’s for sure.

Next on the docket is NorAm #4 in Canmore, AB. I’m hanging out in a condo in Canmore as I write this and avoiding the -27 degree weather outside. I’ve managed to contract my first cold of the 2011-12 season so I’m laying low at the moment. Hopefully I’ll be over it shortly and ready for more racing action this weekend. And yes, I will keep this blog updated more frequently throughout the rest of the season.

Cheers!

Michael