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

Friday, 7 April 2017

Alaskan Adventure

It started with Alaska Airlines flight credits from cancelled flights to the Bozeman Super Tour in December.  Realizing we would already be in Western Canada and could travel on Alaska Airlines out of Calgary to Fairbanks after Canadian Nationals made me curious.  Could we do this for a reasonable price?

I contacted John Estle, the chief of competition for Super Tour Finals.  He found us a billet, we reserved a car rental and the trip was booked!  We were going to Alaska!

Two days after the 50km at Canadian Nationals, Evan and I boarded an early morning flight out of Calgary and began our Alaskan adventure!  I was stoked!  With a lengthy layover in Seattle, we took the opportunity to go downtown to check out the Pike Place Market.  The smells were heavenly!  Definitely recommend checking it out if you haven’t been.

Lattes and waffles at Moore Coffee Shop in Seattle.  Best latte artwork ever?
All kinds of fresh caught seafood at Pike Place Market.  Coming from winter, the vibrant flowers were shockingly beautiful!

Arriving in Fairbanks, the amount of snow was impressive.  Locals told us it had been an above average snow year and colder than normal temperatures for most of March so I guess that amount of snow isn’t quite the normal, but either way, it was a good with us!  We met our hosts, Barbara Schuhmann and Bob Groseclose, and crushed a long sleep after a lengthy travel day.

Two days later I was on the start line for the skate sprint.  My qualifier was solid and put me in 11th place, in the mix with most of the guys.  Unfortunately luck wasn’t with me in my quarterfinal heat.  Barely out of the start lanes there was a loud ‘CRACK’.  I looked down to see my left pole in two pieces.  It had been sliced in half by the skier next to me.  I did manage to get a replacement pretty quickly, (thanks Camille!) but I blew some energy catching the group, then struggled for position the rest of the way and wasn’t able to make it through the group to advance, finishing a close 4th place in the heat.

Evan’s day worked out much better than mine, with a little luck and a really impressive finishing kick, he finished the day in 2nd place overall!

Evan (bib 13) racing in the semifinals.
Mid-winter skiing conditions in Fairbanks.
The 50km on the weekend will be a memorable race for me, mostly for how hard of an effort it was.  My game plan was to be aggressive and go for a podium.  When Scott and Brian pulled away from the group around 9km into the race, I immediately moved towards the front on the climb and bridged the gap on a twisty downhill section.  Lapping through the stadium at 12.5km we had 20 seconds on the chase pack. 

I thought maybe we’d slow down once we were firmly away, but Scott was on another level.  He kept charging.  I realized around 15km I wasn’t going to be able to hold this pace much longer without producing some serious lactate so I let them go and slowed it down.  Do I wait for the chase pack to ski with them or do I try to hold onto 3rd place skiing alone?  That was the decision I faced.  I still had 35km to go.  That’s a long way to hold off a pack of skiers working together.  On the other hand, I knew I had a sizeable lead on them and it seemed a waste to give it up easily.  Of course I went for it!  Haha.  Why do I always choose the harder path?

The next 25km I skied solo, hanging onto 3rd place.  With 15km to go I had 52 seconds on the chase pack… seems doable right?  Conversely, the conditions were getting really slow and my legs were cramping.  With 12km to go I was toast.  My legs were cramped and I could barely offset.  The chase pack blew by me with 10km to go.  All I could do was watch them go by me.  The slow conditions, demanding race course (1870m of total climb!) and maybe all the racing the week previous had caught up with me.  I had nothing left.

The last lap was brutally hard.  I limped across the finish line for 10th place completely exhausted, but with a smile knowing I had given it my best shot.  As a downhiller would say, “I sent it big”!  I just didn’t quite nail the landing.

Shout out to SMS for the race support!  You guys rock!

BIG thank you to Barbara and Bob for putting us up for the week!  We couldn’t have made this trip happen without you!

I'll leave you with a few more pics from our Alaskan Adventure!

Camille ripping it up on the ice slides.  The sculptures at the World Ice Art Championships were super impressive!

Relaxed in the Chena Hot Springs and hung out at Barbara and Bob's cabin nearby.

Another day in Alaska with the Charger and distant mountain views. 
Thanks Birch Hill crew for the races!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Rediscovering My Speed

Rediscovering my speed on skis has been an incredibly huge relief this March.  It’s been a laborious process that began in January after I hit rock bottom in December.  I could have easily given up.  Quit on the spot.  I put so much into my offseason training this year that to fall apart like that in December was a crushing experience.

On the flip side, it was a big learning experience.  I am proud of the resolve I have displayed to maintain focus on the big picture and make smart training decisions to build myself back up.  My biggest goal this training season was to improve my fitness by increasing my annual training hours.  Obviously I hoped racing fast would go hand in hand.  In spite of my December collapse, I am still accomplishing my number one objective this season: I will break the 800 training hour mark for the first time in my skiing career.

Training hours mean nothing if they aren’t producing results though.  This March, I have finally started to find my speed and every time I race and recover, I feel stronger and faster heading into the next race.

My March race schedule began with the Sleeping Giant Loppet 50km Skate.  It’s my hometown’s premier loppet and yet I’ve never raced the full 50km.  This is the first year it fit my race schedule and I was stoked to be part of it!  My body felt amazing off the start line so I pushed the pace out front for much of the first half of the race, hoping a fast paced race would favour my fitness.  I realized around the 30km mark that I wasn’t going to be able to break away for the win: the conditions were too fast, the course was too flat, and it was clear my competition (Andy, Evan and Matt) were also feeling strong.

Leading out the start of the Sleeping Giant Loppet
Photo Credit: John Sims
The pace slowed and we skied together the next 10km waiting for someone to make a move.  We hit the lake with 10km to go and Matt jumped, catching the rest of us off guard.  I chased him down and he went again.  Matt kept the pedal down, attacking relentlessly into the final kms.  He didn’t succeed in dropping anyone, but it was enough to take the sprint out of my legs.  Andy and Evan found another gear in the final meters, while I took a pole tip to the arm from a recreation skier I was attempting to pass and crossed the line in 4th, a few seconds behind.

Frustration and disappointment were the first emotions to hit me.  After racing hard for 50km and feeling so good off the start line, finishing 4th place in a sprint finish sucks.  Looking at it from another perspective, it was the first sub-2 hour 50km I have ever skied and I was a big reason we skied the race that fast.

Winning toques as part of Lappe teams entered in the Loppet!
Photo Credit: John Sims
The next weekend I won the Lappe Invitational 10km Skate.  My first real win of the season!  Although it was only a local race, it was a good confidence boost heading into National Championships.

In Canmore for Nationals the racing kicked off with a team relay ski cross.  The two race courses were roughly 2.4km prologues with a few obstacles like rollers and a small drop.  I teamed up with Gavin Shields for a 3rd place finish and silver medal (2nd Canadian team).  It was only day 3 in Canmore for me and the altitude killed me.  Regardless, we were stoked to win a medal for Lappe!

Tagging off to Gavin Shields in the Club Relay Cross
Photo Credit: Rod Somppi
The next day I went out fast on my first lap in the 10km skate.  I was feeling awesome until again, the altitude hit me and I struggled to breathe in enough oxygen to match my energy output.  I dug deep to finish the race and collapsed across the line, gasping for air like an asthmatic.  I finished 5th place and won a bronze medal (3rd Canadian).

By day 6 in Canmore I felt much more adjusted to the altitude for the 15km classic.  I started conservatively with a challenging race course and conditions to battle.  It paid off as I moved up over the second half of the race to finish 8th place (5th Canadian).

Classic sprint day was the biggest surprise for me.  My qualifier was average, finishing 18th place overall and feeling the fatigue in my legs from the 15km the day before.  For what felt like the first time this season, luck was with me in my quarter-final and semi-final heats as my body magically felt refreshed and I moved through both heats into the A-Final.  My first Nationals A-Final appearance ever!  I faded a little in the final and finished 6th place (4th Canadian), but before this I hadn’t even made it out of a quarter-final heat this season!

Finding some speed in the classic sprint to finish 6th on the day!
Photo Credit: Rod Somppi
The 50km Skate was my focus race.  After two days off racing, I felt ready to take it on.  Conditions were fast racing in the early morning and I did my best to impersonate Alex Harvey, using the downhills and my ski speed to glide to the front of the pack to conserve energy and take in feeds.  BIG shout out to my team-mate, Alannah, for being exceptionally on point with feeds!  I must have taken 10+ feeds through the race to keep my energy levels high.

Leading the 50km through the stadium
Photo Credit: Pam Doyle
My only mistake the whole race was in the final kms and it cost me a shot at gold.  Andy Shields attacked at the top of the course on the second last climb.  I was skiing in 4th position and had the energy to respond.  Without thinking, I stuck like glue to the skier in front of me.  Suddenly, he slowed.  I looked up and saw the top two guys breaking away.  I was too close behind to immediately jump around.  I was forced to slow down, lose my momentum and ski wide around to crest the climb.

I tried to close down the gap, but with only a km to go of mostly downhill, I didn’t stand a chance.  I skied into the finish lanes for bronze, watching the two guys ahead of me sprint each other for the win and wishing I could have been beside them, fighting for gold.  It was my best race of the season, but it left a bittersweet taste in my mouth.

Bronze medal in the 50km!  Awesome to have two Lappe skiers on the podium, with Andy Shields in 2nd place!
Photo Credit: Pam Doyle
My consolation prize helped to wash the taste from my mouth.  After 4 strong performances, I am the 2017 Senior Men’s Aggregate National Champion.  Thanks to my family for all the cheering and support in Canmore!  Big thanks to the NTDC Thunder Bay staff for providing us killer skis all week in spite of being worn out from a long race season!

Next up for me, Super Tour Finals in Fairbanks, Alaska!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Building Momentum

My return from an exhausted state has been an arduous and humbling journey.  I spent the better part of January working my way into a consistent training routine with one strength session, two intensity sessions and one long distance session per week. 

At the end of January I made the lengthy trip to Western Canadian Champs in Callaghan Valley, BC.  I secretly had hopes I would find some magic, but mostly knew I needed to saddle up and get back into racing habits.  Unfortunately there was no magic to be found.  I had no speed in the sprint race and struggled in the distance race with slippery skis and bad form.  I finished 13th in both races.
Best ski of the year to date!  3 hour ski on the Callaghan Valley rec trails.  Fresh untouched groomed trails, fast twisty downhills, amazing scenery.  Beautiful! 

With no NorAm racing the following weekend, I had plans to compete in the Kamview Ski Tour.  Unfortunately some rainy weather caused organizers to post-pone the local race weekend so our team put together some time trials at Lappe instead.  We did a full classic sprint race and mass start skate distance.  I won the sprint qualifier, finished 2nd in the heats and won the skate distance.  Positive vibes.

Next weekend I headed to Eastern Canadian Champs in Gatineau, QC.  The sprint was a good effort, but the 10th place result wasn’t great.  I opted for fast slippery skis since the main climb was mostly herringbone and no one had bomber grip in the glazed tracks.  The idea was right as my teammate, Angus, crushed it and won silver with the same strategy.  However, running climbs with slippery skis isn’t my strong suit.  I couldn’t hack it on the climb to be competitive.

The two distance days at Easterns were my best races of the season to date.  That’s not saying much, but finally I was at least competitive in the races.  I finished 6th in the 15km classic and 5th in the 20km skate, roughly 45 seconds behind in both.  Finally, I was starting to find some form.

Back home for a week, I had the chance to jump in a Fresh Air Thursday night race at Lappe.  It was the first time I’d done a local night race in years and it was super fun!  Another highlight was a 51km ski with Andy on the Kakabeka trails followed by lunch with a delicious chocolate chai tea at the Metropolitan Moose.  I can’t believe I’ve never been to the Kakabeka restaurant before!  That’s definitely becoming a regular road ride coffee break stop.

Fun weekend dog sitting Marley and Olly!  Lots of snowshoeing in the backyard and post-playtime naps for all involved!

To cap off February, our team road tripped to Ishpeming, Michigan for a Super Tour race weekend.  I was disappointed with my sprint performance, finishing 16th; my legs had no jam after the long drive around Lake Superior.  In hindsight, I wish we’d planned to drive a day earlier to give the legs a chance to loosen up rather than showing up the day before the first race.

The next day my legs felt much improved and true to my recent upward trend, I had two good distance races, bettering my performances from Easterns.  Saturday’s 20km skate mass start was less competitive with many Super Tour racers opting to sit it out since it was only a collegiate race.  Regardless, a few top guys were on the start line and we had a good battle on the trails.  After a relatively easy first 5km, I grew restless, went to the front and pushed the pace for 4km over all the major climbs.  When I let up and looked behind, the pack had been widdled down to 3 other guys: my teammate Evan, Adam Martin and Rogan Brown.  The rest of the race became a tactical affair with the 4 of us clear away from the field.  My legs never fully recovered from my early push and in the end I settled for 3rd.

All the top guys were back for Sunday’s Super Tour 10km classic.  It was a hotly contested race with the top 9 guys finishing within 30 seconds.  I ended the race in 8th place.  Although it would have been great to ski 2 seconds faster for 6th place and get in the podium photo, I was pleased to be competitive with many Americans who have been having strong race seasons.

Saturday's 20km Mass Start Skate Race
Pushing the pace on lap 2 and breaking up the race

Fast klister classic skiing on Sunday
Next on the plan was the American Birkebeiner!  Evan and I were really excited to race the 50km Loppet and be part of the festival atmosphere.  My form is coming around and I was looking forward to taking another shot at the podium after missing bronze in a photofinish in 2012.  Evan is clearly skiing well after 1st and 5th place finishes last weekend and was pumped for his first Birkie experience!

We drove to Hayward, Wisconsin after the races on Sunday and settled into our hotel room.  Unfortunately Mother Nature was not cooperating.  Warm weather on the weekend followed by a rainy day on Monday wrecked havoc on the ski trails.  Tuesday evening we joined the Hardwood crew at Cresthill resort for dinner, sauna and a refreshing dunk in the lake.  Scott Wilson, owner and pillar of skiing in the region, came by to chat and we discussed the probability of a race happening.  The Hardwood crew decided a race was unlikely and planned to leave the next morning.  We followed suit and drove back to Thunder Bay on Wednesday morning.

It was a tough decision to leave, we both wanted to hang onto the hope that Friday’s forecasted snow storm would make it possible, but reality was, even if it snowed Friday, the trail base was decimated and even to make a 21km course on the North trails would require significant new snow.  Our hopes of winning Thursday’s city team sprint and podium finishes in the Birkie would have to wait until another year.

Today the Birkie race was officially cancelled.  We made the right call to leave early and get back to training on snow in TBay.  Thanks to all the organizers for your positivity and efforts to make skiing possible.  I hope to be back in the future on a snowy winter weekend!

With no Birkie, my attention turns to the Sleeping Giant Loppet 50km next weekend!  Despite it being my hometown Loppet, I’ve never raced the full 50km.  It’s always been too close to National Championships, or I’ve been away at other races.  I’m really looking forward to being part of the big local race!

As for my race form, every race weekend I’m getting stronger.  I’m building momentum.  December was rock bottom, January was about getting back into training and racing, and February was building momentum towards what I hope will be an amazing March!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

New Years Resolution

In skiing, we like to use metaphors— when you’re peaking, you feel invincible— on top of a mountain peak!  When you’re burnt out, low on energy— then you’ve dug yourself a hole, you’re standing on the bottom and you can hear an echo when you shout, searching for a way out.

Last year I found myself in a sizeable hole in the beginning of January.  I had travelled and raced a lot over the previous two months.  I trained in ForĂȘt, QC and Gallivare, Sweden before racing the first period World Cups.  I travelled home for Christmas and raced the Boxing Day Classic at Lappe, then road tripped to Michigan for US Nationals. 

I had some good performances, nothing amazing, but some ok days on World Cup, a convincing Boxing Day win and a bronze at US Nationals.  I then raced Trials at Lappe and quickly discovered I was out of energy.

For the rest of the season I barely trained, going from race weekend to race weekend on the NorAm, struggling to accumulate CPL points to qualify for Ski Tour Canada.  In the Ski Tour I grasped at straws for the energy I needed to compete.  I completed the Ski Tour, but it wasn’t pretty.  I managed to find a little more energy for the first two distance races at Nationals, finishing a respectable 5th and 6th place, then came down with illness, missed the 50km and the season was over.

This January I find myself in a similar situation, standing at the bottom of a hole; only how I arrived here is a much different story.

After my struggles last winter, I finally recovered in April and entered May full of motivation.  I made a goal to train over 800 hours and with my coach, designed an 850-hour year training plan. 

From May 1st to the end of my Park City, Utah training camp on Oct. 13th, I trained 460.5 hours.  That breaks down to 19.4 hours/week and 2.8 hours/day.  The summer and early fall had gone very well!  I was very fit, but also very tired upon my arrival home from Utah.

At this juncture is where I believe I started to dig my hole. Although I did take some time for rest, I returned to training before I felt completely recovered. In hindsight, I wonder where I would be today had I taken a longer recovery period following my Utah training camp?

From Oct. 14th, I averaged 14.6 training hours/week leading into the race season, with an increased number of hard intensities.  Things seemed to be shaping up ok as I started on-snow training in November.  I generally start slow in the first race weekend so I brushed off a poor showing in the AB Cup easily.  Small improvements in feeling and performance the following weekend in our team’s Silver Star time trials seemed to reinforce I was on the right track.  I thought, with my training tapering for the NorAms, I would find my form.

Something very different happened.  The more I rested, the more my body shut down and the slower I skied.  It seems as though continuing to train had kept my body going at some level.  Resting, instead of causing good feelings, was allowing my body to realize how fatigued it really was.  Now it craved more rest and starting the engine was even harder.  The Silver Star NorAm was rough, and when I rested more before Rossland, I was even slower in the first race.

Time to shut it down. 

Of course, Christmas Eve I was hit hard by a seasonal cold. I hadn’t been sick all year, but a week of rest and whammy, sick.

This is where my New Years resolution comes into play.  I resolve to not repeat last winter’s struggle.  I will no longer prioritize criteria over my own well-being.  I pushed my limits training, misjudged my ability to bounce back and now I must take the time my body needs to recover completely before I race again.

It’s extremely difficult to miss the US Nationals/Canadian Trials races in Soldier Hollow.  I’m giving up on many international-racing opportunities in doing so. However, I cannot bring myself to risk repeating my winter last year.  I know if I take the time to recover well, I will be able to race to my full capacity later this winter.  After my experience last winter, being unable to race to my full capacity, to me, is scarier than missing selection for international competition.

After spending nearly two weeks away from ski training, I am gradually building back into normal training routines.  As my health and energy improves, I will increase my training and soon enough I will be back on the race circuit with every intention of skiing strong over the second half of the season.