Tour de Ski – Stage 1, Oberhof Prologue

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SAZuKp5IUA]I always knew that the Tour de Ski would be a very tough event, and today I experienced this in it’s full force. Today was the 3.75km prologue and I learnt that pacing is more important in this event than any other. I felt strong over the first 1km and made up a few seconds on a few athletes. I continued to push hard up the first major climb and by the top I already felt the fatigue and lactic acid building up in my legs. After a bit of a downhill I recovered somewhat and decided to ignore the fatigue up the 2nd major climb. By the top of that I was spent. With only a short downhill to rest before the final part of the course I was suffering right up until the final straight where this suffering turned into a new level of fatigue and pain I have never felt before! My legs were no longer contracting properly and by the time I crossed the line I had lost all the time gained earlier in the lap and quite a bit more on top of that. I was then standing at the finish, cramping and struggling for quite a long period. Now I know a lot of you are aware that I do come out with a lot of overstatements, but this I can guarantee is not! I have never hurt so much or pushed myself to that extend in a race ever before in my life.  Read more

The Christmas Special

I have to admit, it has been quite nice to have a short break from the racing. This overseas campaign undoubtedly contains the busiest racing schedule that I have ever attempted, with these 12 days or so one of the only chances I have to mentally and physically re-cooperate. Luckily this period has come at a very convenient time, not only does it allow me to get right on my game for the looming Tour de Ski, but it also allows for a bit of Christmas celebrations!

Prematurely, on Wednesday we had our Christmas feast, however despite jumping the gun by a few days or so, this was the full deal! Our team was joined by some of our Swiss friends (Valerio, Carmen and Markus) and even some of the US Team skiers wanted in on the action. So with 16 hungry athletes, we were well aware that a lot of food was necessary, however admittedly we got a little carried away. For starters, in true Homan’s Gap style, Nick and Linky Grimmer cooked up a very delicious potato and Leek Soup. In substitution of Turkey, we had multiple roasted chickens along with a few Kilo’s worth of roasted Ham. There was also an abundance of the standard vegetable roast up, pasta salad, green salad and to top it all off, apple sauce and gravy. I decided to have a go at making the brandy sauce to go with dessert, however I’ll admit it was a bit of a failure. Instead of the cream whipping up, it decided to curdle creating not the most pleasant of textures; however the strength and taste was right up there, primarily because a 1L bottle of Brandy was the only one in the shop!

Once everyone was at maximum bloating capacity, most continued irrespectively on Valerio and Esther’s unbelievable home-made cookie selection, then as a complete shock, a massive penguin (i.e. Finn in a Bobo suit) entered the room and proceeded to break a full bottle of red wine onto carpet! Once this carnage was somewhat resolved, some (including the penguin) went off for a sled run. Feeling like a snake who had just eaten a horse, I was more than happy to sit on the couch to recover.

On Christmas day, the rest of the team left for Campra leaving me here in Davos in a big old house which is normally filled with Swiss Team Skiers who have evidently all gone away for the Christmas break. So it’s been a rather quiet and boring few days (hence the long report!), but was necessary to allow me to properly prepare for the Tour. On Wednesday, Finn, Jeff and I make our way to Oberhof for the first stage of the Tour. So far preparation has all gone well so I’m very much looking forward to what will unquestionably be a demanding 10days of racing. I’ll make an effort to keep you all posted on my progress right the way through.

Blog #11 – La Clusaz 30km (or not quite)

This weekend clearly showed that a lot of luck is involved in our sport and unfortunately on Saturday, we found very little . To start off on a slightly hilarious note, things were not looking so good for Ewan when just before we were about to leave for the track he was locked inside the bathroom with a fairly bleak exit strategy unfolding. It wasn’t locked, the handle was turning but the latch wasn’t moving the slightest! With no windows and no gaps around the door frame on my side of the door, the best I could do was dismantling the handle which had absolutely no effect. Whilst calling for maintenance, Ewan has managed to take off the toilet roll holder which he then used to lever the latch across – a lucky escape! 

Unfortunately that’s where our luck ended that weekend. They reduced the track length to only 2.5km due to a lack of snow earlier in the week, meaning it would be 12 laps (Ironically, over Thursay night it snowed more than 30cm and continued at a horrendous rate through Friday as well). This posed a clear problem for me due to the lapping rule, meaning that if you were lapped you would be removed from the race and simply given a rank with no finishing time. To actually finish the race, I would have had to pull out a personal best performance – something that I am always keen for, so despite the difficult task, I entered the race with confidence and determination. Unfortunately this only lasted for about 1km, where on the 1st downhill I lost 3 or 4 positions in about 250m. This was  bad news, and to confirm that the skis were a real issue, on the next downhill I pushed over the top harder than anyone else around and was still dropped off the back even with the slip stream to my advantage.  I kept pushing hard but I think mentally I was cooked after the 2nd lap. I could start to catch the guys ahead on the hills and was actually feeling quite strong on the steep sections but would  lose more time on the downhills. Its very hard to deal with knowing that you need to be losing as little time as possible to the leaders, when 3-4 seconds is being lost on every downhill for nothing!

The final result was disappointing with being lapped early on and finishing 85/90. To be fair, this happens to every team once in a while. The German Team also struggled with the wax on Saturday and this was clearly seen in their results. Fabian and Finn spent the usual long hours testing a large variety of waxes and structures but frustratingly, there must have been a particular wax or combination that we were just unaware of.

I now have another 2 weeks before the Tour de Ski, where I plan to have a few good hard interval sessions followed but quite a bit of rest to ensure I am fresh for what will undoubtedly be a very demanding 10 days.

Blog #10 – Davos Freestyle Sprint WC

In contrast to yesterday’s conditions, today brought nice weather and smooth consistent tracks making it optimal conditions for sprinting. Earlier in the morning whilst testing skis my legs felt heavy and I could definitely feel the fatigue from yesterday’s race – certainly not the best of signs. After a bit more of a rest, these feelings managed to disappear and during the warm up I felt very energetic and my mindset was in the right place.

The first lap of 700m went well, I skied hard and in control and for the second lap I went all out but managed to maintain most of the efficiency and technique which I usually lack once the lactate begins to build up. In the end I think it was undoubtedly one of my best sprint races so far. I certainly could not have gone any harder as by the time the top of the hill on the second lap came around, my legs were on the verge of cramping but ,managed to maintain a reasonable amount of power into the finish leaving me quite satisfied I’d gone as hard as I could.

I was 90th overall, 19.65 seconds back– just over 11.5% off the lead with 138 FIS Points. So for my second Sprint World Cup, I am quite satisfied with this result and it gives me more confidence in the way my sprinting form is coming together leading into the Tour de Ski. We also had Nick Grimmer and my brother Ewan Watson making his World Cup debut coming 93rd and 94th respectively – both strong efforts without signing the list. Once again my skis were great so big thanks again to Finn, Markus and Fabian

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAkjmG4gw7Y] Video: Second lap with legs on fire!

Another few days of training here in Davos, hopefully I can also master my bagel recipe (which I’m going to modestly state is well on its way to being the best in the world!) and might even fit in a haircut in amongst it all! Thursday we are then we are off to La Clusaz (FRA) for the 30km mass start which could be very challenging if the proposed short 2.5km loop is confirmed due to a lack of snow. Irrespective, I am very excited for it, and keen to see how long I can hold onto the main pack.

Blog #9 – Davos 15km Classic WC

Davos - Swiss for severe pain

Today was one of those days where the wax crews were really put to the test – 0 degrees C with fresh snow, and coincidentally these are the conditions that I absolutely despise! Before the race had even started, the tracks had a very unfriendly look about them with a shiny glaze and by the time I started they were only getting worse. The first lap was rather frustrating. I had a plan to relax on the first lap and ease into a good hard pace for the last two but this proved almost impossible as just like everyone else out there, I had to work hard to get the skis to work. It was a therefore very hard to get in the right mind frame but by the end of the second lap I was feeling more energetic. By the third lap, the tracks had deteriorated further by become more glazed and concaved making the skis slip around everywhere, however by that stage I was feeling dramatically better and was able to work a lot harder than the previous laps.

Despite the never being a fan of the Davos course and the unfavourable conditions I was reasonably satisfied with the result. 74th/81 and 100 FIS pts so just under 12.5% off the lead – not a personal best, but not too bad. Read more

Blog #8 – Dusseldorf City Sprint WC

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Zqsd4ds7s8]This was my first Sprint World Cup and what an event to make a debut. I have been working on my sprinting quite a lot over the last year in hope that I could become more competitive in Sprint events but also to improve my distance skiing. Gradually I have felt that I have become stronger but I don’t think that dusseldorf was the best place for me to show my gains. For those of you who know the course and as can be see in the videos, it is all very flat (like most city sprints) but also very long at 1.8km. I prefer a hilly course with hard work then rest sequences so a flat continuous workout was quite hard for me. With this in mind it was not a disasterous result, just average with 150 points which I should be reasonably satisfied with as it is still below the 15% which I will have to ski below in the Tour de Ski in each race over the New Year. I am very excited about this weekend with the Davos 15km Classic World Cup on Saturday which is probably my specialty. I am also looking forward to the freestyle sprint on Sunday to see what I am capable of. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0p8YezPnQI]

Blog #7 – Back to Norway and the Pakis Bil

After arriving back from Sweden I then spent the last 2 weeks or so back in Lillehammer with the British Team. No more snow fell the entire time I was there leaving us to contiue skiing on the 5km Sjusjøen race trail which is a very demading course meaning good for interval work, but extremely tiring and repetitive for long endurance sessions and Double Pole work. Training in these last couple of weeks went well despite the extremely cold temperatures. Anything below -18 is just that little bit more uncomfortable, but more importantly it eliminates the possiblilty of interval work as it can damge your lungs. Luckily I managed to organise my interval session to fit in the warmer periods (which were still around -16!). All the usual trickeries took place but nothing to eventful until the day I left.

Major Mistake #1 – Never rely on the Pakesbil Read more