Slovenian WC Sprint and a ‘Beached As’ Blue-Box

My first World Cup meet running a one man show has definitely been a learning experience. There really is a lot behind the scenes that need to be organised and although I ended up handling it well, it was a bit nerve racking just hoping that I had done everything that is required. Luckily I was helped out greatly by the US Ski Team who took care of my skis and in both races they were awesome, so a huge thanks to Jeff Ellis and the US Wax Tech Crew.

Sunday’s Freestyle Sprint was probably nothing that I should be complaining about too much. I skied slightly better than in Davos in terms of percentage (with almost right on 10% behind) but once again due to the lack of the smaller teams competing in World Cup this year, my position was still disappointing. With the continuing breathing issues that I have been having during these races, it brings quite a lot of frustration as I am still unsure as to how I would have gone if these issues had not come about. So with this I hope it is understandable as to why I chose to withdraw from this year’s Tour de Ski. Sure. It is quite possible that I could get my body back into proper shape in time for the tour, but having weighed up the odds, it would not be worth the disappointment of going there and having to pull out after a few stages if things didn’t go well. I am very happy about the new plan that is in store for me now anyway which sees me racing some Swiss and possibly German or Austrian FIS races. These are a lower level of competition and I am very excited to back to racing at a level where I am fighting hard for good positions. I think it is very important to get these kinds of competitions in during the season to get some good confidence back and just enjoy the lower pressure racing – you still hurt just as much, but it should feel good to be right in the mix fighting for good positions

The Facial Expression shows the comical anger

The Shenanigans never seem to stop really, and yes most of them seem to involve our team van. For the last few days we spent in Davos, huge snow falls along with the massive crowds turned the roads into absolute chaos. Some of this chaos was admittedly caused by us, predominantly caused by Phil’s poor judgement and lack of good eyesight. Let’s just say it’s a good thing he has never considered taking up Biathlon! Picture all the small down ramp streets from the main top street being closed for very good reason due to way too much snow. Now picture us seeing the only one that doesn’t have a ‘closed’ sign up on it, with the smallest gap to make it through a section and us taking it on! I’m going to say straight away that we all were saying that we should turn back, except the one man to disagree sadly was the driver. So down goes the blue box straight into the gap with about 1 quarter of the car plunging deep into the snow drift. Despite being on a very steep descent, the blue box reverted back to its natural wheel-spinning motion. Luckily enough for Phil, he was trapped by the side rail, leaving me and Pk to dig out the car along with half of the snow-bank, that was our local charity work done and a self-written ban for Phil to drive for some time.

The next stop for us boys is Campra, where we will compete in the Swiss Cup next Wednesday and Thursday.

Slo-Van-ia

Unfortunately, the Swiss Team were the only team that would be travelling to Slovenia for the Rogla World Cup and also returning to Davos, and even more unfortunate is that they didn’t have a spare seat. This meant that we managed to re-organise Phil to travel with the Russian Team to the OPA Cup race in St. Ulrich so that the Blue Box and I could make the 820km journey solo style. Huge congratulations to Phil for his results there so far. Sub 120pts in both races! Anyway this was the longest road trip that I have ever done by myself by a long shot and whilst driving in Europe and in a far from ideal road-tripping vehicle, a bit of luck would have been greatly appreciated – unfortunately any less luck and I probably would have just thrown in the towel. This was quite the adventure so perhaps I will get to the crucial info first – today’s 15km Classic Mass Start.

Traditionally I have always struggled with mass starts at this level as it is so difficult to hold onto the pack and once dropped, time loss becomes quite severe. Unfortunately today was looking probably even worse as it is a very short mass start (15km) meaning the pace is even faster at the start. I should really be taking that into account and I shouldn’t be too disappointed with the result, but yet I still am. I stuck with the pack for the first 4km then dropped off with two other skiers. I have been really wanting to step it up this year and this (11.6% behind the winning time) is on par with last year’s performances so this is what frustrates me. The ribs were an issue once again today with my chest tightening and getting quite painful for a section in the middle of the race and again at the end but I’m not sure how much this is effecting me. In the warm up I felt it difficult to regulate my breathing and it was definitely hard to continue breathing properly at some points in the race but I really want to know how much this is effecting my performance. Right now it feels like I just haven’t quite yet reached good form which doesn’t make sense considering some of the results I achieved in the early season in Alaska. It is still gradually getting better and it was significantly better than last weekend in Davos so hopefully it will resolve itself by the next lot of races so I can see what sort of shape I am actually in. The skis waxed by Jeff Ellis and the US Ski Team were perfect and I am hugely appreciative of the support they have given me.Tomorrow is the Sprint where hopefully there will be little effect in the short 1.2km race and I can achieve a good result.

Back to the road trip – It started off bad. I thought it would be worth giving the Fluela pass a crack as this would reduce travel time significantly. With very little snow in the days before travel I thought it shouldn’t be so bad, but unfortunately no. I only made it 15min up the road before resuming the fish-tailing which this van loves so dearly until I came to a complete stop, and then began sliding backwards despite the rear wheels still slowly turning forwards. A quick U-turn and after 30mins of travel I was back where I started. I then had a kind of clear run, but this was mainly because most of it was spent on a car train – not much can really go too wrong. I hit my first traffic jam just past the Swiss Border – road works, which I thought was fair enough, surely I would have to come across some form of road works as I crossed the 4 countries and covered over 800km. I hit my second traffic jam about 150km later, this time more road works but with a bigger delay. I fully appreciate just how easy GPS’s make travelling in foreign lands, if it weren’t for this device I would surely be lost somewhere in an isolated Slovakian village knowing my luck. The only complaint I have is seeing the arrival time minutes tick away is heartbreaking. I almost felt like it was promised to me that I would arrive at 6.00pm which didn’t seem so bad, but as this self-created promise broke itself it was mentally shattering. It’s like being in a race and mid-way finding out that it is not in fact a 15km but rather a 30km with maybe a few extra km’s added on the end!

Then came the snow. Autobahns are scary enough with Audi’s Merc’s and BMW’s motoring past probably close to 80km/h faster than our blue box can manage. Now add a good layer of snow and these nutters not caring the slightest about the difference in friction values between tar and ice, my stress levels were through the roof. With poor visibility the one visible object you never want to see come into view is a smashed up car taking up half of your lane with all lights knocked out as the driver frantically and courageously waves a high vis jacket around about 10meteres before his mangled wreck! I was certainly going quite slow which is realistically what saved me but I was amazed that I managed to swerve into the left lane to avoid it – The blue box managed to grip when it was 100% crucial so there is my only lucky card used right there (and probably the best time to use it). I must have been one of the first to pass this car so I’m also just hoping that no-one behind me had a big accident.

One more traffic jam, this time due to another crash, and then finally I had reached the town below the Ski Resort where the races are being held. Only 16km to go but all up hill and you can all probably guess what happened there, more snow and a van addicted to spending more than 50% of its life going sideways. So inevitably I had to put the chains on, but this being the first time I have ever had to put chains on in my life, I was not looking forward to this challenge in the dark. Depsite being in the middle of no-where, I was met by a dog and unfortunately this dog had been isolated for far too long because the amount of affection it was showing me quickly became far too much. No little dog either, this sopping wet Golden Retriever just wouldn’t stop jumping all over me as it pleaded to be picked up. At one point she even jumped up onto my back and just sat there for a while I struggle with the chains. After about 40min of struggling and luring away the dog with pringles, job done. Normally I’d feel sorry about leaving a dog behind, but definitely not this one.

Finally I arrived 10hrs after departing Davos and all I can say is I am dreading the return trip. Tomorrow is a 1.2km Skate Sprint so once again, just like last weekend I am fired up ready to hopefully see some improvements in my form.

Davos World Cup

Sorry for the extremely delayed race report for the Davos World Cup Races. It’s amazing just how hard it is to organise all the internet jobs to be done all in the one stint at the internet café. Unfortunately severe internet faff time has probably been the most significant contributor to this delay so for this I apologise!

Luckily the large natural snow falls in the days leading up to the World Cup meant that they were able to run the full 7.5km course and changed the distance back to the originally planned 30kms. This was definitely to my advantage and I was extremely pumped leading into the event however turned out to not go anywhere near planned and resulted in the biggest disappointed to be had in any race; a DNF. Intervals on both Monday and Wednesday left me feeling confident that I would be fine to get through the race by just dealing with a little bit of pain but that was definitely not the way it panned out. I started out just the way I had planned, being relaxed and conservative was the overall strategy for the first lap and then try and ease into a harder intensity and dig in deep towards the end. After the long downhill into the stadium however my chest had tightened right up as a result of the collision I had on the previous Saturday. I kept telling myself that it would loosen up again but this began to be a very hard persuasion the further I went on that second lap and by the top of the climb it was so bad I couldn’t breathe properly without a searing pain running through my chest. The only good thing about the situation was that it was a very easy decision to stop right there as DNFing can be one of the hardest decisions to make. I went and saw the Physio on Saturday night and the outcome was that because my chest is still damaged and not working correctly, when I breathe hard at race pace for an extended period my diaphragm is being over worked. As a result it began to cramp by the end which was causing all the addition pain.

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Burning About on Recovery Road

With a few days to simmer down somewhat I have begun to realise that I should be much more appreciative of how lucky I was to not do more damage to myself. My skis got completely torn up somehow and as you can see from the pic it was as though the guy had a potato peeler mounted on the top of his skis! The guys at Hoffamanner here in town however managed to do the most impressive ski repair I have ever seen. Now you can barely tell where all this base had been peeled away so big thanks to the crew.

I will admit straight away that I am king when it comes to the timing of accidents however I reckon this has allowed me to perfect the motion of falling in such a way to reduce the overall damage on skiing dependant areas of the body. It’s all about using the head – quite literally. I have had many accidents in the past where I realistically should have broken many bones however decided to use my most life dependant but least skiing dependant body part to cushion the fall. I have destroyed three helmets, and had my face stitched up twice and in all of these accidents have only ever broken my hand, nose and thumb, all of which you can still train and race with. Saturday’s accident was exactly the same, by head-butting the man crossing the track, I believe that I saved myself the broken ribs and although a hematoma between the ribs is still very painful to deal with, it heals faster and is far less dangerous to train with than broken bones. Yes, I know concussion is a very uncomfortable experience and is bad for your health, but generally passes quite quickly so I’ll take that over broken bones any day.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jmcy8tJmOM]

So with the docs giving the word that I would be able to continue training with a bit of pain and not run too much risk of causing too much more damage I have been doing just that. It is really quite painful with particular movements however I can get around and ski properly with a bearable amount of pain without creating too much further irritation afterwards with a good amount of icing and anti-inflammatories to help the situation. So with this, and I know it sounds stupid, I have managed to go through with almost the same race preparation that I was originally planning and yes this did mean intervals on Monday. I understand that many would think that this is a completely stupid approach – let’s just blame it on the concussion, however I believe I went about it in a reasonably safe and methodical way. I went out easy and got the movement going nice and steady. Then began to increase the intensity slightly to see how much more pain I was getting and decided that it was bearable so took the risk that it wouldn’t create too much further irritation. I got through the session and was definitely feeling more pain afterwards than before I started but got it back to a good level by Monday night. Today I woke up and felt further improvement and went for a longer slow classic and it feels like there has been more improvement again after this morning’s session so I think it has paid off. You will all be understandably questioning why I would run such a risk for just a set of intervals so here’s my reasoning; Here in Davos we are between the altitudes of 1500 and 1600m which is significantly higher than Anchorage (just above sea level). Intervals, with an appropriate amount of rest and recovery afterwards are very important for the acclimatisation process and I really wanted to complete two proper interval sets before the World Cup this weekend to give myself the best chance. Luckily it has paid off and I am now in a much better state of mind coming into these races, which I believe is very important for me. If there is an excuse in the back of your head as to why you can’t go to your max, then in a race you will use this when the pain sets in and the going gets tough. I never want there to be an excuse when I race so now I know I can go hard without causing too much damage which sets me in a much more positive mood to go to my max.

Hopefully I can continue a good progression of recovery before Saturday, so fingers crossed. Thanks for all the messages of concern and wishes, much appreciated!

Another Euro Hospital Experience

With the lack of snow comes very congested short-length trails. This is something that everyone has to just deal with and general courtesy goes a long way. The universal procedure that is adopted for these circumstances is very simple – stay off to the side of the track, don’t ski backwards and move off to the side for faster passing skiers. Unfortunately this system has failed to work here in Davos with quite a bit of chaos going on out there on the trails and unfortunately it is mostly brought on by the skiers taking lessons. I apologize for being so negative and I am never a fan of producing, however most of the instructors are not following any of the simple rules creating a very dangerous ski area. The widest part at the head and turn around point on the small lower loop is like a swarm of commotion. There is supposed to be a a forward direction on the left and a return direction on the right which probably 60% of people are following. The remaining 40% are in lessons and stupidly practising what I can only assume is circle work as they weave in and out going against the traffic.

You can probably already predict where this is heading, yesterday during my first interval on a fast section, I had a collision with another skier. I could see that there was a group of skiers were skiing against the traffic and ridiculously weaving through up ahead. They all seemed to have passed, but lagging behind somewhat, another man turned directly across my path and with no time to react, we collided. I received a nasty head clash and a big blow to the chest leaving me winded and concussed. I have never struggled so much for air and to put it in perspective it was literally like doing an interval and then sucking air through a straw. After feeling very dizzy and sick once I finally got up, Phil and Pk suggested a trip to the hospital was probably in order. It was more the threat of my first part of the season being potentially knocked out with my ribs and lungs in quite a lot of pain that worried me the most. It is one of the worst feeling to have been training so hard for so long to find that you may not even be able to race to put all that training to use – even that is enough to make you feel sick!

After the whole range of scans it was very relieving to find that there were no visible breaks in the bones but a rather large hematoma forming between the two upper ribs which is causing the pain. The pool of blood filling the area creates a very inflamed and sensitive pocket which generates quite a large amount of pain when I move but at least I should be able to get back into the training soon as it is not too likely to cause more damage. A broken ski, broken pole, quite a bit of whip lash and a very sore head is really the only other problems that have been formed by this very frustrating accident so I am still of the mind-set that I will be racing the Davos World Cup next weekend.

Will post again soon to update you all on the recovery process, but fingers crossed all goes well!

European Arrival

The last week in Anchorage saw even more of the white stuff falling, further adding to the large base, but which also thankfully resulted in slightly more forgiving temperatures. It now meant that I could ski around in the thickest gloves I could find and not make my fingers go completely numb which is probably quite important given they are still looking a little white on the tips and definitely on the tingly side. It is amazing just how much your perspective on temperatures can change over time. When I first arrived in Anchorage and we skied on the higher trails, we were all thinking that -13°C was really cold. Now being exposed to a week where it never got warmer than -18°C and down to around -26°C at the coldest, it felt amazing to be skiing at -14°C! It’s incredible just what a few extra degrees can do; the air actually felt warm and no longer had that harsh bite to it. For this last week just passed I bumped the volume training back up again and with the Thanksgiving holidays, Jeff was able to join in on the intervals in the later part of the week. No complaints at all with the training, I seemed to have bounced back from the 2 weeks of high intensity quite well as in both the longer sessions and two intervals sessions, energy was good and with a big focus on technique with a big thanks to Jeff for his input for the week as now I feel much more relaxed skiing at speed.

This was my first year in the United States to celebrate Thanksgiving, and what a celebration it is. Jeff and I probably had a much greater and ‘fatisfying’ experience than most with not 1, not 2, but 3 feasts on consecutive nights. It all kick started with a very welcoming Aussie style roast with Justin Nash and his wife who cooked a hard to beat traditional Lamb roast. As many of the older timer Aussie skiers would know, Justin skied on the Vic Team back in the day and it was great to catch up on the various families in the close knit Aussie skiing community that we both know. On Thursday we then celebrated with some of Jeff’s riding mates and then Friday with Kikkan’s family which was one of the funniest nights of my life. Such a fun family and I really appreciate all the hospitality from all three families. Read more